Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Linglestown, Pennsylvania, USA
Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Lent is a very important season. It is a time for reflection upon the condition of our spiritual lives. The first step is repentance.
When we think of repentance it often involves a simple and perhaps even earnest statement, "I'm sorry!" At a very early age, however, children learn that they can avoid a lot of punishment with an earnest sounding and well placed, "I'm sorry." Very soon, that phrase loses its original significance; the child learns that a person does not really have to mean the person is sorry; what is important is to say the words in the right way.
The phrase, “I’m sorry!!” is quickly included in the vocabulary of statements made with little or no serious thought. That attitude continues from childhood into later years. It also flows from our general relationships to our relationship with God. With a glib and unfelt, "I'm sorry!" we dismiss the significance our sins and avoid confronting what we have said, done or failed to do.
Whether we are children or adults, we do not like to face our sins. We do not like to be reminded of what we have done wrong. Publishers know this and market much material which is written to encourage us to feel good about ourselves with as little confrontation and discomfort as possible. People reject the "downer" of seriously examining their sins. People often regard a quick, "I'm sorry!" as enough.
It is not enough. To repent means to feel remorse or self-reproach for what we have done or failed to do. It also means that we want to change our lives so as to return to the Lord and to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Repentance is not a license to do whatever we want to do. It is not a simple procedure to appease God who we often assume loves to see us wallowing in our guilt.
Repentance is a spiritual, physical and emotional experience that is the first step in correcting our relationship with God.
Repentance also involves prayer. Time needs to be spent in conversation with God. Prayer has many parts, but one of them needs to be contrition - deep sorrow. This is essential to our spiritual lives. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Matthew that prayer is not to impress the public; it is to reconcile our relationship with God. We should evaluate our prayers. If we no longer feel the sting of sin, we need to do some serious soul searching. Through prayer we need to consider our entire relationship with God and not merely how to get off the hook for our sins! We need to earnestly confess and then joyfully receive God's forgiveness.
Part of repentance can be the denial of self. This may include the spiritual exercises of fasting. Denial of physical needs can be an invaluable part of understanding Christ's sacrifice for us. In an era of instant gratification, such a pause could greatly improve our spiritual health. Another spiritual exercise can be sacrificial giving. Whatever you chose, it should be intentional and deliberate.
The words, "Return to the Lord your God" is often not heard in the intended tone. It is not a command from an imperial throne. It's a tearful plea from a broken-hearted God to his people. The people had wandered away from their God.
"Come back," God is pleading with sorrow in his heart and tears in his eyes. God is like the father in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son; he's praying and hoping with all his heart that his son will come back from the far country of sin. The tone of the call to return to the Lord is much like the tears of Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, a city that was headed for doom unless it returned to its God. "Come back to your God" is the cry of the Lord to his wayward people.
God's call is to return "even now." That's an uncommon expression for us. It means, "immediately", but to use the word "immediately" would sound like an authoritarian demand. Then and now, God is begging, not commanding, us to return to him. God does not say, "soon". God doesn't imply that it should be when we think it's convenient. He didn't say, "tomorrow". God's people are to return today, "even now."Lent is the season to GRASP what God is giving us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are gifts worthy of a whole lot more than a casual, "I'm sorry"? In sincere repentance, come back to the Lord, even now.
Gracious and merciful God, open our hearts to all you have done for us through the life and death of Jesus so that we will want to renew our lives and draw them closer to your holy will. Amen
-- Pastor Mueller