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Sunday March 18, 2001
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

Luke 13:1-9

Metanoia

[The vinedresser said to the owner:] “Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked and then raises the kind of question that sometimes occurs to us when a disaster suddenly befalls people and sweeps them away. The Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, for some reason had a group of Galileans killed at the temple in Jerusalem . When sine tell him about this, Jesus responds “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered thus?”

To underscore the issue, Jesus mentions an accident in Jerusalem, when the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. “Do you think they were all worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?”

Jesus’ answer to his question is, No. But he goes on. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” This statement serves to introduce the little parable of the unfruitful fig tree, about which the owner asks his vinedresser, “Why should it use up the ground?”

We don’t need to be biblical scholars to understand that the fig tree is Jesus’ representation of human beings, and that this parable is aimed not only at Jesus’ immediate hearers but all the rest of us. God is the owner and we could see Christ as the vinedresser interceding for the tree. The “fruit” that the owner seeks is spiritual, and the roots of this spiritual fruit are to be found in repentance. This morning let us reflect on what repentance truly is.

Repentance includes but is much more than specific amends for specific transgressions. In the New Testament, the word for repentance, metanoia, means an entire transformation of soul, leading to a change of heart and mind and, inevitably, a change in one’s life.

Although repentance includes actions of the human conscience and will, we need to appreciate that repentance is a gift of God, actually a work of God’s Spirit upon and within us. Just as faith is a gift of God, so is its indispensable companion, repentance.

In the Gospels, repentance is spoken of as the gift which clears the way for more of the grace of God in our lives. Jesus begins his public ministry of preaching with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” (St. Mark 1:15)

Repentance is not a once-for-all or merely an occasional activity for the person who in fact does believe the Good News of Christ. Repentance is part of faith, a disposition of the spirit which becomes a way of life, in fact a life’s work. If we believe the Gospel, we also understand that the rest of our life involves deepening, enriching, extending repentance throughout all the faculties of our souls and aspects of our lives.

At this point, I need to emphasize that repentance and its closely associated graces in the Christian life – contrition, penitence, humility, etc. – are not neurotic obstacles to proper pride and self-esteem. We are not called to wallow in self-loathing. We are called to acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness in order to become someone better and happier. What is the difference?

The difference is understanding that the Church is in the redemption business, the fresh start and new life business. Hear the Apostle: “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

We move from the old, which is passing away, to the new, through the graces of truth and honesty. We are not called to deny, rationalize, excuse, or ignore our problems. The Gospel is not a flat word of assertion that everything is fine, because I’m OK and you’re OK just as we are. That’s what the therapists call denial! The Gospel is Jesus Christ’s declaration of God’s love for us, in spite of the fact that we often think, talk and act like God’s enemies, and it is a call to repent and believe that Good News. It is an invitation to go from death into life.

Jesus told an old religious leader, the Pharisee Nicodemus, that a new birth is required to see the Kingdom of God. That new birth is exactly what I am talking about. It is the regenerating faith that is as fresh as a little child’s innocent laughter. It is childlike, but it is far from childish. At the core of repentance is this realization: the Lord, he is God; it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves. Repentance enlarges this realization by shedding its light to every part of our lives.

To grow in grace is to retain the childlike trust of faith, yet to age and mature in spiritual wisdom. In the realm of repentance, this means an increasing attraction to the good and a growing repugnance to evil. It means a greater capacity to discern between good and evil and their effects. That is why the saints are so clear and why they sound so severe on the subject of sin; the classical English of the Prayer Book reflects that heritage of precision and clarity.

Many serious Christians choose to take this matter even more directly into their lives by using specific sacramental confession to a priest of the Church. It is an important part of our pastoral heritage offered at Saint Thomas. All your clergy are available for this sacrament by appointment should you wish to make use of it.

Just as our sensitivity to good and evil is sharpened by advancing in grace, so also our power to understand, to sympathize, to love, and to forgive others gets stronger as we deepen our own repentance. The Lord absolutely links our repentance with our love for others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Even more, as he is going to his cross, he says, “A new commandment I give you: that you love one another even as I have loved you.”

Speaking of the cross my brothers and sisters, the cross is God’s assessment of our situation. The cross of Christ reveals that all is not well with us; that everything is not fine; that I am not OK and neither are you. On the contrary, we are in need of redemption. The cross of Christ is what it takes to redeem us, to make it true that all shall be well, that all manner of things shall in the end be all right, and that you and I are intended by God to be far more than OK. We are intended for Glory.

The cross is the way of life and peace; it is the door to the Father’s house in which are many mansions. Repentance is the transformation of spirit that carries us through that door, the good-heartedness and the right-mindedness by which we arrive at the place that Christ has prepared for us. Oh, once last thing. Remember our parable of the unfruitful fig tree, which warns us that time is precious. The fig tree was given one more year!

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.