• Rossendale Circuit

Repentance - A Message For the Beginning of Lent - 06.03.22

with Revd. David Burrow

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Hello and welcome to this audio service by the Rossendale Methodist circuit. This week you're listening to the sermon that was part of the Ash Wednesday service that took place at Longholme this past week. You'll hear Reverend David Burrow begin the sermon now.

Our reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew chapter three and the first 11 verses. 'In those days, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea proclaiming, repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. Now John wore clothing of camels hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptised by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees, coming for baptism, he said to them, you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come, bear fruit worthy of repentance, do not presume to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our ancestor, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptise you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I'm not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. ' Amen.

Photo by Annika Gordon via Unsplash

John was not one to hold back. Was he? You brood of vipers he says, to the Pharisees and the Sadducees these religious leaders because he saw through to their hearts, and he didn't like what he saw, but we'll come to that in a minute. John came with this message, repent, repent. It's fairly straightforward, isn't it? You know, there he is with his clothes of camelhair maybe bits of locusts and honey in his beard. Yeah, must have been quite an awe inspiring sight. But the people flocked to him. And that message repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. That message was echoed by Jesus in his first sermon. When he said, when he said himself, the time has come, the kingdom of God is near repent and believe the good news. And repentance is obviously at the heart of both their messages. So repentance. It's what we're about Ash Wednesday and through lent, repentance begins with recognising our sinfulness. And that's something that some people find extremely hard to do. I wonder how many times have you heard someone say, I'm not a bad, I'm a really I'm a good person. Honestly. I am. People say that. Yeah. I have, many times. I remember when I was a student at Cliff College, and we went, we were sent out in teams on mission and I was sent up to the northeast. With this team, I was part of this team to the northeast. And while we were there, we did this, we we lead worship on a Sunday morning and I was preaching and after the service, one of the stewards came to me and said she was concerned because one of the ladies who was a regular hadn't come to church that morning. And so I said, well, me and one of the girls will go and visit her. You know, make sure she's okay. So off we went, being faithful students, you know, and knocked on the door and she came to the door and she seemed fine. She invited us in for a cup of tea when we told her who we were and everything. That was lovely. And they was saying something about, you know, the service in the morning and she said, I hope it wasn't one of those preachers who tells you that you're a sinner. And I thought perhaps it wasn't, you know, perhaps it was a good thing you didn't come this morning because that's exactly what I'd done. Because it was one of those evangelism, evangelistic type services, you know, where you're giving people the opportunity to respond, and to come to the front and to kneel down. So yes, I'm sinner I want to say I want to be saved. I want Jesus to come into my life. So we got talking a bit more about what sin is. And she eventually admitted that she wasn't perfect. And when we talked about God calling us to perfection, then she did have to say that yes, she didn't quite live up to those standards, just like the rest of us don't. Because we're all guilty of sin.

You know, when we're honest. James says in, says exactly that in chapter two, verse 10, of his of his letter. And then Paul goes on to tell us that there's a penalty for sin in Romans and the, the wages of sin is death, that's the penalty for sin. Death. So it's pretty serious stuff really isn't what we're about. Those of you who've been reading the Bible in one year will know that in the Old Testament, we're in the Book of Leviticus at the moment with all its rules and regulations and all its sacrifices for sin. And depending on how wealthy you were, if you were very poor you could bring a small amounts of flour, which won't be any good now because we've used it all up on pancakes last night haven't we. You know, no flour in the house anymore. But if you're poor, then you could bring an offering of flour as a sin offering. If you're a bit, if you had a bit more money maybe a dove or a pigeon, a lamb, a goat a bull even. I mean, there must have been so much blood going on outside that tent or meeting musn't there, all the sacrifices, but there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood and of course the lamb there is at the heart of it all and every one of these animals that was brought to be sacrificed for sin, as a sin offering had to be perfect. The only way we could get rid of that old system was to have one person who was a perfect, perfect person, sinless, willing to sacrifice themselves. And that of course, was Jesus. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. God hates sin. And those two words God and hate in the same sentence, perhaps you don't hear them very often. But God hates sin. I'm sure he hates what's going on in Ukraine today. Hates the sinfulness, the power of sin, the power of evil, that is behind it all. I'm sure he loves everybody, no doubt about that. But that power of sin that's at work that power of evil that's at work, God hates it. Thankfully, God is a merciful God. And thanks to his great love, he was willing in Jesus to become flesh, to be a human being the creator became a creature and our forgiveness cost Jesus his suffering and his death on the cross. So we recognise that we are sinners before God. But that's just the first step on a lifelong journey of learning to live and to love in and through Jesus Christ. Repentance has to be taken into our hearts, rather than just spoken on our lips. Yeah, it's easy to say sometimes, isn't it? Oh, I'm sorry. When you've got caught in something, you know, you shouldn't have been doing, like children run away and hid because they don't want to say sorry. And if you're anything like one of my son's, saying sorry, was the last thing he ever had on his mind. Even when he was sat on the naughty step. But that's a completely other story. But so often, we just say sorry, because we've been caught. We're not sorry because of what we've done. But we need to recognise that we need to be sorry, truly sorry. And then to show that in our lives, when those Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist, as I said before, they knew John the Baptist rather, he knew what was in the hearts. He knew that they were quite happy to go and stand on the street corners and pray in public. He knew that they were happy to make a great show of their giving to the poor, and knew that they were very happy to to show that they were fasting when they were fasting they would cover themselves with ashes but Jesus said, you know, when you pray going to a secret room, go into a room on your own, and pray to your heavenly Father. When you give to the poor, don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. In other words, do it secretly, quietly. People don't need to know. And when you what was the other one? Oh yeah, when you fast, don't cover yourself in ashes. Which is what we're gonna do, but, anoint your head with oil. And people will think you're full of joy. Don't let people know these things. Do it quiet. But once you've repented, once you've been forgiven, show that in your lives, bear fruit he says in keeping with repentance, bear fruit in keeping with repentance. keeping God's law is not an outward thing. It must be lived in our hearts. It's not an outward thing like you know the oil and all the rest of it. But we must show it in our lives. That's the process we all have to work on. enabling our repentance to move from our lips to our hearts will happen gradually, as we keep a short account with God. You know, ask God through the Holy Spirit to make you sensitive to your sin, so that when you do something or say something or even think something that you shouldn't do, God says and the Holy Spirit, God through the Holy Spirit says, hang on a minute. And that gives you the opportunity immediately to repent, to say sorry, and have that short account with God. Too often when we do things we know that are seriously wrong. We run away from God like that child runs away from their parents because they they think they're gonna get punished. But instead, turn to turn immediately, turn immediately to God so that you can confess your sin and then get that relationship right with God. Keep a short account with God. And don't you know, don't wait to confess because you can confess anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Just like when you're having your martini, okay?

And if we do this, we don't need to go around feeling guilty all the time. Because when you run away from what you've done wrong, you feel guilty and people do that as well. That's a pointless, sad state of affairs isn't it, feeling guilty? You know, it's not a good way to live at all. Very depressing to think that you're not worthy of God's forgiveness. That's not a good place to be. So repentance means to turn away from old habits, old attitudes, and turn towards God in a new way of life. Repentance is an action, not just a thought. It requires a positive choice a determination to move forward in a whole new way, reclaiming our humanity and committing ourselves to serve God as we serve others. And to repent is to be set free by God's forgiveness, and that brings joy. Those two words don't often go together repentance and joy, you don't think about joyfulness when you think about repentance, maybe. But as one author writes, she wrote, a repentant life is I can experience, an I can experience, I can change, I can grow. I can live more fully. But it's also an I can't experience because I can't do it on my own. We need the Holy Spirit living within us it's only through God's grace in Jesus Christ, that we can be, that we can be forgiven. Only in the power of the Holy Spirit can we live out our repentance and produce that fruit that John calls us to produce, that shows how we have changed and how we are going on being changed as we follow Jesus.

And repentance also involves restitution of course, you know wherever possible, we must do all that we can to restore what our actions have damaged and those whom our words have wounded. And if restitution is not possible, or we have to accept the consequences of our wrongdoing, and bear those burdens gracefully and prayerfully. One of the best examples of forgiveness in the New Testament is Zacchaeus of course , who was a very little man. A very little man was he. Yes. And one day Jesus came to visit didn't he. And Zacchaeus was up the tree trying to see Jesus and Jesus called him down and went to his house and Zacchaeus this tax collector who had turned against his own people to collect taxes off them and was obviously very popular with the Romans because he was making lots of money. Suddenly, his life was changed as Jesus challenged him about his sinfulness. But he didn't just say I'm sorry. He put his repentance into action, as he repaired, you know, many times over those people that he cheated, and he gave so much money to the poor.

So repentance led to joy. And the Bible tells us very clearly that when someone repents, the angels, rejoice. So every time someone repents, there's a party in heaven. Yeah, that's a good place to be that isn't. Having a party, and especially one in heaven that must be really spectacular. But every time somebody repents, the angel rejoice, the angels rejoice. So having repented, we have to be careful that we don't pass judgement on others, of course, because it's easy when you said right, I'm alright now and then look down on other people and be a bit holier than thou. That's always a danger that we might fall into. But we are called to live forgiven lives, which means that we have to be as willing to forgive as we have been forgiven, forgive us our sins, we pray, just as we forgive those who sin against us. So repentance means we have to be willing to forgive just as we have been forgiven. And one final thing as well as accepting our wrongdoing. Repentance involves accepting our forgiveness. Sometimes people find that really difficult. But in the end, we're all children of God and are therefore heirs to the kingdom of God. We are co heirs with Christ, we inherit all that Jesus has inherited. And all we have to do to inherit the kingdom is to repent, to ask for forgiveness. And then to receive and God will do just that, as he offers to us all the gifts of his kingdom Amen.

Thankyou for listening and we hope you enjoyed the service, you can find us online on www.rossendalemethodistcircuit.co.uk and also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, please do let us know what you thought of this service in the comments below and you can always contact us by email at rossendalemethodistcircuit@gmail.com.

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