Sunday 23 September 2012:Repent and Be Saved

Repent and Be Saved

Prelude: Enter, Rejoice, and Come In  – played by the Biggest Crazy UU Band in Nashua at least
(courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, New Hampshire)

Enter, rejoice, and come in. Enter, rejoice, and come in. Today will be a joyful day; enter, rejoice, and come in.
Open your ears to the song…
Open your hearts, everyone
Don’t be afraid of some change…

Chalice Lighting
Joys and Sorrows

Sermon: Repent and Be Saved

I didn’t grow up in an evangelical or pentecostal church, but anyone who grows up in West Virginia sees the signs, sometimes even painted on the rocks along the highway, saying “Repent and Be Saved!”

Here is a reading from an evangelical Christian, explaining what he thinks repentance means:

Repentance means that you have a full realization of what a sinner you truly are, that you are willing to accept that Jesus’ death on the cross will save you from your sins, and that you will then be willing to make every effort to turn from those sins and start living a new life in the Lord.
God is causing a godly sorrow to set in on us so we can see what sinners we really are. However, at the same time that He is producing this sorrow to help show us what sinners we really are, He is also showing us His goodness. He is showing us that there is a way of escape out of our sinful states and natures – and that way of escape is through the Blood that His Son Jesus has personally shed on the cross for each one of us.

This is the core idea of repentance that we hear so much about – we need to realize how awful we truly are – sorry wretches sinking deep in sin. We were born in original sin, we have sinned all our lives, there is only one thing that can save us from that sin – the grace of God, shown through the sacrifice of his son Jesus on the cross – we must be deeply sorry, and we must be washed in the blood.

“Repent” comes originally from the Latin “poena” – punishment – as in penal, penitence, penitentiary – and originally from the Greek “poine” blood money – the fine paid for murder.

The Latin and most English Bibles all use the word “repent” – except for the Young’s Literal translation, which has Jesus say “I say to you, but, if ye may not reform, all ye even so shall perish.” (Luke 13:3)

Now, that gets us a little further – reform comes from the Latin and means just what it says, to form again, change, alter – a reformatory, where the aim is to make you better, is better than the penitentiary, where you are just being punished.

But if we go back to the original Greek version as Luke wrote the story – the word he used was “metanoia” – “to change one’s mind” – literally translated – to think again.

And there you have it – no blood money, no punishment that has to be taken for us by Jesus on the Cross – just a instruction that if you do not rethink what you are doing, you will be lost.

Here is what the Universalist minister Hosea Ballou said in 1805:

The belief that the great Jehovah was offended with his creatures to that degree that nothing but the death of Christ, or the endless misery of mankind, could appease his anger, is an idea that has done more injury to the Christian religion than the writings of all its opposers, for many centuries. The error has been fatal to the life and spirit of the religion of Christ in our world; all those principles which are to be dreaded by men, have been believed to exist in God; and professors have been molded into the image of their Deity, and become more cruel than the uncultivated savage! A persecuting inquisition is a lively representation of the God which professed Christians have believed in ever since the apostasy. It is every day’s practice to represent the Almighty so offended with man, that he employs his infinite mind in devising unspeakable tortures, as retaliations on those with whom he is offended. Those ideas have so obscured the whole nature of God from us, that the capacious religion of the human mind has been darkened by the almost impenetrable cloud; even the tender charities of nature have been frozen with such tenets, and the natural friendship common to human society, has, in a thousand instances, been driven from the walks of man.

But, says the reader, is it likely that persecution ever rose from men’s believing, that God was an enemy to wicked man? Undoubtedly; for had all professors of Christianity believed that God had compassion on the ignorant and those who are out of the way, how could they have persecuted those whom they believe in error? But, with contrary views, whose who professed to believe in Christ, who professed to be the real disciples of him who taught his disciples to love their enemies, have been the fomenters of persecution; they have persecuted even unto death, those who could not believe all the absurdities in orthodox creeds. It may be asked, if those animosities did not arise from pride, ambition and carnal mindedness? I answer, yes; and so does the God in whom persecuting Christians believe, for they form a God altogether like unto themselves; therefore, while they vainly fancy they are in the service of the true God, they are following the dictates of pride and unlawful ambition, the natural production of a carnal mind; and atonement is the only remedy for the evil.

But Ballou still believed in the need for atonement, not to satisfy an angry God, but to save us from our just punishment for sin. “Christ stood as the proxy of man, and the world was tried in him, and condemned in him, and in him suffered the penalty of the law which man had transgressed.”

It was the Unitarian side of our faith that came to reject entirely the idea that “Jesus died for our sins”.

Here is Samuel May, writing in 1867:

Unitarians, most if not all of us, repudiate the Orthodox doctrine of Atonement, as it is explained by many, — that men are saved by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, or in some way transferred to their account in the final reckoning with the Judge of all. Much more earnestly and utterly do we reject it as others teach it, — that God inflicted upon him, and that Jesus endured, the punishment due to all sinners for their native, original depravity, and for their actual transgressions; and that, in consideration of his vicarious punishment, those are saved who believe in and gratefully accept this propitiation. Most Unitarians, if not all, consider this dogma as most odious, an impious stigma upon the character of our heavenly Father. Of course, we most gratefully acknowledge that Christ suffered much for the redemption of sinners; that he gave his life on the ignominious and excruciating cross, that he might fix in the hearts of men those truths, those principles, that faith, that hope, that love, which alone could raise them above the trials and temptations of earth. But we believe that men are saved only so far as they themselves accept the truths and embrace the principles which Jesus so impressively inculcated, and acquire the spirit which the beloved Son of God manifested through life, and especially on the day and in the hour of his death. We believe that men are saved, and can be saved, only so far as they become themselves righteous in the sense and spirit of Christ’s righteousness.

And the modern Scottish Unitarian Association says

Unitarians believe that Jesus was a man, unequivocally human. It has long been our view that to talk of him as God is unfaithful to his own understanding of himself. The New Testament accounts describe a Jewish man, chosen, raised up, adopted and anointed by God. They claim that the divine purpose was that Jesus should reconcile first the Jews and then all humanity to each other and to God. This would prepare the way for the Messianic age of peace. Jesus stood both in the prophetic tradition of such figures as Isaiah and Hosea, and in the kingly line of David. His ministry took place in a primarily Jewish context. His challenge to a corrupt priesthood in the Jerusalem Temple made him powerful enemies. These found common cause with the ruthless Roman authorities. The result was his crucifixion, a supreme example of human integrity and faithfulness in the face of human evil. Unitarians do not see the crucifixion as a blood sacrifice for sin.

The main stream of Christianity took a long and bloody detour that others did not.

The Buddha said

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

In other words, think, and love your neighbor – the same simple message as Jesus.

Judaism phrases the prime question as “What does God require of us?

As a Reform Jew, I accept that in my life the halachah (Jewish law) has a vote but not a veto, that there are additional sources that inform the choices I make. I discover God’s teaching in the Torah text as I turn it over and over again, in rabbinic commentaries, in contemporary writings, in history, and in my personal experiences. With all this to guide me, I seek to dis-cover what God requires of me; that is how I can fulfill my place in the cosmos.1 am cognizant that Revelation, the experience of knowing what God expects of us, is ongoing. Each of us stands at Sinai yesterday, today, and tomorrow. At Sinai the Israelites said, na’aseli venishma—we will do and we will hear. Must we wait until we are intellectually con­vinced of the Rightness of a deed before we perform it, or should we rather pursue the experience and allow understanding to fol­low? The knowledge of what God requires of me comes not only from law, but from living.

And finally, from another thread of Christianity, the Greek Orthodox Monks of New Skete:

“What is the change of mind, the repentance that the Greek is referring to? Certainly not the distorted popular image sen­timentalized religion promulgates; even less the choreographed displays of trendy fundamentalist televangelists. Focusing on narrow conceptions that ignore the wider reality, they seem to lack any in-depth understanding of how all-encompassing repentance really is, how radical its commitment. Metanoia results in a new way of looking at everything; it is a conscious and conscientious new awareness of life and its implications, beginning, of course, with our own life. As a result of this new way of looking at things, we are spurred on to make the often difficult changes consistent with our new outlook. In our tradition this certainly characterizes the message of Jesus, the teacher par excellence.

The first words Jesus utters in the Gospel of Mark explode with a new authority: “Metanoite . . . repent, change the way you look at things, your whole outlook on life!” Metanoia connotes far more than a static repentance. Nor is Jesus talk­ing about “feeling sorry” for our sins — some superficial emotional cleansing whose only real purpose is to rid us of unpleasant guilt feelings (or, possibly, even to increase them!). He means a complete about-face, a spiritual revolution in which our former way of thinking is thrown topsy-turvy, and so, by extension, our behavior as well. What is more, Jesus also speaks of it as a process that never ends: it deepens and spreads into every aspect of our life, like leaven in dough.

Metanoia is not an isolated act of conversion, of coming to “believe in God,” which is only the first step in a total trans­formation of life. To follow the spiritual path authentically is to be immersed, baptized into a river of change, to die to our old rigidities. Jesus tells us from the start that lively, true belief will turn long-cherished opinions and ingrained attitudes upside down, plunging the life of anyone who takes his mes­sage seriously into the “insecurity of faith.”

“It is fire I that I have come to bring upon the earth — how I could wish it were already ablaze! . . . Do you think I have come to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, not peace, but division. . . .” (Luke 12:49, 51)

Lest we take such words lightly, it is worth remembering how far Jesus was willing to go to engender this understanding: he gave his life for it. Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ principal work was to get people to see beyond delusion to reality, to lead them to change, and this meant challenging the way we look at everything: metanoia — life turned upside down.

So, brothers and sisters, let us follow what Jesus really taught. YOU DON”T HAVE TO REPENT! Lay down your burdensome beliefs of a vengeful God who is so offended with man, that he employs his infinite mind in devising unspeakable tortures, as retaliations on those with whom he is offended. LAY DOWN YOUR BELIEF that the great Jehovah was offended with his creatures to that degree that nothing but the death of Christ, or the endless misery of mankind, could appease his anger.* Lay down your attachments, let go your clinging. RETHINK AND BE SAVED. We can only be saved through our own seeking!”

Responsive Reading: The Free Mind, William Ellery Channing

I call that mind free, which masters the senses, and which recognizes its own reality and greatness

Which passes life, not in asking what it shall eat or drink, but in hungering, thirsting, and seeking after righteousness.

I call that mind free, which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith,

which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven

I call that mind free, which is not passively framed by outward circumstance, and is not the creature of accidental impulse,

Which discovers everywhere the radiant signatures of the Infinite Spirit, and in them finds helps to its own spiritual enlightenment.

I call that mind free which protects itself against the usurpations of society, and which does not cower to human opinion

which refuses to be the slave or tool of the many or the few, and guards its empire over itself as nobler than the empire of the world.

I call that mind free, which resists the bondage of habit, which does not mechanically copy the past, nor live on old virtue,

but which listens for new and higher monitions of conscience, and rejoices to pour in fresh and higher exertions.

I call that mind free, which sets no bounds to its love, which, wherever they are seen, delights in virtue and sympathizes with suffering,

which recognizes in all human beings the image of God and the rights of his children, and offers itself up a willing victim to the cause of mankind.

I call that mind free, which, has cast off all fear but that of wrong-doing, and which no menace or peril can enthrall,

which is calm in the midst of tumults, and possesses itself though all else be lost.

Song: This Little Light of Mine


Lisa deGruyter
Service Leader