The Gospel is The End of Racism - Repentance

Luke 3:1-20

1It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. 2Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. 3Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 4Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the lord’s coming!

Clear the road for him!

5The valleys will be filled,

and the mountains and hills made level.

The curves will be straightened,

and the rough places made smooth.

6And then all people will see

the salvation sent from God.’”

7When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10The crowds asked, “What should we do?”

11John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

12Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

14“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

15Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

19John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done.20So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.

 

 

Why Racism?

Why are we talking about racism at such length? Because Paul did exactly that in his letter to Rome. The full extent of the power of the Gospel is displayed in its full social implication. The Gospel’s power is that it turns people of hatred into people of love, people of division into people of unity, wounded people into wounded healers, a broken community into a Kingdom community.

This is why we speak of racism, because Paul spoke about the racism of his days.

Review

Two Sundays ago, we learned about the importance of theology. It justifies our action. Bad theology permits sin to spawn. Racist theology hardened racism.

We learned about the gospel theology. Theology that we are all broken. We don’t search for the ideal human. We don’t judge anyone as less human. We are all broken. We are all sinners. Our common humanity is our brokenness. In brokenness we are all the same. You can’t get lower than that.

Universal human rights is grounded on our brokenness not our wholeness. For any wholeness only leads to another hierarchy.

The gospel theology is a theology of acceptance. We are accepted by Christ. Our call is to accept others. Is there no judgment. Judgment belongs to God. Judgment is received by Christ. We are called to accept. That unconditional acceptance gives us space to talk about our difference.

Today we are going to talk about a fundamental response to the Gospel. This response is the only way to unleash the power of the Gospel. Without this fundamental response, the Gospel is inert in our lives.

And it is this fundamental response that will give us principles on how we can end racism as a Christian and as the Church.

That fundamental response is repentance.

To receive the Kingdom of God, we must repent. The end of racism begins with repentance.

When Jesus began preaching what did he say? What was the intro for all his sermons?

“Repent for the Kingdom of God is here.”

Repentance is the way we receive the Kingdom of God. Repentance doesn’t create the Kingdom of God. Repentance doesn’t bring the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God comes with Jesus. He is the rule of God’s love. But we can choose to receive Jesus or reject Jesus. Repentance is the way we receive Jesus.

The way to end racism is repentance because the way to receive the Kingdom of God where there is no racism is repentance.

But I don’t think we know how to do that anymore.

But we don’t like to think too much about repentance. We have heard of it. We practice it, but a cheapened version of it. We make too much of it and too little of it. I want to talk about the theology of repentance. I want us to practice robust repentance. It is good for the soul and the society. Because true repentance knows the soul and the society is not separable.

Few things about repentance. Which will naturally lead to practices of repentance.

Let’s read John’ call to repentance.

First, repentance is a promise of new life and not just a threat of judgment.

 

We don’t think too much of repentance is because we hear it most loudly from steer preachers who call people to repent or face hell. We think repentance is all threat, all judgment.

Just last Sunday, as I drove to park the trailer my children and I saw a person holding up a sign at the corner of Creedmoor and Glenwood, that read “America has sold her Soul and God has judged America.”

Now every nation will be judged by God. The judgment is severe, even as John the Baptist was honest with the judgment before them. And it was a severe judgment. Don’t get caught up in the fire image. The fire is a metaphor as much as the tree and the uprooting is a metaphor. But the reality the metaphor was pointing to was severe. Being cut off from the family of God.

No question, sin has consequence. But the emphasis is not on the judgment. The emphasis is on the new life. Repentance is a threat only because it is a promise. Like when we say to our children, “behave and we will go to Myrtle Beach.” It is a promise, but there is a threat, “if you misbehave, we can’t take you on that long trip where you will continue that misbehavior and ruin the whole trip.” Of course there is a threat in every promise, but the emphasis is the promise. Don’t live in sin and separate yourself from God, because if you turn from sin you will have great intimacy with God.

So as harsh as the words of John sound, they are all part of the “Good News.”

John was not prophet of doom. John was the prophet of hope. The messiah is here! That is hope!

This is why all these people are flocking to John at the Jordan river which 70 miles north of Jerusalem, 65 miles south of Galilee. They went out to Jordan to hear John say repent. They make the 24 hour walk to repent. They went because of hope. They knew they don’t have to end their life in their guilt and brokenness. They went seeking a new life!

So they come and ask John, “What must I do?” John didn’t go to people. People went to John. Not to feel guilty, but to remove their guilt, not to feel bad, but so they won’t feel bad anymore because there was hope for them.

So when we say repent of racism, it is because we have hope!

I believe we can end racism. I believe love overcomes hatred. I believe God’s peace overcomes nation’s wars. That is why we have come this morning asking, “What must we do?”

Secondly, Repentance is not just remorse but an action of a new life

Repentance is not about feeling bad about what we did.

At one level, this makes repentance too simple. If you feel bad about something and you say it, then it is repentance. This is most familiar to us Protestants. So the picture of repentance is tears at the altar, beating of the chest, and the confession, “I have sinned.”

The confession of “I have sinned,” is exactly that, confession, admission of wrong by words, but it is not repentance. Repentance has sorely to do with the change of our lifestyle.

Notice the question. “What must I do?”

And how refreshingly simply John’s answer is. What was your sin? Okay, now live differently according to the New Life of Love in God’s Kingdom. That is repentance. John doesn’t spiritualize repentance. John keeps it real.

The word repentance simply means “metanoia” which means change of mind. Only in the post-enlightenment western world is the thinking and action separated. There is this notion that you can think one thing but act differently. You can say one thing and think differently. But you can’t think one thing and act differently.

So when people used the word metanoia, they meant change the way we live, not just change the way you think.

True repentance means you change your actions. You stop your sinful act and you live in the new life of God.

So John looked at them and saw what they were doing and what behaviors to stop and what behaviors to start.

Here is where we Protestants can get stuck. We think if we feel bad about something then we have done repentance and that is all required of us. So if we feel bad about racism, and say sorry to those who have suffered racism, then we have done enough.

Why we emphasize repentance as feeling

Now there is a reason why we Protestants think confession is enough. It is because of our fear of legalism, that if we focus so much on the actions of repentance then we are saying that you have to earn salvation.

There is a danger to this type of thinking. It is a very self-centered way of thinking. It thinks of everything in terms of salvation. In every act of good, it is focused on whether an act will get me saved or not. In one sense, focus on salvation is the most unKingdom like perspective. It has no thought of others, only on the self. Even the confession of “I am selfish” itself is too focused on the self.

Repentance as remorse is too focused on how one feels about sin and how one can get rid of the feeling of guilt. It makes repentance too simple.

So you have this strange experience where we are always repenting, because we know we are sinners so we are thinking about how bad I am, while at the same time not really repenting.

Thirdly, Repentance is not a way to earn salvation.

To think repentance is a way to make up for a sin and prove yourself righteous is to take sin to lightly and to take oneself too much. There is no way to undo the consequences of sin.

I remember listening to a testimony of a person who came out of prison. He said that for a long time he though doing good will make up for the person he had killed in rage. That made all his good acts heavy with guilt and not freeing for him or anyone he served. Then he realized that only when he gave up forgiveness to Christ and lived out the life of repentance without thought of forgiveness could he truly repent.

That testimony opened my eyes.

You and I can never make up for the evils of a sin. Only Christ can. If we get this, then we would be free to repent. If we get this then we would not make repentance so heavy and difficult.

Our salvation is only from Christ. Christ rescued us. Christ is the one who takes away our guilt. Repentance does not take away our guilt. When we confess we come to trust Christ’s work.

Repentance is me choosing to no longer live in the old life. Repentance is choosing to live in the new life. If I continue in the old life, then I will reap the fruits of the old life. Will I be saved. Yes. But again, why is salvation so important? Isn’t it more important that I please God? Isn’t it more important that I reap the fruits of new life?

Fourthly, the idolatry of salvation is the root of unrepentance and death.

This is so telling. John warns the people about their unrepentant life. Why are they unrepentant? Because they are so set in their sins? No but because they are so complacent in their salvation. This is scary, really scary for us. And it should.

You think you are safe because you are descendents? They think they are saved simply because they were born as Israel. So they don’t have to worry about it. They could do no wrong. Or even if they do wrong, then it will be all taken care of. After all they are descendents of Abraham. They are saved, so they are safe.

So dangerous.

And here is the irony.

The doctrine that Paul used to break this monopoly of salvation, circumcision, has itself become a new circumcision.

The Jews said, look I am circumcised I am saved and you are not. So if I kill you in the name of God, I am okay. If you kill in the name of your god, you are definitely not okay.

And Paul says, circumcision will not save you. Good works because good works becomes another way to separate yourself from others. It is simply trust. If you trust Christ then you can be saved. And if anyone can be saved, well then we all can be family now.

You see now once you have Christ as the author of salvation, then it now frees us to simply live to love because we no longer need to prove ourselves against each other. Salvation frees us to obey.

But we have made salvation, we have made justification by faith into everything. It has become the whole point of the Christian life, and by it we made it into a god.

Now this is not just me. It is Bonhoeffer. And

Bonhoeffer

It is true, of course, that we have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honors unparalleled in Christendom, in fact we have exalted that doctrine to the position of God himself. Everywhere Luther’s formula has been repeated, but its truth perverted into self-deception. So long as our Church holds the correct doctrine of justification, there is no doubt whatever that she is a justified Church!

The Church made a god out of the doctrine. So now no one say anything about it. Saying anything is doubting it, and doubting it is to doubt God. They think holding the doctrine is justification itself. So now you are justified by doctrine and not the person you must have faith in, Jesus. But all this is lost on the Church. All they think about is whether it is legalism or not, and not whether it is obedience or not.

The Church because has orthodox doctrine, doesn’t have to worry about sin. Because even if the Church sins, the Church is already justified. So the Church doesn’t even have to practice repentance. Only a sanitized form of it.

Bonheoffer was compelled to write this book in 1937 because of the compromises the Church was making in his days. It scared him. So he preached against it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer published “Cost of Discipleship” in 1937 when Nazi’s consolidation of power was nearly complete. Four years earlier in 1933, Paul Von Hidenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and when he died on August 2nd 1934, Hitler merged the offices of the Chancellery and Presidency and became a dictator with a national referendum held on August 19, 1934, crowning himself as Fuhrer, sole leader of Germany. Many German Christians voted Hitler into power.  Paul Althaus, a professor of theology and a leading Luther authority, proclaimed, “Our Protestant churches have welcomed the turning point of 1933 as a gift and miracle of God.” The Krystallnacht would follow next year, a pogrom that opened the flood gates to genocides.

Nazism was a violent, racist government, but the Church supported it and Bonhoeffer believed that it was this false security in a doctrine that has been made into a god.

And to break that, Bonhoeffer called for true repentance, repentance that knows that grace is costly, costly to the one who died for us on the cross and to us who are to carry that cross, which is a life of obedience even to death.

When you listen to John, he was facing the same thing Bonheoffer was facing.

Fifthly, Repentance is publicly living the new life of the Kingdom of God.

Repentance focuses on action. It does this because it trusts Christ for salvation.

Luther said pecca fortiter. Which means sin boldly. And many people after Luther misunderstood this notion.

Bonhoeffer said this was not an excuse to sin, but a freedom to be righteous. Because we often don’t seek righteousness because we think we are trying to justify ourselves, or because we don’t think our righteous act is enough, or that we will be shown a hypocrite.

There are times when I go to my children and I hate to say, I repent and I will not say hurtful words because I feel like a hypocrite. Sin boldly means I go and repent and say I will not say hurtful word to you.

Now prophets are not like not because of their message, but for their actions, this very repentance. Because they challenge the old systems.

Bonhoeffer’s repentance was that he took the burden of taking the sins of his people and tried to end Hitler’s life. He helped people trying to assassinate Hitler. He got hung for that.

Prophet Lincoln

There was a prophet in the Civil War who bold enough to say to American repent, you are facing judgment. He had the boldness to say as the civil war was ending, that the half a million Americans dead was the judgment of God for the sin of slavery. And that the war itself was Americans atoning for our sin until we can fully repent of that sin of slavery.

Can you imagine a prophet saying that in the streets of Washington DC as American soldiers were battling still in Virginia, and dying. That person would have been call unpatriotic, a prophet of doom, a false prophet.

That prophet was President Abraham Licoln. And he did say it in the streets of DC, on the Capitol Hill, in his second inaugural address.

2nd inaugural address

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

On March 4th President Lincoln delivered this speech bold as a prophet of God. And only April 14th, he faced the end of a prophet, when John Booth assassinated him. John Booth was at the foot of the Capitol Hill.

And we as America have not yet fully repented of the sin of racism. For though slavery has ended racism is still alive.

In Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr was a prophet. And he spoke to America. And he also said.

 

 

MLK judgment

How do you respond to Martin Luther King Jr,’s statement in “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (1963): “the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club”?

And he too called America to repent

And he too faced the end of a prophet, assassinated

Didn’t racism end with Civil Rights Movement that went on even after MLK?

Racism is still alive today.

Some say where are the evidences?

Well, we can start with a though experiment that Lincoln himself came up with which basically cut through the morass of moral reasoning about slavery, when people were arguing whether it was good or bad to own slaves.

Lincoln quote

He said, "Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

Is there racism? Well, let me ask, for us who are not black in America, do any of us believe that if I was black in America that I would face the same equal opportunity or that I have any advantage?

Here is a video

 

How can we Repent of Racism.

 

1-a church must be diverse as the neighborhood

2-Correct yourself, assume racial bias, and correct racial acts.

3-When your company enacts racist policy, speak against it.

4-If there are laws that target people of minority or color, stand up against it.

Why are you making things all racial, about black and white. Jim Crow law made everything in the society about black and white. Now we are racializing things.

5-repent of the local sins. We are not here to fight against a racist nation, or racist cops. This is false. We have to repent in the local fights. The local fights with the local people. If there is a shooting of an unarmed person, then we look into the fact, make sure the court system knows that we are paying attention. Those in the court system make sure you are bold enough to do the right thing. And if there are laws that makes a cop not face the consequence that we stand on those laws. I know this makes repentance lot harder, but this is repentance.

Civil Rights Movement started local and always fought local laws until it eventually led to national laws.

Study Civil Rights Movement. We think it was charismatic gift. It was an amazingly well organized social movement.

6-there are areas according to your giftings, education, justice system, housing. You have work areas. Look to consider whether your places are doing the right thing.

7-This is why protest is not enough. Protest in one sense is for ourselves. Again civil rights movement. It wasn’t just protest. It was a protest that challenged specific acts. Like the Montomery Bus boycott. It didn’t say all bus drivers are racists. It organized so people would not take the bus, and provide other means of transportation and crippled the economy of busing and forced it to come to the conscience.

GeorgeTown

The power and viability of the theology of repentance was recently embodied by Georgetown University when on September 1st, John J. DeGioia, it’s president, publicly apologised for profiting from the sale of 272 slaves in 1838. It had all the marks of “true repentance,” full admission of sin at it’s core identity and commitment to reparation, such as the policy to give preferential admission to descendants of the enslaved (people disagree on whether the reparation went far enough). Mr. DeGioia said the impetus of Georgetown’s actions were drawn from the rich source of “Catholic tradition,” i.e., the Christian theology of repentance.

 

 

Reading

Luke 3:1-20

1It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. 2Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. 3Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 4Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the lord’s coming!

Clear the road for him!

5The valleys will be filled,

and the mountains and hills made level.

The curves will be straightened,

and the rough places made smooth.

6And then all people will see

the salvation sent from God.’”

7When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10The crowds asked, “What should we do?”

11John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

12Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

14“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

15Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

19John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done.20So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.

 

 

Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer published “Cost of Discipleship” in 1937 when Nazi’s consolidation of power was nearly complete. Four years earlier in 1933, Paul Von Hidenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and when he died on August 2nd 1934, Hitler merged the offices of the Chancellery and Presidency and became a dictator with a national referendum held on August 19, 1934, crowning himself as Fuhrer, sole leader of Germany. Many German Christians voted Hitler into power.  Paul Althaus, a professor of theology and a leading Luther authority, proclaimed, “Our Protestant churches have welcomed the turning point of 1933 as a gift and miracle of God.” The Krystallnacht would follow next year, a pogrom that opened the flood gates to genocides.

“Cost of Discipleship” is not a political tract, but it is a prophetic one.  In it, Bonhoeffer calls the Church, German church in particular but has the whole Protestant church in purview, to repent for complacency breeding compromise. The Church could not call out sin in the society because she thought she could do no wrong. The doctrine that produced this blinding hubris? The pride of Protestant Church: Justification by Faith. Bonhoeffer, like a good prophet, confesses the sin he judges:

It is true, of course, that we have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honors unparalleled in Christendom, in fact we have exalted that doctrine to the position of God himself. Everywhere Luther’s formula has been repeated, but its truth perverted into self-deception. So long as our Church holds the correct doctrine of justification, there is no doubt whatever that she is a justified Church!

2nd inaugural address

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

 

GeorgeTown

The power and viability of the theology of repentance was recently embodied by Georgetown University when on September 1st, John J. DeGioia, it’s president, publicly apologised for profiting from the sale of 272 slaves in 1838. It had all the marks of “true repentance,” full admission of sin at it’s core identity and commitment to reparation, such as the policy to give preferential admission to descendants of the enslaved (people disagree on whether the reparation went far enough). Mr. DeGioia said the impetus of Georgetown’s actions were drawn from the rich source of “Catholic tradition,” i.e., the Christian theology of repentance.