Sun. after Theophany: Matt 4: 12-17; Eph:4: 7-13, Repentance,
We are still in the period of the glorious feast of Theophany. As Christ enters the waters of the Jordan and is baptized by John for our salvation; all of creation becomes sanctified and purified. As we enter into the timeless reality of Theophany – we experience this event in Kairos time. We live most of our lives here on planet earth in Chronos – chronological time, but the eternal mysteries of the kingdom of heaven exist in Kairos time. The waves of the historical event of Theophany reach us through all of time and eternity. As they wash over us, we are transformed.
We enter Kairos time at the beginning of every Liturgy. At “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” we enter eternity and join in worship with each other, and with those who have completed their earthly journey, the saints, the angels, and the entire Church, and we are transformed. Eternity encompasses all of time into one great NOW. We come to Church, to the Divine Liturgy and the great feast day services; to expose and unite ourselves to God’s love and healing and be transformed into His sons and daughters. This is our calling, our destiny, the very purpose we have been created for.
How are we transformed? How do we make this ever present and ever available reality more real in our lives? We come to Church and our hearts and souls and spirits are imperceptibly awakened and energized and we repent, we start to think in new ways. This is the message we are to start every New Year with. Repent and be transformed; live in this new age and reality! At Theophany last Sunday we heard John the Baptist (Matt.3:2) ““Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In today’s Gospel, Christ having just been baptized by John and tempted by the devil for 40 days in the wilderness, starts His ministry. Jesus begins to preach using the same command as John the Baptist; (Matt.4:17) “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These are very important words for us to note, as they are the first words that Christ delivers to us as He begins His ministry. After Pentecost; the apostle Peter preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem testifying to them of all that Christ had done. The crowd says; “What then shall we do?” and Peter answers them; (Acts 2:38) “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is the gospel. It all starts, continues and ends for us with repentance and entering into the new age. Christ has come to heal the broken-hearted, to set the captives free, and to heal our blindness. He has completed everything needed for our salvation. It is finished! The kingdom of God is now at hand. We are living in this new age. We need to shift our understanding of life and reality for the kingdom of God is now at hand. He has everything in place for each one of us to become His son’s and daughters. He knows each of us intimately, down to the very hairs on our head and the smallest detail of every thought and inclination of our mind and heart. What must we do to be received into the family of God? Repent!
To repent is to change the way we think. We are in error and we need to start by admitting this. Repenting doesn’t mean we beat ourselves with a big stick repeating “I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m bad.” It means to change our thinking because our thinking stinks – it is killing us. We are constantly thinking destructively, with fear and suspicion towards ourselves, towards our families, towards our friends and neighbours. Never mind what we think of our fellow motorists or work mates or telemarketers. We need to ask God to show us how crazy our thoughts are, because we get so used to thinking in negative and destructive ways, that after awhile they just seem normal to us. We are full of fears about things that will never happen and suspicions about the motives of others.
We see someone frown or use a certain tone of voice and we immediately think they are upset with us. “What did I do to deserve that” we ask ourselves. We often go down an elaborate road of speculation, imagining all sorts of things. But if we actually ask them why they are frowning they will probably tell us they were wondering if they remembered to shut off the stove at home, or that they have indigestion or a headache. One of my favorite prayers comes from the Vespers service, “Guard and protect us at all times from every enemy, from all adverse powers of the devil, and from vain thoughts and evil imaginations.” Yes Lord, please expose and protect us from our vain thoughts and evil imaginations. A couple of verses past the end of today’s epistle reading in Ephesians we hear St. Paul tell us (Eph.4:17,18) “…you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart…” Repenting means to deliver up our sinful thoughts and patterns of thinking to God, that He in His great love and mercy might bring us to forgiveness and healing, and teach us to think properly, in generous loving ways.
We start going off the track when we are very young. We make great sweeping inner vows about things we perceive as great wrongs done to us. Perhaps we are embarrassed when a good intentioned teacher makes us the center of attention in class and we don’t measure up and are even laughed at. We vow “I will NEVER allow myself to be exposed to ridicule like that again. I will ALWAYS stay invisible and unnoticed.” We grow up and completely forget this strong vow and can’t understand why any public attention makes us freeze up and even resent the person bringing attention to us. As we grow older, we may even come to avoid being in public at all. Or perhaps we react to the same situation by vowing, “I will ALWAYS be prepared and be perfect.” We may then need to outperform everyone; become a “know it all.” Placed in a situation where we don’t have the answers, we might even have a breakdown. You see, it is not really so much the situations or even the tragedies that befall us in life, as our reactions to them, our judgements and inner vows, that wound us and set us reeling off course.
When seeking what we next need to repent of, a good place to start is in checking our “ALWAYS” or “NEVER” statements and thoughts. Christ says in the next chapter of Matthew (5:34-37) “I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ ‘No’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
When we find ourselves reacting out of proportion to the circumstances, becoming easily angered, irritated, or impatient; hurt, suspicious or resentful. When we have difficulty trusting, need to control our situation and the people we love, when we are constantly fearful, these are all indications of areas we need to bring to Christ in repentance asking for wisdom and healing. Where there is a bad fruit, there is something we need to repent of. Bad fruit never grows from a good tree, and if we are reaping the same bad fruit repeatedly, there is always something deeper that we need to take to God in repentance. It is never only about the other person or the circumstances themselves. Repentance and giving and receiving forgiveness are the keys to restoration and healing of our wounds. This is what life in Christ, and growing into His image is all about. Christ wants to bring us to wholeness and healing even more than we want this.
Today, right now, is the very best time to repent. As St. Herman of Alaska says, “From this day, from this hour, from this minute let us love God above all.” We can best express this love for God by turning to Christ and practicing a lifestyle of repentance. The sooner the better. We are always better off if we can catch and change our thoughts, before they give birth to bad actions. Unchecked, repeated bad actions will inevitably give birth to warped appetites and bad habits, which finally will give birth to death dealing addictions. By then our unchecked, deeply ingrained, delusional thinking will keep us stuck in our addictions; keeping us from life changing repentance as we spiral down in this vicious circle. The cycle must be broken and destroyed at the beginning, at the infant thought stage, before the infant thoughts have grown into unruly teenagers and ruthless tyrannical adults. It is much easier and infinitely less painful to change a developing bad thought at the beginning, than dealing with a full-blown addiction. But even addictions can be healed by repentance. We are counselled in (Psalm 136:9), “Blessed is he who shall get the upper hand and dash your infants against the rocks.”
Saint Dorotheos from Gaza illustrates this well;
“A certain elder was with his disciples in a place where there were some Cypresses (cedar trees), some small and some large. The elder said to one of his disciples; ‘uproot this cypress.’ It was a very small tree and the brother uprooted it with just one hand. The elder then pointed out another one a little larger than the first, and said to him; ‘cut this one down as well.’ He managed to move it with both hands and he rooted it out. Again the elder showed him another, still larger. He uprooted this one as well, but with more difficulty. He saw another larger one. The brother shook it many times, toiled and sweated, but he managed to uproot this one too. The elder showed him a very large one and, in spite of the fact that he toiled a great deal he could not uproot it. When the elder saw that he could not do it, not having enough strength, he asked another brother to get up and help him and thus, the two of them uprooted it. The elder then said to the brothers, ‘it is the same with passions, brethren. While they are young, we can easily uproot them if we so desire; but if we neglect them as insignificant, they harden and, as they do so, they cause greater pain. If they become rooted in us then we cannot dig them out, even with great effort, unless we have the aid of certain saints who will help us after God.”
Repentance is an ongoing lifestyle, not one great moment of revelation that somehow “saves” us. As we come to confession with regularity, we will see our lives more clearly and we will be changed. The more we allow God to open our eyes and to show us where we are missing the mark, where our thinking is in error; the more we will discover that we have barely started our journey of joyful eternal glory! Mark the Ascetic said “Repentance, I think is not restricted to certain times or matters. For old and young alike, repentance remains incomplete until the moment of death…We are not however, condemned for our sins, but for the refusal to repent.”
The only unforgivable sin is the one that we refuse to confess and repent of. God forgives all and stands patiently waiting for us to come to Him in repentance and receive His forgiveness in His great love and mercy. We hear in (Isaiah 1:18) “Come now, and let us reason together says the Lord, although your sins are like crimson, I shall make them white like snow, and although they are as scarlet, I shall make them white like wool.”
So again we see, God’s forgiveness and love are ever present. All that is still required is our cooperation to enter in to all that has been prepared and awaits us. This one command, “Repent” contains the key to our salvation, and opens the door to our very life in Christ and the kingdom of heaven. Both the prodigal son and the most elevated saints are active repenting sinners. This is our work, our job description. If we think we have arrived at the place where we no longer have need of repentance, we are in serious delusion and trouble. So, let us open our eyes and joyously repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand! With the feast!