I read a story about a small town whose indigenous population was descended from seven different clans. Even though the Christian Gospel had come to this town a century ago, the practice of ‘payback’ remained. A few years ago, after a murder in the town, locals decided that somebody from the offender’s family needed to die.
Then something remarkable happened. Christian people of that town began to pray earnestly for their community. God gave them the gift of repentance and forgiveness. Instead of seeking payback, the family of the murdered man forgave the offending clan. People danced for joy in the street. Many were baptised and came to faith in Christ.
The Christian Gospel can do that. Its message is that somebody has already died in return for our sins. There is no need for payback. God offers the gifts of repentance and forgiveness to whomever trusts in the death of Jesus as payment for our sins.
The Christian Gospel brings those gifts of repentance and forgiveness to life in our daily lives. Martin Luther wrote in the first of his 95 Theses: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17) he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. In the Small Catechism he says that baptism, ‘indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever’.
As it did in that small indigenous community, repentance and faith in Christ affects relationships. This message is particularly timely as we – individuals and church – deal with outcomes of national convention of synod and the feelings it invokes in us and our communities.
Frustration and anger are being felt and expressed, both by those who hope the ordination of Women might soon become possible in the LCA/NZ, and by those who are annoyed that others continue to advocate for a practice that they believe is contrary to Scripture.
Frustration and anger may be expressed in unhelpful ways such as angry thoughts, words, and actions – perhaps even our own versions of ‘payback’. It’s time for us to earnestly seek God in prayer. It’s time for each of us to come to God in honest reflection and repentance.
The ‘Ambassadors of Reconciliation’ teaching material has a helpful little graphic, explaining ‘The Development of an Idol’. According to Luther, an idol is anything that we fear, love or trust more than God. Our desires – good or bad – can easily become idols.
The graphic illustrates how, when we feel our own expectations or demands aren’t being met, the instincts of our fallen human natures often come to the surface. Frustration can lead us to take matters into our own hands. We may judge and punish each other with unhelpful words and actions, which eventually lead to the death or destruction of relationships.
The good news is that the Christian gospel can still achieve remarkable things in our lives and our relationships, with individuals and in our community and church.
The season of Lent, which has traditionally been a season for reflection and repentance – seeking God in prayer – provides the ideal opportunity for reflection and repentance as we consider our own frustration with things in our church, or in other strained relationships.
The Psalm for the first Sunday in Lent, Psalm 32, teaches that our feelings can be either destructive or instructive. Pride and unrepentant hearts are destructive of our own health, wellbeing, and relationships if we hang onto our sinful thoughts, words and deeds and are not honest to God about them. On the other hand, the personal conviction of our guilt regarding sin may be instructive if it leads us to seek the Lord’s forgiveness, teaching, direction, and counsel.
May this Lenten season help you to come to God in reflection regarding the things you may be fearing, loving or trusting more than God, and in repentance which lays your sinful thoughts, words and deeds at the foot of the cross, where God has willingly allowed the ‘payback’ you deserved to be placed on his own Son.
Rev Lester Priebbenow
Victoria Tasmania District