We’ve had a wonderful week or so spending time with pioneers at Launde Abbey, Scargill House and on Holy Island, and I’ve been reflecting on one of the key themes that emerged out of one of the Rural Mission Hubs: repentance.
Repentance is a funny word, a word which we don’t use very often outside the classic church environment because it means very little in our culture. Repentance means to go in a different direction, to turn away from what we think is best and turn towards God’s goodness for us; not just to say sorry, but to live a new life because we are sorry. In our wider culture, repentance can be that religious word stemming from a judgemental God that requires us to admit that we are doing something wrong. Then in our church culture repentance can be coming to Jesus at communion, saying sorry, but going home and repeating our negative behaviour again. Repentance is often misunderstood or deeply unattractive.
In order for us to repent we have to understand what it is we are repenting from. We have to consider our human nature and deal with that other word… sin. Sin is ‘Khata’ in Hebrew and ‘Hamartia’ in Greek. It basically means missing the goal, something I am all too familiar with at football practice! Jesus reveals that the goal in life is to love God and to love others. In the Bible, sin began with humanity choosing their own way in the garden, soon followed by the horrific story of Cain and Able, turning away from God, and turning away from loving others. In this context. repentance makes sense as turning away from ignoring God and neglecting humanity, and turning towards loving God and each other. We must always remember both the God bit and the human bit: loving God and loving each other come together.
Well, this is all great, but how does calling the church to repentance release mission? At the Hubs, Simon spoke about the Exodus, and part of that story involves the Israelites staying in the desert for longer because they kept repeating their sin of idolatry and failing to trust in God’s provision. They needed more ‘desert time’ because God needed his people to truly be his people. The church will not be able to fully join in with God’s mission if we keep holding onto our habitual sin. Repentance can’t simply be a word of sorry, it has to be a turning away from the old to the new that is found in Jesus. For example, what might it look like to repent of not welcoming young people in our churches? It might look like getting out into the community to love our young people. If we repent of talking badly about one another, we have to then really work at talking well of each other, something that the Bible says will show God’s love to the world. If we repent of the idols that have gripped the church for centuries such as wealth, race, gender, power, we will give these up and become a people where God is number one, and where all are loved and valued. When we as the church live more in the mercy and forgiveness of our God, trusting in the transformative power of the Spirit, phrases like ‘but the church is part of institutional racism’, ‘the church isn’t a safe place look at what priests have done’, ‘God is unwelcoming and judgemental’, will change because we have changed.
Where are we, as church, failing to hit the goal, and can we be brave enough to turn our faces back towards God and step out in the Spirit’s transformative power?
Jo Allen Director: South West