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REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
American Baptist - United Methodist

9 FEBRUARY 1997

BY Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

2 Chronicles 7:13-14
Jonah 3:5-9
        4:11
Matthew 3:1-2
        4:17
        5:48
        6:10

Today is a very interesting day in the Christian church calendar.

Today marks the end of the season when we bring to remembrance the first appearing of Jesus Christ to the world.

Today is the day we are to celebrate the transfiguration of the Lord; for if we are born again, we too, will be likewise transfigured.

And, today is the Sunday before the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection upon our sins, both individually and collectively, and it's a time for repentance.

The reason I'm bringing all this to our attention is because if God, in all His love and mercy, had not sent His Son to pay the price of our sins there would be no transfiguration and no salvation by faith alone for anyone in the world.

And most often, when we come to believe, we internalize our repentance, reflecting upon our own sins and asking the Lord to forgive us.

But all through the Bible, the people of God have been called upon to pray not only for themselves, but for others as well to repent of their sins and ask for forgiveness.

In a way, that is what John the Baptist was doing when he cried out to the people in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Likewise, when Jesus began His public ministry He, too, cried out, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Their cry was to the nation and the world, for individuals like you and me to repent and be saved.

And as the people collectively humble themselves, the land is healed, also. This is most important for the church to understand.

Listen to what the Lord said in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14:

13. "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people,

[because of their sins]

14. and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

The church is given the responsibility of bringing people together before God, but it doesn't always do that.

The church is given the responsibility of bringing all the peoples of the world together in love and equality; but here, too, it has often failed.

The church is given the responsibility of bringing our Father's heavenly will to earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10), and teaching us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), but here, too, it has most often failed.

Lord, forgive us for our sins.

Catherine and Justo Gonzalez, writing about the Church in the third world, said, "Many have left it because they perceive it as part of the structure of oppression against which they must rebel."1

But this isn't true only about the third world; it's also true about this nation.

Look at how many of the Native Americans are moving back towards their tribal traditions and worship.

Look at the African Americans: havenít they rebelled in various parts of the country because of their frustrations?

Havenít many of them turned back to African traditions and religion through the celebration of Quanza, and havenít the Moslems attracted many away from Jesus Christ?

The problem is right here before us, and there are many more people, some of them right here in our own community, who have turned away from the church because, to them, itís oppressive and doesnít serve their needs.

Lord, forgive us for our sins.

I donít believe that any of us here today would disagree that the proper interpretation of the Bible leads to freedom rather than oppression.

But the very Bible that we have before us has been used, and is still being used, to selectively free one group while oppressing others.

The Aryan Nation and the KKK are doing this very thing today.

Many churches in this country and in Europe even tried to justify what was done to the Native Americans and African Americans.

Look at how the European/Aryan influence affected South Africa.

The Gonzalez's say that in the United States the African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and others feel this way.

To those in Latin America, Asia, and Africa the Church is associated with colonialism; and to these people Jesus Christ, seen upon his throne, is reminiscent of the rulers of the colonial powers.

In areas where youth is worshipped, and I won't tell you where one of these places is, the elderly feel oppressed.

And all over the world, women have this feeling, too.2

The problem with making lists like these is that we always leave some group out, and that's why we shouldn't make lists or single out one group.

Just as Jesus Christ is for all, and in Christ all are equal, so we should be all inclusive.

But sometimes the people of God don't want to do this. Why? I'm not completely sure. But it happens nevertheless.

And most often the people of God who do accept other humans as equals end up supporting the oppression of animals.

I guess the best Biblical example of this is Jonah.

He absolutely was a believer; there should be no doubt about it.

But Jonah was also prideful about his nation Israel, and he didn't want God to forgive other nations.

He wanted God to destroy Nineveh, and he knew that if he went to them and they truly repented, God would forgive them; so he didn't want to go.

I want us to think about Jonah as being any one of us, for as His witnesses and His ambassadors we all have a job to do for God.

The second thing we should think about is the limitlessness of Godís mercy towards all of the inhabitants of Nineveh.

Note what happened to the people when Jonah finally preached to them (Jonah 3:5-9):

5. Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.

They came to believe in God, individually; and collectively they called a fast and put on sackcloth as a symbol of their repentance.

But something much more interesting happened when the King heard Jonah's message.

6. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes.

He, individually, as did his subjects, came to believe in God and he humbled himself in repentance.

But unlike his people, he did something more:

7. And he issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.

8. "But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.

9. "Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?"

The king recognized his responsibility to his whole kingdom.

He realized that not everyone understood Jonah's message, so he ordered everyone to be covered with sackcloth and to be part of the fast.

He even included the domestic animals, since perhaps they, too, might have sinned before God or their owners might have caused them to sin is some unknown way.

The king left nothing to chance.

He included every living soul, man and beast; for as their king, he realized his responsibility for their souls.

And God did forgive them.

But Jonah was unhappy, and he pouted, and wished he were dead.

But God answered Jonah (4:11):

11. "And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"

Do you remember what I said about making lists?

They always leave someone out.

The lists we talked about before left out the mentally handicapped and the animals.

For theology to be totally liberating, it cannot be limited by various lists.

For theology to be totally liberating, we, as witnesses and ambassadors, must widen our horizons and have no conditions.

We must allow God to move as God desires, and we cannot exclude any living creature.

Isn't this exactly what we sing about in the Doxology every week? That all of God's creatures are to praise Him? Yes, everyone: whether human or animal.

If God makes no distinction in extending His saving grace to various peoples and various animals, then who are we to limit such grace, just because it's not as we have been taught by other people?

And if we really think about this, it is our limiting of God's grace that causes most of our problems today.

When we come to understand this, then we should also feel the anguish and long suffering of those whom we have previously oppressed, and those who are oppressed today.

Forgive us, O Lord, for our sins.

Amen.

1 Gonzalez, Justo L. and Catherine Gunsalus, Liberation Preaching Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1980, 12.

2 Liberation Preaching 11-12

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