Today is the day of repentance and prayer in germany. Time for reflection.
Italy between December 1076 and January 1077
King Henry IV is on his way to Canossa Castle. There Pope Gregory VII has retreated. In front of this castle Henry tried to obtain the release of his person from the church ban. In a letter Henry demanded the abdication of the Pope, whom he did not recognize. Gregory VII then excommunicated Henry. This meant the king’s inability to act. At the same time, Gregory VII canceled the oaths of allegiance of Henry’s subjects. Thus Henry was deposed as king. In October 107, at the imperial assembly, the princes granted King Henry the period of one year and one day to free himself from the Pope’s ban. Therefore Henry went to Italy to meet the Pope. Quoting a contemporary witness: “At last on the fourth day he was let before him, and after many speeches and counter-speeches he was finally released from the ban.“
Saint Petersburg around 1860
The bitterly poor, former law student Raskolnikov develops the theory “of ‘exceptional’ people who enjoy natural prerogatives” and thus comes up with the idea of “permitted murder.” He considers himself one of these people. But his clothes are ragged. He lives in a tiny room. His bad financial situation forces him to turn to an old pawnbroker, to whom his murder plan applies. He visits the old woman and kills her and her sister with a hatchet. Only with luck he can escape undetected. However, he does not manage to steal the old woman’s money. After the murder he finds no peace and it is not long before he is tracked down by investigating judge Porfirij, who tries to prove that he committed the crime. The devout Sofya Semyonovna advises him to turn himself in to pay for his sins, which he does. After eight years of imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp, he finds the Christian faith.
Israel around 1000 BC
At the time of a campaign against the Ammonites, David slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his officers. Her husband was outside the besieged Rabbah at the time. When David learned that Bathsheba had become pregnant by him, he sent for Uriah to return to Jerusalem in the hope that the latter would then sleep with Bathsheba and later recognize the child as his own. However, Uriah refused to enter his own house and sleep with his wife while there was still war. David then ordered Joab, in a letter delivered by Uriah, to put him on the front line so that he would fall. David’s plan worked, and he married the widow. Nathan later admonished David. Eventually David recognized and confessed his sin and was forgiven by God. Nevertheless, he was punished.
What do these three stories have in common?
It is about repentance. What does repentance mean? Luther explains in the Catechism:
To repent means to turn back into the open arms of God. This involves heartily recognizing our sins, confessing them before God and, in certain cases, before people, repenting, hating and leaving them, and walking in faith in Jesus Christ in a new life.Martin Luther
The Greek word translated repentance in the New Testament is metanoia, from noein, “to think,” and meta, “around” or “after,” literally roughly, “rethinking, change of mind.” The Hebrew term schub, encompasses a turning to God not only in thought, but also a change in behavior:
- Obedience to God
- new trust in Him
- turning away from all evil and ungodly human inclinations and weaknesses.
Why do I need repentance?
Do you know such thoughts? Actually, I am not so bad after all. I have never killed anyone. I don’t cheat on my wife. Well, sometimes I think something bad. But that doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s just little things anyway. A guilty conscience? Not really. Well, I once took something without permission, but returned something else in return. That fits then nevertheless!?! What happens here? If I create my own little truth? If I think and live like this, I move further and further away from God. I suppress my conscience, which is generally a good compass for good and evil. I have to realize that thinking bad thoughts about my brothers and sisters in faith is as much sin as not returning the excess change. Looking covetously at another woman besides your own is sin. Not putting God first is sin. Lying, half-truths are sin.
So what is the next step?
Repentance always has something to do with honesty and openness. To oneself! You have to realize that you make mistakes! Then to God – He is our Lord. He is holy. He hates sin and it cannot stand in His presence. And in some cases the confession of guilt is also appropriate in front of people, for example, when I hurt someone with my behavior. To the sinner who is about to be stoned, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Neither do I condemn you in this way.” It is followed by a small but all the more important subordinate clause, “Go and sin no more.” We are to change our sinful lives. David confesses his sin and repents, Raskolnikov eventually comes to his senses, as does Henry IV. Repentance always entails consequences. Sometimes punishment, but more importantly, we come back to God. Our sin is forgiven, we have to repent and God helps us! Precisely because we are imperfect, we need God Himself to help us.
- Where have I sinned? You don’t have to live in constant grief and despair over your sin. Sin is a serious thing! No question about it. Jesus forgives us of sin when we repent of it. That is the gospel!
- If I have done something to someone, I go to him/her and admit it and ask for forgiveness.
- If I have done something where I cannot go directly to someone now, I can “confess” it among friends. I can have them pray for me. Friends can help you stay on track by asking now and then how your “favorite sin” is going.
- I try to accept correction when it comes from the outside – like David from Nathan.
- I may call someone else’s attention to their sin – not to beat them up, but to help them get out of it. At the end of the day, I’m glad myself when I’m given good advice.
“Homework”: Think about where there are points in your life that need repentance and bring it all to Jesus!
Thanks for reading and God’s blessings!