Leslie Weber, Chesapeake, VA
How would you define the word “repentance”? Does your definition change if you are defining it in church terms vs. non-church terms?
Changing Minds & Lives
An article on NPR.org (based on a piece heard on All Things Considered) tells the story of Clark Porter, who at 17 was convicted of robbing a post office at gunpoint and sentenced to 35 years. After serving 15 years, he was released and radically changed his life.
While on probation, he attended Washington University in St. Louis and then boldly asked the Chief U.S. probation officer in his district, Doug Burris, for a job. The article explains that at first Burris laughed, but eventually took it to the Chief Judge even though he expected her to find the idea even more ridiculous than he did and say “no.” He was wrong; she agreed to give Porter and his idea a chance.
Through his work with ex-felons, Porter, has not only turned his life around, but has had a similar impact on countless others. The 7-month program includes community service, job searches, and therapy, and has made it possible for other ex-offenders to resist the life they once knew and choose a new way forward.
It is hard work—to break the cycles of recidivism for the participants and break the systems of punishment that have been perpetuated for decades with less than stellar results—but Porter and Burris have become quite the unexpected duo.
- Identify all the instances of changed attitude or behavior that occurred in this news story. (note: there is more than just Porter’s and other ex-felons!)
- What do you know about the criminal justice system, parole/probation, and recidivism?
Third Sunday in Lent
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
It is easy to get caught up in the image of the man in Jesus’ parable declaring that the fruitless fig tree should be cut down. It can be frightening to think that you might be that fruitless fig tree in God’s eyes and, therefore, you will be cut down. It is easy to read the words “unless you repent” with that same terror in mind. Many Christians would read that repeated warning with its associated command as a work—something you must in order to be saved.
As a Lutheran, this reading makes me cringe. There is nothing that I have to do in order to be acceptable to God and gain eternal life. We are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit—AND SO IS REPENTANCE!
If you google “repent,” the first definition shown is “feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” However, that definition is lacking when you look at the Greek word which we see used in Luke 13, “metanoia,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “a transformative change of heart; especially: a spiritual conversion.” “Metanoia” is a compound word of “meta” (meaning change) and “nous” (meaning mind).
In a letter from 1518, Luther talks about discovering this definition. The Latin word he had always read in these passages had only meant remorse and the acts of penance imposed by the church. In the letter, he thanks his colleague for opening his eyes to the true meaning of the scriptures. He now understands “metanoia” or “repent” as “the transformation of one’s mind and disposition” (Luther’s Works 48 p.66) and “coming to one’s right mind and a comprehension of one’s own evil after one has accepted the damage and recognized the error.” (LW 48 p.67). He highlights that the Latin word misrepresents the true meaning of the Greek, because it “suggests more an action than a change in disposition” (LW 48 p.68). Luther goes on to explain that “this change is accomplished [by] the grace of God” (LW 48 p.67).
Our feelings of contrition, the reorientation of our minds, and changing of our behavior are not things necessary for God to love us, but instead are a result of God already loving us. Because Christ already died for us and the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are able to repent and “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8, NRSV).
Repenting is a daily discipline—an acknowledgement that God is constantly turning us back around to focus on Godly things. It is not just a personal thing though; groups, communities, and institutions can also participate in repentance—admitting they have done wrong or fallen short and then take steps to prevent history from repeating itself—all by the grace of God!
- What are some things for which your worshipping community needs to repent?
- What might repentance look like in those cases (i.e. how do you/they make amends and change behavior in the future)?
- Make time and space for personal confession, if time, space, and resources allow, you can have each person write their confessions (those things for which they repent) on dissolving paper, flash paper, or regular paper and have them dispose of them with water or fire. No matter how you do the confession part, be sure to announce assurance of absolution; if you need help with that part—ask your pastor!
- Brainstorm a list of ways that your congregation might consider repenting (changing behavior for the future) and share it with the leadership.
- Play an epic game of pin the fruit on the tree! Split into teams or work as one group against the clock to brainstorm acts “worthy of repentance” and write each one on a cutout of a piece of fruit. Have participants, while blindfolded, try to stick them on a big picture of a tree on the wall. If they fail, have the rest of the team help “re-aim” them.
Creator God, thank you for loving us even when we fall short and fail to bear good fruit. Help us to turn our minds, hearts, and lives towards you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.