Saturday, December 3, 2016

Repentance And The Man In The Mirror

Advent Two Year A 2016

Fr. Dale Matson

This Sunday is the second Sunday in Advent. Today the Second Advent candle called the “candle of the way” is lit and represents Christ as the light of the world and the way out of sin and darkness. Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent and the first Sunday in the Church year A.

The season is a time of preparation for the Nativity of Christ and serves as a dual reminder of the original waiting by the Hebrews for the birth of the Messiah as well as the waiting that Christians today endure as they anticipate the second coming of Jesus the Christ.

In our collect today we say that the prophets were sent to preach repentance and prepare the way of our salvation. There is a lot said about salvation in the church today but very little about repentance. People no longer seem to be ashamed or take responsibility for their actions. People no longer admit that they lied; they say they were taken out of context.

Where did this all begin? It began with the Fall of Adam and Eve. When they wanted to decide for themselves what was right. They disobeyed God and became estranged from God. They no longer knew themselves as God knew them. They were self-conscious. Because they were self conscious, they realized that they were naked. This was the birth of the self-focused self seeking Ego estranged from God.

From a developmental perspective, a child becomes self-conscious about the age of 18 months. Using the rouge test where a bit of rouge is put on the child’s nose and the child looks in the mirror. The child with self-awareness will touch his or her nose as he or she looks in the mirror realizing that he or she is that person is in the mirror looking back. Before this they do not realize that the person in the mirror is in fact them. The ego is both a blessing and a curse however. It is the ego that is so resistant to saying “I’m sorry”. It is the ego that is so often seeking self-justification.

Last week Sharon and I were on a walk with our grandsons and one of our Airedales. She was pushing Beau in a stroller and his older brother Miles was sitting on the front edge of the stroller while I walked Duke. At one point, Miles threw himself back and the back of his head (accidently/on purpose) struck Beau In the face making him cry. Sharon told Miles to tell his brother (even though he had accidently hurt his brother) to tell Beau he was sorry he hurt him. Miles refused so I said that he would have to walk until he said he was sorry. He was quite upset and said, “I don’t want to walk” several times as we headed for home. I said, “Just say you are sorry and you can ride again.” He said, “No and I don’t want to walk.” He walked all the way complaining that he wanted to ride even as we entered the garage. It is so hard to own our behavior; to say you are sorry; to repent even for a 3-year-old ego.

People are no longer drug addicts. They are victims who have become addicted to prescription medication. We no longer even have criminals. We have medicalized misbehavior and now we call criminal conduct “Behavior Disorders. In other words, our behavior is seen as “contingency based”. We are simply the product of our environment. We learn to do unacceptable things in response to our environment. We say that it is not our fault. In modern parlance, we refuse to “Own” our misdeeds.

We hear an example of this from the song “Officer Krupke” from the musical “West Side Story”. “Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, You gotta understand, It's just our bringin' up-ke that gets us out of hand. Our mothers all are junkies, our fathers all are drunks, Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks! Dear kindly Judge, your Honor, My parents treat me rough. With all their marijuana, they won't give me a puff. They didn't wanna have me, But somehow I was had. Leapin' lizards! That's why I'm so bad!”

It seems like it is never “MY Fault”. From the beginning, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.

Today even alcoholism is considered a medical problem although step six in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to alcoholism as a “defect of character”. In the original 12 steps of AA God is mentioned 4 times and God is referred to as Him 4 times. More recently The AA model has been used for other addictions like narcotics, gambling and overeating. In fact, the AA treatment model is for what is essentially a self-centered or egocentric problem. It is really a conversion experience. The 12 steps of AA are a form of repentance and owning one’s self-destructive nature.

In Michael Jackson’s song “Man In The Mirror” we hear the following: I’m starting with the man in the mirror I’m asking him to change his ways And no message could have been any clearer If you wanna make the world a better place. Take a look at yourself, and then make a change” And he is correct. Changing the world starts with allowing God to change you first.

We hear the following from portions of our Gospel reading today.
Matthew 3:1-12

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’" And “ "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” 

What does John the Baptist mean when he states, “I baptize you with water for repentance.”? He (Christ) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. Are we to understand that there are two baptisms? Didn’t St. Paul say in Ephesians (4:5) “One Lord one faith, one Baptism”? 

I believe that there is only one Baptism but as Martin Luther once stated. “We should celebrate our baptism daily, drowning the old man that the new man would come forth.” The more we submit our lives to Christ, the more he empowers us with his spirit and becomes the Lord of our lives not just our savior. Christ’s Lordship does bring fire upon us and he requires us to do things that we could avoid in the past. We must confront those aspects of ourselves that resist His Lordship. Those things should be purged away by the refiner’s fire. We are also challenged by circumstances in our lives that tempt us to turn away from our Lord. Satan attempts to destroy our witness by attempting to discredit our reputation. Remember what it says in Revelation, “…. and they defeated him (Satan) by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” (Revelation Chapter 12

In Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture Of Dorian Gray” The handsome but narcissistic and hedonistic Dorian has his portrait painted in full length. He realizes that his beauty will fade over time and makes a deal with the Devil (Lord Henry) for the portrait of him to fade while he remains forever young. This allows him to pursue a shallow and sensuous life where those around him die unfortunate deaths. As time goes on his portrait becomes more and more hideous while Dorian remains youthful looking. Years later, Dorian allows Basil the artist to see the portrait he painted that has now become so hideous that he can only recognize his portrait he painted by his signature on the painting. He pleads with Dorian to pray for his salvation but to no avail. Dorian realizes that the painting is his true reflection of what he has become. The painting is the witness of his conscience. He then stabbed the artist Basil to death. Later Dorian decided to destroy the painting with the same knife. Servants hear Dorian cry from his locked room and discover the corpse of a withered old man who can only be identified by the rings on his fingers. His portrait is restored to the young and handsome Dorian. Even though Dorian remained beautiful for so long, those around him suffered horrible mishaps because Dorian had become the property of the devil. For Dorian, his portrait truly reflected who he was becoming. His portrait was his mirror.

St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (NLT) Paul is saying here that we will again know who we are as God sees us. This is like Adam and Eve before the Fall of humans.

This baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire is both the power of God and the refining fire of God. We must be empowered but we must also be an Holy People. At the conclusion of Paul’s Ministry, before his death, Paul said that he had run the good race. He meant by this that He did not dishonor His Lord by conduct that would discredit the Gospel message that was entrusted to him. This baptism of Christ that we have been baptized with empowers us to witness to others; it allows us to understand scripture and gives us a desire to worship together in his body the church. This baptism of Christ provides both the fruit and the gifts of the spirit. It must not be forgotten however that it is also a baptism of ongoing repentance. It is a baptism of fire. To be a holy people we must realize that Christ who is our righteousness imparts our holiness. We fall short of being his holy priesthood every day and must confess that we cannot of ourselves even keep the basic two commandments of our Lord. We must confess that we have broken the two great commandments that sum all of the commandments. In Right One we say, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee by thought word and deed, by what we have done, and what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.” (BCP p. 331)

This is both repentance and confession. Let us not look at the sin of our neighbor and look self-righteously to our self. May we repent of our sins, simply seek personal holiness and run the good race that our Lord and Savior has called us to run. May we not be a stumbling block in the lives of those who do not know Christ and may we never discredit the gospel message through scandalous lives ourselves. Take a look at yourself and then make a change Amen.

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