If you know the man, you’ll recognize his phrase: “The need for speed.” I’m speaking about JUCC member Dennis Guth, of course. “The Flying Fuzz” holds an impressive number of records as the world’s fastest motorcycle police officer. If you’ve ever seen him do a “burnout” in the church parking lot (maybe that’s why we need to repave it!), you have some idea of what I mean. And although he’s officially retired, he’s still busy “working hard and playing hard,” as he’s fond of saying.
The theme of the season of Lent, forty days before Easter Sunday, could be called, “The need to repent.” The Greek word means “to change one’s mind.” But the Hebrew verb behind it might be translated, “to turn around, that is to change one’s heart, will, and conduct,” according to Lamar Williamson in the Interpretation commentary of the Bible. Lent is a time when we are asked to do uncomfortable things like take a hard look at our personal lives, and our common life as a community of the church, in light of the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ which begins with his call to repent. (Matthew 4:17). The problem is, Joseph Howard writes, that too many of us are “often wrong but seldom in doubt.”
Doesn’t sound like we’re ready for repentance, does it? Years ago Dr. Will Willimon, while Dean of the Duke University Chapel suggested that folks who attend our churches are often content with the ways they live their lives, comfortable, and for the most part, enjoying life as it is. He suggested a banner be hung near our front doors: “Caution: Do Not Enter Here If You Don’t Want To Be Changed!”
Repentance is much larger than simply acknowledging the bad you have done as feeling guilty about it. Tom Long, a former Princeton Seminary professor from whom I learned much, writes in his commentary on Matthew: “Repentance is a basic reorientation of one’s life. In repentance, one turns from one framework of thinking about self, others, God, and life to another competing and compelling vision.” It’s a new way of looking at God, our neighbors, and the world, which allows our changed lives to have more hope and courage for the challenges we face.
In his new book, A World Worth Saving: Lenten Spiritual Practices for Action, author George Hovaness Donigian hopes to move the reader from a time of self-sacrifice and introspection, to connecting prayer and other spiritual practices to acts of mercy, compassion, and justice. If God thinks the world is worth saving, which is the premise of the book, then we should participate in the redemption Christ offers through our caring actions: serving others, feeding the hungry, speaking out against and acting upon injustice, offering healing and extending friendship.
What needs to change in you? In our church? And our nation, and the world? What are you willing to do to help bring about the change? It’s God’s sense of humor that could be to blame for Ash Wednesday landing on Valentine’s Day this year, and Easter Sunday on April Fool’s Day. God demonstrated love for us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Is that powerful enough for us to want to make a difference for God in the lives of others through our repentant lives and our changed church? Paul, writing to the early church, says: “Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools…” (1 Corinthians 4:10a NLT). Do you feel a need to repent, or will you remain often wrong about your relationship with Christ and the church, but seldom in doubt?
Kyle Idelman, in Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, poses three questions, which happen to be chapter titles as well: Wherever: What About There? Whatever: What About That? Whenever: What About Now?
May this Holy Season of Lent humble us, challenge us, and change us.
The Rev. Dr. David Charles Smith is Senior Pastor at Jordan UCC of Allentown. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.