Turning Toward God in Repentance
The objective of this sermon is to have the children – and the adults who will be listening – to come to a better understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Confession, which many have called “the Forgotten Sacrament”.
REPENTANCE AND CONFESSION
On February 15, 1991, a man named Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted of murdering fifteen young men and boys. He was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
On Monday, November 28th, 1994, Jeffrey Dahmer was killed by another inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution.
But five months before he died, Jeffrey Dahmer put on a white robe and huddled down in the prison infirmary whirlpool. A minister laid his hands on the repentant killer and baptized him in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Where is Jeffrey Dahmer now? Is he in heaven? Is there a sin so big that God cannot forgive it? Are we required to forgive others in order to be forgiven by God?
In the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade , Indiana Jones finds himself in a cave, trying to pass three obstacles in order to reach the Holy Grail. To pass the first he is told, “Only a penitent man will pass.” As he repeats this phrase to himself -- Only a penitent man will pass-- Only a penitent man will pass -- he approaches the place where, only moments earlier, others died trying to pass through [note: if feasible, use the video or DVD cued to this scene as a visual aid in this lesson].
At the last instant, just as blades are falling over his head, he cries out to himself, “a penitent man is humble before God!” Indiana drops to his knees and the blades pass harmlessly over his head.
As Christians, we, too, are supposed to drop to our knees before God. We do this with our body, but we also have to do this with our mind.
When we do things that move us away from God, we have removed ourselves from His communion – being close to Him and with all other Christians. We have excommunicated ourselves. To come back to God is the on-going activity of all Christians. We fall away daily in some way or another. No one is perfect.
Have you ever played a game and had someone call out “that's a do over ? ” Haven't we all, at more than one time in our lives, wished for that chance to undo something we have done and start over? Repentance offers us this new beginning.
Repentance means that we are telling God that we have changed our mind about our past direction and would like to come back to Him. To change our mind in repentance is the beginning of our journey back to God, placing Him at the center of our lives. We leave behind regret and we move toward hope. Instead of looking at our own shortcomings, we look to the power of God's love. Repentance is an attitude -- a way of living.
Think back over your life of things that you are sorry that you have said or done – hurtful, inconsiderate, selfish, and deceitful. Think also of those things which you have done which may not have directly affected others, but which you know to be wrong according God. Think about them as if they were occurring right now. Think of how it would have been if you had acted differently. Take this regret and turn it into repentance. Feel the regret, and admit that you have offended another person or the Church, and in doing so you have offended God.
This regret now requires a personal response. Just as God loves each of us personally, so do we have to love Him personally.
Your personal response is Confession, which is an important part of our spiritual life and growth, and should not be something that makes us feel guilty or afraid.
By keeping ourselves in front of God, we find it easier to remain free from our sins. St. Thallassios wrote that, “As wax melts before fire, so does an impure thought before the fear of God.” (1)
In everyday terms we might call this the Clean Slate Theory . This theory holds that when something is dirty, a little more dirt is barely noticeable. But when that same thing is clean, even the slightest bit of dirt becomes immediately noticeable.
So it is with sin. Without confession, each sin appears to stain us very little and we start to forget the difference between right and wrong. But when we receive the gift of a clean slate through confession of our sins, we find our sins more uncomfortable, because they are so very clear to us in our current state of cleanliness.
If we are to be forgiven by God, He requires of us that we also forgive one another. For many of us, this is the hardest part of repentance and confession. But we say it each time we pray the Lord's Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are not offered salvatrion on any other terms.
Sometimes we make ourselves feel better by saying that even though we have sinned, there are other people that have done things that are much worse. It is easy to think that compared to them, “we are not that bad .”
But God doesn't call us to be “not that bad.” We can always find someone who appears to be worse than ourselves. Consider Jeffrey Dahmer. We're definitely better than Jeffrey Dahmer --- or are we ?
Maybe not. Jeffrey Dahmer repented of his sins. If we believe what we say we believe as Orthodox, then it is very likely that Jeffrey Dahmer the repentant killer is in heaven.
Yet if we look at ourselves, can we be so sure that we have lived a life of penitence and confession which will keep the gates of heaven open to us?
(1) Grube, George W., What the Church Fathers Say About… , Light & Life Publishing, Minneapolis, 1996, p89.