Joel 2:12-14a
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 26, 2020 – Ash Wednesday

In Lent we focus on repenting. We need a season to do so because we tend to emphasize believing more than repenting. Yet, the two go hand in hand. In fact, the first command Jesus ever gave in His public ministry was: “Repent, and believe.”

Repentance begins with our taking stock of our character and conduct. Thus, Paul urged the Corinthians to “examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith”.

In that self-examination, we face both the bad things we have done and the good things we have failed to do.

Sometimes our missed opportunities to do good are more significant than our worst misdeeds!

For example, I’ve fallen short in developing the faith in God that vanishes worry from a life, and my anxious attitudes and fretting feverish actions have undermined my witness to the Prince of peace. My trusting in God’s grace too little and my own diligence too much has made me anxious, and my anxiety has made me less effective in giving others a credible testimony as to what God can do for a person. A witness short on serenity is a less compelling witness to the Prince of peace.

Of such a failure in faith I am in the process of repenting. It is for me a life-long project!

Turning from my sin in this regard requires my turning to the Lord who is, as Joel says here, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love”. It is refusing to rely as much on myself, someone who lacks the inner resources to fulfill this repentance.

In truth, I always have to depend on the Lord in order to be able to depend on the Lord. My fundamental repentance is actually to give up on self-reformation, and to give myself over to God that He might do for me what I can’t do for myself.

I cannot fix me when it is I that needs the fixing. And I cannot resume relying on myself to repair the problem when the basic problem is my self-reliance.

To repent is to come to my senses and stop the insanity, to quit doing the same thing again and again with the expectation of a different result. It is learn to count on the God who, as Ephesians 3:20 puts it, “by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Why, it might be, as the prophet Joel puts it in a deliberate understatement, that God might just “leave a blessing behind him”.

So it turns out that to repent is to believe, to believe in the Lord’s goodness and its potential more than in our goodness and its potential. To repent is to rely on the Redeemer to keep us from returning to the patterns of thought and action of which we have resolved to repent.

To repent then is to hope big in God and to boldly ask Him to accomplish what we cannot. To repent is to raise our sights and to stop seeking too little from God.

Skye Jethani, with his father, was walking down a street in New Delhi, India, when a small boy approached them. He was rail thin, and naked but for his tattered blue shorts. His legs were twisted in a deformity so severe he could only move around by waddling along on his calloused knees. He cried out to the senior Jethani, “A rupee, please! One rupee!”

Mr. Jethani looked kindly at the boy and asked if that was all he wanted. Not understanding, the boy repeated, “One rupee, sir,” while motioning his hand to his mouth and bowing his head in deference. Mr. Jethani laughed with a loving smile and said, “How about I give you five rupees?” The boy thought he was mocking and making fun of him. It never occurred to him that someone might want to give him that much money. He retracted his hand, mumbled a curse, and started shuffling away on those calloused knees.

Mr. Jethani reached into his pocket and jingled some coins in his hand. The boy stopped and looked back over his shoulder. Mr. Jethani picked up a five rupee piece and held it out to the boy with an inviting gesture. The boy didn’t know how to react. So Mr. Jethani walked over to him and gently dropped the coin into his palm. The boy didn’t move or say a word. He just stared at that fortune in stunned amazement. The Jethanis left him to his thoughts and crossed the street.

A moment later, they heard behind them the boy shouting, “Thank you, sir! Bless you!” and racing after them on his street-hardened knees – not to beg for more money, but to touch Mr. Jethani’s feet with reverence and gratitude.

Do you underestimate how much loving grace God your Father in heaven has in His pocket for you?

Let us repent of expecting too little from God! Let us dare to believe He wants to give us the best gifts: joy, inner power and peace! And let us not ask Him for a worm to eat when He wants to give us a rainbow trout, or for a cold stone when He wants to give us fresh-from-the-oven bread! Let us ask Him to fill us with the Holy Spirit, that by His supernatural strength we might fulfill our repentance!
This Lent, may we come to our senses…and repent and believe!

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