Summary: This is the first sermon in a series on the New Testmanet meaning and need for repentance. It was first preached in preparation for the congregation receiving Holy Communion.
God’s Commandment to Repent, Part One
I remember when I was first called to preach my pastor Eugene Black and his successor Mode Powell would often invite me to preach even while I was still in high school or when I would be home from college on a break. Those first attempts were truly humbling, for I really had not yet learned how to “Study to present myself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” [II Timothy 2:15]
My Mother, however, having aspired to be a school teacher and having served many years as a Sunday School teacher and Sunday School Superintendent, felt she was the qualified expert. We would come home following a service and she would comment, “Well, you did a good job, but you did not include this point.” I mention this to affirm, “There is no way I can cover all the points involved in Biblical repentance in a single message. Therefore, this will be at least a two part series.
Our devotional book A GUIDE TO PRAYER FOR ALL WHO SEEK GOD by Bishop Reuben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck had as its theme for the week of August 20th through 26th “Repentance.” The reading for Monday, August 20th is our text for today. All the Scripture readings and many of the reflections from the saints through the ages that week really spoke to my heart and inspired this sermon series.
Today we celebrate Holy Communion. In our Methodist and Anglican traditions the spirit of repentance has always been at the heart and center in observing this holy sacrament. Traditionally since the publication of the first BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER in 1549 and John Wesley’s 1784 work THE SUNDAY SERVICE OF METHODISTS IN NORTH AMERICA WITH OTHER OCCASIONAL SERVICES, we have prepared our hearts to receive the elements of the bread and wine by praying together “The Prayer of Humble Access.”
I am using contemporary English in this version of that prayer, but you will remember it goes like this:
We do not presume to come to this Your table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness, but in Your manifold
and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to
gather up the crumbs under your table. But You are
the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of this
sacrament of Your Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk
in newness of life, may grow into His likeness, and may
evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen.
Since Vatican II not only the Roman Catholic Church but most Protestant Churches have revised their liturgies, especially the ones for Holy Communion. Communion has taken on the spirit of a joyous celebration of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ which it should always be, but usually “The Prayer of Humble Access” is omitted. This is regrettable.
As committed disciples of Jesus Christ, we all need to be open to obey the Holy Spirit in humble repentance when He convicts us of sin and shows us our personal need to repent. The Table of our Lord, His altar of prayer, is the best place to lay our sins at the feet of Jesus, repent, and receive His forgiveness. “The Prayer of Humble Access” captures the true spirit of repentance in personal preparation for Holy Communion.
Today as we come to the Table of Jesus for Holy Communion I invite each of us to come with a true spirit of repentance. However, let us first be certain we understand the true meaning of Biblical repentance and who it is the Holy Spirit calls to repent.
The New Testament word for repent means “to think differently; to change one’s mind or purpose.” It always involves a change for the better, an improvement in the repenter. It is a decision that changes the entire direction one is going in life, a total “about-face,” a 180 degree turn in direction, “a radical, moral turn of the whole person from sin and self to God.” Because it embraces one’s entire being and personality, repentance is a change in both attitudes of the heart and the outward, visible way of live.
The Lord Himself speaks about the radical change that repentance brings in both the inner and the outward person in Isaiah 55:7-8, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” Our inward thoughts and attitudes are not like God’s and neither are our ways, our outward actions. Biblical repentance is a change in both.