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The Good News of Repentance – Br. David Vryhof

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Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8

There are times in our lives when we recognize that there is an obstacle that is separating us from God.

Sometimes it is an obstacle of our own making, something we have done or said, perhaps a choice that we made that now we deeply regret.  We may feel guilty, or ashamed, or afraid.  We may be reluctant to show our face before God.  This thing that we have done has become a barrier between us and God.

Sometimes it is something that has happened to us, perhaps something that we don’t understand or don’t feel we deserved, and because we can’t make sense of it we fault God, and there is born in us a new fear or anger towards God, and a reluctance to trust that renders intimacy with God impossible.

Sometimes it is something that we know we should do but have avoided doing, perhaps because it seemed too costly or too difficult or too humiliating to do this thing, even though we knew it was right.  But now this thing that was left undone stands as a barrier between God and us, and we know that our communion with God cannot be restored until we do what we can to set things right.

Sometimes the obstacle is something that we used to believe but no longer believe – about God, or about life, or about our faith, or about the world, and because we have not been able to reconcile this gap between what we used to believe and what we now believe, our faith has stalled and our relationship with God has lost its passion.

Whatever it is, this obstacle stands as a dividing wall between God and us.  We may have tried – or may still be trying – to get over it or around it, but it is still there.  We may have tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, but in fact it was, and still is.  We may be simply ignoring it, like the proverbial elephant in the living room, pretending not to notice it, or wishing it would just go away; but deep in our hearts knowing that it is affecting our ability to love God and to be loved by God.

Today there is a voice echoing from the wilderness that invites us to come, assuring us that this obstacle, this mountain, that has grown up between us and God has been leveled by the coming of God’s Messiah, and assuring us that God is ready and eager to receive us, to forgive us, to heal us, and to reconcile us to himself.

Isaiah the prophet addresses himself to the people of Israel who have been taken captive by a foreign power and carried away from their homeland to live in the land of their oppressors.  They understand that their situation was brought about by their own pride, negligence and sin, and they see the events that have unfolded as God’s rightful punishment for their stubborn and rebellious ways.  But now God’s word comes to them through the prophet Isaiah, speaking comfort and tenderly assuring them that their suffering is ending and that God is preparing a straight way through the wilderness so that they might return to God and once again behold God’s glory.

“Comfort, O comfort my people,” God instructs the prophet, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  Tell her to “prepare the way of the Lord (in the wilderness)” and “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Say to her, “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”  Here is our God, ready to meet us.

Come.  Return to God.  Valleys are being lifted up and mountains and hills are being made low.  Uneven ground is being leveled and rough places are being smoothed.  Every obstacle is being removed and the way is being made easy and straight.  Come, return to God.

In much the same way, John’s voice echoes in the wilderness, inviting the crowds to repent and to return to God.  God is about to do a new thing, John tells them; the way is being readied for the coming of God’s Messiah and for the coming of God’s reign on earth.  Now is the time of salvation, healing and reconciliation!  Come!

And they came – “from the whole Judean countryside” and from Jerusalem, confessing their sins and receiving the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” that God was offering them through John.  Let me point out to you that what they are doing – confessing their sins – is not a normal thing to do.  The normal thing is to hide our sins, to pretend that we are not at fault, to deflect the blame towards others for the messiness of our lives and the craziness of our world.  The normal thing is to keep secrets, fear exposure, resist honesty, and deny truth.  But here they are, confessing their sins, allowing the obstacles that have kept them from experiencing the love of God to be removed, making their way back home and into the arms of God’s loving embrace.

Come, repent, return to God.  Whatever is keeping you apart from God, it’s time to deal with it, confess it, and clear it away!  There is no longer any barrier to separate you from God’s love.  No fear, no shame, no regret…. no thing done or left undone…. no sin, no disobedience, no rebellion. God is clearing it all away by declaring his love for you and by extending his arms to you and by saying to you in the gentlest voice possible, “Come.”  Mountains are being leveled and valleys filled; rough places are being made smooth, the way is being made so very accessible, just so that you may come… freely…. here and now.

God’s call to repentance – the invitation to confess our sins, to open our hearts, to change our minds, and to turn in a new direction – is GOOD NEWS, not bad news.  It is good news because God is saying to us that we can come home, that all barriers and obstacles have been removed, and that there is no longer any need or reason to hold back or run away or hide.  Whatever stands between you and God can be overcome.  No matter what sin or fear or guilt or sense of failure or doubt or shame or physical, mental or emotional pain has kept you apart from God, whatever obstacle has gotten in the way, it need no longer separate you from the love of the One who created you and redeemed you and cherishes you as the ‘apple of his eye.’

Have you understood these things?  Then throw off the shackles that have bound you and the chains that have weighed you down.  Cast away the fear and doubt and guilt and shame that have kept you from becoming the child of God that you are.  And come.

Come to be forgiven.  Come to be healed.  Come to be encouraged.  Come to be loved.  Come to be saved.  Come to be fed.  Come.

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26 Comments

  1. Fred Adams on January 18, 2017 at 01:22

    Oh, Lamb of God, I come. I come.

  2. gwedhen nicholas on January 16, 2017 at 19:23

    Thank you Br David! I read this sermon in 2015, and there was a barrier between God and myself. Now, through a process that I have been led through, I have let go of what was between God and me, and have devoted my entire life to Him. Thank you for this affirmation that what I am doing is right! Gwedhen

  3. Lorna Harris on January 16, 2017 at 09:06

    Thank you for this. Just what I needed to hear this morning. At one time or another, I think I have fallen, and still fall, into most of the categories you name. Isaiah’s words and your homily are so encouraging.

  4. claire s cocchi on January 16, 2017 at 05:06

    Amen

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  6. Bonnie Hill on September 15, 2015 at 19:10

    Beautiful, powerful words. Thank you so much Br. David.

  7. Jaan Sass on September 7, 2015 at 23:55

    It is memorial anger and confusion that gets me into trouble. I have ADHD anxiety depression and PTSD. I will read literature or news about the genocide in the middle east and loose my christian love and understanding. All this passion leads to an inability to accomplish Anyway please pray for me.

    • Christina on January 16, 2017 at 08:45

      Good morning Jaan. It is a long time since you wrote the above. I wonder whether (without burying your head in the sand)You might stop exposing yourself to what is disturbing you so tragically. Don’t read the literature, or the daily news. The events are heartbreaking but keeping them in front of you is like rubbing salt in a wound. Blessings. Christina

  8. Pam on September 7, 2015 at 14:48

    Wow!

  9. Bonnie Hill on September 4, 2015 at 18:46

    Thank you so much. Those are beautiful, helpful words that touched my soul.

  10. Anders on September 4, 2015 at 11:18

    Today I feel sadness in that I am not sure where to or how I should come. Sometimes Jesus feels close by, seated next to me on a boat in a stormy sea. At other times, he’s outside of the boat, asking me to walk in faith to him, to get out of the boat, my security, my rationality, my past. Meanwhile, the church, my community, tells me not to rock the boat, that I have to believe in the boat to belong. I walk, swim, tread water, rock, rest and struggle on this path and all shall be well.

  11. Christopher Engle Barnhart on September 4, 2015 at 10:20

    From your sermon, I am so reminded of the Jesus;s Parable of Prodical Son.

  12. Sally Baynton on September 4, 2015 at 09:20

    I just LOVED the invitation to simply, “Come.”

  13. Michel on September 4, 2015 at 08:18

    My obstacle is self doubt. I don’t trust the world around me and it causes many things to be viewed rather than expereinced. How to develop a sense of trust seems beyond me. How and where to begin?

  14. Ann-Marie Montague on September 4, 2015 at 08:03

    Br. David, I needed these words today…at the time they were read. Thank you!

  15. John on September 4, 2015 at 06:24

    Br. David,
    Yours words usually touch me in deep places, and yes once again. I appreciate your reminders of the Gospel message. More particularly, I appreciate your own way of presenting it, your own voice. Thank you.

    • Dee Dee on September 4, 2015 at 09:18

      Amen.

  16. Michele on August 20, 2014 at 18:41

    Thank you for this beautiful powerful message. My obstacle is finding a welcoming worship community. I am a divorced Catholic. The institution is a stubling block. Any advice?

    • Leslie on January 16, 2017 at 06:04

      Michele, I respond with no authority. The church is not God. She is a ship in which we travel together in hope of a secure passage. Her nurture is very helpful to the faithful, but it is still God who beckons. If you choose to remain in the Roman Catholic church, remember that this life in the flesh is a tiny sliver of life eternal. If you are overflowing with love, but constrained from taking another spouse, pour out that love in the homeless shelter or volunteering at a hospice.

  17. Ruth West on August 20, 2014 at 17:32

    Br. David, thank you for this wonderful message. Sometimes it is very hard to realize that there is that barrier which keeps us from following Him as we need to. In my case, I had come to my Lord Christ as a small child. I thought I knew Him, but many years later, it dawned on me that, because of not fully forgiving someone who had wronged me, I had an “elephant in the room” which was definitely a barrier to the peace He wanted me to have. As I was able to open my eyes, ears, and heart in true repentance, He came to me with a peace and joy such as I had not known before. Praised be His holy name!

  18. Clarice Boyd on August 20, 2014 at 09:17

    In times of adversity and turmoil, I seek the cleft in the rock of ages, and in the arms of the Father, I am sheilded and protected…loved beyond reason or imagination. There is no reason to hide my “barrier” sins; they are known to Him already. I must acknowledge them to myself. Then, the barrier is thrown down and the path to the Father is clear. Oh, blessed One, you are so patient and faithful. All praise and glory to God.

  19. Margaret Dungan on February 15, 2014 at 14:40

    This is a wonderful,, Word, that we all require at different times and for different reasons Thank you for expressing it in such a clear way .I hope I will always remember it both for myself and for others
    Thank you B.r David.
    Margaret Dungan

  20. Siobhan on February 15, 2014 at 13:33

    Very good article – thanks!

  21. Brigitte McCulloch on February 15, 2014 at 11:24

    Dear Brother,
    I have a good life for which I am grateful. Sometimes the gifts from God are so great. The heart overflows, my cup runneth over, but I don’t know how to thank God adequately. What can I give in return? What do the Scriptures say and what do you say?
    Your sister in Christ,
    Brigitte

  22. Pam on February 15, 2014 at 10:10

    Powerful and compelling! Thank you.

  23. Alison on February 15, 2014 at 06:28

    This exactly what I needed to hear this morning. The weight of unaddressed feelings has become unbearable and I am now encouraged, with God’s help and love, to bring peace, understanding and acceptance into a primary relationship. I am so grateful for your ministry. Blessings to you all.

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