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"Tony Robinson is one of the most active church leaders in the United States, greatly in demand as he teaches congregations and denominations about church life. His work has a deep theological underpinning, which many congregational-development gurus don't have."

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author of The Gospel and the New York Times and And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament

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I preached this past Sunday on the Gospel lesson from Mark in which Jesus begins his public ministry, saying, "The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is near; repent, and believe in the
good news." (Mark 1: 14)

Repentance is a good news word that has gotten a bad news reputation.

I looked up "repentance" in the Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible and found three definitions:

  • A change of mind.

  • A feeling of regret or remorse.

  • To turn away from sin and turn toward God.

Again, all strike me as positive and hopeful. Change is possible. Turning is possible. New life is possible. Not easy, not quick, but with the God for whom all things are possible, possible. But somehow, "repentance" has gotten hooked up red-faced, sweaty preachers threatening people with hell and damnation. I want the word back!

I was particularly interested in the second definition, "a feeling of regret or remorse." I have sometimes heard people say, "No regrets. I have no regrets." That strikes me as sad. Who has lived so good a life as not to have some regrets? True, we can let regret get the better of us. But to have no sense of regret or remorse about mistakes made, opportunities lost, kindnesses foregone is not to have lived or perhaps not to be honest with oneself.

And "remorse," which I take to mean a sense of grief or sorrow at one’s failures. Again, yes, this can be overdone. The idea is not to wallow in it or make it your constant frame of mind. But there is something purifying in an honest sense of grief for our sins and shortcomings.

As the Psalmist put it, "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (51: 17) There is a cleansing beauty in true contrition.

So repentance is a grieving our failures but a turning toward God, who has in Jesus, already turned toward us.

"Repentance" is not a bad word, but a good one!


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