Jesus is a brilliant storyteller. We hear this in the parables today. His words speak directly to the heart of a matter, because he knows the hearts of those who are listening. In this story it’s the legalistic morality police & the sinners in the crowd. Jesus isn’t interested in labels we’ve been given by others, he wants to know how real we’re willing to get. Because that’s the kind of heart he can work with.
5 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Repentance. That’s not a word that often comes up at a gathering of friends. Hey Sue, how’s it going? What have you repented of lately? That’s what your dinner conversation sounds like, right? I love a good dinner chat- and I’ve NEVER heard that topic come up. Still, Jesus says that repentance leads to joy. How can this be?
Think back on the last time you remember saying you were sorry. Who had you wronged? How did it feel to apologize? How long did it take to actually say it? Admitting our faults can be really hard. Being defensive is way easier- that’s what we’re taught, right? In fact, there’s this strange category in the study of theology called “apologetics.” You know what it means? The opposite of apologizing. It means “defending the faith.” As if God needs us to defend God. That’s a weird theological stance, especially if we take seriously this value Jesus teaches over and over: Don’t be self-righteous, repent! Turn away from believing you are right all the time. You’re human, you’re gonna get it wrong. The question is, how will you respond when you make a mistake?
“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve had SO much practice being wrong and needing to clear my conscience over the years….but I’ve come to understand repentance as an act of courage.
One Wednesday afternoon last year, our wonderful crew of confirmands tested my patience. They were squirrely, but nothing about their behavior was particularly terrible. I, however, was having a stressful day and had had ENOUGH! Some of you might recall this evening. Parents got phone calls saying, “confirmation is done early today- come and pick up your child.” I’d never done this- and I know I surprised a few people- myself included. In fact, I said something I would NEVER imagine coming out of my mouth. Before the confirmands left that afternoon, I looked them in the eyes and said, “SHAME ON YOU for behaving this way.”
It took me awhile to process it all. But by the next Wednesday, I knew deep down that I owed them an apology. It just so happened that our topic that Wednesday was on forgiveness. Okay, thanks for that, God. :) I was nervous to see them all again, but with a sincere heart, I looked them in the eyes and apologized; most of all, I told them that I’d regretted using the word shame- “I am never ashamed of you, I said. I don’t always like what you do, but I always give thanks for who you are. Every single one of you, a blessing.”
A few of the confirmands also apologized, and one said this: “I’ve never had an adult apologize to me before.” Never? I asked. Never.
Friends, we need to practice saying we’re sorry because that’s what draws us closer to Christ. That’s what mends relationships. Repentance is not about shame- it’s about reclaiming our own belovedness, flaws and all.
I know how much courage it takes to say those three simple words: I am sorry. I also know how freeing and wonderful it can be to gain someone’s trust in the act of repentance.
By the end of the year, those confirmands were still squirrely on occasion, but something shifted in our relationship- they were more willing to listen, and I sensed it was because they trusted a pastor who’s willing to admit when I’m wrong.
The only way any of us can find the courage to repent is by trusting that God loves our whole selves, flaws and all. That admitting we’re wrong won’t make us less worthy in the eyes of God- but more. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Courage is the first of Brene Brown’s three essential qualities for every person desiring a “whole-hearted life.” She says,
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”
Jesus says it doesn’t matter how often you mess up. It matters how willing you are to be real. It matters how much ordinary courage you muster up when you’ve made a mistake.
Who needs to hear you say you’re sorry this week? The courage to be real, to be honest, and to make amends- it’s good because it’s hard-win. Admitting we’re wrong doesn’t make us less of a person, it makes us more whole. That’s the blessing that lies below the surface, our essential self waiting to emerge from the facade of being “put together” all the time. It’s a pathway to freedom, because repentance is the mending of relationship…even within our own selves.
Let’s find the courage to accept our whole selves this week- to admit when we’re wrong as a symbol of our trust that God’s still gonna love us anyway, flaws and all. Repentance is the pathway to freedom that Christ offers.. Let’s accept it.
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Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.