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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On Not Repenting

This is one of the sermons delivered at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA, during the Ten Days of Awe this year.

When I look at these magnificent words from the Prophet Hosea, a question wells up within me. With promises like this, why doesn’t everyone repent and quickly, too?

Look at what he says:

5 I will heal their affliction,
Generously will I take them back in love;
For My anger has turned away from them.

Such a guarantee!
6 I will be to Israel like dew;
He shall blossom like the lily,
He shall strike root like a Lebanon tree.
7 His boughs shall spread out far,
His beauty shall be like the olive tree's,
His fragrance like that of Lebanon.
8 They who sit in his shade shall be revived:
They shall bring to life new grain,
They shall blossom like the vine;
His scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
9 Ephraim [shall say]:
"What more have I to do with idols?
When I respond and look to Him,
I become like a verdant cypress."
Your fruit is provided by Me. (from chapter 14)

The fruit of such repentance will be fruitfulness, delightful fragrance and joy! Who would not repent with such incentives?

Such guarantees and promises are echoed in the other prophetic readings of the day. Micha says this:

Micah 7:18 Who is a God like You,
Forgiving iniquity
And remitting transgression;
Who has not maintained His wrath forever
Against the remnant of His own people,
Because He loves graciousness!
19 He will take us back in love;
He will cover up our iniquities,
You will hurl all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
20 You will keep faith with Jacob,
Loyalty to Abraham,
As You promised on oath to our fathers
In days gone by.

So the question occurs again, if the promises are so generous, and the guarantees so iron-clad, why don’t more people repent?

One reason people don’t repent is indifference to God. People don’t repent either because they don’t really care about God and the things of God, or they believe the search for God is fruitless, confusing, and a waste of time. I spent the first nineteen years of my life assuming that nobody knows God in any way, shape or form, so why would I bother looking for Him? It was only when I met people who seemed to have something I lacked which they uniformly attributed to their experience with God, that I began to take notice and considered repenting.

Another reason people don’t repent is antagonism toward God. These are people who are either angry at God for something for which they blame Him, who don’t believe in Him and angrily protect their right to say so, or who are threatened by God because they don’t want to make room for His interference in their lives.

A third reason people don’t repent is that they imagine that what they currently know and experience of God is all they need. They have no appetite for God or His Presence, content to merely nosh at His table from time to time.

A fourth reason people don’t repent is that their God concept precludes it. People whose God is either a remote Force to be tapped into when convenient, or an inner cosmic stirring, or an all-wise always=affirming non-judgmental nice guy (or nice girl for that matter), none of whom require much of us nor visit us with retribution for our spiritual indifference, our selfishness and self-involvement, and the havoc we might cause others. People with such a God concept see no need to repent because everything is either already taken care of, or because God doesn’t hold us responsible for the lives we live, but only wants to be sure we are enjoying ourselves.

A fifth and very common reason people don’t repent is that they have succeeded in distracting themselves with other matters, so that there is no felt need for forgiveness or reassurance from God, nor a sense that something is missing from their lives when awareness of Him is absent.

Look at the Prodigal Son for example. In this story we read about his repentance---how he came to himself, arose, and journeyed back toward his father, whom he had abandoned some time earlier. The question arises, what about all the other days he was away from home and father? The answer is he was distracted by wine, women and song, and the work he had to do. But when the money ran out, so did the wine, women and song, and even his work proved to be a source of trial to him. Some people do not repent until the things with which they distracted themselves are either gone, or simply do not work any more.

A sixth reason people do not repent is the theological one, that there is a principle at work in all of us, a kind of stubborn autonomy, that reflexively stiff arms or seeks to manipulate others and especially God, an inner gyroscope that seeks to avoid or sidestep accountability. This is what is called “sin.”

A seventh reason people do not repent is that they have insulated themselves from an awareness of how far they fall short of right standards. We kid ourselves into thinking we’re not so bad, and this is perhaps true in many areas of our lives. But all of us have some area where we stubbornly behave as we should not, or fail to behave as we should. And we are angry or perhaps afraid whenever anyone, even God, dares to broach pointing that area out to us. All of us fall short of God’s standards. Every one of us have areas where things are not good at all. All of us need to repent—to return to God, to ask for forgiveness, and to ask for strength to amend our ways, taking concrete steps to do so. For this is what repentance is, as indicated by the opening words of our Haftarah:

3 Take words with you
And return to the Lord.
Say to Him:
"Forgive all guilt
And accept what is good;
Instead of bulls we will pay
[The offering of] our lips.
4 Assyria shall not save us,
No more will we ride on steeds;
Nor ever again will we call
Our handiwork our god,
Since in You alone orphans find pity!"

I encourage us all to repent during this season because God is more holy than we dare imagine, and His antipathy to sin is like the blinding light of a desert sun compared to the darkness of the world’s deepest mine-shaft. He warns us in Torah that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” And it is. Therefore repent.

I encourage us all to repent during this season because there is infinitely more to knowing God than any of us have experienced. We are like people standing on the outside of Ali Baba’s cave, looking in, satisfied with the mere glimmer of the treasures within, not realizing that we are invited to come inside and to touch, taste, and handle all that lies there. There is more, infinitely more, to the delightful treasure of knowing God. Therefore. Repent.

I encourage us all to repent during this season because we are more sinful, twisted and spiritually deformed than we dare to face—not in every area of life equally, but in certain areas of our lives certainly. Spiritual life and accountability for how we have been living is all about making strides toward realizing our spiritual potential as beings meant to reflect the glory of God in our own characters. We all fall short—even the best of us. Not only is it a tragedy to fail to grow up in this manner, God holds us accountable for not doing so. Therefore, repent.

I encourage us all to repent during this season because the forgiveness and provision of God is lavish and immediate. He stands ready to forgive and assist all those who truly repent, who return to God, who ask for forgiveness, who ask for strength to amend their ways, taking concrete steps to do so. Therefore, repent.

5 I will heal their affliction,
Generously will I take them back in love;
For My anger has turned away from them.
Your fruitfulness comes from the Living God.

Let us all draw near to Him at this season.