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The repentance of tops and magnets

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sermon for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Mattins)

Did you know that, according to St Matthew, the first word of Our Lord’s ministry is “Repent!”?

That seems to be the central theme of all of the prophets of the Old Testament and, indeed, all of the apostles of the New. Throughout human history, there is this clear, uncompromising call – Repent!

Does God need to repent?


The prophet Amos seems to report that God does need to repent. Twice, God threatens Israel with punishment; twice Amos begs the Lord to forgive Israel; and twice the Lord repents with the words, “this shall not be.” How are we to understand this? Can God sin?


Clearly not. How can God separate Himself from Himself? That doesn’t make sense. Perhaps then, repentance is not really about sin and evil.

The prophet Amos records for us his conversation with God. Like Abraham, he pleads for God for other people. Abraham manages to persuade God to spare Sodom if there can be found ten righteous people within the city. Similarly, Amos seems to persuade God from bringing pestilence and fire upon Israel.

We do have to remember that God is omniscient. This means that He knows all that is possible to know. And, if you think carefully, this does mean that He knows not just what is and was and will be, but what could have been, what could be, and what could happen. God knows all the possible consequences and outcomes of every situation. He can speak of possibilities as well as reality.

For the sins of Israel, God could let grasshoppers consume Israel; He could burn up Israel by fire and He knows the outcome. This shows us very clearly that faithless Israel deserves these punishments. Anyone who forsakes the Lord God deserves terrible punishment. This is what God wants us to know, but see how He is open to be persuaded from such a course of action. It’s clear that God does not want to abandon Israel and that He wants to give Sodom every chance to return to Him. There will, however, come a time when there will be no opportunity to do so. Sodom falls, and Israel is led into captivity.

And this is what is essential if we want to know what repentance really is. God turns His eyes from what is His right to exercise punishment, but rather seeks to rescue Israel from Evil through the bringing down of the wicked rulers of Israel and the source of Evil. God repents by turning away His eyes from the possibility of vengeance to the reality of His love. In so doing, He shares with us what could be, but shows us that He turns Himself to us in love and in truth.

God repents by turning toward us as we are in our sinfulness, and bids us turn to him away from that sinfulness. Repentance is about the changing of the mind to what is good and loving and true. It’s clear that God does not want to lose any one of His children, and Holy Scripture is filled with God confronting sinners with the truth of sin and evil, but also with His divine forgiveness and unconditional love seeking our transformation into beings of love, light and truth. Every time we turn from God, He steps in front of us with the same message of love. We just have to turn to Him away from all sin and evil.


Sometimes, we seem to be like tops spinning around and around on the spot trying to avoid looking at God in order to follow our own selfish desires. All we need to do is to stop and turn to Him and allow Him to draw us to Himself. We need to be less like tops and more like magnets aligned to our Creator.

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