Repetitive repentance


By Ethan Carnes
Pastor, Benld UMC

Good morning!  Bishop, annual conference, and guests, thank you for this opportunity to preach this morning of annual conference.  I hope you all are caffeinated.  If you are not, that’s okay; it might improve my chances of being commissioned tonight if you sleep through this.
In the 1560’s King Phillip II of Spain needed a miracle.  His son, Don Carlos, was on his deathbed after falling down a set of stairs with a severe head injury.  The kingdom was in turmoil about their future leader.  So Phillip prayed, “God if you can perform a miracle, I’ll perform one too.”  (When’s the last time you were that bold in your prayers?) That week his Don Carlos started drastically improving.  Talk about an awkward moment.  How can you match that?
Phillip did his best, commissioning the royal clockmaker to build something that would be devoted to the worship of God.  What was created was an intricate, mechanical, praying monk replicated from a monk who 100 years earlier was known for radical healings.  As this monk walked, his hands would move from his heart to his mouth holding his rosary, his head and mouth in praying as his feet moved forward.  So why, why make this monk?  The legend, they say, was that the King would always be able to have prayers of supplication said on behalf of him, repenting for him, repeatedly, just like clockwork.
What we gain from this legend and the Psalm for today is the desire, the hope, the pain, and the love, put into this penitential form for a particular and peculiar people of faith.  One that stretches to the deep, that pulls our imagination, and like our beloved Wesley, might push us into a heartwarming experience, only so that we might experience a repentant healing again and again.  Here these deeply passionate words from Psalm 130:
I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you kept track of sins, Lord-my Lord, who would stand a chance?  But forgiveness is with you—that’s why you are honored. I hope, Lord. My whole being[a] hopes, and I wait for God’s promise.My whole being waits for my Lord— more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!7 Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.
Out of a parent’s heart a King offered pain and love.  Similarly, we have the tradition of the Psalmist who we can simply hear listening to the word the pain and love, the desire for this thing we call God’s steadfast love realized, redemption from sin.  Two stories of two healings.-repetitively offering repentance, in hope of resurrection and redemption.
The problem, just might be, that to repetitively offer up out of the depth the ability to listen and to be listen too, for genuine attention, for our request of mercy, for forgiveness (not just from the little things but the things that take up our whole being.  Especially those things that take us away from the attention, and promise of God’s steadfast love.  To offer up all of these things and be as anxious as if we were staying up all night like when we did when we were kids just to see the sun rise.  To say we did it, because someone did it before (Israel did it before)… and they got redemption not just from some of the things but the things seen and unseen, the things that were left done and undone- because I need forgiveness for the things that I’ve done and left undone. 
Here in my hand is a tied piece of rope, it’s noted to remember that I have knots in my life, the things that I need forgiveness for and need to let go.  It represents not just that I am forgiven, but that I still need be forgiven.  It represents the things that I’ve done and the things I’ve left undone, the pain and the love. 
That the circle that was meant to share the pain, to listen, to love, to hope, to witness, to be in covenant and relationship is broken and it needs healed.  The Psalmist recognizes that the circles that they are a part of were broken as well, that it wasn’t just their job to repent on behalf of Israel, but to repent for themselves because they were a part of the problem as well.   
But how can you be a part of a circle where stories are told and when all you do is turn each healing circle into into a form of clockwork: into cold legislation, doctrinal dispute, fear to be honest with our churches and colleagues, fear of offering pain and love. Mechanical resolutions that have made us sick to our stomachs.   So as a young clergy, what I see us offering as a church/conference is not healing out of repentance (of admitting that we are a part of the problem and the systems that hurt and kill), but out of our being sick to our stomachs.  So perhaps I should tell you a story to remind you of why you’re hear and a remedy to a sick stomach.
Nevertheless, in spite of our pettiness, God prevails and heals. 
When I was in seventh grade, I suffered from an illness that left me in a bed for three months.  My parents would have to take me to the bathroom.  In that time the only people who visited me were two teachers and two classmates.  You probably know this, but when you visit someone who’s sick, it changes their life and existence. 
When I entered high school, I was approached by those same teachers.  By then they knew I wasn’t exactly the best kid and not a church kid, but they offered me a chance to repent and I didn’t even know it.  They knew I was musically talented and asked me to play at church.  The only people who offered me spiritual and emotional healing were United Methodists, who invited me to church, the same church my Grandmother attended, where at 8 I heard God call me to ministry, where she looked at me and said, “one day you’ll do great things.”  By age 18, we had a stable youth group with 20 to 30 youth, I became their family; my pastor became my mentor and a father.  It’s because of that that I never stopped repenting because God has new stopped going ahead of me, of following, and pushing me, it’s because of grace that I repetitively repent.
So today I acknowledge the pain I’ve felt, the pain I’ve put on others, the love that I felt and the love that I rejected or lost.  I come to the circle vulnerable because I need someone to hold me and hold me over and over again.  Because I am held by a church in which through Christ has literally saved my life.  A church that has healed me, that has at 24 has given me a full-time job, a title, a house, a pension, multiple degrees (things which most my age do not have), that believed in me, that’s been my family, that I would do anything for.  Because of Christ through you has turned me to constantly repent joyfully out of the depths, because you’re there, Christ is there.  Yet, I’m held by the church that also causes great pain repetitiously, yet we’re on the night watch together, striving toward steadfast/faithful love.
Healing the circle is healing the space to enter into steadfast love, which like a circle never ends.  Repentance is not a mechanical movement; it’s a doxology of redemption.  Until we all can offer our pain and love, it will never be healed.  But this, brothers and sisters, is the night watch, and the morning… well… the morning of redemption is coming soon enough as future hope is met with repetitive repentance.