Repentance & Resolve

As our country prepares to transition to new leadership I have two overwhelming urges (other than rage). I feel a strong call to repentance and a new resolve to the Kingdom of God.

On Election Day I went through a bunch of emotions. Anger, disbelief, frustration, apathy just to name a few. But where I landed on was sadness. I was sad that this is what our country has become, even more so for those whose lives will change dramatically because of our choices, and most sad because it was the white church that by and large made the decision. I read through my Facebook posts from that week and it wasn’t pretty.

It wasn’t until Friday of that week where things changed. I was planning on going to a concert but had decided against it as I wasn’t in the mood to listen to music. But my cousin wanted to go so I reluctantly agreed. I started to get excited on the drive down as it was a pleasant distraction from my sadness. King’s X is one of my favorite bands and I hadn’t seen them headline a show before.

It was an odd venue for a rock show. There were long tables with fancy place settings and waiters taking orders. The menu included a few $30+ dinner options and a long wine list. It felt less like a rock show and more like a pop up fine dining restaurant. When the band finally hit the stage everyone stayed seated, still enjoying their overpriced meals.

The band started their set. They started with “Groove Machine”, which as you can imagine, is a groovy rock song. There was so much dissonance in the room. The loud, thumping music contrasted with the fine dining and conversation just a few feet away. The band played for about an hour. Dug, the lead singer, had gone through about a half a bottle of something, taking a few swigs between songs. It must have been a tough room to play.

At about the halfway point in the set something changed. With no warning the band played a song that I had mostly forgotten about from one of their lesser known records. The song is called “Over and Over”. It’s hard to convey what happened next…here are the lyrics.

If I hurt you, I don’t mean to
Please forgive me
Got no excuse

Over and over again
Over and over
Over and over again
I let you down

I will hurt you, it’s what I do
Please forgive me
You don’t have to

Over and over again
Over and over
Over and over again
I let you down

It’s a song of repentance. The chorus rang out over and over again. If you know me you know that I’m a pretty emotional person but even I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. I started weeping. Not just shedding a few tears — like ugly crying. I was trying to keep it cool. There’s no crying at rock concerts. But I just couldn’t help it.

If you don’t know King’s X, Dug is black. The band started off as a “Christian” band, at least meaning you could buy their records at a “Christian” bookstore. Somewhere along the way they were burned. I don’t know the whole story but from what I can piece together from their lyrics is that someone they trusted burned them and it had to do with the church.

There I was watching a black man that has been burned by the church singing a song of repentance to a crowd of white folks eating overpriced food and I just lost it. Everything about the situation just seemed wrong — so wrong. But Dug sang “Over and Over again, I let you down”. How could this man, who had seemingly turned his back on God, understood repentance so well when the church doesn’t have the first clue as to the damage it has caused to Dug and so many people like him?

It was at that moment that I realized that sadness was not enough. What was called for was repentance. Repentance is an action — a turning back to God. A remembering of what God has called us to be and a re-direction of our lives.

In Matthew 26 Jesus is criticized by his own disciples. A woman had just poured expensive perfume on Jesus and the disciples criticized her and suggested the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus responds by saying…

“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Jesus defends the actions of the woman but what struck me is that Jesus understands us and knows we will always have the poor with us. Jesus has no delusions that this side of heaven we will eradicate poverty. He knows us too well. Over and over Jesus speaks about the plight of the poor and how his favor is with the poor. But the picture Jesus gives is not overly hopeful. He knows us and he is fully aware that we will care for ourselves before we will care for anyone else.

Like Jesus, we should not be surprised by our decision to choose ourselves over anyone else. And we must not mistake that the church voted for themselves in November. We must own that.

But I am reminded of another story, one of my favorites, in John 4. Jesus takes his disciples to Samaria, a place they would not choose to go. He goes up to the well and he sends them into town to get lunch. The Jews considered Samaria and Samaritans as unclean. So you can imagine what grocery shopping in an unclean place must have been like. But they do as Jesus asks and leave him at the well. As we all know, Jesus begins a conversation with the woman that leads to her discovering that Jesus is the Messiah. As that conversation is going on, the disciples return with lunch and scare the woman off with their accusing glances.

Instead of Jesus thanking them for a job well done, he lays into them for not doing as he asked. He defines what his “food” is and directs them to look at the city, possibly the same marketplace they just endured to buy lunch.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

The result of the church’s November decision will be that margins will increase. More and more people will be cast aside as the powerful grab more power. Much like the disciples, we don’t understand the food of Jesus. Like a fancy dinner at a rock show, our offering to the Lord is completely out of place. But just as he did with the disciples, Jesus points us back to where we came from and reminds us of his food. The very people we betrayed on Election Day he calls us back to. The powerless, the poor, the broken and the lost.

The good news is that the disciples start off John 4 by baptizing people and they end John 4 by staying with Jesus in Samaria for 2 days to be with the new believers. Despite their lack of understanding of who Jesus was, he still wanted to co-labor with them. And the same is true with us. Even though we fail, Jesus calls us to co-labor with him to the same people we just failed.

So we must resolve to try again, to join Jesus on the margins and serve those we just betrayed. As our country transitions to this new normal, we also must transition. We must transition from fighting political battles to spiritual ones. We must transition from Facebook conversations to face to face ones. We must get to the business of the Kingdom, one relationship at a time, prioritizing the marginalized. And thanks to us, they should be easier to find than ever.

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