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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 3:1–17

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (NRSV)

John the Baptist roused people to prepare to receive their Messiah, Jesus the Christ. The way to prepare—back then and now—is repentance. Repentance literally means “to turn around.” It is based on the Greek word metanoia, which means “a transformative change of heart; a spiritual conversion.” Repentance includes reviewing one’s actions, admitting and apologizing for one’s misdeeds, and making restitution for the wrongs one has done. Beyond remorse, repentance also includes a commitment to personal change and the resolve to live a more faithful and loving life.

The Twelve-Step Program for Recovery, such as is used by Alcoholics Anonymous, has two steps related to repentance:

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Both steps underscore that you and you alone are responsible for your behavior, so drop the word “blame” from your vocabulary. Examples of what could be written in a moral inventory include

“I lie to the people I care about, and it’s hurt them.”
“I am power hungry, and I boast about my achievements.”
“I have alienated those around me by my selfishness.”
“I bring others down with my self-loathing and shame.”
“I am self-righteous and judgmental of others.”
“I am ill-tempered, and I have taken my anger out on my family and friends.”

When we admit to God and others how we need to “turn around,” it allows God’s forgiveness to make us new. We are no longer burdened by shame and guilt or old patterns. We can, indeed, prepare our hearts to receive Christ as the Lord of our life.

Merciful God, I need your forgiveness. Cleanse me from my sin and shape me anew. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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