Sermon preached at Mattins on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (3 September 2017) by Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached at Mattins on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (3 September 2017) by Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

The Canon Pastor reflects on the meaning of repentance and the opportunity it creates for change, for opening up possibilities, rather than closing them down.

I couldn’t help but smile as the man declared to the woman walking behind him that this was the grand tomb of Christopher Wren. They were passing the monument you probably passed on your way in, filling a bay in our nave, topped by a statue of a man astride a glorious horse.

is in fact not a tomb at all, but a monument. And a monument to the Duke of Wellington, not Christopher Wren.

I smiled, not because the man was so obviously wrong, but at his certainty that he was right – a reminder of just how often I find myself in the very same position.

When realising that I am wrong is the first step to being right.

Realising that one has got it wrong is central to the concept of repentance – a concept shared by the Abrahamic faiths.

Now, with images of verbally violent placards in our memories, after years of real and perceived condemnation and unproductive guilt, many of us hesitate to speak of repentance – and for good reason. But that’s a pity, and perhaps it’s time to look again, to change our minds.

In fact that’s what ‘metanoia’, the Greek word most commonly used in the Gospels to refer to repentance means: ‘a change of mind or thinking’.

We see such a change of mind in the Biblical book of Jonah which tells of a Hebrew prophet called by God to go to the city of Ninevah to call them to repent. Jonah initially refuses and after much calamity finds himself back where our passage starts: ‘The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time’.

Jonah himself gets a second chance, an opportunity to change his mind. His message leads the people of Ninevah to change their minds and lives – after all, says their King – if we repent, who knows, maybe even God will change God’s mind and we will be saved.

The story has a long interpretive history. In Judaism it is read during the afternoon of Yom Kippur to invite reflection on God's willingness to forgive those who repent. It is also retold in the Koran. Recognition of the need to repent, readiness to change one’s mind and address one’s actions seems pretty universal.

For people of faith, repentance is first and foremost orientated towards God in whose image we and our neighbour are made.

Such repentance is about authenticity – being willing to be honest. It is about recognition – about scrutinising, acknowledging and taking responsibility for one’s own part and it leads to action – to change.

It comes from a stance of humility, a willingness to ask ‘what if I and not they are wrong?’

It is about release and relationship –creating space for others to also change their minds - opening up rather than closing down possibilities.

Do you agree that our world is in need of possibilities?

When we consider the damage being done to our planet, the prejudice that keeps us apart, the hatred that destroys lives, maybe it’s time to repent – to change our minds, individually and collectively.

It maybe that when you reflect on your own life it seems that you too could use some new possibilities, opportunities for change. And the good news is that in God it is possible.

‘Let anyone who has an ear, listen’ said Jesus.

By the way – should you be wondering where Wrens tomb actually is…it’s down in our crypt and notable not for its majesty but its simplicity and I didn’t know that, until someone told me.

Let us pray…

Who is there like you,
God of mercy and grace, who loves us as you do?

Who knows the thoughts and words of our heart as you do?
Who shares our joys and sorrows as you do?
Who hears as we confess our sins and forgives as you do?
Who takes a broken heart and makes it whole as you do?
Who finds a life that’s lost and welcomes it home as you do?

May the merciful grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore.