“If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, if you return to me…” – Jeremiah 4:1
The call to “repent” is always fairly unsettling. Whenever we hear someone talking about repentance, there’s always a sense that some sort of judgement is going on. Someone, somewhere, has determined that we’re in need of a change of heart.
But repentance doesn’t have to be scary. That’s especially true if we hear what “repentance” really means. If you go back to the root of the Greek word for it that’s found in the original text of the New Testament, you find that the word is “metanoia.” Metanoia is roughly translated as “to change your mind.” It’s a call to “think differently”. A call not just to change your mind, but a call to change your actions as well.
This repentance isn’t about feeling bad or ashamed or guilty. It’s about being willing to put aside the things that are keeping us from fully participating in what comes next. It’s about believing that our mistakes and our past don’t have to define our future. And it’s about deciding to believe that we can be a part of God’s own work in our world.
But, most of all, repentance is not about beating ourselves up for being bad people. It’s about making a decision to come home to God once again.
When Jesus talked about a father who ran as fast as he could to welcome his prodigal son, he was really repeating an old story. Throughout Scripture the theme is the same. Again and again, God calls for us to change our minds, and come home once again. Home to a place where there is no judgement, but only open arms. Home to a place where we will always be welcome, no matter how many times we stray.
Holy God, help us to remember how to come home, and help us to dare to turn around and start the journey back. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, a frequent Huffington Post blogger and a regular contributor to the UCC’s NewSacred.