By Adriane Heins
MILWAUKEE (July 11, 2016) — “Repentance is the very essence of God’s relationship with His people,” the Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray Jr., director of LCMS Black Ministry, told delegates to the church body’s 66th Regular Convention on Monday morning. Gray, along with four other pastors, serves as a convention essayist, with the task of delving more deeply into the convention theme: “Upon this Rock: Repent, Confess, Rejoice.”
Noting that the Church has always been — and will always be — marked by repentance and forgiveness, Gray explained, “From our original parents, Adam, Eve and Seth; through the patriarchs Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; from King David and the prophets; through the apostolic age of Peter, Paul, the apostles and the Early Church; through the Middle Ages of Luther and the reformers, even today, God requires sinners to repent and live by faith in the redemptive, life-giving grace and mercy of Christ.”
Repentance, both then and now, remains at the core of the Church’s confession — that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16) — and, Gray said, “Upon this confession, Christ continues to build His church, as we repent and confess our need for the Christ, the Son of the living God, in our own lives, in our vocation to which God has called us, in our church and world.”
“Recognizing the reality of our sin and turning to God our Father in faith for His mercy” is foundational to this understanding, Gray said. For there, “God reveals our sins through His Law” even as He “forgives our sins and restores us to a right relationship to Himself through His Gospel.”
For Christians, it simply means that any discussion regarding repentance requires that “the focus of the Gospel must be clear, absolutely clear: our sins are forgiven only because of Christ.”
Obstacles and opportunities
In a time when people suffer from concerns and fears based on turmoil both at home and around the world, repentance reminds believers that they exist only by the mercy of Christ, Gray said.
“We arrive here in convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod with one subject dear to our heart and our being,” he said, “confessing in our liturgical life and the worship of our God: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful, and unclean.”
This reminds the Church, and all humanity, that each person has a great need “to hear a Shepherd’s voice who calls humanity to repentance and a voice that provides the sweet balm of forgiveness and faith,” he explained, “because our God ‘desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ ” (1 Tim. 2:4).
And yet this reminder — that the Church moves forward in faith only on account of her Savior — is something still more, Gray said. It is also “a great opportunity … [for] 21st century Lutheran missionaries: to boldly proclaim this wonderful gift God has given us in Jesus Christ.”
Both the Church and the world proclaim “this message of repentance” for all “need to hear the stern and sweet voice of the Good Shepherd.”
“It is easy for us to arrive in convention, believing and confessing that we are scriptural, confessional Lutheran Christians, and yes, we are,” Gray told the assembly. “But it could be just as easy to forget the very reason why this is so: … only God can return us to Himself and our God sought us, bought us and brought us unto Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
‘Lives of repentance’
Gray also spoke to the importance of repentance and Christ’s healing Gospel in regard to the current unrest surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, which he said was assembling in Milwaukee during the convention.
He encouraged delegates to engage in discussion with those in the movement, noting that “Jesus has made it about us: that all lives matter. We have these great resources that Jesus has given The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. And we can say to them: How can we help you? … How can we help you to understand that God loves you and loves the world?”
He also spoke to the LCMS’ response to the conflict in Ferguson, Mo. Along with two other pastors from the Office of National Mission, Gray went to Ferguson in the days following Michael Brown’s death.
“We simply engaged the people of Ferguson, and we prayed for them and talked to them about the love of Jesus Christ,” he said.
As a result, a young LCMS pastor has been called to Ferguson as a missionary at-large where he will, Gray recounted, “share God’s love and mercy and grace with those people whose lives have been turned upside down because of the community in which they live.”
These two examples — of conflict and a Christ-centered response — remind Christians that “We can pine away about how bad things are or we can talk about how good God is.”
Ultimately, Gray told delegates, “In this 21st-century drama of sinful humanity and in the Church’s witness, mercy and life together, we have this glorious opportunity to boldly proclaim with our Savior: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel’ ” (Mark 1:14-15).
Forgiveness and hope
Repentance and forgiveness, grace and mercy, hope and healing all go hand in hand, Gray explained as he concluded. “Yes, we live in anxious times,” he acknowledged, but “is there reason for hope? Yes! By faith in Jesus, we stand upon an immovable, eternal Rock: Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
And on the confession of that Rock, “the Church is built and it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us His Kingdom along with our Rock of Ages. So, have no fear, little flock!”
“Missouri,” he said, “God loves you. And He cares about you. And He loves and cares about the world too.”
The 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS is meeting July 9–14 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee under the theme “Upon this Rock.” Among the 1,500 convention participants are some 1,100 clergy and lay voting delegates.
Adriane Heins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness and the Journal of Lutheran Mission.
Posted July 11, 2016
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