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Practice Makes Perfect

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Several years ago I was at a youth event at our church and we were in our fellowship hall. The event was basically over and we were waiting for some of the parents to come and pick up their children and while we were waiting some of the kids were trying to shoot a ball in the basketball hoops. The problem with that is that the hoops hadn’t been lowered and so they were trying to shoot them at a very funny angle and a very tall height. I watched them for a while and noticed that they weren’t making much progress at all with ever making it in the hoop but at the same time they never seemed to give up. The more the few kids who were doing it persisted and ‘oohed, and ahhed’ the more kids got in on trying to get that ball into the hoops with them.
I eventually chimed in and told them it was going to be near impossible to get the ball in the hoop because of the ball they were using (it wasn’t a basketball and didn’t have quite the weight it needed) and because of the angle of the hoop. They told me I wasn’t being optimistic enough and that anything is possible. Someone else chimed in that practice makes perfect. So instead of giving up they grabbed another ball and started using two balls to try to get the ball in the hoops. Having the second ball ended up helping them because there were times when one of the balls would get stuck on the hoop and they needed the other one to get the first one down. The game eventually got all the kids involved except perhaps one of them and some of the kids refused to leave even though their parents were there, because they were convinced that they were going to get the ball in the hoop all on their own.
As a pastor working with youth I was always amazed that no matter how much you plan and work to make events fun and meaningful, the kids always seem to find something completely unrelated to the event to suddenly and unexpectedly become their favorite part of the event. Like throwing a ball at a hoop and praying that it would go in. One of the last things I remember telling them was that I could lower the basketball hoops to their normal height so that they would have a better chance at making it in the hoops so they could go home faster. That ideas was met with swift and undeniable outrage. They wanted no help from me and knew that with enough time and dedication they would be able to do it all on their own . I will say that with the help of the parents, and with the whining of the youth we were able to gather up the two balls and convince them that the balls and hoops weren’t going anywhere and that the parents and Pastor had other things to do than to sit and watch them throw a ball in the air. Their final regret was that no one had made it in yet before they had to go.
Last week, in my discussion, I shared with you that the call stories are some of my favorite stories in the gospels and this week we have another call story. I also briefly mentioned that the call stories in the gospels typically start at the beginning of Jesus ministry. In Mark’s gospel we have the baptism of Jesus, the two sentence temptation story of Jesus and then we dive into the ministry of Jesus as he comes out of the wilderness and after John is arrested and he announces to the world that the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
One of the words that sticks out for me in this opening text of Mark’s gospel is the word repent. Repent is one of those big theological words that has so much depth and meaning to it. It is also a word that we have been studying and discussing a lot in our Wednesday Bible Study on the book of Romans. Repentance is one of the major themes of Romans and you could argue one of the biggest theological terms of the whole Bible. We have talked together about the idea of repentance and how it is the act of turning away from what you were doing before and regretting what you did in the the past. Today I want to dig deeper into that word and maybe talk about it in a different light.
The reason for repenting is to acknowledge and feel sorry for the wrongs that you have done and do your best to avoid doing them again in the future. The problem is, is that we are all human. We are going to sin in the future and the Apostle Paul blames that whole problem of sin and continuing to sin on our flesh. We are people who are both sinner and saint as Luther puts it. We are bound to our flesh and therefore we sin because we live in a world that is a sinful world. We are also a saint because we have a spirit that lives inside of us that is a loved and redeemed child of God. There is never a time when we can escape that sinful part of our lives and there is a never a time when we are not always and forever children of God.
The problem when it comes to repentance is that after we repent and are forgiven of our sins we then seem to think that we can do everything on our own again. We thank God for the forgiveness and then we let God go off and be God and we do our best to avoid doing that sin again. That’s where we run into problems and where we also run into the cycle of sin, repent, forgiveness, sin, repent, forgiveness. etc. Or in the words of Paul from Romans, I do those things I do not want to do and the very things I want to do I do not do. Paul recognizes this struggle to do our best but we fail and we end up doing once again those things in our lives that we don’t want to do and that cause us to sin. We continue to do those things because we are constantly trying to do them on our own and with our sinful fleshy body.
Let’s use the story of the basketball hoop now as our analogy. We try really really hard to get that ball into the hoop even though it is up high and at a weird angle. We are convinced that it is going to happen and that we’ve learned all the in’s and out’s of how to get it to work because of all the past attempts or past wrongs ways that we have done it in the past. We don’t need help, we don’t need the pastor to lower it for us because we can do it on our own it’s just a matter of time before master it. We just need more time until that mantra practice makes perfect wins the day. The only problem is, is that we may eventually make that ball into the hoop eventually and we will rejoice and be happy at how good we did. There is also a really good chance that right after we make it and celebrate over doing it all by yourself, that the very next time we shoot it into the hoop, we miss. When we go right back to throwing the ball up, and up and up, hoping that we can do it one more time, all the time failing so many more times than succeeding.
I think we spend so much time in our lives attempting to fix our sinful nature and trying hard to repent and stay turned around from that sin, that we don’t realize that we are still sinning . We keep trying to do it on our own and we keep failing. Repentance isn’t about trying to do it in our own and rejoicing for the few days that we are able to say to ourselves that we did it. Repentance should be about realizing that we can’t do it on our own and asking God to help us. If we can do it all our own then what is the need for God? Repentance is about letting God in and letting God know that we need God’s help and we need God in our lives each and every day.
When we tell God that we can’t do it in our own then we let God into our lives and we let our own ego and our own self die so that Christ may live in us. We let ourselves die so that Christ knows that it is through Christ that we are saved. It is through Christ that we become forgiven. We are unable to save ourselves from sin, death, and the devil, but with Christ in charge we are able to do anything and accomplish anything. With Christ being the one who can then we can realize that it truly is through his life, death, and resurrection that we are saved and it has nothing to do with our own works, our own merit, or anything that we do of our own accord.
Repent and believe in the good news that Jesus Christ is our savior and Lord and with him all things are truly possible.
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