Third Sunday in Lent: Seeking God Through Repentance

I find winter to be a horribly depressing time. I can’t stand the cold, the snow, or the gray, deadness of everything. I will admit that there are times when looking out the window and seeing the falling snow blanketing the ground can be beautiful. It makes for a picturesque Christmas eve. But it is, at the same time, pair with the fact that I have to view that from inside because to be out in it is miserable. There’s the shoveling, the scraping and brushing. I’m cold for 6 straight months. And then it ends. The sun shines again, it begins to get warm. You can see the grass and the tulips begin to peak through last year’s mulch. And then it snows again and I get bitter. Winter is a depressing time. There are times when Lent can be similarly depressing. Lent is a season where we reflect on our humanity, the transient nature of our lives, and the role of human sinfulness. Not exactly uplifting topics. But properly understood, Lent is a season of tension, as many of the seasons of the church year are. During lent we reflect on our sinfulness, but each Sunday is a celebration of Easter, at least in a small way. 

The Sundays during the season of lent are referred to as the “Sundays in Lent” and not the “Sundays of Lent” because the Sundays are not a part of the season of lent. When the 40 days of lent are counted, the Sundays are excluded. This is because each Sunday is like a mini Easter celebration, a celebration of the resurrection. The weeks of lent reflect a tension, the Lenten themes of repentance, confession, etc., which is then set against the celebration of the resurrection Sunday morning. So today we are going to reflect on that tension because the readings this morning embody it and there are a few specific themes that we are going to look at.

The first theme is seeking God. The psalter reading starts with, “O God, you are my God, I seek you.” The passage from Isaiah, he says, “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” Similarly, Isaiah says in v.3 “incline you ear, and come to me.” Isaiah is encouraging the people to seek after God, to position themselves so that they can hear from God. But this, of course, implies that the people are not in such a position, that they are in some way separated from God. For the Israelites who would be hearing this proclamation, their sin which resulted in the exile is what has resulted in a distancing of them from God. The Israelites consistently rejected God, worshipped other gods, and created idols. This lead to them being handed over by YHWH to the Babylonians and into the exile.

I’m not convinced that it is fair to say that our sin cuts us off from God, as even Cain was able to speak face to face with God, but it does change the relationship so that it is not what it once was. And in the case of the exile, Ezekiel makes it clear that YHWH is going with the people into the exile. But there is a fundamental change in the relationship between humanity and God as the result of sin. One in which we do not experience God’s presence as one walking in the garden. Instead, we must search for God, not because he is hidden from us but because we have drifted far from him.

Israel is the midst of their exile is invited by Isaiah to seek God. While we are not a people enslaved by a foreign nation, and historically we were actually the enslaving nation, we are in exiles of our own. David Davis writes, “The lure of wealth and accumulation creates a distance from the kingdom of light and eats away at notions of justice and righteousness. Exile then is a metaphor for people of God who do not live the life of faith, precisely because they have accepted belonging in a materialistic world.” Similarly, when commenting on the Gospel reading, William Greenway says, “Note the gritty realism of today’s lectionary passages. We confront idolatry; deaths in the tens of thousands from plagues/natural disasters and wild animals (snakebite); state sanctioned torture and executions (the “mingled blood” of the Galileans); construction accidents (tower of Siloam); and sexual immorality (think in terms of child and spousal abuse, incest, and human “spoils of war”).” There is plenty that creates a distance between us and God. Our last FED Talk this past week, we discussed the ways that the church is not immune to sin. The actions of the church, under the label of “evangelicalism” have been atrocious. There was the justifying of immoral and even criminal behavior. Sexual assault and pedophilia were justified in the name of evangelicalism for political gain. At a more base level all of us have, at some point, done something that separates us from God. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent reminds us of this reality. Ash we are and because of our sin to ash we will return.

The distance between Israel and God, and by extension humanity and God, leads Isaiah to invite the people to seek after God. But the question is how are we to go about that? Isaiah also helpfully answers that question and points to the second important theme from the readings, repentance. Immediately after telling the people in v. 6 to seek YHWH he says, “let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts.” The path of seeking God begins with repentance. Repentance is not so that bad things will stop happening to us, in many cases the bad that happens to us is not the judgement of God but instead the consequence of sin in general. Or simply just bad things that happen. The teacher in Ecclesiastes makes it clear that the good and the bad happen to both the righteous and unrighteous. Repentance, is not a get out of Jail card, but instead the repairing of a relationship that we have damaged. 

Seeking God and starting down that path through repentance, is a very Lenten task. And if repentance and dwelling on our sin is the full picture that we have of Lent then it is a distorted and depressing one. The last theme that we are going to consider is, perhaps ironically joy and grace. David Davis wrote, “The most meaningful and fulfilling Lenten journeys, however, include an encounter with God’s abundant mercy, grace, and forgiveness.” The journey of seeking God through repentance and a recognition of our sin, ultimately leads to the end of Isaiah’s vision. He says, “let them return to YHWH, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon.” To begin in a place of repentance as we seek after God also acknowledges that God is willing and able to offer forgiveness and grace. 

The Lenten journey, the journey of seeking God, the journey beginning with repentance, is held in tension with Easter morning and the overwhelming grace of God. The Israelites we enslaved because they had consistently violated the laws of God, but yet, there is grace available for them if they turn from their wickedness. A commentator that I read noted how this passage almost doesn’t seem to fit the solemness of Lent, but I think it accurately depicts the tension that is inherent to Lent. The grace of God and the sinfulness of humanity. There will be restoration for the community in exile.

But then we think, either out of a false sense of piety or a pessimistic view of humanity, “How could he possibly forgive even me?” As if our sin were somehow too great for God to forgive, as if it were too great for the grace of Easter to overcome. Isaiah answers this challenge as well. In the oft mis-quoted passage says, “For my thought are not your thought, not are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” How can God forgive such unrighteousness? We don’t know, but he does.

So this lent we begin in a place of realization, an Ash Wednesday where we recognize our sinfulness, and we journey through lent along the path of repentance. But each Sunday reminds us of the end of that journey, the grace of the Easter morning. Let us not get so lost in despair that we lose sight of the sunrise, but we also must honestly wrestle with our fallen humanity. Hopefully this lent can be a season of self reflection, where we seek God through repentance to receive his grace. And this is always with the end goal of being better members of the kingdom of God.


  • Chris Landon

    Chris Landon is the Lead Pastor at Arbor House. He is also the Pastor of Missional Engagement at Northgate Free Methodist Church. He has served at Arbor House since 2016. Prior to that he was the Summer Camp Director of Covenant Acres Campground and Retreat Center, Assistant Pastor at Gowanda Free Methodist Church, and Youth Pastor at Ransomville Free Methodist Church. Chris has a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Roberts Wesleyan University, an M.A. in Theological Studies from Northeastern Seminary, and is currently working on a PhD in Christian Theology (Old Testament) at McMaster Divinity College. His research interests include the books of Judges and Genesis, the narratives of the Old Testament and their application in the local church, and the intersection between Old Testament interpretation, contemporary politics, and Punk Rock. Chris and his wife Melissa have been married since 2014 and have three cats, Marcus, Minerva, and Nedjem. He enjoys playing paintball, video games, and listening to Punk.

    Landon Christopher