…the first thing that God’s people are meant to be, day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, is we are meant to be a people who know our own failure, and who come to God with nothing in our hands, with no strength of our own, simply seeking his forgiveness, admitting our weakness. One of the great failures of the church in European history is that too often it is taken in by the appearance of strength and forgets its need of God. Over recent years we’ve done that over issues of the abuse of children in Europe. We’ve failed to say where we’ve gone wrong. We are to be a repentant church.
It is very easy to be confident in your own resources. When I was at university, which was sadly a very long time ago, two friends and I decided to walk across Scotland. It was about 230 miles, so it took about two weeks. We were good walkers but bad map readers. So we probably did 300 miles because we kept going one way and having to come back another. And on one occasion we were walking in western Scotland, and we came to a valley that split into two bits, and after a little while we realised that the valley we’d taken after about four miles ended in a cliff, and the other one had the main road. So we went back, and as we were going back we met some other people coming along the same bad route. And so being nice people we said to them, ”˜This is the wrong way, there’s just a cliff at the end.’ And they said, ”˜No there isn’t. We know this is the right way.’ So we smiled politely and we went on, and when we got back to where we should have gone from, we sat down and made a cup of tea and waited for them to appear, looking embarrassed.
Repentance is when you know you’re going the wrong way and, rather than going on, you turn round and go back and take the way that God has shown you. We are to be a repentant church. That is part of the culture of Christian faith.