You've become aware of something in your life that needs to change. At first you were ignorant of what was causing the pain. Then you were in denial. But reality has an insistent way of undermining denial and ignorance. The facts add up. The pain becomes unavoidable. You accept the need to change. But what will help you change? Especially when you feel stuck, in a rut, addicted, out of control, weak, shamed, broken, tired, defeated, guilty.
Peter is helping his neighbors and fellow citizens deal with reality: it was our leaders who condemned an innocent man, it was us who let Jesus be crucified for political insurrection and religious blasphemy. The reality of this guilt, of this crime, it prompts a response: continued ignorance and denial, or acceptance of the truth. Peter is fully aware of what the crowd of Jerusalemites are thinking: if we really did kill God's servant, his prophet he sent to us... then we are doomed. Maybe that is how you feel - the accumulation of your life choices has left you doomed, left to fate, forever overshadowed by the weight of your sins.
What to do when the reality of the situation faces you so clearly? Peter brings up an old message to those who are willing to listen: Repent and Return. Change how you think about the situation, change how you think about God. Turn your thoughts back to God's words, turn your actions back to God's way of doing things. Facing reality is helping these men and women want to change, and so Peter comes along them, arm on the shoulder and shouts out: You can do it! God wants you to repent and return! God will help you repent and return! It's doable! Do you trust God to forgive you? Do you believe God will help you? Believe and Repent! Trust and Return!
A bunch of friends were baptized on Sunday. Their whole bodies were fully immersed in water, an action full of meaning. My friends were experiencing what God has promised to those that repent and believe Him - he'll wash over our sins, he'll give us a refreshing new start. My friends reached a point where reality forced them to accept this truth: life will only get harder - will it get harder because I continue down this road of ignorance and denial, or will it get harder because I begin to trust the Way of Jesus and do the next right thing? Peter's friends had the same choice too. And so do you.
What will help you change? One of the ways Peter tried to "in-courage" his friends to change was to remind them of God's unending purpose for their lives. Here's what he reminded them of: "Through your offspring, all peoples on earth will be blessed." Through your life, God wants to bless the world. God has plans to do much good upon the earth through you - but you've got to deal with reality and walk away from ignorance and denial. Again we face the choice of belief: do you trust that God could do a better job than you with your life when it comes to blessing the world?
Here's how Peter ends his message: God sent Jesus to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways. You need help in turning away from what enslaves you, you need help to turn to God. That's where Jesus comes in. And that's where Jesus-followers come in. Peter was a Jesus-follower, and Jesus was working through Peter to help free others from their wicked ways. Jesus wants to free you from any and all of your wicked ways. And then once you're willing to let God bless you like that, he'll start letting Jesus use you to free others from their wicked ways.
My friends who were baptized on Sunday and those who have been baptized in the many years past are all working to let God use them to bless others. And one of the best way to bless others is to help them turn away from their wicked ways, with Jesus' help. What will help you change? Maybe knowing that God can use your life, your story, your experiences to help others change. Jesus came to help us repent, to change the way we think; he came to give us a fresh start, to return to God.
You don't have to change all by yourself. Ask for help. Trust that God wants to help you, that he can help you, that he will help you. My friends at Anchor are the sign that God is doing this work still. And my friends are a sign that if you ask for help, God has people ready to answer your prayer.