Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Heart of the Gospel


The heart of the gospel is the forgiveness of sins.

 Forgiveness reconciles us with God and with each other, and brings our relationships into good standing. We continue now our series, the best part about heaven, the best part of heaven, and that is our relationships. And the Apostles' Creed has the statement, "We believe in the forgiveness of sins," and the Nicene Creed similarly says, "We believe in one baptism for the remission of sins." Forgiveness leans toward the release from sin, our tolerance of the person as they are learning not to sin, that kind of thing. And the remission of sins, that describes in part the atonement or the price that was paid for our sins, that the debt has already been paid. And we are living into that release from our debt that was paid by Christ on our behalf. And another aspect of that is like in health, a remission of a disease that has been put on hold and is being pulled back and hopefully won't return.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 31, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

This weekend is a celebration in the church of the Presentation of the Lord. And for our Gospel reading about that is in Mark chapter one, verses 14 through 20. In that passage, Simeon and Hannah prayed for the child and prophesied over the child, Jesus, when Joseph and Mary bring him into the temple to present him to everybody and especially to the Lord. And along with that, they brought their sacrifice that they were supposed to bring, that's required. And there was a system of sacrifices in the Old Testament, and that emphasizes the forgiveness of sin and the importance and the cost of sin and the difficulties in having it canceled or dealt with or reconciled in some way. In Romans 12:1, there's a verse that we're familiar with in the King James, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, Holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."  In the Message, it puts it this way and gives you a little something to think about:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Romans 12:1 (MSG)

 Take your everyday ordinary life: your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life, and place it before God as an offering. So you can see there's been a big ... there's a whole lot of territory that we skipped over between the Old Testament sacrifices and the atonement of Christ and his sacrifice for us and for our sins. And now our offering of ourselves as living presentation, as a living sacrifice. So there's the presentation of Jesus at the temple reflected in our presentation of ourselves. But I like all of that passage, the last verse, the best, I think, in that particular passage, verse 40 in the second chapter of Luke. And this is how it says in the Good News translation, "The child grew and became strong. He was full of wisdom and God's blessings were upon him."

The child grew and became strong; he was full of wisdom, and God's blessings were upon him. Luke 2:40 (GNT)  

The child grew, he grew in all ways, in stature and wisdom and in grace. But all this time that he was a child and then a teenager and then an adult, he was growing into who he became, that we see in the gospels. And his whole life was tending toward that. He grew into who he was, he grew into the role. In a certain sense he was the Messiah, but when he first was born, but it was something that he learned about and grew into and became. And he grew into his personality of one who loves everybody and forgives everybody and includes everybody and accepts everybody and teaches and encourages and all the things that we think of Christ in our personal relationship that we share with him. He grew into being able to do that, and that's a very encouraging thing to me.

We talk about this forgiveness, and I think we all know this is much easier said than to do. Both to accept forgiveness and to extend it to others. And it's something we have to step into and grow into and live into, forgiveness, throughout our whole lives. There are many books and prayers and rituals of the church and all kinds of approaches to forgiveness and theological systems about forgiveness, so we're not going to cover the whole subject today. The scope of this message is to reflect on the importance of forgiveness, for being the best part of heaven, of our relationships. Forgiveness is, again, that reconciliation with God and with each other that makes relationships possible. Without forgiveness, there's no relationship with anybody. With other people, with God, anybody.

Omission and Commission

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Ephesians 3:9 (KJV)

 So God has made this special plan of salvation, the forgiveness of sins. That's a pretty good plan, as we reflect on that. We've used the phrase, probably, "sins of omission and commission." When I reflect on my day or week or life, the things that I regret are the things that I either did that I wish I hadn't done, or the things that I didn't do that I wish I had done. And depending on really how they affected my relationships with people that I have loved and who have loved me, then that's where the importance or the depth or the pain of sin really comes in. And in some cases you can go back and fix some things, and some things there's no fixing. And other people are in the same position and we're in the same position with other people, because there are people where we feel that and recognize that in our own life. But sometimes, we feel that has happened to us by the other.

And it just puts us at odds with each other, either if we feel either ... whichever side we're on, of that equation. If we feel like we have done wrong or not done something that needed to be done, or if we feel they have done wrong or been negligent or didn't do something they should have done. Either way, there's a problem with the relationship there, and it's pretty hard to fix those with anything except forgiveness. Paul wrote, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." That's not a celebration, by the way. This is not like, well, everybody does it. And yeah, everybody does, but see, the other part of that is that everybody then misses out on some of the glory, some of the joy that God wants us to have.

So God has this way of fixing it and really, it's always been there, but it's always hard to do and hard to understand, hard to wrap our minds around. But all have sinned, but God has a remedy for all. So everybody has fallen short of the joy and the glory and the goodness and the happiness that God wants us to have, wants you to have, and the happiness God wants me to have. And the kind of relationship that God wants us to have with each other, where we're on good terms with, not only with God, but with each other, and that also reconciles within us. And that's what the forgiveness is all about, is reconciling. It's us to be reconciled with God. And that's what Jesus was doing on the cross, reconciling everything to himself. In fact, in Colossians, it says, "Having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him, to reconcile all things unto himself."

By him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. That's a lot of territory, that's really everything, every place. That spiritual and physical that God wants to be reconciled for our joy. And that's what Christ was giving himself for, that's the sacrifice that Christ made. Was so that everyone everywhere, in heaven and on earth, could be reconciled with one another. And then Jesus also said, but now being ... I think Paul wrote this, "But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness. In the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." I love that idea that this is a gift that Christ has already taken care of and worked out. This plan of salvation, this plan of healing and wholeness, reconciliation. That God has worked all this out for us is just a wonderful gift. A gift of life.

In place of the hurt and unhealthiness and death and destruction, that same sin brings even, it may be small hurt for small sins and large hurt for large sins. And sometimes we don't know the difference, but whatever it is, it's damaged. Whatever it is, it's destroyed by doing wrong or by not doing right in the case of ... it goes both ways. And there's been a lot of emphasis about that too, about silence being complicity. And so the things that we don't do that are harmful to other people and ourselves in the world and the things that we do that are harmful. Either way, whatever hurt is caused by them, whatever harm is caused by them is completely canceled, completely dealt with in the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. And that washes over me because ... and even saying it, the harm that we cause with sin to ourselves and to others washes over man with pain and guilt.

Example of Jesus

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34 (KJV)

But God wants to lift that from everybody. And he wants to ask for your help to be a part of that, to receive that forgiveness and to extend it to those around us as freely as we receive it. There's no other way to get right in our relationship with God and with each other, but to face this sin honestly. And then to receive and extend, share the reconciliation, whatever it takes, with whatever is possible. When Jesus was on the cross, he prayed, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." What a marvelous thing, there were no pre conditions. He didn't even expect them to confess their sin or even to stop it in order to receive his forgiveness. But the forgiveness makes us want to stop and make the correction and try to do better. Whereas one friend said earlier this evening, "We're like a sanctuary. We're a safe place for people to come and to not be judged and to know that we love one another and recognize this centrality of forgiveness in our relationship."

So forgiveness is the prerequisite. Christ didn't have a prerequisite for sin. What he did was forgive us and that was the prerequisite for establishing a relationship and it's the prerequisite for evangelism. We can't bring love and acceptance of people and bring the gospel to people if we're holding things against them. I think in a sense it's like a vehicle. That some vehicles, they don't have any tolerance. They're very unforgiving, and some other machinery too perhaps we've operated. They barely turns and you're in trouble. But other vehicles may allow you to just have a little bit of ... there's a little bit of forgiveness in how you drive them and you can make some mistakes and still not be in too much trouble. You don't want to make mistakes on purpose, you try not to. But if you do, you might not be in too much trouble. And that's how we are with each other.

Another way of thinking is like walking on eggshells with people. We all know people and maybe sometimes we are people that others have to walk on eggshells around them, because you never know what's going to set them off. And what you might say or do that they're going to hold against you or be all upset about. So I think a part of this forgiveness that Christ demonstrated on the cross to an extreme level was one of complete love for the people who were torturing him to death. While they were torturing him to death and they weren't stopping and they weren't going to stop. But he wasn't going to stop forgiving them either. They brought a woman to him one time and they were going to stone her to death. And he brought this up about whoever has never sinned cast the first stone. And one by one, starting with the older people who were maybe more aware of it or had more regrets to come to mind dropped their stones and walked away until everybody was gone.

And then Jesus turned to the woman and said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." I hope to see that the forgiveness is extended fully and freely with the expectation then that our right response, our part, our sacrifice represent ourselves as living sacrifice. Our part is to try to do better and not do, not just that again, but other things too. Or not just, like I said, but what we do and what we leave undone, all that together, we have a new opportunity, we have a fresh start. And so, let's try and not make those mistakes again and not make other mistakes either in their place. Another person they brought to stone and they actually did stone, the first Christian martyr, St. Steven. And while they were pulverizing him, as the Bible said, then he looked up into heaven and he prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." What a wonderful reflection of Christ at Calvary.

As We Have Been Forgiven

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, 
as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.  Matthew 6:12 (GNT)

 It is a lot easier said than done to forgive, and even to accept forgiveness. There are two sides of the coin there. Either way, it's hard because ... for a lot of reasons. It's hard to forgive and it's hard to be forgiven. And the more difficult something is, the more it hurts, the harder it is to forgive. And so sometimes we have to begin to just step into the process and begin it and just pray our way through. And some people make it more difficult at times to forgive. Some things are more difficult to forgive, some people might get more difficult to forgive. And sometimes we harden our hearts to both, accepting and extending forgiveness. In a large prayer we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." And there are some other ways that that's said with sins or debtors or however, a different way that that verse is translated in the prayer.

But we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. And at the end of the Lord's Prayer then, Jesus immediately says, "For if you don't forgive other people their trespasses, then neither will your father in heaven forgive you your trespasses." Inherit in the command to love as Christ has loved us, is this sense of forgiveness. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To love as we have been loved includes to forgive as we've been forgiven. Reads a lot of other things too. That's the one part that makes it possible to have a reconciliation. Is that if we share this sense of forgiveness ... toward that, to emphasize that, one time Jesus gave a parable of the unforgiving servant, unforgiving creditor, debtor, creditor, both, I guess. Anyway, he wasn't forgiving.

He owed the creditor a whole lot of money, and so it came time to pay up and he didn't have any money to pay up with. And so the creditor in the kindness of his heart recognized the position that this debtor was in and so he just forgave him the entire debt, and it was a huge debt. Forgave him the entire debt. Well, you can only imagine how that would feel if you had a huge debt and that was just forgiven. But then this person who had been forgiven went out and found somebody that owed him some money, just hardly any money, but he did owe it. And he treated him ruthlessly. You can read all about the story, Jesus goes in, he's a better storyteller. But he tells this story and he really brings it out how this debtor ruthlessly attacked this person that owed him money and demanded full payment right now. And when the person couldn't pay, then he just treated him horribly, had him thrown in jail and everything else.

And so when the first creditor heard about him, he came back, called that guy in and canceled his forgiveness. He said, "Since I forgave you, so really shouldn't you forgive others just as freely?" And so the point or the moral of that story, the point of it is that yes you should. When we think about everything that God doesn't hold against us, forgives us for, then just think that we should be reflecting that in our relationships with other people as well. 

Physical and Spiritual Healing

Which do you think is simpler: to say, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or, ‘Get up and walk’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both.”  Matthew 9:5-6 (MSG)

 Forgiveness brings healing. And that's really what salvation is. So another word for salvation is healing. Jesus connected that in many of his times when he healed people. One time, and this is all it said in the message, there was a person that couldn't walk and so Jesus told him, "You're forgiven. Your sins are forgiven."

And everybody was in an uproar about it, "How can you go around forgiving people's sins?" And so Jesus said, "Which do you think is simpler?" This is in the message translation. "I forgive your sins or get up and walk?" Well, just so it's clear that I'm the son of man, I'm authorized to do either or both. And then he told the person, "Get up and walk." And he did. St. James wrote that we should confess our sins to each other. Also, in the message it's like this, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed." We're invited to confess our sins to each other, not confess each other's sins. And that's what happens a lot of times. People, they ignore their own and confess other people's sins. That's not what we're invited to do, that's what we're invited not today.

We're invited to ... One way that the apostle put it was that if we will confess our sins, then God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So that call invites us to a constant sense of self examination, examination of our conscience, self-examination. Daily to reflect on what we've done wrong or what we should've done but left undone. And we might extend that time, sometimes that's more of a personal thing in general. But then, what James is referring to is to not only face ourselves honestly like that in the presence of God but to also share a bit of that. Not all the gory details of everything that we do wrong, although it's good we have somebody we can talk to about things and trust with our conversation, with the confidentiality and be able to talk about things and share some of the details.

But that's not really the key here, that's an additional benefit if we have that. But the main thing is that we are realizing that we, like all, have sinned and we're sharing that realization with each other. And in, I think a little more general sense usually, we are sharing that understanding and facing that together, that we've sinned. And we have several prayers that formalize this, they make it easier to say even though it's more difficult to experience because it get pointed sometimes. But several of the prayers of confession the church offers for us to use in our reflection. But in general, we're just admitting to ourselves and to each other that there are things that we could be doing better than how we've been doing them. And it doesn't hurt to name a few of those. Sometimes, especially if they're really in the way, and there's something now that's a part of that relationship, of that person or a group of persons that we're trying to work things out with.

Not something you have to go ... it just depends on the situation too. But the main thing I think is that we're facing ourselves honestly, in the presence of God, knowing that God loves us and forgives us and realizes these things anyway about us. And then we're facing ourselves honestly with each other and fixing the way we do things together so we can have a new beginning and a healthy relationship. So that's a healthy relationship with God and a healthy relationship with each other. And there's a lot of trust that has to be built in there, along with it and a lot of love. It's all a part of what love is and that's what makes it part of the best part about heaven, is our relationship with God. When we think about people in heaven, we don't really think about being mad at each other or holding grudges.

We figure, you know what? Things, by then, they've got things worked out. And when we think about our family and friends that have gone on before us and now they're in heaven and all the saints and the angels and everybody like that, I don't really think that people have any big arguments and fights and things. Well, I think about it and heaven is, everybody loves one another and accepts each other and encourages and strengthens and they all work together, they do things, they make each other happy, and their love is brought to perfection. And so a part of that perfection is that their forgiveness is also brought to perfection. Their relationships have been perfectly reconciled with one another. And what a joyful way to picture people in heaven. Really, dwell on that and meditate on it, reflect on it.

And it makes you feel better, just thinking about how wonderful heaven will be. Where nobody holds anything against each other and where everybody loves each other and all sins are forgiven. There's no sin there, no more sin. That's part of the promise of God. No more sin. All your sins cast away from you as far as east is from the west, never to be remembered again. So everybody loves each other, everything's good. All the relationships are good and it's wonderful. Paradise. Beautiful. Not that there weren't problems before, but now they've all been reconciled. Now take that picture and bring it into the prayer that we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." And as the prayer unfolds, we come to that phrase once again, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

And to the extent that we're able to have that kind of reconciliation with each other, with God, within ourselves in the earth, then that prayer is being answered. So what a wonderful world it is to the extent that people love each other like that, like Jesus loves us. To the extent that we're able to find forgiveness. And we're not just talking about forgiveness for ourselves that we received, like a vessel that receives everything but everything just stays in there, but more like a channel or maybe a vessel with a spigot on it. Somehow, for what is being poured into us, the forgiveness that we're receiving, to flow through us, to everyone around us, just as freely as it's being poured into us. That's not what we're working on.

Like I said, it's easier said than done. But it's something that we're invited to step into and work on as part of this love that Christ has invited us to and this heaven that Christ has opened for us. We think of this, I think relationships is the best part of heaven. We recognize that, then that makes this forgiveness even more important. I think we should, anyway, try to feel that those who've gone to glory are not holding anything against us. They've figured out. So we can accept forgiveness from them, from God and try to do better, try to move forward. And not really necessarily forget what we've done wrong, but to learn from it. Not to forget what we were negligent to do and didn't end up not doing anything, but to learn from that and do better now.

Extend to Everyone

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”    John 20:22-23 (MSG)

 But also to give other people that same tolerance for the things that they could've, would've, should've done or not done. That they could have done. That others do, should. We might think that it would be better if they had done differently. We all could have done things differently and we would have all had different outcomes, but we didn't. And so there we are, at odds with each other. And how do we get past that? How do we fix it? Only by forgiveness and reconciliation and then moving forward in love. And that's just exactly what Christ told us to do. The week after he was raised from the dead, he was gathered together with his apostles on this room, and this is how it's worded in the message, "Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. Receive the Holy Spirit," he said. If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

We're invited, challenged, strongly encouraged, commanded. I really want to put that in a way that makes it real, understood that it's an expectation for us. That we would extend to others, the forgiveness that has been shown to us just as freely. We have an opportunity to be channels for this forgiveness, to receive it. Open our hearts and receive God's forgiveness, and then extend that to the people around us. Open our hearts to receive each other's forgiveness that they likewise are extending to us. And so it's something that we can all share and it brings reconciliation into our relationships and fixes the hurt, heals the wounds, fixes the problems and establishes a way for us to move forward together in love. Here's the commission that Jesus gave to some of his disciples when he sent them on a mission trip, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely you have received, freely give." In the name of Jesus, Amen.






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