Sunday, March 04, 2001

First, Forgiveness

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Romans 10:8-10

The power which has gathered us this day comes not from an idea about God, but rather from something God has done for us. Paul's eucharistic sentences in Romans, his words of CONFESSION and BELIEF, proclaim the story of this divine deed and tell us its meaning and effect for us. What the tongue receives in sacrament, the ear receives in faith by hearing.

In an age that hears much clamor about false pardons, we cross the river today into the sphere of Real Pardon. In an age which seems to trust that all is for sale, even pardons, we cross the river today into the scary saving space of Real Pardon, which is not for sale. It cannot be bought, because it is not for sale. A story, then, the One True Story, and its saving meaning for you.

First, The Story

God sent a message to the people of Israel which rightly understood was meant for all people. The message is one of comfort not of blame. The message is one of acceptance not of punishment. The message is one of blessing, good news. God has sent a message to us, carried in the person of Jesus Christ. In hindsight, it was clear that all the prophets of the ancient world had looked forward to Christ. The word spread first throughout Judea, the Holy Land. Strangely, the first inklings of the news were felt in Galilee, a territory uncomfortable with traditional religion. Galilee of the free-thinkers and party-goers. Galilee of the many nations. The early rumblings of God's message came through baptisms given by John, later known as "the baptist". John spoke to young people, along the River Jordan, pointing out their hurting ways, and pointing out that life ends. In that time there were many who avoided thinking much about the ways they had harmed others and about the impending prospect of their own funerals. Scared, some of the younger ones received his baptism. Humble John told them that Another, an Anointed One, followed him. This was Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was born of a woman and was empowered by God. On one hand, he was out of Bethlehem and Nazareth, out of a carpenter's home and Jewish instruction. He was a man. On the other hand, he was covered with Holy Spirit, and manifestly God. He was God. God was in Jesus. As a grown young man, Jesus too was baptized by John, hearing with other young people John's warning about hurt and death. After that washing in the muddy Jordan, Jesus went about the fifty miles by a hundred miles of Palestine. He went by foot, alone at first. He spent his time doing good and healing.

To do good, he shared a set of teachings about how one should live. He recommended rather less attention to money and rather more attention to people. He offered examples of good people. A poor widow giving all she had. A whining, importunate pushy woman who would not give up. An oppressed person who stopped along the road to help a beaten man. A dad who knew that sons need freedom to grow up, and need acceptance after they goof up. A sly investor, whose craftiness paid off. He made sense to those who heard him, and they remembered his stories. What mattered to him was not how people sang or prayed, so much as how they treated others.

To heal, he set about fighting with the demons of the age. He cured one woman of bleeding. He helped a man to walk. He used spittle and mud to give a blind man sight. He brought Peter's mother-in-law back to life after it looked like she was dead. He tussled with a demon filled wildman. He cured as many as were brought to him and was mostly remembered for these powerful healings. In fact, when he died, many marveled and said, "he helped others but not himself".

Jesus gathered a dozen students of his way of living. Peter was the main one. These and others actually knew Jesus. They ate with and drank with him, and saw the good he did and the healing he brought. They are witnesses. Witnesses. They witnessed his life. They witnessed his death. They witnessed his resurrection from the dead. They witnessed, from that point on, to the One picked by God to judge every person. Every person will be judged, living and dead, according to Jesus. SO WITH PAUL WE CONFESS.

Second, The Story's Meaning

Paul then tells us the meaning and effect of this story, a true story, on our lives. The effect of the story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets' hope, that there would be a way to forgive. Jesus opens in life a way to forgiveness. We should say the way to forgiveness. All the prophecy, all the baptism, all the preaching, all the healing, all the good done, all the witnessing, all of the story of Jesus, especially its climax in suffering love bears this meaning for your life: you are forgiven. The effect of Jesus is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the central treasure of life. Forgiveness brings meaning to life.

The effect of faith on you is what you hear in preaching. The effect of faith is conveyed in preaching. In preaching one hears of the peace of God. In preaching the reconciliation won by Christ comes right home to you. In preaching - the same witness made to the Romans - you hear of real forgiveness. In preaching you are met, even now, by the cruciform news of God's acceptance of you, God's embrace of you, God's love for you, which is lavish, uncritical, personal, and undeserved. In preaching, the single most valuable word for your life is offered or given, the very remission of sins.

The effect of Jesus' love creates faith in you, which then allows you to receive forgiveness. By faith you hear and receive God's forgiveness. By faith you accept that God has accepted you. By faith you believe God forgives. By faith you confidently receive forgiveness. By faith you make forgiveness your own, you make it a hallmark of your life. By faith you let God's forgiveness work in you, cover you, wash you, change you, encourage you.

Today you are in communion with the same church, which since Paul has been witness to God's raising power to forgive sin. Jesus Christ came into this world to save people from the harms done by and done to them. He came to reconcile people to God, to plant peace in the heart and to create a movement of forgiven and forgiving men and women. He came, lived, died and was raised to convey to you this good news: you are forgiven.

I am a witness to this news. As a disciple I have my hours of failure. As a believer I have my days of doubt. As a pastor I run up against limits to what can be done. As a man I know both wonder and fear. With you today, I am one beggar telling a group of others where we can all find bread. Still: I am witness to the remission of sin. I am a witness, and so are you. Being a witness to forgiveness is an all consuming, life work.

People of faith, let us live in newness of life! Let us set aside our resentment of things past. Let us set aside our desire to even the score. Let us set aside our anger with our brother. Let us set aside our claims for repayment. Let us set aside our self-hatred as well as our hatred of others.

Let us pardon one another even as God has pardoned us. Let us receive others favorably, even as God has accepted us. And let us in faith take what is offered to us – Jesus Christ. Let us in faith receive the gift of forgiveness, the treasure of life itself. And as forgiven people, let us forgive others.

No comments: