Filed under: Sermons
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Each Wednesday, we’ve been exploring the theme of forgiveness. We all need forgiveness. We can’t get it for ourselves. God works forgiveness for us. God achieves our forgiveness through Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Tonight we ask, what does forgiveness do?
Forgiveness restores community. It reconciles. It brings together what was once far off.
Between us and God, you might think of sin as all that stuff that pushes us away from God. It’s the selfish choice to try to be God ourselves, to think we can control our destiny, to run when God wants relationships. Sin is the barrier we build against God’s love. It’s our moving ourselves out of the spaces God is.
But God is not limited. God will not be pushed away or boxed out. Jesus comes to us, declaring that our God is a God who runs towards us, breaks down barriers, and holds us in love. Jesus is our forgiveness, he is the action of God, coming to us to bring us back to God.
Jesus is the great reconciler, who brings us far off people together into God’s presence in him. Let’s read Colossians. ——
Colossians 1 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Forgiveness is the strength of God to pull us towards God again, pushing aside any obstacles to restore us to the place God wants us to be- in relationship, community, with God.
We might think of forgiveness like a super magnet. It is God’s continuous pull on us, to bring us close again.
Forgiveness is not just something to be held between us and God. God forgives us, gives us the experience of being sought after in love and open welcome, so that we might replicate this action in our encounters with other people.
Let’s read Ephesians. —–
Ephesians 2 11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
We are meant to extend the same grace God gives to us, to other people. Jesus doesn’t just draw us close to God, so that we can have a happy me and my God moment. Jesus draws us together with other people- people with whom we disagree, people we may not like, people we may hold something against. Jesus takes all of us together. Only as a whole community can we be the place where God is, the people through whom God shines. Forgiveness makes community possible.
We express this community restoring forgiveness every Sunday, when we share the peace. Most of us treat that time as a time of greeting, but it’s meant as a time to reconcile- become right with one another. Jesus tells us to do this because the health of our community, the right relationships we have with each other, make it possible for us to worship. When there is division among us, when bad feelings are harbored, when gossip tears us apart, then our worship cannot continue. Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 25: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus is explaining that our being right with God isn’t the only thing that matters, first, we need to be right with one another.
Forgiveness gives the release of letting go and the freshness of being cleansed.
Sometimes, we hold on to our personal guilt or our grudges against other people. I need a volunteer. So, maybe we start out with a sense of being wronged by a particular person. Maybe that person doesn’t even know it, but we think about what she’s done to us almost every day. That’s a burden, but at first it doesn’t seem like much. (have a stone). Maybe we multiply that by telling the story of our being wronged to someone else. That helps us feel justified in our anger towards that person. (have another stone). Then our friend tells us how that same person wronged them. (have another stone). All this makes us more aware of how we’re not treated the way we deserve. We notice more and more—the person who cut in the lane right in front of us, the job someone else took from us, the unspoken demands for our time, the face someone made at us, the hurtful words someone called us, the evil we’ve suffered…
Remembering all this wrong that has been done to us weighs us down. We suffer the initial hurt and then we suffer the weight of remembering.
Forgiveness then, is letting these stones go. It’s not only a gift to the one who wronged us, but a gift to ourselves. The letting go is a commitment to not be revictimized by giving that person a permanent hold over us, even if that hold is simply our stewing anger. It’s a letting go of the right for vengeance. That is not an easy path, or one that should always be attempted alone. Sometimes, letting go doesn’t mean forgetting, or putting ourselves in danger, but it is our internal release and path towards healing without contact with the one who hurt us.
Forgiveness as cleansing is pretty typical language for us when we talk about our relationship with God. Jesus washes away our sin through his death and resurrection, and as we are united to him in baptism. Luther teaches us to remember our baptisms daily, as we daily sin and daily are forgiven. God doesn’t keep a tally of how many times we’ve been forgiven, all record is destroyed through Jesus.
Now, even though you all were quite obliging when I asked on our first night if we all have sinned and need forgiveness, I think many of us still try to hide from ourselves and others the dirt of sin that clings to us. Surely what we’ve done or said or thought wasn’t really that bad. Surely we had good reason to avoid that risky action God might have been inviting us to.
I tend to get my glasses really dirty. I wasn’t thinking one day when I decided to do some spray painting in the wind with one of my favorite pairs. You can’t see it, but the lens are covered with little white droplets. If I wear them like this, I’ll quickly get a headache.
In the same way, all our sin, our action and inaction, clouds our vision. Our guilt, our fear of judgment, all get in the way of seeing clearly God’s love for us. That’s all God wants us to see. That’s what Jesus on the cross shows us- that God will stop at nothing to love us, to bring us close, and nothing about us is going to push God away. Jesus washes us, makes us holy, so that we can be in the presence of the most holy one, so that we can see God’s love for us.
Forgiveness makes community- communion – possible. We are brought close into God’s embrace because of the power of God’s forgiveness. We divided peoples are brought together into one body, the body of Christ, because of the power of Jesus to reconcile all things. We are freed from all fear so that we can simply rest and rejoice in the love of God and the community of God’s people. Forgiveness clears us so we can experience love.
Tonight, write on the strip the name of someone you need to forgive. Someone with whom you need to be reconciled. Maybe that means you’ll reconnect with them. Maybe it’s safer for you to simply release their hold over you. Put that person and the situation into God’s hands, and free yourself from carrying the burden of pain, anger, or resentment.
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