Monday, October 15, 2012

Forgiveness, Too Often Missed.

Matthew 9:1-8 (ESV)
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. [2] And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." [3] And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." [4] But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? [5] For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? [6] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he then said to the paralytic—"Rise, pick up your bed and go home." [7] And he rose and went home. [8] When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and the glorified god who had given such authority to men. This is infact the point of this little story from Christ’s life, that God has given such authority to men. It is often, all too often missed. Forgiveness is too often missed. It is missed in reading the Bible and it is missed in the lives of Christians. God has given us the authority, the power, the ability, God has given men such authority as that they may forgive sins. Of course it is more than the abilitiy, or the authority, and power, but with such authority comes the responsibility. This is what Paul lays out for us in the Epistle lesson we had this morning in Ephesians 4. This isn’t something we merely can do if we want to, it is something we are supposed to do especially among fellow Christians.
It boggles my mind how often I hear that man cannot forgive sins. I hear this most often among socalled evangelicals, Baptists, and so on. Forgiveness plays no part in their lives it seems. Perhaps it was some past event in their lives from when they said the sinners prayer, but it is hardly an ongoing thing in their lives. And all too often when I stand infront of you, and announce that I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I am told that I am usurping the authority of God and have not this right, or ability. Oddly enough, I get more flack over it when I emphasize the forgiveness of sins given in Holy Communion ending the blessing by saying, “Go in Peace, your sins are forgiven.” And all I do there is tell you what Jesus has accomplished by giving you his body and blood to eat and to drink.
What I hear from the people is that only God can forgive sins. I have to scratch my head when I hear that. I wonder why it is then that he so often admonishes us to forgive, if it is something only he has the ability to do. They act as if I am sinning by forgiving.
That is man’s natural reaction. There was a time when Christians were persecuted fiercely, and hated, not because of their views on sex and marriage, which for all intents and purposes were the same as the hedonistic culture around them. It wasn’t Christianity that came up with the idea of monogamy, or the idea that a woman and man should be faithful to each other and raise children together. It wasn’t Christianity that thought it a horrid abuse of a neighbor to commit adultery. These ideas predate Christianity by quite some time. It is for this reason Luther can tell parents to train their children to be morally upright by reading Aesop’s fables to them, even Homer works, you will not find moral codes that differ much from Christian morality in the writings of Aristotle or Plato. Sure the society at large rarely managed to practice what they knew to be right, but are Christians better at this? And Society hated Christianity therefore because Christians had the audacity to forgive sins, Christians believed it was possible to be forgiven, that our sins were atoned for by Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. But today, so called Christians will tell you it is impossible. Maybe once or twice you can be forgiven, but you have to be truly repentant, and most often that repentance is marked by a life where one no longer sins. Good luck with that.
It really does though betray a wrong understanding of God, of Jesus, and of forgiveness and sin. If forgiveness is something that can only happen once than it is quite a useless thing that does not take into account the nature of sin. Quite frankly sin gets the best of us every day. We might be able to put off certain gross immorality. We can restrain our murderous thoughts so that we don’t actually carry them out in a rampage. We can restrain our lustful hearts. We can perhaps stifle our greed so that we don’t steal even when there is a great possibility that we could get away with it. But sin gets the best of us, and we find ourselves acting impatiently, scheming here and there in business deals, or with insurance companies. And we still have to deal with the fact that our ability to refrain from these sorts of things does not stem from the fact that our days are filled with thoughts of love for our neighbor and God. They aren’t. We are sinners, we have sinful thoughts, they manifest themselves in sinful words and deeds. In fact because we are sinners, absolutely everything we do is sin full, that is full of sin, tainted with sin, destroyed by sin, and in need of forgiveness.
In need of forgiveness. And this is why Jesus comes. He comes to forgive. He comes to forgive this paralytic. And no one thought he could, but he tells him, get up and walk and he does. See this is the thing, even our handicaps, our allergies, our diseases, our colds, and sickdays at home with the flu testify to our sinfulness, and in the end there is really only one cure. Forgiveness. Jesus forgives. To prove that he forgives he tells the man to get up and walk. Forgiveness cured him. We have here a picture of what forgiveness does for us, even if the full glory of it waits for the final day when Christ will tell out dead corpses to rise and walk even as we walk through the gates of pearl. Forgiveness is the final cure. And he has forgiven you, that you too would have the authority to forgive. In forgiving us, he has made us righteous, restored us into the image of God, who himself forgives.
Like I said, too often forgiveness is missed. People read the bible for reasons they should be reading Aesops fables. The forgiveness is missed. The Story of Samson of Gideon they are sanitized so that their moral failings are glossed over, and forgiveness missed, as they become nothing more than parables of morality. This is why I normally despise Children’s Bibles and the such, forgiveness is missed. The kids think they know the stories and they don’t because some meddlesome do-gooder thought the story was too graphic for the sensitive ears of little children. They rob the little children of forgiveness. They turn the Bible into something of little more worth that Aesop’s fables. The Bible isn’t about how to be good, it is about how to be righteous. And there is only one way to be righteous, by the forgiveness of sins given for you. This is true of children at play, and parents at work, for only in forgiveness are we created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. So rise and walk, walk in the newness of life, for you have been baptized, and Christ’s Body and Blood are given for you, you are forgiven, your sins are forgiven.
Now the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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