Yoked in Forgiveness – A sermon on 6-13-10

Psalm 32
1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is put away.
2Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

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Luke 7:36-50
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Children’s Time: Confirmation stole & horse collar. At Holy Cross we place a stole over the shoulders of each new confirmand when they affirm their baptisms. It’s like a yoke that farmers use to guide their horses so they can be of good use. Being yoked to Christ in our daily, ordinary walk of faith is what Jesus meant when he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”

I think Psalm 32:1 sums it up pretty well for today: “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are put away.”

Who doesn’t want their sins put away? I mean, for all the dumb things I’ve done in my life – and continue to do – stupid mistakes I would take back in a heartbeat if I had the chance. I still remember hurtful things I said 30 years ago!

Last week a fight broke out between some parents at North High School during the graduation ceremony. It got a lot of press because it was videotaped and posted on the internet. Over 34,000 people have watched the clip. But even the video doesn’t tell us the whole story. What was said between those fighting? Why did tempers flair? What led up to it all? Even so, I’d bet everyone involved in that scuffle would take it back in a heartbeat if they could.

Sadly, the brawl has continued online, by those who post comments below, hurling accusations and racist remarks at one another. And we’re told to “forgive and forget?” Good luck with that.

How hard it is for us to say those two ingredients necessary for any relationship to grow:
“I forgive you.”
“I’m sorry.”

The sad thing is we either can’t let those sins go… or we dismiss them way to easily.

On the one hand we have the Pharisee, who can’t let it go. He has invited Jesus to dinner, and in the middle of it all, this woman upsets the scene. And the leader can’t let it go. “Does he have any idea what kind of woman this is who is touching him?”

It’s like the monk who gave a woman a piggy-back ride over a swelling stream, so she wouldn’t lose her footing on the way home. His fellow monk and traveling companion was dumbstruck. He couldn’t believe he had broken one of their rules which forbade touching a woman. This bothered him for hours as they walked along in silence until he finally let him have it: “I can’t believe you did that!” To which the other monk replied, “My brother, I carried her just a few feet. Are you still carrying her?”

When Jesus told the story about the one who owed 50 denari and the other who owed 500 – both of whom were forgiven the debt – he asked: “Which one will love him more?” “The one who was forgiven more, I suppose,” Simon replied. Sometimes we just have to let go of our bitterness and say “I forgive you.”

Now, on the other hand, we sometimes have well-meaning friends who remind us when we’ve messed up: “You’re only human.” That’s how we attempt to soften the blow of our mishaps. We love to look at people who serve in the public arena or celebrities get into trouble. People like Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears or Al & Tipper Gore are easy targets for those of us who would rather not faced our own sins.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean a thing to people who don’t need it. Jesus said it best: “Those who are well have no need of a physician.”

The whole point of forgiveness is that those sins actually happened.
You lost your cool.
I covered my own butt.
You didn’t speak up when you could have made a difference.
I picked me over us.
You stopped caring about the marriage.
I judged you because of your age, race, sexual orientation or the way you look.

We can’t sweep our sins under the rug of God’s love like dust bunnies and pretend that those things didn’t happen – that real people have experienced real hurt because of something we have done or left undone. Sometimes we just have to say, “I’m sorry.”

And God will put our sins away and forgive us.
And happy are they whose sins are put away.

When I was a kid, my pastor (Ken Nelson) had an enormous ox-bow hanging on the wall behind his desk at church. I figured he was into old farm implements. It wasn’t until later that we learned what it meant to Pastor Ken: just as the ox wears the bow so the farmer can use it for plowing the fields… so we as Christians put on Christ so God can use us for good in the world.

This is what Paul (in Galatians) calls: being justified. I’ve been known to quote that line: “It’s just-as-if-I’d never sinned at all!” Not true. Being justified – or put right with God – means the harsh words were, in fact, spoken. Yes you did lose your temper and someone’s nose got broken. It’s not just-as-if-I’d never sinned… but the sorry truth that “yes-I-messed-up-and-I’ll-probably-mess-up-again-before-too-long!”

This is what is so frustrating for us to understand. OK, so I’m a Christian. God forgives me all my sins. I’m put right with God and all is well in the universe! Until tonight… or tomorrow morning… or as soon as I get up off my knees from this prayer.

Sin… happens!

Becoming righteous takes time. We may make some progress here… and fall back over here. You think that woman weeping at Jesus’ feet got a few raised eyebrows? Imagine how they looked at Paul – who had persecuted the church before becoming a preacher!

“I build up the very thing I once tore down…” He told the Galatians, saying, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

In other words, if there’s any good that comes from the life I live – the credit goes to God. If I am royally messing it up, well then that’s my fault.

Remember a few years back when everyone was wearing those WWJD? bracelets? “What Would Jesus Do?” That’s something we often strive to discern. Author, M. Craig Barnes encourages us to ask instead: “What Is Jesus Doing?” Rather than seek to imitate Jesus, participate in what Jesus is doing.

Like that stole around the neck at Confirmation – like that horse that willingly allows its master to guide and steer her life – we learn from Christ each day by participating in this miracle of forgiveness.
What is Jesus doing in your life today? At home, in the car, standing in line at the post office? What is Jesus doing at the game, on the golf course, or through your computer screen? When have you had the opportunity to reach out and offer forgiveness to another person?

The woman at Jesus feet set her life in line with his. She found freedom in his forgiveness – in asking Jesus to guide and direct her life from now on. If you haven’t prayed that prayer lately, I invite you to pray with me now:

O Lord, you know the sins that weigh heavy on our hearts – we pray to be brought under your yoke through forgiveness. Help us to say, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” even as you have first forgiven us. Use our lives for good in this world and lead others to new life through our example… in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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