I know that for some people reading the bible is difficult. Perhaps you
aren’t a great reader, or perhaps you just feel out of your element when you
strive to read it. Believe it or not, there was a time when I went to bible
studies feeling totally inadequate, like I was the person that knew the least
there. What I can tell you is to dive in, read it even if it is hard. Take is
slow, keep learning, and over time the book will start to make more sense to
But even as you do that, some books will be easier and other books harder.
For example, the book of Genesis and the book of Mark are relatively easy
reading because they are stories. They are about people and their lives and how
God is at work in their lives. So they hold our attention and are easier reads.
Other books are more difficult, like Leviticus which is primarily a list of
Jewish laws, and Revelation because it is a book of obscure symbolism.
Today’s reading is from the book of Romans. Reading Romans is always a
challenge. This book is one of the most intellectually challenging books in the
bible. Law schools have used it for studying how to win an argument and
construct a convincing debate. So you have to think and use your logic circuits
as you read it. Plus Paul tends to use long sentences and big words in his
arguments, so he isn’t easy to understand. Yet this letter of his also has
moments that connect to our lives in such deep ways, that we sometimes must
trudge through the difficult language to receive the riches blessings that God
Today is about forgiveness. And here is the thing. Romans is talking about
all the things that we do wrong, the things that we know make God angry, the
things we know aren’t good and right.
The things we are ashamed of. The things none of us like to admit that we
do, but most of us have hanging around in the backs of our minds and still
bother us 5 years, 10 years, even 50 years after we have done them.
For example, there are many things that I have said over the years that
from time to time swim through my mind and fill me with guilt and shame again.
Things I never should have said. Things I regret.
Sometimes these things seem rather trivial, and at other times they seem so
huge, as if they could never be forgiven. In the movie Rachel Getting Married, one of the main characters, Kym is speaking
at a twelve-step meeting, and she shares her story.
“When I was sixteen, I was babysitting my little brother. And I was, um...
I had taken all these Percocet. And I was unbelievably high and I... we had
driven over to the park on Lakeshore. And he was in his red socks just running
around in these piles of leaves. And, um, he would bury me and I would bury him
in the leaves. And he was pretending that he was a train. And so he was
charging through the leaves, making tracks, and I was the caboose, and I was,
um... so he kept saying, coal, caboose! Coal, caboose! And, um, we were... it
was time to go and I was driving home... and... I lost control of the car. And
drove off the bridge. And the car went into the lake. And I couldn't get him
out of his car seat. And he drowned. And I struggle with God so much, because I
can't forgive myself. And I don't really want to right now. I can live with it,
but I can't forgive myself. And sometimes I don't want to believe in a God that
could forgive me. But I do want to be sober. I'm alive and I'm present and
there's nothing controlling me. If I hurt someone, I hurt someone. I can
apologize, and they can forgive me... or not. But I can change. And I just
wanted to share that and say congratulations that God makes you look up, I'm so
happy for you, but if he doesn't, come here. That's all. Thank you.”
Into this very heartfelt guilt and shame, the book of Romans, at least as I
read it says, if you follow Christ, if you allow yourself to be filled with the
Holy Spirit, if you come to God, you are forgiven
And not with a little forgiveness, but you are forgiven from the tips of
your toes to the very deepest darkest corners of your heart and mind. Even if
you don’t want to believe it. Think about it this way: God is bigger than us,
right? So much more than we are. So of course God’s forgiveness is always
bigger than any sin we could commit. If it were possible for us to commit a sin
that God couldn’t forgive, that would make us bigger than God, and that just
can’t happen. God will always be greater than us, and God’s forgiveness will
always be greater than our sin. The passage says, Jesus made us righteous. In
other words, he took our sin away, and made it as though we were without sin. He
has made everything right again.
It is like this. When the books of a certain Scottish doctor were examined
after his death, it was found that a number of accounts were crossed through
with a note: "Forgiven too poor to pay." But the physician's wife later
decided that these accounts must be paid in full and she proceeded to sue for
money. When the case came to court the judge asked but one question. Is this
your husband's handwriting? When she replied that it was he responded:
"There is no court in the land that can obtain a debt once the word
forgiven has been written."
You might say, that Jesus came and across all of our sins, across all of
our guilt and shame wrote in his own hand, “Forgiven too poor to pay.” So who
can bring a charge against us? If God has acquitted us, who is going to convict
us? It really doesn’t matter what we have done. It doesn’t matter if it is on
Pastor Rob’s list of the 10 worst things a human being can do. It doesn’t
matter if we feel so bad about it we will never forgive ourselves. God forgives
us and will not allow anyone to press charges. If from the very cross, Jesus
can ask for humanity to be forgiven for this offense against God, if Christ’s
forgiveness is capable of the great an act, then what possibly could God not forgive?
So when Jesus forgives us, that forgiveness is complete. There is no court in
heaven that is going to hold that sin against us.
Even for Kym in the movie. If she takes her guilt to God it is forgiven.
Even if she isn’t sure that she wants to believe in a God that could forgive
that. God is bigger than her sin. God’s love is stronger than her brokenness.
I don’t know if you have every really allowed yourself to feel that level
of forgiveness before. There are days I don’t let myself feel that level of
forgiveness – but for just a moment consider it.
God can forgive anything. Anything. There is nothing that can separate us
from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels
or rules, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth,
or any other thing that is created. For just one moment, accept it. Believe it.
Let it rush through your soul, until your heart is uplifted and set-free.
These are the kinds of teachings and realizations that make reading the bible
worth it. Even the tough and difficult to read books. Oh, yes, Romans can be
tough to wade through, but this is stuff we need to know and hear! We need to
be told that God’s forgiveness is complete and real. We need to hear that those
things that we hold against ourselves, those things we feel guilt and shame
for, are washed away by God and they are not held against us in the books of
heaven. We need to be assured that there is nothing greater than the love of
God. And that it is a power beyond our understanding. We need to be reminded of
that on those nights when we cannot let go of our past and it haunts us. We
need it so that we can live again. So that we can have joy again. So that we
can pursue the goodness that we know God has planned for our lives.