Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sermon: Forgiven By the Lord

Romans 8:26-39

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 you.

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 can give.

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."[1]

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.

[1] ChristianGlobe Illustrations

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