Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sermon: Grace Is A Quiver Full of Arrows

Mark 9:2-9

The title of the sermon is from a phrase I read in the Seasons of the Spirit commentary. One of the things that the authors of that commentary remind us is that the Greek word for sin is hamartia. This word is also an archery term for letting the arrow fly and “missing the mark.” This was not new to me, but it was worth reflecting upon again.

How often do we miss the mark in life? I do it far too often. I strive for perfection to hit that bullseye, and sometimes when I am as lucky as this kid, I do.

Other times, I am not quite so amazing, and in the archery metaphor, I hit the next ring out, close but not quite a bullseye. But then, oh, then there are those shots in life that I let loose, and everyone should be running for the hills, because I didn’t even hit the bales of hay that support the target. I have let go an errant shot, an oopsy-daisy, a total and completely bungled attempt. Remember we are not really talking about archery here, we are talking about sin – about messing up in life.

How many of you remember the story of Roy Riegels from the University of California Berkley football team? It was the 1929 Rose Bowl and well, here is the video.

Interestingly, ESPN doesn’t tell the best part of the story. And it is what happened at half-time. In the locker room at halftime Roy Riegels sat in the corner with his face buried in his hands. Riegels was so distraught that he had to be talked into returning to the game for the second half. Roy said "Coach, I can't do it. I've ruined you, I've ruined myself, I've ruined the University of California. I couldn't face that crowd to save my life." Nibs Price the coach said, "Roy, get up and go back out there — the game is only half over."

And after the game, Coach Price defended Riegels, saying "It was an accident that might have happened to anyone."

So back to the very beginning of my sermon: the title. Grace, according to the commentary I mentioned that talks about about sin as missing the mark, grace is not just that God forgives us for the bad shot, but that God gives us a quiver full of arrows and says try again. I had never heard it expressed like that before. It was like it was saying: Get back out there, the game is only half over.

Grace is God saying take another shot, and another, until you get it right. Grace is a quiver full of arrows, a quiver full of chances.

I thought that that was a powerful image. I may fail today, I may fail tomorrow, but with God’s help, one day I am going to get it right! And not just because I was lucky, but because God has been patient enough to lead me toward perfection.

That is how Jesus treats Thomas on this day. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples and he simply refuses to believe that Jesus could be alive. His belief arrow flew sideways and was nowhere near the target. Not that I blame him. I probably would be the same way. It is rather hard to believe a group of guys isn’t pulling your leg when they say they saw someone risen from the dead while you were out. I mean, come on. But despite the fact that Thomas’ disbelief made complete sense, he was wrong. Jesus was alive, and Thomas couldn’t see it. It was like he was running the wrong way down the field, heading away from the truth. The resurrection had happened, and Thomas’ reaction was off the mark.

But Christ gives him another chance and appears again, this time while Thomas is present. He even invites Thomas to put his hands on his hands and feel the wounds. Christ is giving him every opportunity to correct his mistaken belief, and of course, Thomas gets it right. He believes. He realizes that he was wrong, he admits it, and he acknowledges Christ as his Lord and his God.

So if I think about my life, if I think of myself as the Thomas of this bible passage: I am sure that there are a thousand arrows that I have fired that have missed the target. Everything from the way I have treated people, to the things I have said, to the beliefs that I hold. What this passage tells me, is that despite the fact that I have been wrong, despite the fact that I am running the wrong way down the field, despite the fact that I have missed the mark: God isn’t finished with me yet. (Can I get an Amen?)

By grace God has given me a quiver full of arrows to try again. Thank you, Lord!

Although some of you may be so thankful, because here’s the thing, when I sin, I know that some of you get hit by my errant shots and hurt.

And I do apologize for that, I really never mean to harm anyone, it’s just I’m still not very good at this archery of life. I’m still working toward perfection, I’m not there yet.

And while Jesus grants us the grace to try again, and it can be hard for us to give people that same grace, especially if they have harmed us with one of their failed shots. I mean who gives another arrow to the person that just shot them? So it is really interesting, in this passage, that Jesus actually specifically addresses how we forgive others. He says, that what we forgive on earth, those sins are forgiven; but then he goes a step further, and says the sins we don’t forgive on earth, they aren’t forgiven. So you all have a lot of power. I am depending upon your forgiveness for my peace. Oh, I am not alone, this applies to us all.

Perhaps Jesus is reminding us that we are all still learners, still working on getting it right in God’s eyes, and that we all need a little patience and a lot of forgiveness until we get it right. Then he uses Thomas as an example for how we should deal with others – with patient correction and careful instruction. With a willingness to walk alongside them as they try to get it right. Without judgment or anger. Without taking personal offense at what they have done, but leading them to the truth.

In summary: This teaching from Jesus is wonderfully good news for us when we get it wrong, when we miss the mark.

He is offering us another chance, to get back in the game and to try again. But the teaching is also a challenge to us to offer the same forgiveness to others that Christ offers to us. To forgive 70 times seven times, to forgive the quiver of failures that others let loose, and to strive to help them get closer to the mark. To forgive as we have been forgiven, and love as we have been loved.

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