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Forgiveness – As Far as the East is from the West | Sermon from 8/25/2013

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This week we begin a series on forgiveness and while I’m not sure I ever thought about it before, forgiveness is essential to life.  We cannot survive in a marriage if we aren’t willing to forgive.  We cannot have close lifelong friends if we aren’t willing to forgive.  We might have a friend for a while but once we are hurt or offended in any way if we can’t forgive we will just move on to a new friend. We won’t succeed at work if we can’t forgive others and learn how to work alongside those we may disagree with and no society will be able to stand and be strong if we can’t find ways to reconcile our differences and forgive those who have intentionally or unintentionally hurt us.

Forgiveness is essential for any kind of healthy and whole life, so we are going to take the next 4 weeks and look at the two dimensions of forgiveness, our ability to ask for and receive the forgiveness of others and our ability to extended forgiveness to those who have hurt us.  We will look at forgiveness in the context of our most personal and lifelong relationships.  We will look at what it means to forgive others like our neighbors, coworkers and even our enemies, and we will explore forgiveness in the midst of our families; both forgiveness with our parents and our children.

One of the things that we are going to learn is that there are 6 words that are essential to a life of forgiveness and if we know these six words and can say them from the heart day after day, then we will have a better chance of experiencing the life God wants for us.  The first 3 words are I Am Sorry.  If we can’t say these words and truly mean then, then our lives are going to be more difficult than they need to be and our relationships will be strained and superficial.  The last 3 words are I Forgive You.  If we can’t say these words then our lives are going to be filled with bitterness and anger because we won’t be able to let go of the words and actions that have hurt us.  If we can’t say these words we will be the ones feeling miserable.  Now the truth is that we all have a hard time saying these words so let’s practice them together.  (I am sorry.  I forgive you.)  I encourage you to say these words often.  God will shows us the people we need to say them to, we just have to have the courage and faith to say them.

For us to understand forgiveness we first need to understand sin.  When we hear the word sin we usually begin to think about a list of things we shouldn’t do but we do, or things we know we should do but don’t, but the word for sin in both the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT really means straying from the path or missing the mark.  What this first implies is that there is a way we are meant to live our lives.  This isn’t primarily a list of do’s and don’ts it is a life that is characterized by love, justice and caring for others.  The path God has set for us is a life which speaks the truth in love, places the needs of others before our own and loves people the way God has loved us.

I think we can all agree that this is the path most of us want to take in life and when we do we not only feel close to God but we feel close to others as well, and I think most of us would agree that when we live this way we just feel good.  But the reality is that we stray from this path – often.  We miss the mark and we find ourselves saying and doing things we know hurt ourselves and others  As we move farther away from God we also move farther away from others we begin to ask ourselves, how can I be reconciled to God and how can I come back into good relationships with those I love?  And how can the burden of guilt and shame I that I feel because of my sin be lifted?  These are the questions the psalmist struggled with in Psalm 32.

In Psalm 32 we hear the voice of one who was wrestling with his own sin.  Because he had wandered from the path, he felt far from God.  The hand of God was heavy upon him and his strength was dried up.  This is how we feel when we miss the mark.  We begin to wonder if God is there for us or if God is even there.  There are several psalms which talk about this and they are called the penitential psalms and another one is Psalm 38.

Let’s look at Psalm 38:3-4.  This is another great expression of how we feel when we are confronted with the reality of our sin.  We feel weighed down by the guilt and shame that sin often brings.  In fact, let me give an illustration of what this is like.  (Put on a backpack and begin to fill with different size rocks.)

As we go through life, if we don’t confess and repent of our sin then all of our words, attitudes and actions begin to add up and as the psalmist said, they begin to weigh us down.  There are small sins we commit every day, like that insult or jab at a coworker that just comes out.  There is losing our temper with our spouse and children.  There is the attitude that we know is unkind when we see people that we just don’t agree with.  Then there are larger sins like those intentionally hurtful words we say to people over and over again that weaken relationships.  There’s the gossip about our friends and neighbors and the less than honest words we say about ourselves and others.  And then there are those larger sins, those things that if people found out about them it would destroy us.  Maybe it’s the actions at work that if the boss finds out about we would lose our job.  It’s the lying and cheating that if our spouse finds about would destroy our marriage and tear apart our family.  It’s the secret actions that break the law and break our relationship with God and others.

When we don’t seek any kind of forgiveness from God and others the burden of our sin because great and we end up carry it around with us day after day, year after year feeling it’s weight.  We hope people don’t see it.  We carry it around trying to live life as normal but the truth is that it slows us down and sucks the energy, passion and joy from every relationship and every experience we have.  I think this is what the psalmist means when he says, my sin is a burden too heavy for me to carry.  Day and night your hand is on me and my strength is dried up.

Too many of us live our lives this way, and yet God doesn’t want us to.  God desires to heal us and take this burden from us and the way God wants to do this is through forgiveness.  Forgiveness is God’s answer to how we can let go of this burden of sin and how we can be reconciled or come back into relationship with God and all the people in our lives.  Forgiveness really is what God is all about.  In the Old Testament God established a system where people could come to Him and ask for forgiveness and atone for their sins.  Through the sacrifices that God established, the people could not only see the serious consequences of their sin and how they bring death to relationships, but they could experienced the profound truth that God forgives them and sets them free.

In the New Testament, the life of Jesus is all about extending forgiveness.  In fact, this is what God said Jesus would before he was born.  In Matthew 1:20-21 the angel says to Joseph that the whole mission of Jesus was going to be to forgive people of their sin.  And this is what Jesus did.  He forgave the most notorious and pubic sinners of his day: prostitutes and tax collectors.  He forgave anyone and everyone who reached out to him for mercy, even with his last bit strength and spirit.  Jesus not only forgave but he called his followers to forgive.  His message was to forgive others and he taught us this by teaching us to pray, Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us.  (Which really is just those 6 words, I am sorry, I forgive you.).

And then at the table with his disciples where Jesus gathered for his final meal he lifted up the cup he said, this is my blood which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.  And then on the cross some of Jesus final words were about forgiveness.  He said, Father forgive them.  After his resurrection Jesus not only forgave his disciples for failing him, but he told them to go and forgive others, look at John 20:23.  The ministry of Jesus’ followers was to be the ministry of offering forgiveness and grace.  More than any other religion, Christianity is based on accepting God’s grace for ourselves and extending grace, mercy and forgiveness to others.  When we do this we begin to experience the power of life that comes with forgiveness.

So mercy and grace is the nature and character of God.  God is all about forgiveness and we aren’t talking about a forgiveness that is temporary or ineffective, we are talking about a forgiveness that is complete and eternal.  We are talking about God lifting the burden of our sin completely from us, look at Psalm 103:8-13.  Isn’t this what we want?  As far as the east is form the west, so far God removes our sin from us.  We want to experience the power of this kind of forgiveness and the freedom that comes in knowing that our sin is truly taken from us.  While we can accept that this kind of forgiveness is out there and available to others, we struggle to accept it for ourselves.  I struggle with this.

As a pastor I have talked with so many people who struggle to accept God’s forgiveness.  They will share with me things they have done and I can easily look at them and say, “look – God forgives you.  Completely and eternally you are forgiven because God loves you.”  I believe it for them.  I see it for them and accept it for them and feel the power of that freedom and new life that is available for them, but have a much harder time when I look in the mirror.  My guess is that this might be true for you too.  We can understand how God loves others and how God can forgive others but we don’t see how God can love us enough to really forgive us.  We struggle to accept God’s forgiveness.  We want it and need it desperately because we are so tired of carrying around the burden of it all, but we struggle to accept it and experience God’s freedom.

When we don’t accept God’s forgiveness we are not only failing to accept that God’s very nature is to forgive, but in some strange way we are looking at ourselves as someone special.  While it isn’t in a positive way, it is still our ego that makes us think that God can’t forgive us and it’s time we stopped thinking about ourselves – even how sinful we are – are started looking at God’s nature, God’s character, God’s desire and the work that God has already gone through to forgive us.  That is what the psalmist does; look again at Psalm 103:9-13.  What does the passage focus on?  It doesn’t focus on how sinful we are it focuses on how forgiving God is.  Over and over it reminds us that God is merciful, compassionate, loving and forgiving.  God is trying to tell us that he wants us to stop carrying around this burden and let him take it so we can return to the path and be reconciled to God and others.

What helps us to be able to really experience this kind of forgiveness is a process we call repentance.  To repent simply means to turn.  It means turning from the path we are on that is taking us away from God and turning back toward God and this all beings by first acknowledging that we have strayed from the path in the first place.  When we confess to God that we have stepped off the path in little ways and big ways and that we want to move closer to the life God has for us – God’s grace flows.  When we make this turn, God is right there to forgive.  In fact, God has already forgiven which means that in God’s embrace God begins to lift the burden of our sin.  In that embrace God removes our guilt and shame.  In that embrace God sets us free.  (remove backpack)

This is what God wants for us, to experience the forgiveness of sin and the freedom from the weight of guilt and shame and brokenness that our sin creates.  This is what God wants for us, to feel free in order to return to the path of life and love God intends for us.

Now God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that we will never stray from the path again.  We will miss the mark again and there will be times we will pick up the same pack and carry it for a while but every time we turn back to God, God is there to forgive us and remove the weight of our sin once again.  We often ask ourselves, how many times will God forgive us?  They asked Jesus that and he said not 7 times or 70 times but 70 times 70 which means an infinite number of times.  So every time we turn back to God, God will forgive us and work to restore His relationship with us.

Now let me be clear and say that while this works in our relationship with God, this kind of forgiveness doesn’t always work in our relationships with one another.  We’ll explore this in the weeks to come, but the hard truth is that there are consequences to our sin in human relationships that can’t always be reconciled, but with God it is always possible, not because of us, but because of God.  God always choose to forgive.  It is God’s nature to forgive.  God doesn’t forget our sin, but he does choose to remember them no more.  That is what God said through the prophet Jeremiah 31:31-34.  I will remember you sins no more.

So today, the choice is ours.  We can continue to carry the burden of our sin or can we accept the forgiveness God has already extended to us and allow God to set us free.

Next Steps

Forgiveness ~ As far as the East is from the West

 1.  There are 7 psalms (Penitential Psalms) that have been used to remind God’s people of our need to seek God’s forgiveness. Psalm 32 was read today, take time each day this week to read one of the other others and write down what truth you find there.

·         Monday – Psalm 2                                                          

·         Tuesday – Psalm 28                                                       

·         Wednesday – Psalm 51                                                 

·         Thursday – Psalm 102                                                   

·         Friday – Psalm 130                                                         

·         Saturday – Psalm 143                                                    

 

2.  What sins came to your mind during this sermon?

·         Small

·         Medium

·         Large

Instead of carrying them around, confess them to God and allow him to lift the burden.

 

3.  Practice saying these six words:  I am sorry.  I forgive you.

Ask God to show you the people you need to say them to.

 

4.  God has already chosen to not remember your sins, so commit this verse to memory and trust its truth.

As far as the east is from the west,

 

so far has God removed our sin from us.

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