Apostle's Creed - Forgive and Remember
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 16 July 2017
“Forgive and Remember”
Isaiah 43: 18-25
Luke 24: 44-47
Romans 3: 23
Matthew 26: 26-28
1 Timothy 1: 15
Matthew 6: 14-15
When I was growing up a particular style of watch called a SWATCH was very popular. It is pretty amazing to think back on the SWATCH craze now, because all the watch was made of was plastic and a fancy face on the dial. Bright colors were used and, some of them, well, they glowed in the dark. People bought 4, 5, 6, even 10 watches and wore them on their wrists at the same time. Sometimes both wrists sported watches up to the elbow! The SWATCH was a highly desired accoutrement to anyone’s ensemble in the 1980s. My best friend at the time did not have a SWATCH. Despite their cheap configuration the watch was actually quite costly by teenager standards. But, he wanted one desperately. Not understanding the need for a true SWATCH his parents bought him a similar watch, but not a SWATCH. He worked hard to shovel snow, to bag groceries and to deliver them to people in the neighborhood. Sometime he would only receive a quarter as a tip, but he appreciated it, and he saved for his SWATCH.
Finally, one morning he showed up at school with a big smile on his face. On his wrist, he sported a black and gray band and a large watch face with an elaborate design. On one side of the face there was a triangle that shot out colors in all directions...almost like the Pink Floyd symbol. But on the other side there were pinstripes and alternating yellow bands. In the center above the hands of the watch face there was a prominently lettered emblem that read, “SWATCH”. He looked at me and blurt out, “It glows in the dark!” He had succeeded in earning and procuring the much coveted SWATCH.
That day as we walked home from school. He and I began nitpicking at each other. With each step we pushed one another or tried to trip the other from behind. Perhaps my touchiness could have been classified as jealousness in some regards. He had really gotten a lot of attention that day because of his cool watch, but I was too young and dumb to realize that at the time. Instead my probleming solving skills convinced me to pick up a handful of pebbles and to start throwing them at my friend’s back. In retaliation he did the same to me. Each time a rock was thrown the projectile became bigger and the throw became harder. Finally, I threw my last rock before he had the time to turn back around from his last throw. Instinctively, he threw his hand up to protect himself. His SWATCH received the full force of the rock and shattered. With it his laugh and his smile faded. Immediately... I remember the thought so clearly...immediately, I thought, “How is he ever going to forgive me for this. I was so mean.”
Today we are discussing the Apostle’s Creed’s affirmation that we believe in the forgiveness of sins.
Forgiveness is a large part of our lives. In the most basic of ways, we can grow through the ability to forgive or we can become closed off and pessimistic because of the inability to do so. We can be overrun by guilt because we need forgiveness or we can be freed to feel peace through the reception of forgiveness. Let’s face it, millions of people pay hard earned cash to therapists every week to learn how to forgive or to be able to continue without receiving forgiveness. This is not a simple, easy, throw away term. Forgiveness can change us. Forgiveness given and forgiveness received is an expression of love and of grace. That is what God has given us through Jesus Christ, grace through forgiveness.
Who Needs It?
Early on in my search for truth in the Gospel I came across two books. The first was called, The Ragamuffin Gospel, and it explained how the Gospel could be applied to the “outcasts” and the “deadbeats” of society...the author’s word not mine. The author, himself, spoke of his own struggles with alcohol and his inability to successfully bring change into his life. He spoke though of God’s ability to forgive him for his weaknesses. I am not here to debate the theology of this book, but what I am saying is that the book painted a vivid image that God’s forgiveness is available to everyone.
So, if it is available to us, why is it necessary? We, as humans, have a tendency to sin. We have a tendency to think and act in selfish ways and look for the fun and catchy thing to do, over the righteous and spiritual thing to do. In his book, Creed, Adam Hamilton raises the age old list of the seven deadly sins: 1. Lust, 2. Gluttony, 3. Greed, 4. Sloth, 5. Anger, 6. Envy, 7. Pride. Do these sound familiar? In our life, these things bring us personal pleasure and allow us to placate ourselves without consideration for the world or people around us. We put ourselves first and not God. In opposition to the seven deadly sins, there are the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23). The fruits are: 1. Love, 2. Joy, 3. Peace, 4. Patience, 5. Kindness, 6. Goodness, 7. Faithfulness, 8. Gentleness, and 9. Self-control. In living life with these virtues we are in constant connection with those around us and the world we live in, making sure that there is a life of balance in connection with God.
You can imagine each and every day how the world of sin and virtue is in constant conflict. Picture the little devil on your shoulder and the little angel on the other. It is your want versus God’s command. We have the freewill to choose. We often choose wrong and we miss the mark. Which is what the word sin means in Greek, hamartia, “to miss the mark”.
Like the author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, the more we choose to act in ways that remove us from God and we miss the mark in our obedience to God, the more we consider that God could not possibly want us. We are held hostage by our sinful state and we fall into a world of our own mind void of mercy. But this is a misconception. This is the way that sin pulls us away from God. For, no matter where we are on this spectrum whether it be the first movement into the state of sin, or the last day of a lifetime of sin, God is willing and able to offer forgiveness. Since we all miss the mark in our obedience, we all need God’s forgiveness..
We Need to Give Forgiveness
I mentioned earlier that I read two books early on in my Christian investigation. The second one, was The Shack. Many of you have read the book and, as of this year, have seen the movie. But, this story was also about forgiveness, but it was somewhat different that the Ragamuffin Gospel. The difference to me, at the time I read it, was that The Shack also focused on our human ability to forgive, so that we can open ourselves and others to God’s love. The main character in The Shack struggles with his own faith until he finds the ability to forgive, first his father and then a man who has committed an unspeakable act against his family.
Through forgiveness we offer someone else release from their transgressions, but we also take the burden of judgment away from us and give it to God. By forgiving someone, we don’t forgive the act they have committed against us, but we are offering them mercy. The act of sin has the strength to hold and bond the person who committed the sin and the person it was committed against. The presence and rumination over that sin can affect both parties. In showing God’s mercy we are hopeful they also find the mercy that God offers them, but it also offers us release from the sin’s effect on our life. It is the offering of mercy and the reception of that forgiveness that gives us the strength, freedom, and desire to know God better.
Boiling it Down
Forgiveness might be the first word someone hears in their exposure to the Christian life. When the person of Jesus Christ is explained, we often say something like, “He was God’s Son, who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He bore the weight of our sins so that we could have eternal life in God.” Forgiveness is a tenant of our faith, because the forgiveness we have received covers all of the sin committed prior to Jesus’ death on the cross and all of the sins committed since. When we confess, in the Apostle’s Creed, that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, we are accepting that in Christ we can be made new. In Christ we can be made clean of any transgression. We understand that God forgives us, because we believe that Christ had the power to take on our deepest and darkest sin. We also acknowledge that we are called to forgive others. In that forgiveness we are to help them see and to find the forgiveness present in Jesus Christ. God’s forgiveness and our ability to forgive are connected in our belief and our faith, Matthew 6: 14 - 15 states, “If your forgive others their sins, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your father forgive your sins.” It is a tricky state of sin to sit in a place of unforgiveness. We deny grace and mercy to someone else, but the effect it has on us, is a form of guilt. A way to hide God’s grace and mercy from ourselves.
With every rock I threw at my friend on that walk home from school, I knew I was doing something wrong. With each laugh I heard or made, I knew it was forced. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t loving. I had given in to jealousy. I was filled with envy. I was more concerned with what I didn’t have, rather than rejoicing in what my friend had. When I broke his watch, the watch he had worked so hard for and had saved money for so long for, I felt small. I felt insignificant. I felt like the lowliest of low. I had taken his day of rejoicing and turned it into a day of heartbreak and disappointment. My immediate thought was that I had ruined our friendship. I had broken his most prized possession, for no reason, other than I was being a jerk.
After hearing the watch break and seeing his reaction, I ran to his side. As I looked at the hole in his watch I muttered the words, “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” They were not loud. I had very little strength behind them for I knew I was wrong. I had caused pain. I had caused this terrible moment we were in. “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” His response was short, for I am sure he was hurting and dealing with anger, but he said in his own words, “I forgive you.” For 30 years he and I have never mentioned that watch again. In his forgiveness, I remember that I sit in God’s mercy and God’s grace.
God offers us forgiveness for all of those places in our life where we miss the mark. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed by guilt, or maybe you are holding back forgiveness from someone who desperately needs your forgiveness. No matter where you are this morning, God wants you to know that you are forgiven. To begin your relationship with Christ is a beautiful and wonderful thing, and it often begins with the words, “I believe in you. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” God will respond, “I won’t remember your sin.”