Friday, March 03, 2006

Families Forgiving One Another, Ash Wed, March 1, 2006

Families Under the Cross, a Lenten Series by Rev. David Johnson.
Families Under the Cross: Families Forgiving One Another.
This sermon from an outline by Pastor Johnson.
Genesis 50:15-21, Col. 3:12-14, Luke 23:26-35
It’s tough to live the Christians life.  Even though we know that we all fall very short of God’s expectations for us.  Think of the family, that may be very much like yours, so busy there’s hardly time at home at the dinner table together.  One frustrated mother with a workaholic husband and two teenagers put it like this, "It's tough enough living the Christian life, but living it in my family is next to impossible!"  It seems the hardest place to apply the principals of Christian life is in our very own families.  Not to mention our church family!  Just think of all the hurt still hanging on around here, over the last two pastor’s departures.  If you want to see sin and Satan at work, you only have to look at how the church goes about it daily business.  
So that’s what are Lenten Series is about.  I first heard this series preached by my own pastor in Lincoln, Nebraska, even before I was contemplating becoming a pastor myself.  Our goal each week will be to think about what it means to be Christians living under the cross.  But especially how living under the Cross of Jesus Christ can make a difference in our family life, and how living under the Cross of Jesus Christ can and will make a difference for our life together as a church.  So tonight we’ll talk about how we are empowered, under the cross, to forgive one another.  
It’s a challenge, isn’t it?  Living together with people every day.  Sometimes it’d be easier to live alone.  But we’d still struggle with sin, wouldn’t we… they’d just be different sins.  What challenges do you face in your family?  What challenges do you face here in the church?  The truth is that in these families there’s always plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness, isn’t there?  Children push you buttons and you end up blowing your top.  Maybe you even take your discipline a little bit to far.  Then you fell guilty wondering how you’ll ever make it as a parent.  “Why did I have to get so angry and take it out on them?”  
Step parents seem to have it even worse.  “You’re not my father!  You can’t tell me what to do!”  One step-parent wrote these words: "We thought we'd heal in remarriage, and instead we discovered new hurts.  We thought the children would benefit from a broader family experience, and instead we found eruption of sibling rivalry and hate...The fantasy we watched on television depicting the joys of blended-family life turned out to be a nightmare we lived each day."
Single parenthood, is extolled on television.  But those who live with it every day, know they’d rather have a partner.  And who takes the brunt of the kids anger at not having a father?  Guilt makes you lax in discipline, giving in when you should stand firm.  And you get angry at God.  Why me?
Work pressures all too often come home.  You know the pattern.  The boss yells at the worker.  The worker gets home and yells at the kids.  The kids take it out on the dog, and the dog chases the cat up the curtains.  Housework plies up, and tension with it.  There’s not enough time for that and work, and community events, and school, and…  it’s like a cask of gunpowder with a short fuse.
Don’t think that those older folks who guard the empty nest get out of the trouble loop.  You never stop worrying about them.  You can’t believe the decisions they make.  It’s not just that they don’t go to church.  You’re embarrassed by their divorce, their living together, their trouble with the law.  It’s very hard to forgive when everything in you just screams at you to give up.  
And how about here in church.  As you gaze at the heads in front of you, who’s the person, you just can’t seem to forgive?  Which family do you blame for the churches troubles?  Which issues are at the real heart of it all?  You know what I mean, when simple decisions explode into problems that should not be problems.  Very rarely are the issues that people fight about in church the real issues.  The real problems are deeper.  And we don’t want to talk about them.  We don’t want to forgive each other, because it means confronting our own sin in the matter.
It’s especially hard to forgive when the pain is extra deep.  When it deals with our families, our church.  When lots of time has passed.  Joseph in our OT reading had that kind of pain.  He had years to contemplate what his brothers did to him.  He had a right to be angry.  They hated him, sold him into slavery.  They just didn’t know that things would turn around so that when they met again he’d be in a position to give real pay-back.  "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pay us back for all the wrongs we did to him?"
It’s hard to forgive.  In fact, we human beings just don’t want to do it.  Especially when we’ve been hurt deeply.  Especially when we’ve been treated unfairly.  We want to hold on to the bitterness.  We relish the thought of holding grudge, even to our deathbed.  It doesn’t really matter if the person whose hurt us is a loved one.  It’s even harder to forgive when someone we’ve hurt, or whose hurt us rejects or ignores our attempts to reconcile.  Or they refuse to admit they’ve done wrong.  Or we forget that no matter what the situation we have a part in it too.  Our own sin contributes to the problem.  In every situation we need to forgive but we also need to be forgiven.
Family life, church family life, clearly shows us our need for forgiveness.  We don’t live up to God’s expectations, as parents, as husband, as wife, as father, as church leader, as human being.  We need to be forgiven, not just for the things we do that hurt other people, but for our lack of willingness to deal with and forgive those who hurt us.
Families Under the Cross.  Jesus Christ on the Cross.  That’s where we see what forgiveness is all about.  Jesus was there willingly suffering and dying, willingly taking the abuse, anger, injustice and hatred of sinful men, who put him there.  Jesus bleeding and dying shows us God’s determination to forgive sinful human begins like you and me.  His commitment to forgive even those we don’t want to forgive.
Under the cross, looking up at our dying Lord is where we see just how free and unconditional, and total God’s forgiveness is.  He even forgave those who put him there.  “Father, forgive them!  Forgive them…”  The ones who beat his flesh to a bloody pulp.  The ones who drove nails into his hands and feet… and laughed about his pain.  They didn’t acknowledge their sin.  They didn’t care.  They were doing a job.  Yet, the very thing they did to him was the thing that God used to bring the forgiveness they needed.  St. Paul used these words:  “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19, ESV)  What Jesus did was for the whole world, every single person.  Not a single person is excluded.  On the cross Jesus earns forgiveness for the whole human race, even those who go to hell.  Hell is the place for those who reject God’s forgiveness, believing that they don’t need it, or trying to earn it on their own.
Living as Families Under the Cross assures us that we are forgiven.  It shows us that God has forgiven our sin and remembers them no more.  One author said:
“Judgment and punishment face toward the past.  Mercy and forgiveness face toward the future.  It is a future with the cross etched into it as a reminder that we are to live with one another in mercy and forgiveness.  We are to bear in mind God’s merciful and forgiving act toward us in Christ.  Because of the Cross we can face the future and not be captured by the past, neither the past with our own sins, nor the past with the disappointment and hurts inflicted by others.  The more we are aware of God’s forgiveness in our lives, the more we are likely to forgive others.  We just cannot demand punishment for others when we have been dealt with with forgiveness.”  
The forgiveness we find under the cross really does make a difference for families.  Forgiveness given and received removes burdens.  Forgiveness given and received tears down walls of hostility.  Forgiveness given and received opens up possibilities for the future.  
When we practice forgiveness, unconditional, Jesus like, forgiveness in our families (and in our church) it sends a clear message.  It shows that we know that we know that are not perfect parents, husbands, wives, church members.  And that we need God’s forgiveness too.  It makes the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” have more meaning than just words that seem to condemn us.  It sets an example to a community that needs forgiveness.  And… dare I say it, we need to ask forgiveness from.
Sin separates, forgiveness restores.  You know how it works.  You’ve seen it in your family.  A fight makes the kids not want anything to do with each other.  A young married couple sleeps apart in the same bed.  Forgiveness brings people back together.  The kids play together, and husband and wife look each other in the eye and say, “I love you.  Will you forgive me?”
It isn’t magic.  It’s God “reconciling the world to himself” through Jesus Christ.  It’s a great challenge for all of us.  But what and adventure it is to live as God would have us live.  What a difference it makes in our families, this family here, and our families at home.  We can go forward into the future, free from guilt, knowing that even when we explode there is forgiveness for us in Christ… knowing that the power to forgive isn’t something that I have to dredge up from my sin sick soul, but something that Christ has done already on the cross.  I simply need to give it, and turn to Jesus for my own forgiveness.  That’s living life as Families Under the Cross.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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