Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Weekday Lent Service One, March 13, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, Minnesota.
If you have a Christian friend who has fallen into sin, embrace him, but oppose his sin with everything you’ve got. Sin is killing him. Matthew Smith
Grace and Peace to You from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christians rejoice in forgiveness. Sunday after Sunday we gather together to be reminded of our brother Jesus who gave his life on the cross for our sin. Our hymns rejoice in forgiveness. The wonderfully simple words continually remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice. For millennia, and more, the liturgy proclaims again Christ’s forgiveness from the cross. Baptism and the Lord’s supper provide visual symbols connected with God’s promise that forgiveness of sins is ours. Powerful symbols, which are so much more than only symbols, provide proof positive who receives that forgiveness. Water makes our heads wet. We open our mouths and receive Christ’s very body and blood. We are brought into the family of God through the placing of God’s name on us. We are sustained in our faith in that forgiveness with bread and wine and Christ himself.
Christians rejoice in forgiveness. It is our legacy to a fallen world. Forgiveness is given freely to a broken world of sinners. There are no prerequisites. No amended behavior for the gift of faith. It is entirely the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)
St. Paul emphasizes the gift nature of forgiveness. It is not the doing of good works, it is the grace gift[1] of God. Grace is giving what is not deserved. The world deserves God’s wrath and eternal punishment for its rejection of him. But the grace gift of forgiveness comes through Jesus Christ to that hell deserving world. And that is the message that Christians have to proclaim. That is the message that Christians have to live out every day of their lives.
The word Christian means “Little Christ[2]”. What a joy and privilege it is to be compared to Christ. And there is no better way to be a “Little Christ” then to offer forgiveness just as our Lord does. And Jesus tells us so[3]. When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them the Lord’s prayer. Part of that prayer is the Fifth Petition, where Jesus says forgive as we have been forgiven. Martin Luther in the Small Catechism makes it clear.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
Answer: We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins nor deny such petitions on account of them. We are not worthy of any of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them. But we pray that He would grant them all to us by grace. For we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So will we truly, on our part, also heartily forgive and readily do good to those who sin against us. [4]
There is no better place to show that forgiveness than in the church. Because if we can’t show forgiveness with our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we expect to show forgiveness to those who don’t know him. Among believers is the best place to practice forgiveness. As Christians we have the privilege to pronounce forgiveness. And it is especially true, for those who sin against us.
That brings us to our problem. We have a difficult time with “true and hardy forgiveness” for those who sin against us. It goes against our sinful nature to forgive freely, without cost. We want to see amendment of life. We want to see restitution. We want a heartfelt apology. We want those who sin against us to deserve forgiveness. But Jesus won’t have it. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. All those things put conditions on forgiveness that deny the grace gift. All those things show that we don’t really understand God’s forgiveness.
It is as if we believe that our forgiveness has something to do with the forgiveness that God gives. We forget that forgiveness comes freely from the cross of Christ. We imagine that forgiveness comes through us to those who sin against us. As if withholding our forgiveness withholds forgiveness from them. If that was the case, there would be no forgiveness for anyone. For we have all sinned against each other in many ways. As Luther says, “For we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” And it is especially true that we most often sin against those with whom we have a close relationship, within our families, and within the church.
This simple diagram explains it. In the center we have “Adam”. Above Adam is God. When Adam was created he had a perfect relationship with God. He also had a perfect relationship with every other person on the earth (that happened to be Eve only). Those relationships are described by the 10 Commandments. First commandment, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind.” Is the primary commandment. Because Adam loved God with his whole heart, soul and mind, he loved Eve the same way. Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with one another. Everything Adam did, he did with Eve in mind. He always put the toilet seat down. He always took out the trash, even before Eve asked. Everything Eve did, she did with Adam in mind. She knew that if she asked him to do something, he would do it the first time. There was no need to nag. And Adam understood everything she said. It was a perfect relationship. There was no need for forgiveness. When the relationship with God was broken, so was the relationship with one another. There was no longer mutual trust. They had to hide behind clothing to hide their shame. And they had to hide from God. Original sin was passed to their children, and their children’s children, all the way down to you and me. Original sin can first be described as not living in a perfect relationship with God. Now there is a need for forgiveness.
Jesus comes to alleviate this situation through the forgiveness he won on the cross. That forgiveness is for all people. It comes from God through the cross of Christ to people in need of forgiveness. It comes to all people.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2, ESV)
It is a grace gift given through faith. When Christians sin against one another we therefore have that privilege of announcing the forgiveness won on the cross to our brothers and sisters. With no preconditions. It is only our sin that prevents that pronouncement. As if our forgiveness had control over God’s forgiveness. Instead, we have a ministry of reconciliation. Both reconciliation to God and reconciliation to one another. It begins with forgiveness.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16–21, ESV)
So, what do we do when we don’t feel forgiving? It is all part of the ministry of reconciliation. Sin should be taken to the cross where Christ forgives completely as a grace gift. That’s what living a life of repentance is. Clinging to forgiveness for our own sinfulness and our unwillingness to forgive. The gift of the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament, will work in us a forgiving heart. In the meantime, we are to announce Christ’s forgiveness to those who sin against us. So that they can have the peace that comes from forgiveness. The ministry of reconciliation is our pronouncement of that forgiveness.
It starts with me. Willing to recognize my sin. Willing to confess my sin at the cross and receive forgiveness there. And in turn proclaiming the forgiveness of the cross to those who needed desperately. Amen
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

[1] “Grace Gift”, an idea given to me by Lisa Mesenbring, Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, Minnesota.
[2] Antioch is where the disciples of Christ were first called Christians. See Acts 11:26.
[3] references to the Gospels where the Lord's prayer is located
[4] Small Catechism: article III, paragraph 16; Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions

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