posted on April 04, 2009 17:17
This Sunday, Palm Sunday, we are looking at the portion of the creed which says, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, ...”
This is easy to say but kind of dicey when I break it down in my own heart. I actually “believe” in the forgiveness of sins for others but have a harder time believing in forgiveness for myself.
Maybe it is that perfectionistic performer part of me who feels like I shouldn’t have done whatever it is in the first place, or that I don’t deserve it because I should have known better than to such and such, etc. After all, does my bad judgement and willful disobedience deserve a pass without some penalty? Maybe there will be consequences but, forgiveness...?
This kind of personal conflict with accepting God’s unconditional love for me and my broken choices and behavior over the years has led me to a little different idea about not only forgiveness, but “sin” and “sins”.
I’m growing more convinced that as long as I see “sin” as a bunch of little isolated things that I shouldn’t have done, thought, said, or participated in then I have a pretty small concept of sin and a really dinky picture of the grand scheme of forgiveness (not to mention my own desperate need for it).
When I realize that in my own life all of those little isolated things that are usually on our list of “sins” if we had to break them down, are actually symptoms of huge stuff that I don’t want to address.
I think that so many of us come from evangelical backgrounds where we had to decide if such and such was a “sin” or if it was “okay”. Is it a “sin” to go to an R rated movie? Is it a “sin” to drink? Is it a “sin” to go to this place but not this place? Is it a “sin” to gossip if I am really putting it in the form of a prayer request? We love to nail down the specifics and feel better because we have kept a pretty clean list.
The problem is that when I see “sin” as those little breakable rules or behaviors I miss the point that behind all of it is really my desire to play God in my own little world. If I keep a short enough list I won’t need to recognize my own need for forgiveness and my little behaviors keep me feeling better about me.
I’m realizing that “sin” is such a permeating part of the human heart and DNA that we can’t erase it, behave it away, or even completely recognize it because it is so entrenched and well disguised. My sin masquerades in ways that fool even me. I have to recognize that it isn’t about me keeping myself “pure” because I’m far from it and if I ever think that I am “pure” I’m even worse off than that.
Sin for me has gotten to be a lot more “big picture” sin than “little snap shot” sin. However, that has brought with it a much grander scheme of seeing “big picture” forgiveness than i’ve ever experienced as well. I am growing more and more convinced that the work on the cross is so much bigger than any of us will ever realize on this side of heaven. if sin is a completely engrained, disguised, and deceptive force in the world and the individual human heart, then forgiveness must be vaster than anything we can imagine to allow God to see through it all in to who we really are and make peace with us. If we think we can “master” sin and identify it and therefore brand it and make it illegal, then it is just going to show up in another form like a sickness. If we realize that it is a part of our fallen heart and that we ourselves are even sicker than we think, then we have a chance at getting that huge, eternal, big picture peek at just how vast and broad and far reaching God’s “east from west” forgiveness really is for us.
Last week when my wife fell from her wheelchair and broke both her legs, I really didn’t want that to be true. I really tried to help her deny that those bruised and swollen ankles just needed to be propped up in bed and that her pain was “manageable” with some Tylonol. I didn’t want to think that she was as hurt as she was because we’ve been down that road so many times and I knew what that would mean if it were true. However, as much as I didn’t want it to be true and didn’t want to see the extent of her injuries God made it abundantly clear to me in ways that I’ll spare you that she was hurt even more than I realized or could have imagined.
When we finally saw the doctor who saw her x-rays she not only needed to have her two broken legs set, they needed pins and screws and surgery. She needed weeks of recovery and people around her who could take better care of her than I can. She needed weeks in an extended care facility. She needed lots of immediate intervention but first and foremost we had to say, “Yes, I really think this is worse than we want to believe and we’d better be getting your sad self to the ER!”
That is how I think of sin these days. Let’s take our sad, sorry selves to the ER of God’s grace so that we can get a glimpse of what our real need is and not just sit in the midst of it trying to convince ourselves that we’ve just stubbed our toes.
As we examine the portion of the creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins...” this week, Scotty will also be taking us into what it looks like to forgive others and ourselves. Not only are we looking at what it means to accept God’s forgiveness for us in the person of Jesus, but how much we hang on to in this life regrading the wrongs that others have visited upon us and the wrongs we have inflicted upon ourselves.
As we gather together there is a great Jadon Lavik song that I’ve chosen to use entitled, Let It Go. His message in the song is that life is just simply too short to complicate it by carrying such heavy loads and keeping score. He calls it replaying the same old scenes and praying to change the channel in his mind. He boils it down to a pretty simple, not simplistic, observation: “Sometimes you just gotta let it go”. Easier said than done for sure but that is the challenge in forgiveness. Accepting what you can’t change and learning to be okay in it, or in spite of it.
Again, these songs aren’t meant to be songs that white-wash abuse or people having unspeakable wrongs done to them and telling them just to “get over it”. It is about where we go from here and sometimes forgiveness can only happen when you are no longer being subjected to a person or situation that isn’t going to change apart from God’s grace. And that doesn’t mean you have to sit in it and wait God out either. My opinion only. Don’t sue Christ Community for my malpractice there. I just happen to believe that to be true biblically.
That being said, we will open the worship in singing time with a call to worship which is a prophecy of the event we now celebrate as Palm Sunday:
Zechariah 9:9-12 (NIV)
9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
Since we are celebrating communion as is our custom each first Sunday of the month, our worship in singing will be a little shorter on the front end. We are doing two songs. Hosannah! by Paul Baloche and the traditional hymn, Our Great Savior (or better known to many of us as Jesus, What A Friend for Sinners). Hosannah is a worship song fitting Palm Sunday or any celebration of worship. The hymn talks about God granting us forgiveness in the person of Jesus and tells a beautiful story of our own brokenness and his perfect love and forgiveness for us in it.
Our offertory will be a song that celebrates our experiencing God’s forgiveness and the depth of understanding it. The song is by an independent artist/worship leader from Atlanta named Aaron Keyes and entitled, You’re Not Guilty Anymore. It is honest and tender and makes the point loud and clear in a tender ballad.
The song of reflection during the message is another Jill Phillips tune (yes, I know, again) which is a great reflection of learning to forgive one another. The song is Any Other Way. Because of her own story with her marriage and brokenness she and her husband, Andy Gullahorn have crafted some of the most honest and compelling songs about trust, forgiveness, brokenness, expectations, relationships, etc. and where God does, and when God doesn’t seem to show up in them. Her new album is called Good Things and I’d recommend you give it a listen. And, no, I don’t get any kickbacks for everyone I send to her site or whatever. I just believe in their message and happen to know that they are living proof that you can come through the other side of something huge and have a lot to say about it through your craft and with your life.
Our response song for the deacon’s offering after communion will be Mighty To Save. This is one that still may be new to us but it talks about each of having the need for forgiveness and extending grace. It asks us to consider that God, who can move a mountain, is mighty enough to work in our hearts to make us a forgiving and grace-filled people. Sometimes that mountain is me. I need to pray that God can move me. Move me to forgive, move me to ask for forgiveness from others, and move toward being a part of reconciling wrongs instead of exacerbating them.
As we approach the sticky subject of forgiveness this weekend I hope that we are able to grasp “how high, how wide, and how deep” God’s love for us is and “how far the east is from the west” in his forgiveness to us.