Forgiveness: Grace

  • February 23, 2016

henLuke 13:31-35

By this point in the gospel of Luke, Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem. He has left Galilee behind and is travelling towards the great temple, towards confrontation with his enemies, towards crucifixion. Jesus is on his way, and he knows what awaits him. But there are just a few more things that he wants to get done before he gets there.

In the verses before our text for this morning, Jesus is really busy. He has a non-stop ministry schedule. He sends out seventy followers to do good work and welcomes them back again. He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and visits Mary and Martha. He casts out demons and denounces those who abuse their power. Jesus encourages his followers to confess their sins, teaches them how to pray, reminds them not to worry, and tells them to always seek the Kingdom of God. I hope Jesus took some Sabbath days in there somewhere that just weren’t mentioned, because his to-do list sounds exhausting.

Jesus is really busy. There’s so much he wants to do before everything comes to an end. And then, in the midst of everything else, someone interrupts him with this message: “get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Most of us might pause, when receiving a death threat. It’s not an empty threat; Herod Antipas did murder John the Baptist. But Jesus doesn’t even blink. He says with disdain, “Go and tell that fox for me” (that Jesus, he had a way with words) “Go and tell that fox for me” — I’ve got important things to do. I’ll be on my way soon enough. And then, in an instant, Jesus is all compassion, speaking of the city that will be the death of him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Last week we started a series on Forgiveness. I began by taking about honesty. The healing of forgiveness begins by acknowledging fully the wrongs that have been done to us and by us. Today we turn to the question of God. What role does God play in this process?

To talk about God’s role in forgiveness we have to address the issue of sin. Sin: a word that makes many folks in this branch of the Christian faith a little uncomfortable. Sin, you may say, sounds so SERIOUS, so shaming, so bleak. We may have made mistakes, but do we really need to use that word?

But apart from all of our baggage, sin has a very simple definition. To sin is to act against God’s desires; to miss the mark when it comes to loving God and neighbor. Sinning is not extraordinary, but exceedingly ordinary. It is the natural result of free will. We make our own choices. Inevitably we sometimes choose that which is contrary to God’s desire for us and for our world. This is sin.

Some Christians have spent an awful lot of time and energy parsing different types of sin. If you want to, you are very welcome to read about original sin, venial sins, and the seven deadly or mortal sins; internal sin and interpersonal sin and structural sin. Be my guest. There’s plenty out there, more than I can list, and it’s pretty interesting, too. Of course, be forewarned, Christians in good faith disagree on many points.

Today I want to focus on what happens after the sin, big or small. We sin – we go against God’s desires – it happens every day. What happens next? What happens to our relationship with God?

Again, Christians differ here, but most of us agree on some basic points. Sin damages our relationship with God. When we sin, we distance ourselves from God. But if we are able to recognize and acknowledge what we have done; if we repent and ask for help to avoid making the same mistake again– if we can do all of that – God has one very simple response: grace.

Grace. God forgives us: not because we’ve earned it, but because of God’s essential nature. No matter what we’ve done, or how long we’ve hidden it, as soon as we turn towards God with honesty and regret, God forgives us completely. Our relationship with God is healed. God is always ready to make up with us. She is just sitting there in her rocking chair with her knitting, looking out the window and waiting until we’re ready to climb up into her lap and get a hug.

The promise that God’s grace is waiting for us whenever we’re ready to do our own work is something to marvel at. It’s almost too much to express in words, so we sing about it instead (as some say, to sing is to pray twice).

We sing:  Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me – but not only that.

At Christmas, we sing: Radiant beams from Thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth; Jesus, Lord, at thy Birth (Silent Night).

Basking in the resurrection, we sing: O for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer’s praise, The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace.

Thinking of our own death, we sing: I need Thy presence ev’ry passing hour, What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r? Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be? Thru cloud and sunshine, O abide with me!”

Amazing grace. A love that triumphs over every error, a light that overcomes all shame. We sing about it, in one way or another, almost every week. Grace is astonishing and life-saving and grace is hard. It is hard to let God love the parts of us that we hate. it is hard to acknowledge that God loves the ones who have hurt us beyond all telling. Hard. Heart-breaking. Gut wrenching.

In every brokenness, God is waiting with grace. Divine grace is the fundamental condition of our lives and the stage on which all of our human acts of apology and forgiveness occur. We will never be as good at forgiving ourselves, or forgiving each other, as God is. That’s not what is asked of us. Instead, in our sinfulness and in our pain, we are invited to climb up on God’s lap for a good, hard hug. That refuge of God’s grace is what makes human apology and forgiveness possible.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, on his way towards the cross. There’s so much he wants to do, and so little time to do it in. He is up against his deadline, facing threats from every side. And yet, when he thinks of the people who will execute him, he cries: “ How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Make us willing, O God. Gather us up in your warm embrace; shelter us under the wings of your amazing grace. Amen.