Sunday, March 22, 2009

Suffering Forgiveness

This was today's sermon - based on the scriptures assigned for the day. Click the colored words for link(s).

You can listen to the audio as it was preached today by clicking here.

John 3:21 Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

That line, the one from the end of today's gospel reading… it's is certainly true and wise. When I don't have anything to hide, when I am innocent, I don't mind being exposed. I like others to see. Like a child I say "Look how good!" and point at myself. But when I have done bad, I want to hide.

Nicodemus comes at the beginning of John chapter 3—but he comes at night… he has something to hide. He doesn’t want anyone to see.

And the people in our First Reading—in the Old Testament book called “Numbers.” Those people—they weren’t innocent either! They hated God.

They hated God even though he had saved them and brought them on their way thus far to the promised land.

Nicodemus and the people in Numbers 21—they weren’t innocent. They didn’t trust. Nicodemus came with his suspicions. And the Israelites were guilty as sin.

Why do we have such a hard time in our relationship with God? Why don’t we love and trust him easily? Why do we need to be told over and over again so we quit hiding our sin or trying to make ourselves look good?

Many of us, since we have been small, we have been taught, that God will love forever. But when we do wrong, or when we feel bad, what do we do? Sometimes we get angry at God—and at other times we hide our sins away.

Unless we’re reminded of God’s grace over and over again, we don’t bringing burdens, guilt, disappointments. We’re like people wandering in the wilderness, burdened with our past and afraid of the future.

That’s true unless we’re reminded and convinced, over and over again, that there is nothing we have ever done, and there’s nothing we can ever do that will make our God turn away from us… not because we’re good… because we’re not.

But the way of God, the way of love, joy and PEACE in our lives, is coming out into the open with our sin—just like on the cover of the bulletin where the people of Israel are pictured, coming out from hiding, out to where they would be reminded of their sin and its punishment, and there, out in the open, be healed.

I’ve got a little story that will help us understand, but before that I think it’s good to say a little bit more about that bronze metal snake. Because it’s pretty strange.

Hundreds of years after this event, in the Old Testament book of Second Kings—2nd Kings 18:3-4—it says there that a good King—a king named Hezekiah—that he took that bronze metal snake and broke it in pieces because people were worshipping it.

It might look like an idol of some kind, or some kind of good luck charm maybe, hanging up there on that pole, with all those people coming to be healed…

But the point of the snake wasn’t that it was some kind of good luck charm… now this is important… LIKE THE CROSS the metal snake was supposed to remind the people that we DO sin against God but that God still loves us and when we come clean we can be forgiven!

We don’t need to go searching for some kind of a guilt free religion that will let us go on sinning. We can face our guilt head on—all of our fears, all of our anger against God—we can bring it out and say “YES! IT’S TRUE! I AM a sinner doomed to suffer & die forever.”

God in his mercy provides a way for us to be forgiven. He takes the burden of the sin on himself.

The snake on a pole was a kind of FORECAST of what God was going to do later, taking the sin on himself, dying on the cross, being lifted up…

And we come like the people in the picture, and we bring everyone else so they too can be saved, so they too can be healed, so they know they are always loved.

Now it’s time for my little story.

Many years ago I lived in Brazil for a year and a half. When I first got to Brazil I lived in a house that was owned by a dentist. It was a very nice house, but it was very close to a slum where, I was told, many people lived who would rob you if you weren't careful.

I don’t know if that was true or if was just prejudice against the people in the slum. I got to know people in slums and they were just like anyone else. But, many people who were richer pretty much wanted those poor people to stay away.

Anyway, when I first came to Brazil I lived in a very nice house, and is true with almost every house in lots of countries, it was surrounded by a wall… this one that had to have been at least 10 or 12 feet tall—barb wire on top with glass bottles set into the cement, bottles that had been broken so the glass shards were sticking out.

There was one gate, and the gate was locked tight. I paid rent for a room in the house and was given a key.

Nothing bad happened when I was there, but I want you to use your imagination for a minute so I can let you know what a precious gift we have in God's forgiveness and how he SUFFERED for us.

Let's imagine I got tired of using my key to that front gate and decided just to leave it open when I left one day.

Or imagine that I lost my key and didn't want to admit it, so I took some duct tape or a piece of metal or something and fixed the gate so it wouldn't lock.

And let's imagine that one evening, after I jammed the lock open, that I left the house, and let's imagine that thieves got into the house when the father wasn't home, stole whatever they could find, terrorized and killed the family, trashed the house and, before leaving, set it on fire.

And let's imagine I came home and found the father weeping. Everything was lost.

Now that didn’t happen to the Wanderley’s house. As far as I know, Everualdo and his wife Cedinha are still living there today.

That didn’t happen to the Wanderley’s house. But it did happen to God’s world!

God made this beautiful world. He made it, he loves it, he owns it, and, back in the beginning, he gave it to us human beings to enjoy and take care of.

But we human beings, we did as I imagined I did in my pretend story. We let sin and death and destruction in. Because we didn’t want to obey God, we deliberately left the gate open let evil in and let it take control.

And ever since then there has been pain and sickness and treachery and death. And, the thing is… we’re not even innocent in our motives. Many times we are the thieves and murderers and terrorists in God’s world.

So what does God do?

I think I know what the dentist Evervaldo Wanderley would have done.

He would have killed me.

Or he would have sued me first and then killed me.

He would have made me pay.

He would have made me SUFFER.

But God loved us so much, that he chose to take the burden of our sin on himself!

Instead of getting revenge on us, and instead of making us pay the ultimate price of his wrath, he chose to pay the fearful price himself for what we have done.

He suffered in his body on the cross.

He suffered in his soul, mourning over the damage we have caused.

And he died in our place—he took upon himself the sufferings of hell--because we do deserve the worst punishment you can imagine.

He paid the suffering price of forgiveness for you… and for me.

If I didn’t know that, I would hide.

If I wasn’t sure God loved me forever and without question, I would not come home. Imagine what I would have done in the imaginary story…. Imagine if I hard heard that tragedy had struck that family because of me.

I very well could have carried that guilt to my grave.

If you or I had done something as bad as that, or if you or I have been a murderer or a thief or an adulterer or if we have to this point rejected God’s mercy, God has paid the price. Every kind of guilt was wiped away when Jesus died on the cross.

And we need to know that, and so does the world. So we can all come home. So we can all come clean.

When we come to God—when we come out with our sin into the light and quit hiding, we will find more love, not less! Look at that cross! Remember the price Jesus paid FOR YOU!

God came to this world, not to condemn us or make us hide, but God came to let us know that we are loved. This should make us willing to be honest and open in admitting our sin and allow the healing power of God to flow.

As I said on Wednesday, there is no reason to be afraid anymore. Many people have experienced this truth: When we stop hiding the pain and sin and wounds in our lives, so much can be healed--our minds, our bodies, our relationships and families, even our finances.

Please—come and let someone know how wounded and hurt and sinful you are. Here... and I hope this is true among the people of our church... here you will find understanding, companionship, forgiveness, freedom, and God's healing love.

You can bring it all. No matter what your burden, no matter what your guilt, no matter what your fear, you can be healed.

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