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The Cash Value of Forgiveness
Psalm 4; I John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-49
Lee A. Wyatt

Today’s sermon is the first of two I will preach on our gospel lesson from Luke 24. Forgiveness is the focus of these sermons, with this morning’s looking at forgiveness itself, while next week’s will focus on how we receive forgiveness. So today’s sermon will of necessity be slightly unfinished needing next week’s to round it off

Here’s the situation: Jesus appears to his disciples, greets them with God’s peace, assures them that it is really he, body and all, and that he is indeed the messiah of whom their Scriptures speak. Then he commissions them, and us through them to take the word of God’s forgiveness to the world. In addition he promises them “power from on high” (aka the Holy Spirit) to help them do it.

Fair enough. But what is this forgiveness anyway? And what’s its “cash value” in our lives?

According to Scripture, forgiveness cashes out in real life by making us friends with God, family with Jesus and each other, giving us a new freedom to be and do what God wants us to be and do, and a new future in which we live in the sure hope that the “peace” we already experience in the church will one day cover this world like the waters of the sea.

Friends, family, freedom and a future - that’s what God’s “peace” is all about, folks. And God’s forgiveness, at work in our lives, will do just those things - make us friends with God, family with Jesus and each other, give us a new freedom and a new future. Let’s explore further this “cash value” of forgiveness.

A little boy away at summer camp received a care package from his mom one day. It was filled with her wonderful chocolate chip cookies. He ate a few and then slipped the box under his bed. He went off for an activity but when he returned, the box was gone.

The boy reported the theft to his counselor who a little while later saw the camp bully sitting behind a tree eating the stolen cookies.

The counselor pulled Billy aside and told him he knew who had taken the cookies. “Will you help me teach him a lesson” he asked.

Hesitantly, the boy said, “Yes.”

“Good! Please ask your mom to send you another box of cookies.

Billy did and soon another box arrived in the mail.

The counselor brought the box to Billy and told him to go find the bully and share these cookies with him.

“But he’s a thief!” Billy protested.

“I know,” said the counselor, “but try it anyway.”

Off Billy went and half-an-hour later he saw him come back over the hill walking arm-in-arm with the bully. The bully was offering Billy his jacknife in payment for the cookies he had stolen. But Billy gently refused, saying, “A few old cookies weren’t that important anyway.” God’s willingness to share his own good gifts of grace with us undeserving and ungrateful creatures makes us into his friends. And chief among those gifts of his grace is forgiveness. To be forgiven, is to be friends with God!

Once President Lincoln was asked how he would treat rebellious southerners after the Civil War was over. The questioner clearly expected Lincoln to opt for some form of retribution or vengeance but was taken aback when the President replied, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”

We can love like that too. One church, in fact, did. One of its members had sinned grievously, publically, and without remorse. He resisted all the efforts the church made to counsel and reconcile with him. Finally, he walked away from the faith. For several years. Then, out of the blue, he came back. He wrote the church a letter of apology. “You were right,” he said. “I was in sin. You put your finger on it. I rebelled and I rejected. But I want you to know, I see the wrong of my actions and I’ve come back.”

Did the church take him back? You bet they did. In spades. They had a party for this brother. They bought him a sport coat and new pair of shoes. They put a gold ring on his finger. And they served him prime rib. It was an evening of praise none who were there will ever forget. This brother had been forgiven and restored. The family was whole again!

Forgiveness is the way God makes us his family. It couldn’t be otherwise, could it? How else can sinners be made into sons and daughters of a righteous and holy God? Family-making is both the glory and the goal of God’s pardon!

But what about the new freedom we receive from forgiveness - the freedom to be and do what God wants us to be and do? How does that happen?

A man went to visit a new family that just that day moved into the neighborhood. The father of this family began to introduce his children to the man.

“That’s Pete,” he began. “He’s the clumsy one of the family.”

“And that’s Kathy coming through the door all muddy. She our sloppy one.”

“Here’s Mike. Last as usual. I swear I do believe that boy will be late to his own funeral!”

That’s the way freedom does not happen! Did you notice how this father seemed to have glued his children to their faults? Even his naming of them to a stranger includes a description of their failings! How much of that does it take before we start to believe and internalize that we are our faults and sins? Not much.

And sad to say, too many Christians seem to believe that God treats us like that - always holding over us our sins and misdeeds. How tragic! How demoralizing! Not much freedom in this story, is there?

A Catholic priest in Philippines carried a terrible burden. While in seminary he committed a heinous sin. Nobody knew it and the priest had sincerely repented and worked to change his life. But in spite of effective and fruitful service in the priesthood, guilt and remorse for his sin haunted him day and night. He was not sure he had God’s forgiveness.

There was a woman in his parish who claimed to see visions and that in some of these visions Christ himself came and talked with her. More than a little skeptical the priest devised a little test. He asked the woman if, the next time Christ came to talk to her in her visions, she would ask him to tell her what sin the priest had committed in seminary.

The woman agreed. A few days later the priest asked if she had any news.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “Christ appeared to me just last night.”

“Did you ask him about my sin in seminary?”

“I did,” the woman said.

“Well, what did he say?”

“He said, ‘I don’t remember.” “I don’t remember”! What glorious good news! What liberation! What joy! But can it really be that God not only forgives but also forgets our sins? Oh, yes! Oh, yes indeed. Listen to the book of Hebrews. Speaking of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins the author jubilantly declares: “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:16-18)

What else is there to say? If we are still glued to our sins, it’s us providing the Elmer’s, not God! He has forgiven us completely and totally to live in freedom with him, in the church, and for the sake of the world. Let us take up this freedom and start to live! Today! Right now!

Lastly, forgiveness opens up to us a new future. As friends and family of a God who sets us free, we now long for a full experience to that freedom for us as well as for all God’s creation. We know the best is yet to come, so we live joyfully and hopefully, sharing the good news that has come to us.

Another Civil War story. Robert E. Lee once visited a woman in Kentucky after the hostilities ceased and found her mourning the remains of a grand old oak tree that had stood in her front yard for who knows how long. Its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. She waited for Lee to condemn the North or at least commiserate with her. But he did nothing of the kind. All he said to her was, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it.”

There’s wonderful story about a church custodian’s discovery one Monday morning when he went to clean the sanctuary. Instead of finding the usual fare - forgotten Bibles, umbrellas, bulletins covered with children’s drawings, and torn-up notes the teenagers had passed to each other instead of listening to the sermon - he found something very different indeed.

In a middle pew on the right side of the church lay a discouraged man’s anger towards God. On the back left pew sat a woman’s profound disappointment and fear over an uncertain future. Further down the pew lay a middle-aged father’s feelings of failure. Across the aisle the custodian found a young couple’s lukewarm commitment. On the front row he discovered an old man’s fear of death. In the corner, so small he could barely see it, lay a young person’s sins. On other pews he found jealousy, bitterness, pride, fear and doubt. The custodian was not sure what to with all this - but finally he swept it up - all those wounds, hurts, fears and sins - and threw them away.

Sisters and brothers, that story is your story and my story. Or if it isn’t, it can be. Because God has forgiven us and made us his friends and his family, and freed us and given us a new future, we can walk away from all that binds and shackles us. Just walk away.

If you remember my Easter sermon, you’ll realize I’m being a fossarian again. I’m opening up your graves so that you can arise, slough off the graveclothes of your sins and failures, and walk right out of your tomb - whatever it is.

I beg you, friends, take this truth to heart. Look into the face of God this morning and see there his joyous welcome. You are forgiven - fully and completely. Past, present, and future. You are God’s friends, indeed, his beloved children. You are free, truly free to live for God’s future now, instead of being mired in the ever-repeating cycle of the past.

You know what I would love more than anything else? I’d love to have Loretta come to me tomorrow saying she found all these old graveclothes lying in the pews and asking what she should do with them. That would make my day!

But more importantly, it would make your day. You would enter a whole new world of God’s love and you’d never be the same again.

What graveclothes will you leave behind today? Imagine yourself stripping off the thing that most severely hampers you from drawing close to God. Perhaps it’s guilt, or perfectionism, or indifference to God, or lusts of one kind or another, or shame, or despair, or workaholism, or dashed hopes and dreams, or . . . something else. Whatever it is, imagine it sliding off your shoulders, dropping away from your body, and lying inert and lifeless on the pew seat. And as you walk it away from it today, it won’t get up and follow you.

That, friends, is the cash value of forgiveness!

Thanks be to God!