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What Not to Wear

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The Learning Channel hosts a show called What Not to Wear. In it the two hosts take someone who has been volunteered by family and friends for a wardrobe makeover. They go through the persons closet and clothes and pretty mach discards what they have been comfortable wearing. They then make suggestions and demonstrate how a new look, new colors, new fabrics can and will make a difference in how they look.

I hope to make a case that, you and I, should choose to get rid of some very unflattering items we like to wear. In church wording we call it sin. Now the world knows this and makes few of the do’s and don’t’s of religious people. What they miss is that these who are followers of Jesus don’t just say no to sin but yes to God’s forgiveness.

And this brings us to the there of this weeks part of our Lords Prayer. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I believe this is the toughest part of the prayer because it implies a conditional clause that we cannot escape. What is a conditional phrase? It’s a if… then statement. The forgiveness that we receive from God directly depends on how we forgive others. “As we” indicates not just the amount but the attitude with which we offer forgiveness to others.

John 8 is problematic. Our earliest texts of John don’t include the story. But other trustworthy ones do and it is so like Jesus that it’s been retained, although footnoted in most bibles. The import of this story isn’t the inequality of not brining the man to judgment or if the accusers were part of a plot to take the women’s dowry. No, this story’s power lies in how Jesus confronts and forgives sin.

The woman doesn’t claim that the charges aren’t true. She doesn’t defend herself. And Jesus doesn’t seem inclined to ask any clarifying question. Instead he waits. He draws. He waits some more. Finally he speaks and goes back to writing. The person who has no sir is free to throw the first stone, is all he says to the mob. Only one person was qualified to do this and he didn’t pickup a rock. He was busy drawing in the dirt as the others left.

Alone with her, Jesus asks, “who condemns you?” When she says no one Lord, Jesus removes the promise or threat of any divine condemnation. The one who could have tossed the first stone is the one person also could offer forgiveness. And because of what would happen on the cross He does just that-He forgives.

Then Jesus steps preachy and starts meddling because He commands her to go and sin no more. God’s grace is not difficult to understand. God loves us! Mercy also, is not a horribly complex concept; we simply get what we don’t deserve. The kicker is that forgiveness goes deeper. To be forgiven is NOT just abort being pardoned FROM something we have done but TO a new way of living. It is being told to “go and sin no more’.

This is a difficult they to hear when we live in a culture that believes it is our God-given right to do what we darn-well-please. In some cases we have grain up in a religious climate that treats forgiveness like money in a birthday card-it’s just expected, it’s the usual. But it isn’t. Forgiveness like that has been called “Cheap Grace” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was killed by the Nazis.

Forgiveness is not cheep and easy. It is a very bloody thing. In the Old Testament in involved sacrificing and bleeding oat animals. It meant confessing the sins over a goat and abandoning it to the wilderness. Implemented at Gods command was a system of sacrifice at that’s temple. Ultimately cities saw in the bloody acts of what the church calls Holy Week. It is seen in Jesus torture and death. Because of Jesus sacrifice we can also hear Jesus’ transforming to “go and sin no more.”

Here is what I believe we need to keep in mind about this. Transformation from condemned to forgiven is a bloody affair. Forgiveness isn’t pretty. One goat is sacrificed, it’s blood spread around the Holy of Holies. Why? Because it was the payment God required for the sins of his people. Another goat is led off into the wilderness to be released and separated from the people forever. Why? Because upon that goat has been placed the sins of the people and God it is the reminder that God has separated the people from their sins. Even the very first sin is paid for with blood [Genesis 3:20-22].

If you’ve never seen The Passion of the Christ get it and watch it. If you’ve seen it and you think your cheating on a test at school doesn’t matter watch it again. If you’ve seen it and you think the lie you told your friend, your parent, your boss, or yourself doesn’t really hurt anyone watch it again. If you’ve seen it and you think your sleeping around, lustful thoughts or viewing porno isn’t a big deal watch it again. If you’ve seen it and you think your sin doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself have someone tie you in a chair and become sickened with the blood and gore of that movie and realize he did all of that for us.

Jesus sets the woman free from her sin because he knew what would happen. He understood the cost, the future and was willing because He loved us that much.

This brings us back to the Lord’s Prayer.  We cannot be forgiven if we don’t forgive. It’s just that simple. It’s like trying to pour 2 gallons of water into a one gallon container. Until we are emptied of the grudges and expectations of  punishment we desire for others we will never experience God’s forgiveness and freedom. Years ago a woman told a group of youth about growing up on a farm. She was learning to drive the tractor and her father told her not to go across the creek. Well she did and coming back she mired the tractor in the soft ground and had to be towed out. What made this story so pointed was that she told the kids about how she was reminding her father about what she’d done and he replied that he had no memory of that event. Did it happen? Yes but that’s the power of forgiveness.

Any of us ever say, “I’ll forgive but I won’t forget?” I’m guilty of that. Are you satisfied if God doesn’t forget your sins? I’m not. Forgetting doesn’t mean we don’t learn from something. Forgetting doesn’t mean being stupid. Forgetting means we learn but we let go. We may or may not ever have trust rebuilt, but that says more about our issues than about God’s word. But we move past it.

Any of us say, “I can’t forget?” or “I won’t forget?” Perhaps like the Jews, the horrors of what happened were so great we declare, “Never Again!” Aren’t we glad Jesus didn’t say that about us when we got loaded the last time; drunk ourselves sick or fell back into the old life of gossip and laziness? Aren’t we glad that God didn’t say that about us when we slapped Him in the face as we went or own way; followed our own path; sowed our wild oats?

Does this work? If you ever watch the show, What Not to Wear the transformation is amazing. Dowdy becomes sharp; and slovenly becomes well kept. There is a pride and confidence that seems to come out of the person who has been targeted by their friends. One final example comes from Pete Peterson. He was the first U.S. ambassador to Vietnam after the war.  But it wasn’t his first time in Hanoi. Peterson was a POW from 1966 to 1972 at the prison camp named "Hanoi Hilton". When asked how he could return to the land where he'd endured years of starvation, brutality and torture, he replied, "I'm not angry. I left that at the gates of the prison when I walked out in 1972. I just left it behind me and decided to move forward with my life."[1]


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[1] Ray Prichard Something New Under the Sun: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living p. 21

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