For the Love Of God is Forgiving
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"For the Love Of God is Forgiving"
The headlines, news reports and newspaper stories all make it very clear that there is something out of kilter in our world. Whether you agree with its content or not, the crime bill is the biggest of its kind. It's because dealing with crime is on everyone's mind. Who'll be the next victim of a drive by shooting or a drug problem. Who'll be the next victim of gang violence or a drunk driver.
While the Peace Talks are going on in the Middle East between Israel and Jordan and the Palestinians, the fighting, bombings and killings continue.
Even though the IRA has called a cease fire causing Irish Protestant and Catholic relations to take a giant step forward, another explosion injured people on a passenger train.
A homeless man was beaten to death by five members of a gang in what the police are calling a "thrill kill".
Infidelity, theft on the job, back stabbing, lying, cheating, guns on the freeway and the general attitude of society that preaches, "Don't get mad, get even." and "Do unto others before they do unto you."
We've been taught that people are basically good, that we are created in God's Image and we should love our neighbors as ourselves. But it is awful hard to remember that when you're driving in rush hour traffic and you keep getting cut off. It is hot, your car is hot, you are hot, both physically and under the collar. You don't want to love your neighbors, you want to blow the idiots away.
Or you come out of the Mall and find a dent in your car and a note on the windshield that reads: "I've just smashed into your car. The people who saw the accident are watching me. They think I am writing down my name and address. They're wrong." And that's the end of the note. No signature, nothing.
It doesn't take too many minutes of watching CNN or the evening news or just living out in the world to realize that there is something wrong somewhere.
What is it? What would cause someone to scratch: "Your God is dead and no one cares" on the door of the Church? What is the cause of all the violence, greed, corruption and abuse? What's the root problem and cause of it all? The Biblical answer is simple. But it's an answer we don't like. We don't like it one bit. The Biblical answer to the root cause of our problems is that little, three lettered word that sticks in our craw, "SIN."
I. SLAPPED THE SKUNK:
We don't like that word. It's ugly and it pushes all the wrong buttons. It makes us feel guilty and we don't like to feel guilty. It smacks of judgement, and we don't want anyone sitting in judgement of us. It points out our imperfections, faults and frailties; and we don't want to know about our imperfections, faults and frailties. We don't want to admit that we can be wrong or make mistakes. We don't like the word but the Biblical witness is that "there is no distinction, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:22-23) Jesus himself said, )"Those who are well have no need of a physician, only those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." (Mark 2:17)
In the first letter to his protege, Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes: "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the foremost." (1 Tim. 1:15)
We don't like it but the Biblical witness is that we are sinners. So what does that mean. It simply means that we've broken the relationship with God. We were created in God's Image and yet we've broken that image; broken relationships with others; and broken ourselves. We are the broken people, the walking wounded.
There's another way that I like to talk about sin. Some years ago, during a visit to Yellowstone Park, one writer observed that the only animal that the grizzly bear would share his food with was a skunk. It wasn't that the grizzly bear wanted to share his food with the skunk but rather that the grizzly bear chose to share his food. With one swing of his powerful paw the grizzly could have crushed the skunk. So why does the grizzly allow the skunk to eat with him?
Because the grizzly bear knew the high cost of slapping the skunk. (1)
Early in life, we all learned what it means to break the rules. We learned that disobedience has its consequences. And yet everyone of us has wound up breaking the rules. We've all done what we knew was wrong. We've all been selfish and done what we wanted and not what God wanted. We've all slapped the skunk. We knew what the consequences would be and yet we did it anyway.
And now we're stuck with the stink. We're stuck with it and we don't like it. Those around us don't like it any more than we like theirs. For me slapping the skunk is a parable of sin. Slapping the skunk is disobedience. Slapping the skunk is breaking our relationship with God and with each other. Living life apart from God stinks. When everyone is self-centered and selfish, life stinks. You can't live life like a skunk without someone getting wind of it.
II. WE DENY IT:
A. WE RUN FROM IT: Now, we try to deny it. We get busy with our schedules and agendas so we don't have to think about it. Or we get busy thinking that we can fix it ourselves. Sometimes we can fix a broken relationship but most of the time we're only fooling ourselves and our busy-ness is a diversion. We're actually running form the truth that we've slapped the skunk.
Nobody I know likes the smell of a skunk. One night I was returning home from visiting some prospective members and I was driving down a blacktopped country road, a road without the benefit of street lights. All of a sudden I saw something in the middle of the road. At first I didn't know what it was. It waddled and walked like a skunk but I could tell by the light of my headlights that it didn't have that telltale stripe down its back. By the time I saw the faint glimmering of the very thin stripe, it was too late. I swerved to the right and then to the left, trying to avoid this odiferous friend. However, my efforts were in vain. I held my breath and ran over the skunk.
I literally ran right over the top of it. Somehow in all the maneuvering, I had missed actually hitting the skunk and went right over the top of it. I could see it running off, tail in the air, in the rear view mirror. I sighed a big sigh of relief. And then I did what we all would have done. I flexed my nostrils and carefully took a tentative sniff to find out the extent of the damages. I was surprised and relieved when I couldn't smell a thing.
Ten minutes later I was home and getting out of the car. That's when the smell hit me. I walked around to the back of the car, and sure enough, he'd gotten me. Apparently that particular skunk had quick reflexes and got in the parting shot. Just enough to douse the tail end of the car. The next day I took the car to the car wash. It helped a little but not much. For about three weeks, that smell followed me everywhere I went.
And that's when it hit me, sometimes in our busy lives and schedules we don't even know that we have sinned and slapped the skunk. We don't even know that we're covered with the smell. We are running so hard to keep up with the race of those around us or we're running so hard to try and outdistance God, that the smell doesn't ever have a chance to catch up with us. But the minute we slow down we smell it and we're nearly overwhelmed by it. Sometimes the smell scares us into running more or harder. But we really can't run away, the smell only follows us wherever we go.
B. WE BLAME IT ON OTHERS: Sometimes we don't run from it at all. Sometimes we just deny that we've slapped the skunk by blaming the stink on everyone else.
That precocious little boy from the comics, Calvin, walks into the living room where his father is sitting in a chair reading. Calvin announces: "I've concluded that nothing bad that I do is my fault."
Dad's curiosity is peaked, so Dad says, "Oh?"
Calvin continues: "Right! Being young and impressionable, I'm the helpless victim of countless bad influences! An unwholesome culture panders to my undeveloped values and pushes me to maleficence. I take no responsibility for my behavior! I'm an innocent pawn! It's society's fault."
Dad is totally unimpressed and says, "Then you need to build more character. Go shovel the walk."
In the last scene, Calvin is shoveling snow and complains, "These discussions never go where they're supposed to go."
Many of us are just like Calvin, we don't want to take responsibility for our actions. We don't want to be accountable. We don't want to own up to our faults and our sinfulness. We delude ourselves by blaming the stink of sin on others. (2)
C. WE TRY TO COVER IT UP: Not only do we run from it and blame it on others, but we also try to cover it up. We put flowers on it. We decorate it with neon and glitter and make it look acceptable. We douse it in expensive perfume to try and make it smell good. But the stink still gets through. Did you know that the reason perfume was invented was not as a deodorant, not even as a beauty aid, but as a cover up. In an age when they didn't bathe more than once or twice a year, it had to be strong enough to cover up body odor. And those little bouquets of flowers that you see in the movies that take place in merry old England. Those are known as nose gays and were created to cover up the smell of everybody else's body odor.
We do that with the stink of sin. Sometimes we don't run from it and we don't blame it on anyone else, we just gloss over it. We cover it up and ignore it or pretend it isn't there, hoping that it will go away, hoping that it will get better on its own. Or hoping that the little fix we make will be sufficient enough to get us through.
Maybe you saw it, Ziggy is standing at Ed's Garage. Ed has a clipboard in hand and tells Ziggy, "I've got it pretty will fixed. But don't turn the steering wheel anymore than you really have to?" (3)
When all we do is run from it, blame it on others or try to cover it up, it's as dangerous as driving a car whose steering is in bad shape. And the stink of our sin only gets worse. The bottom line is that we have all slapped the skunk. WE're all covered with the stink of our sin.
God told us to trust God and God alone; not ourselves; not our friends; not money; not power; prestige; position or any of the other things of this world. God told us to trust God first and only. But we couldn't do it. Somehow it didn't work. We broke the rules, we went out of bounds and we slapped the skunk. Time and again until finally God got wind of it.
III. GOD'S LOVE IS FORGIVING:
A. And when God got wind of it, God decided to do something about it. God sent his only Son, Jesus, into the world to take away the stink of our sin. And that's the Good News. It's the Good News because the Son of God gave his life for us. And his very act of giving himself for us, proves that the love of God is forgiving.
The woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus the tax collector, all knew they had slapped the skunk. They all knew that they were covered with the stink of sin. They could smell it themselves. Not only that but everyone around them kept reminding them that they stunk. Just like they did the woman in today's scripture.
Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus into his home. That was a bold move. But then while Jesus was there, this woman who the scripture says was a known sinner, came and began anointing Jesus' feet with her tears and this expensive ointment. The Pharisee got upset because this SINNER was in his house.
That was when Jesus turned and asked him, "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred days wages, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus told him he had, "judged rightly." (Luke 7:41-43)
Then Jesus turned to the woman and said, "Your sins are forgiven."
The woman knew she was a sinner. She knew she had slapped the skunk. But up until that moment, what she and Zaccheus, and the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery didn't know, was how to get rid of the stink. They thought they were stuck with it. They thought they had to live with it. They didn't like that term sinner, anymore than we do.
But the Good News is that Jesus came to take away the stink of sin. Jesus came to call us back into a right relationship with God and to clean us up so we can stand in God's presence as one of God's children. And all we have to do is acknowledge that we've slapped the skunk. The first step in getting rid of the stink is to acknowledge and admit that you stink. Christ came to clean our stinking sin sick souls. Christ offers more than home remedies, more than Tomato Juice or lime juice and baking soda. Christ offers himself.
There is only one person who can clean us from the stink of our sin; the stink of slapping the skunk. And that person is Jesus, the Son of God. That's why he came. Without Christ we're in deep weeds but with Christ we're in tall cotton.
Jesus is the only one who can take away the stink of our sin. But it calls for two things.
First, you have to admit that you have slapped the skunk. You have to admit that you are a sinner. That's confession and repentance.
And second, you have to admit that you can't do it on your own, that only Christ can get you out of the predicament. That's professing Christ as your Savior.
It means stopping the car long enough to smell. It means slowing down long enough to see and hear the God News. It means looking at yourself and taking responsibility for your own actions. It means no longer ignoring the situation or trying to cover it up. It simply means turning our back on that which caused us to slap the skunk; turning our back on that which cause the broken relationship with God and turning toward God.
It's only through Christ that we can be cleaned up and made presentable before God. It's only through Christ that we can be forgiven. The Son of God stands there with arms outstretched in invitation; a welcoming smile upon his face and no sign of a gas mask. He doesn't care how bad you stink. He doesn't care how far away you have drifted. All Christ cares about is that you have turned to him.
As one stinker to another, we've all slapped the skunk and the only one who can get us out of this mess is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Don't deny it anymore. Don't run from. Don't blame it on others. Don't try to cover it up. Admit that you've slapped the skunk and are tired of the stink. Bring it to Christ and be cleansed. The love of God is forgiving. Experience it for yourself. Be made a fragrant offering to God through the love of Christ, who died on the cross so that your sins might be forgiven.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Parables, Etc.
2. Calvin And Hobbes by Bill Watterson, 2-19-92