7. September, 2014Sermons No comments

September 7, 2014 homily given by Fr. Jim Gordon.

As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.

In the name of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Recently, Andi and I were sitting around a lunch table with three non-believers.

One was a hard-core atheist, of the stripe that thinks that faith is so patently absurd that the starting place for any discussion about it is that all of us who have faith are, by definition, mentally incompetent.

The second was someone with a faith background who no longer believed but had a strong appreciation for Christianity’s benefits to civilization and rather mourned its waning influence on society.

The third was someone who had been brought up in a strong traditional denomination but had lost her faith and remained angry with how that faith had been presented to her — especially with, as she saw it, the emphasis on guilt.

“We’re supposed to be perfect,” she said, “perfect little people. But we’re not, we’re human. And when we’re not perfect, we’re supposed to feel this terrible guilt.”

I told her I didn’t think that was what we were supposed to feel, at all. Before I could say much more, the lunch ended and we went our separate ways. But I’ve been thinking about what she said, about the question of guilt and how some hold on to it.

In today’s Old Testament reading, God tells the prophet Ezekiel that he has been made a sentinel, a watchman to warn the nation of Judah about coming destruction, destruction brought about because of the nation’s injustice and the people’s worship of other gods.

The bulk of the first 32 chapters of the Book of Ezekiel contain prophesies against Judah and Jerusalem, and in this section of Chapter 33 the prophesies result in the realization of sin and with a question, a question asked of God, and asked in despair: “How then can we live?”, the people ask. If we have messed up so badly, so horribly, if we have been so sinful in your sight, how then can we live?

God answers the question: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die?”

God’s answer is a call for repentance and for life, and though the Babylonian exile IS coming, the last 16 chapters of Ezekiel contain prophesies of hope and salvation.

But let’s stay with the question of guilt.

Awareness of wrongdoing that results in a feeling of guilt is not a bad thing — as a starting point that leads to repentance. Guilt CAN be a place to START. The fear of the Lord IS the beginning of wisdom. But … it’s not supposed to be a place where you END. It can be a starting block. It serves no purpose as an ANCHOR that you carry around, sometimes for decades.

So what do we do with guilt?

We take it to God. We ask forgiveness, either in corporate prayer on Sunday as we confess our sins, or we ask forgiveness privately in prayer, or we ask forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation of a penitent, which is often offered during Lent and Holy Week but is available from this priest at any time. And if you’re not familiar with this form of reconciliation, of asking for forgiveness,you can find it in our prayer book.

However we ask forgiveness, we do so; and then we trust, trust in the blood of the cross.

I’ve had more than one person give nodding assent to Jesus’ work of atonement on Golgotha but insist that God can never forgive “their” particular sin or sins.

BULL.

Either Jesus was crucified for all our sins — all our sins — or he wasn’t. His blood covers everything — from the worst crime or crimes you’ve ever read about to the worst war atrocities you’ve heard of to whatever I’ve done in my life to whatever you’ve done in your life.

So, you’ve sinned. You’ve been convicted in your heart. You feel guilt. You confess it to God. You take it to the cross — and you leave it there, knowing that you are forgiven.

What then?

Then, you move forward, move forward as someone who repents of your sins, repents and therefore lives differently, if not perfectly.

But how do we begin to live differently, to truly turn away from our sins?

Paul has the answer in Romans: We put on the Lord Jesus Christ. And how do we do THAT?

There are a number of ways to do that. You know many of them — they’re the basics: Worship, prayer, service. In upcoming weeks, we’ll take a deep look at each of these, and more, in a DVD series called Catching Fire, Becoming Flame, made by a Franciscan priest.

We’ll do that starting next week; each session is about a half hour. We’ll do it three weeks running, then switch gears for one week for a presentation on the King James Bible, then finish the last three sessions.

Though short, the Catching Fire DVDs contain good information about deepening our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The final DVD is called “The Challenge of Forgiveness,” and this presentation is both well named and well positioned.

Forgiveness is critical and difficult and multilayered. There’s accepting our forgiveness from God, which is the starting point. There’s forgiving others, which can be very hard. Then, there is forgiving ourselves, which sometimes is the hardest of all.

Our lunch companion, the one who felt brought up with guilt, is in need of all of the above. And I think she is far from alone.

Amen.

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