Sunday, April 19, 2009

Because We've Been Forgiven

Grey skies. The departing edge of winter attempted to re-visit the Northland with its gloomy face, but here inside New Life Covenant resurrection light continues to shine.

"Good morning! I'm glad you're here," Pastor Brad exclaimed at the opening of this morning's service. Brad went on to share how he had just returned from the Town & Country Commission in Chicago, a gathering whose aim is to create healthy, missional churches in rural settings. Rural areas are a mission field. There is much need in our rural communities.

Announcements were many this morning.
1. Cheryl Borndal reminded us that camp is coming. Please submit your registration forms. Those wishing to contribute for scholarships should call Cheryl.
2. There are two weeks left for Adventure club before breaking for the summer. The 29th of April we will have a special evening of showcasing the creative work of not only our kids but also our congregation. Please contact Susie Newman if you have anything you'd like to share, in any medium from knitting or quilts to carvings or scrapbooks to things you've rebuilt or repaired. We'd like to share the hidden creativity of our church family.
3. The Northwest Conference Annual Meeting will be held at the end of this week on the 24th and 25th.
4. A Men's Bible Study meets at the church on Saturday mornings at 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is included.

The quartet -- Chuck & Darlene, Ken and Dale -- led us in worship this morning. Chuck began by sharing the story of the healing of the blind man from John 9 followed by the song "Somebody Touched Me."

Our Scripture readings were both from the New Testament.
Acts 4:32-35
John 20:19-31

After a time of prayer the message followed.

Because We’ve Been Forgiven

Pastor Brad began by opening his heart saying, “I don’t have a strategy. I offer only the cross… which is empty.”

The message was based on a story from Matthew 18, which Brad reconfigures into a modern setting. It’s a story about a president/CEO of a software company. It’s the annual meeting and it has been learned that one of the executives had been embezzling. It wasn’t just a little amount, it was something on the order of “bazillions” (one of Brad’s favorite words.)

A witty aside here. Brad commented on how the Roman Flat Tax worked. “Pay your taxes or we’ll flatten you.”

So, this guy owes an enormous amount of money and gets the memo: the head man wants to see him. The picture Brad paints is of a crooked embezzler being called to account. He has no more opportunities to bluff, to deceive, to cover his tracks. The cards are on the table and he’s finished.

In Roman times, not only did the embezzler have to pay, but his family as well, and the offspring of his family, unto perpetuity.

In response the embezzler goes for a long shot. He grovels, throwing himself at the mercy of the CEO/president in who’s hand the power to absolve resides.

Unexpectedly, the old man gets choked up, even feels compassion, and surprises everyone by rescinding the sentence. The debt is forgiven.

Brad pointed out at this point that the forgiveness was costly to the CEO/owner of the company. He forgives, and accepts his loss. A celebration ensues because the embezzler has gone from death to life.

The application is self-evident. God forgives us when we lay our sins at His feet, and celebrates, because we have moved from death (which we deserve) to life.

In the words of the old negro spiritual, “It’s a-me, it’s a-me, it’s a-me Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

The parable is clearly a metaphor. God is this owner/CEO, and we ourselves, like the embezzler, have a moral guilt that is exceedingly great. Jesus paid our debt, on the cross. As Brad puts it, God forgives recklessly, extravagantly, without limits. His mercy is beyond comprehension.

The second part of this story is intriguing. Now that the embezzler is off the hook how will he behave? In no time he comes across another man who owes him money. It’s a small debt, and the man doesn’t have the money at this moment. The forgiven embezzler is so incensed that he has the man thrown in jail.

Interestingly, this latter debtor implores the forgiven embezzler with the very same words that the embezzler threw at the feet of the CEO. But in this second instance there is no mercy.

Authentic forgiveness is never cheap. We want the other person to pay, to feel the hurt we’ve felt. What we don’t realize is that non-forgiveness is also costly.

Pastor Brad reminded us that forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation. But it does mean letting go of your right to hurt them back.

There are consequences for not forgiving. Unforgiveness is a burden as is the bitterness it leads to. Don’t allow unforgiveness to choke all the joy out of your heart.

There is also a third part to this story. The embezzler who had been forgiven was ultimately returned to the board room. The CEO says, “You didn’t get it at all. I was willing to take the loss, and would still be, but you don’t want to take the offer.”

Instead the man is now sentenced to pay.

Jesus finished this story with these very sobering words. “And this is how My heavenly father will treat every one of you, unless you forgive your brother from the heart.”

Now, you must choose… no more explaining. Choose to forgive. Put that burden down, ‘cause otherwise it will kill you. Let it go. Choose life.

End of story. This is the gospel.

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