Sunday 1st September, 2019
Theme: Classic Father’s Day Story
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: 1 John 1:5-9
Today I want to talk about a word – Forgiveness. The idea that sometimes we, sometimes on purpose but more often accidently, do something or say something (or not do something) that hurts another person. And this hurt can cause a fracture in the relationship that can only be restored through forgiveness.
As a father, husband and … well, a bloke … I have had to ask for forgiveness a number of times. Today, so that you can have a laugh at my expense, I want to share a story of a time when I really mucked something up … and needed some help to fix it.
I don’t do the clothes washing very often – I am capable of washing clothes but after this story you will understand why. This happened in the first six months of Marion’s and my marriage when we were living in Coolamon. I was having a day “working from home” and my wife was at work about 40 minutes away at Wagga. She had left me one job to do – the washing. Everything was going fine until ….
This is the culprit (Red Shirt). The victim was two of my favourite white shirts. They were now pink. I was frantic, I wasn’t sure what to do.
- My first attempt was to soak the shirts in some Napisan. That didn’t work.
- I thought that hot water might work. It didn’t.
- I went down to the local supermarket and asked them. They suggested Napisan plus – surely the plus would make a difference. Nope. Still pink.
I will just pause my story here to ask you if you have ever mucked something up. Have you ever done the wrong thing, made a bad decision or said the wrong thing … or not done what you were supposed to do … and suddenly you were in this massive mess?
And when we are in this mess – did you find that, like me, nothing you tried could actually solve the problem … and you were getting into a bigger mess?
It’s not too bad if we are talking about a pink shirt – I could just buy another white shirt – but sometimes it is not that easy.
Sometimes the mess we get into deeply hurts other people, or causes a fracture in relationship … or even hurts God. You see, God has shown us a way of living that is not only good, it is fulfilling and enriching. Jesus describes it as “abundant life”. But when we muck things up, it can not only cause a fraction in our relationships, it can fracture our connection with God and lessen our experience of abundant life.
So how do we solve this? Maybe we can just ignore the mess, pretend it never happened. Pink is not a bad colour for a shirt. But John in our reading said in verse that if we claim that we have not sinned, that we didn’t muck things up … then we are just fooling ourselves and we need to wake up to the truth.
So … if we can’t solve the problem by ourselves, and we can’t pretend it never happened … then what to do we do? We need some outside help … which brings me back to my story.
I had tried everything and nothing worked. My mess was still very obvious … so I did what person does when they just don’t know what to do – I called up my mother.
She told me that she had heard about this new product on the market which can clean up the mess after clothes run. I went down to the local supermarket in the small town I lived in but they had never heard about it at all.
It just happened that a lady from Church – Janette stopped at my place on the way to Wagga – the big city about 30 mins away. I was telling her about my problem and a few hours later she arrived back with a little packet. Now I didn’t ask Janette to buy it, she just did – and when I asked her how much it cost, she replied “It’s a gift”.
Well, I tried this little packet out and I was amazed. I just soaked the shirts in it for an hour and look (show shirt), there is not sign of the pink at all. My shirt was white again! It was as if I had never mucked it up in the first place.
Believe it or not, God offers us something a bit like RunAway for our spiritual muck ups too. In verse 9 in our bible reading we read, “If we confess our sins, [if we admit we have mucked up and ask God for help] God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness … God will make us white again. God in Isaiah 1:18 said “Though your sins be as red as scarlet, I will make them as white as snow”
Now, I’m not trying to sell load of this product – although I’m very impressed. What I do like about this story is that is basically reflects God’s story in our lives and this idea of forgiveness.
You see, when it comes to forgiveness – we do not naturally warm to the idea. When someone has hurt us, really hurt us, it is hard to forgive. And we really don’t forget!
If I asked you to lend me $100 and promised to pay you back next Sunday … and I never paid you back … you might forgive me, but if I asked to borrow another $100 … you are going to remember what happened last time and hesitate before trusting me again.
And so when it comes to God … we think that if we as humans struggle to forgive and forget, then God must as well. Surely God remembers how many times we muck up?
What do you think? Yes, God forgives, but does he forget?
The bible has a bit to say on this. Let me throw up a few verses.
- Isaiah 43:25 – “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake; And I will not remember your sins”
- Psalm 103:12 – “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins from us”
- Hebrews 8:12 – “I will forgive their sins and will no longer remember their wrongs”
The crazy part about my RunAway experience is that after I pulled out my white shirt that was pink and now was white again … what colour do you think that the water was in the bucket?
It was clear! There was no It was like that the pink stain had disappeared completely, as if it was never there at all – and it seems to be the same with God. When we muck things up, if we ask God’s help … God forgives … and forgets. For God it was like we had never mucked it up in the first place.
It almost seems too good to be true, and I remember one time talking to a group of young people in a bible study talking about this and they were sceptical and started to ask questions…
“You mean that no matter what we have done God will forgive all our sins” – Yep! “If God forgets, then to God it is like we didn’t sin at all” – ….Yeah.
“But our sins are part of who we are, if he doesn’t remember our sins, he really doesn’t know all of us” – Wow, good point but the bible is very clear – God cleans our slate, it is just if we have never mucked things up in the first place.
“But this is crazy – God is supposed to be omnipotent – all knowing, yet you are saying that if we sin one minute, ask forgiveness, then say to God “Remember that sin I just did” he would say no”
But then the conversation took a turn … one young person said, “Well God might forgive me, but those I have hurt will never … and I will never forgive myself”.
Things just got real. I can’t remember exactly what I said to that young person … but she was right. If you have hurt someone and fractured that relationship – of course God will forgive you but reconciling with the other person and rebuilding trust again … that is a longer road. It still requires you to admit that you have mucked up and ask for forgiveness … but that process of forgiveness might take some time and might require a lot of grace on all sides.
And forgiving yourself can be even harder. I have met so many people who are “bound” by things they have done in the past. They are so weighed down with guilt that they struggle to experience “life in all its fullness”. There is not easy answer for this but if you are struggling to forgive yourself I hope that you have heard the good news of today – with God’s help you can find a way to move on. Or in the imagery of our bible reading, you can step out of the shadow of the past and into the light of a different future.
So – in summary …
At some point in life, we have all mucked something up – maybe something small or something big. And like my pink shirt – everything I tried could not remove the stain, it was only receiving the free gift of the packet of Run Away that the shirt became as white as snow. And there was no trace of the colour ever being there!
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. BUT If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
It is my prayer that we all experience this forgiveness and grace in our lives. Amen.