Isaiah 43: 18-25
MARK 2: 1-12

Amidst the agony … pain exceeding anything that Hollywood’s most troubled scripts could create shared with two others … one turned knowing the truth … gasping to put the words together after the hateful one spat out mockful words, which have been his mark of life … the third had a hand printed written mockery hanging on the raw wood above his head … the blood poured out … the gut wrenching pain filled his body as turned his head away from the hater … away from the mocker … away from the one still clinging to dismiss others … and he spoke first admitting that he deserved this cruelty because of how he lived his life and then he said,

Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”

And, Jesus … the Son of God … Jesus hanging on the cross to die for our sins … Jesus FORGAVE the man who had turned to Him.

TODAY you will be with me in paradise …”

The sinner; the one who stated he deserved a cross while noting Jesus didn’t … he was forgiven in the moment.

God forgives … Jesus died so that our journey to forgiveness is an easy one because the burden was taken on by Christ.  He not only died but he rose on Easter morning to live forever at the Right hand of the Father.  Our assurance.   Are you remembering … how often?  Under what circumstances?  Just how important is it to you?  Are you repenting of your sins this Lenten Season?  Are you fasting to give more of you and your time to God; a sacrifice of an hour or two in your busy weeks?

Friend … on Ash Wednesday I cried … this morning I cried … not for lack of forgiveness but for the lack of repentance that is so evident in a nation that continues to view violence and weaponry as the solution … where human created weapons of war are lovingly worshiped in place of the Almighty … where we find a need to display and brag about how big our weaponry is and how awesome its power has become … but God assures us … God loves us … God is ready to forgive us …

EVEN THOUGH I WALK through the darkest valley, I fear not danger because YOU are with me.  YOUR rod and YOUR staff … they protect me.”

When I wrote the title of this sermon I did not know the name of 14 year old Martin Duque Anguiano whose family has had to set up a GO FUND ME page to pay for his funeral expenses in Florida today … there is truly something sinful to think that the family of a child shot down by a terrorist using a weapon of war in Martin’s school spraying bullets that quickly and sickeningly destroyed his life  would have to beg online for enough money to insure that their child’s funeral is paid for but that’s another part of the no longer existing American Dream … they certainly won’t have college expenses or even the purchase of a car to drive in their future plans.

I did not know the name of Scott Beigel, a well respected teacher and in his summer days a camp director loved by all,  who desperately pushed 14 year old Matthew Zeif through a door to safety before his body was blown to bits by the bullets carefullly designed for the war zones but instead used by a terrorist in one of America’s quality high schools  … and I so wish I didn’t know the name of football coach Aaron Feis who stood up and took the bullets so that kids could run to safety; he made it to the hospital and yes there were prayers and he is gone … but I now know the name of COACH FEIS.

Friends, this sermon’s title was written before a terrorist raised and bred in America … entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a weapon of war that some store clerk handed over to the killer maybe even thanking him for the purchase as the cash register rang up another day of profit.

This sermon title was decided upon and I could have never imagined that this church family would be holding in their hands the names of 17 dead Americans … young and old. … with their stories of life and living … innocents loved by humans who never imagined last Sunday that this Sunday would have them wanting to put on sackcloth and ashes … funerals planned, tears shed and new youthful voices and family members with tear stained cheeks saying end the easy access to guns! End the violence.

But, my friends this sermon title was recorded on a computer and is fitting today on this first Sunday of Lent … a few days after many wore the ashes in the shape of a cross.  Did you hear the words of the pastor who placed them … the priest who drew the cross … REPENT and REMEMBER THE GOSPEL!

One of the most challenging truths of Christianity is to remember the GOSPEL and then to follow God’s challenge as presented to us.  But the Gospel’s foundation is the Old Testament even though we know that the laws of the Torah have been overcome by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus …. The prophets carry their meaning even into this 21st century … the words of wisdom of faith still are guides … so did you hear the prophet this morning?

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my sake.”

God … the Creator … God who allowed humanity to set our own course … God is ready to forgive but it takes someone who pauses to understand that forgiveness is needed.

ASK,” Jesus says later in the Gospel of Mark, “ask in prayer believing that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And, when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Friends, we are in this season of Lent … a season of atonement … a season when our focus should be on our need of a Savior … our need for Jesus and a time for us to again admit how we have fallen short of the glory of God.  When we shared in the Lord’s table on the first Sunday of the month … it continues to confuse me why this essential element of worship is limited to a once a month sharing when God’s forgiveness is needed every single day … John Wesley stated he wished he could have Holy Communion several times each day … but when we came to the table did you use the moments of silence for a rapid fire confession to God or was it a time of internal breakfast option debate?

When you … if you consider your sinful nature and go confessing to the Lord Almighty, ABBA GOD, Creator God, Jesus Christ … are you holding anything against anyone?  Are you remembering what the forgiven thief saw in the agonized face of Jesus … in Jesus pierced hands and feet … in the sacrifice of humanity that went to the cross … are you remembering what was given up for you and for me so that we can be forgiven?

And, if you do remember … do you repent and remember the Gospels?  Have we slipped away from the truth of Jesus … have we pulled away from God to accommodate our world.  Are we choosing sides or God?  The prophet shares God’s frustration with humanity in our moments of escapism:

Forget the former things … do not dwell on the past. The wild animals honor me.  I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give to my people, my chosen.  The people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.  Yet … you have not called on me … you have not honored me … but you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.”

As we take the slow steps towards the public square where crowds are urged on by the hateful to shout CRUCIFY HIM CRUCIFY HIM … where lies energize division … where the ultimate example of humanity’s acceptance of the dark side leads to the painful death of Jesus not a pretty painting … not something to think about because when we pretend that it was all for show we are not remembering … when we think we have it easy … we do but that is not an excuse to forget to live each day in remembrance of Jesus the Christ.  Have you called on God?  Have you proclaimed your praise for God away from this place?

The teachers of the law criticized Jesus because he challenged their power … God’s love and forgiveness carries more wait than our polarizing political positions doesn’t it?  Jesus got right in their faces …

The Son of Man has the authority to forgive and to heal”

and when we remember who we belong to then we no longer fear standing up against injustice, hate and even wanton violence … it is beyond nice thoughts and careful prayers because the people of God are called to action not submission.

The first step in this journey is to connect to God’s forgiving reality … even with God’s frustration with God’s people God tells the prophet,

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

Seventeen year old Helena Ramsey was somewhat reserved, she had a relentless motivation towards her academic studies, and her soft warm demeanor brought the best out in all who knew her.”  She would have been a college student in September.

Fourteen year old Cara Loughran’s aunt Lindsay posted on Facebook … We are absolutely gutted. While your thoughts are appreciated, I beg you to DO SOMETHING.”

It is the season of Lent …

If only my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” Says the Lord God Almighty.

Live your life in remembrance of God … Do something … Ask for forgiveness and repent … be one of God’s people who not only say they believe but live it.  AMEN

Watch a video of today’s worship service:

© 2017 St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, New Jersey