Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Matthew 6: 7-14

March 6, 2022 – THE SEASON of LENT

If you have been in my home you will notice that there are a lot of books just hanging out… I am not a book hoarder … it’s a habit or perhaps a subconscious tribute that goes back to the generations on my mom’s side of the family; at least the prior two generations that I am aware of. My grandparents, Lillian and Clarence Roll, had books in almost every room of their home. I still own one or two books that my grandfather read, which some day I hope my grandson will treasure and read also. My mom and dad, Ethel and Bob Delaney, also had lots of books … both were voracious readers but the books … I think the collection of books were one of mom’s connection to her parents and perhaps her grandparents although I never asked.

Friends, books can take us on many journeys … books can provide us with answers … books can give us amazing recipes for food and for life. One essential book that I hope all of us read regularly can even bring us closer to God.

And, I always keep a couple of books within easy reach … one of which, that is always sitting on my kitchen table, is Henri Nouwen’s ‘Eight Essential Titles; The Spiritual Life.’ Christianity Today called Nouwen “One of the World’s Greatest Spiritual Writers” and Shane Claiborne says “Nouwen’s words have spread through Christianity like a healing balm.”

Wouldn’t you like your words to be known as a “healing balm?” Words you speak, words you write, words you think, and the words you quickly release onto social media in these days when so many people rapidly spew words in a twitter as if they will have no impact no matter how nasty or criticizing their words are. Well words do matter and today as the Lenten season begins our words I believe are a key to faith renewal and the revival of the church of Jesus Christ because words need to correlate to the actions of the faithful. Our prayer of confession connected to sharing in the Sacrament of God.

The words that are essential to the Lenten Season truthfully, must be the words that begin to connect the dots between our telling the world that we are Christians to actually living as those humans whom God identifies as actually being Christians … those first words are and must be words of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the key when Lent starts and forgiveness should be the lesson incorporated into every season of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and Bible Study for adults and children. From their formative years children should be taught how much God values forgiveness and how much God’s willingness to forgive us for our sins and shortcomings through God’s sacrifice of Jesus Christ means to our eternal life and also to whether or not we are able to live lives each day “rejoicing in the Lord always.”

Most of us have learned the Lord’s Prayer using the Shakespearean English from the King James’ translation of God’s Word; it’s poetic and familiar. That is why I believe we need to hear Jesus’ words in our 21st century English from either Matthew or Luke’s gospels once in a while when we remember Jesus’ lessons on prayer.

Did it sound strange to you this morning as The Lord’s Prayer was read from Matthew’s Gospel? You might not know this but the concluding words of the Lord’s Prayer that we have each prayed a thousand times or more, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever amen” were not in the prayer of Jesus nor were they His words but instead they are words David said while concluding a prayer in Chronicles. The words we pray were added into English prayer books from the 1500’s and have been in use ever since. The closing words we use first appeared in print in the ‘First Prayer Book of Edward VI’ published in 1526 and later appear in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.

But while those aren’t the closing words from the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew’s history of Jesus teaching His followers to pray feature these closing words … “But, if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” The Word of God for the people of God … thanks be to God? WAIT … Jesus said, “if you don’t forgive others God won’t forgive your sins” … and there begins our focus as to why forgiveness is the key as the Lenten Season begins again. A chance for our faith renewal and an opportunity for the church of God to experience revival through its people.

Nouwen wrote, “[1]One of the mysteries of life is that memory can often bring us closer to each other than can physical presence. Physical presence not only invites but blocks intimate communication.”

It happens that this week I have dealt with more than one situation where individuals reached out to me because they were hurting … words had been strewn into their life’s paths by others. Hurtful words posted onto Facebook … words in one case accidentally overheard by the subject of a conversation that were clearly not meant to be heard or maybe they were come to think of it heard by the victim. Words of conflict leading to the need to call the pastor … words that left bruising and cutting memories to these individuals’ hearts.

Through the years we have been taught two extraordinarily wrong lessons to the point that they are almost ingrained into our psyche’s. The first started in the 1970’s when Eric Segal’s book Love Story was turned into a movie and over and over again the world was taught ‘love never means having to say you are sorry.’ And, the second phrase that we learned as children ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Such abject lies! Love absolutely means that you say you are sorry when you have caused harm or inflicted hurt. John Wesley teaches us to “do no harm” but when we do and deny or ignore it then we only exasperate the harm that we caused …

The pain from sticks and stones is temporarily felt but as Nouwen suggested it is memory that can be most profound and words just eat away at individuals.

And, so the essential Christian act of turning the other cheek … or being someone who forgives seven times seventy offers us a challenge because the world wants us to entrench and seek revenge. Get even … get nastier … bring more harm … yet as Christians we are to choose God’s pathway not the world’s.

The beginning point in any conversation about forgiveness starts and frankly ends with God’s expectation and command that we love ALL of our neighbors!! If we truly loved all of our neighbors then our neighbors wouldn’t be hurting and the question of our needing to be forgiven or be forgiving people might be a moot point. We hear the prophet this morning talking about God and God’s covenant with God’s people … that is us by the way. God through Jeremiah shares the covenant that God has made with us through Jesus Christ … “I will put my instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people!”

Friends, have you allowed God to actually engrave God’s instructions into your minds, onto your hearts and as an essential element in your souls? The words from the prophet this morning say that those who have experienced this will no longer have to teach each other to say “know the Lord” because “from the least of them to the greatest” they will know the Lord and be forgiveness. “The Lord will never again remember their sins” is the essence of that lesson but it comes from understanding, accepting, and living as God has taught us to live.

The Gospels provide us with repeated lessons as to how Jesus was willing to love and forgive a wide variety of individuals whom the legal scholars wanted to condemn and never forgive. Those Pharisees and Saducees were so wrapped up in seeking their own power through judgment that they totally missed each clear lesson on forgiveness from Jesus. Whether it was the adulterous woman or the thief hanging on the cross next to Christ … forgiveness forgiveness …. God’s love for every human being is wrapped up in forgiveness and as humans having been made in the image of God it should not surprise us that God knows that the power of forgiveness is an essential part of faith and belief and being difference makers in the world.

Theologian Andrew Murray wrote, “God graciously uses our simple needs to train us and prepare us for something much higher than we were thinking of. We were seeking gifts: He, the Giver longs to give Himself.”

Friends, we all know how much we want to be forgiven when we slip up or do something wrong. We come to the Table of the Lord seeking forgiveness but also to use our memory of faith to get closer to God through the simple elements of the Table.

To the shock of His disciples, Jesus cared for the unclean woman who touched Him even though the disciples wanted her thrown out. To the anger of the Holy Men anxious to stone to death another human being Jesus drew a line in the sand and made the simple statement that whoever was without sin could throw the first stone.

But as we seek to grow closer to God and more aligned with Jesus Christ so that we can make disciples as we have been taught to do … so that we can grow the church to take on the missions of God … Jesus in teaching from the mountain side in what we call the Lord’s Prayer offers us the choice to experience what the Lord had promised to Jeremiah … “I will put my instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.” And, Jesus clarified what it meant to have God’s instructions in our hearts … to truly hold God as our God and to be amongst God’s people. “If you forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.”

WE are in the season of Lent … Forgiveness is the key as Lent begins. I know that I am thankful for God’s loving forgiveness that is available to all who become God’s people. Let today be the day that my faith experiences revival so that I forgive others as God forgives me. AMEN

[1] ‘The Minister as a Sustaining Reminder,’ The Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen published by Harper One

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