“I’m sorry. I failed all of you who entrusted me with this position of authority. I failed the students whom you placed under my care and tutelage. I failed to live up to the standard of a good Christian man…I am sorry. I know that I have now lost your trust, your respect…and I hope…I hope that someday I might be forgiven for what I have done.”
I will never forget the day I heard those words. They came from a man, a teacher, who had access to school funds, and he used them, those funds, to fuel a growing gambling addiction. In the end, before anyone was the wiser, he lost nearly $75,000 of the church’s money. And so there he stood, a man reduced to nothing, head bowed, shaking, weeping, over what he had done as he spoke those words of guilt and apology. And as he walked away head still bowed, I will never forget what happened next: A woman shouted at him “Stop! Come here!” He meekly obeyed and stood head bowed in front of her. I thought she was going to slap him, but what she did next was incredible. She said this, “I forgive you.”
“I forgive you.” Those are words of power. These weighty words can be quite shocking to both those who speak them and to those who hear them. Today we heard these weighty words in action. In our first lesson, we came across the prophet Hosea whose wife was an adulteress, a prostitute even. God used her unfaithfulness to illustrate his grace to that idolatrous nation of Israel. A real-life example of love and forgiveness being shown to someone who does not deserve it; weighty words which spoke mightily of God’s grace to sinners. I forgive you…
In our gospel lesson, we find those words of power not spoken but lived through two parables of Jesus. In the first, a sheep, one of ninety-nine, is lost but the shepherd drops everything to find that one. In the second, a coin is lost, and the woman who lost it searched high and low to find it. In both, we are given a clear picture of God’s desire to seek and lead all the lost to repent and in turn to hear those weighty words, “I forgive you.”
And really isn’t that our thing, that is, this is what we offer as a church? We offer forgiveness. That’s the kind of church Jesus wants us to be. The church that welcomes sinners, that seeks out the lost and leads them to the cross that they might hear of their Savior, hear those words of forgiveness that he offers. Is it possible that a church could ever get this wrong? It seems like one did.
The Apostle Paul wrote to this church – twice at least in fact. And this church was located in the Greek city of Corinth. It was a church that knew about Jesus and rejoiced in the good news about him. This church was just oozing with gifts: amazing worship services, gifted members, some of the greatest pastors – a picture perfect church. But then a test came along. Paul talked about it in his first letter to the congregation.
He spoke of a man who had an affair with his father’s wife – his stepmother. This affair wasn’t a secret. Everyone knew. It’s this kind of news that makes you ask what you’re about as a church, what your thing is, and they did. Here is what they came up with: They recalled how Jesus was a friend of sinners and prostitutes. And how much Jesus talked about love, and they decided their thing was tolerance. They looked at themselves, recognized they were sinners too, and Jesus came to forgive sinners, so they were proud, actually proud of the sin that was happening in their church. You know, it’s as if they were saying, “Look, we are great Christians; we won’t judge, not you, or you, not anyone for their sins.”
There are churches like this all over the place today, and a lot of people want to be part of them, but the Apostle Paul didn’t. In fact, he said Jesus didn’t want to be either. “Shouldn’t you have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?… When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus…and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” Those are strong words; shocking words. Paul told them to tell that person he wasn’t part of their church – that he wasn’t even a Christian. But don’t be so shocked by those words that you miss what they’re saying: “Shouldn’t you have been filled with…” not anger, not self-righteousness or a judgmental attitude. “Grief.”
Paul was pleading here. “You love this man? So do I, so does Jesus. Jesus loved him enough to die for his sin – the very sin he now embraces, and you applaud.” If you love him then, really love him, tell him the truth. His sin will destroy him. He is lost. And if he won’t listen – it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to fill us all with grief – put him out of the church. Tell him the truth. They did. The Corinthian church listened to Paul’s 1st letter. They condemned the man’s sins.
That brings us to this point. Speaking God’s Word about sin is important. It’s never easy, but God calls you to do it. If someone’s caught in a sin, it takes them away from God, they wander, lost – you know that because you know of the way your sins have taken you away from God. If you love someone, you’ll talk to them. It might fill you both with grief but don’t miss this wonderful truth – convicting them of their sins isn’t your goal! Our goal is to be able to say these powerful words, “I forgive you.” That is our thing, because that was Jesus’ thing.
What was always Jesus’ goal as he walked this earth? What was his goal when he gathered around tax collectors and “sinners” as we saw in our Gospel Lesson? What was his goal when he called out the pharisees for their self-righteousness? What’s his goal when his Word, today, convicts your hearts of your sin? It was the same goal that he had as he staggered broken and beaten to the cross. He didn’t hang there so he could shame and guilt us, “Look at what you have done!” Certainly, we see their our sin, but what do we hear their? Words unlike any other, “Father forgive them.” We hear there the end of the endless cycle of blood and suffering for sin. We hear and see there God dying for us. So that if someone, like us, repents, that is turns away from sin, if we repent, forgiveness is freely given. That was Jesus’ goal. As a forgiven sinner, that’s what you get to be all about, too.
Paul says as much in verse 10, “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven…I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.” So, I bring you back to that man I mentioned at the beginning today. There he stood, this man shaking head down, and in front of him a woman. What did the woman see? She saw the grief, she saw the pain, the sorrow over sin. This man was broken, lost. And as he stood before her unable to look her in the face, what was he worried he would see if he did raise his eyes, even a little? The angry judge. More punishment, more pain, that he deserved. Instead, there stood before him Christ, and she said, “I forgive you” Shocking weighty words of power, in this horrible moment.
That is why what we do here in this building, with our family, is so important. We are Christ to each other. Think of what happened in that church in Corinth: A man had slept with his father’s wife. He didn’t just tear apart a family; he was tearing apart a church. “Yet,” Paul says, “If anyone has caused grief…I forgive you…if there was anything to forgive.” Paul acted like the sin was gone, because it was.
I love how Paul puts it, “You ought to forgive and comfort…so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” The usual word for forgiving a sin is send it away, let it go! But that’s not the word Paul uses here. His word for forgiveness wasn’t focused on the sending away of the sin; it was on what you get to give. Paul said, show grace. Don’t just tell someone they’re forgiven when they repent. Show them. Comfort them. Use your words and actions to let them know that sin is gone.
Who can you do that for? Who needs you to do that for them? Is it a husband or wife, a friend, whom you’ve forgiven, but who’s pretty sure you haven’t forgotten? Is it someone you worship with, but who knows you’ll always avoid them at the coffee pot? What an awesome thing you get to do: with your words and actions, you get to treat them like that sin is gone, because it is. Your kindness can be their daily I forgive you. Your friendship can pour over them like the waters of their baptism. Instead of avoiding the look in your eyes, what they see in you can be their forgiveness in the face of Christ.
And we can take this, these weighty words of power, outside this building with us. We can show this world Jesus, the real Jesus. A Savior who wasn’t simply tolerant and loving, rather a Savior who sought the lost by speaking weighty words of truth about their sin. But then he unleashed those Words of power, words that we get to hear, we ache to hear every time we gather here, words of healing, “I forgive you.”
“I forgive you.” These weighty words can be quite shocking to both those who speak them and to those who hear them. Let those words of power be our thing at Christ the Lord. So, that what everyone thinks when they walk into church is this: “I am right where I belong – here with God’s forgiven people.” And if we live our lives each day knowing this is what we are, then people won’t need to ask what your church is about, or your faith is about, because it’ll be there for all to see. Amen.