Dear friends in Christ.
As I’ve been riding my bike through the country side getting in shape for the ever nearing TRAM, I’ve been surprised at how much the crops in the fields have been growing. I’ve ridden past corn that is already at or above knee high. I’ve seen wheat that looks like it is nearly ready to start turning that beautiful golden color and be taken into harvest. I’ve even seen soybeans that looked like they were right on track and growing at a pace that will make them ready when harvest time comes. Though I suppose it shouldn’t be such a surprise to see how much everything has been growing already, with all the rain and cloudy weather we’ve had so recently, it can be easy to forget that we have nearly come to the beginning of July. Yet, when it comes right down to it, growth is the very thing that we expect plants to do whether they are crops planted in a farmer’s field, or vegetables planted in our own garden. Well, in the same way that we expect growth in our fields and gardens, so also the Lord looks for growth in the fields and gardens of our faith. In fact, as we have been cultivating our faith in the Lord for the past few weeks, we have been preparing for our faith to grow. Just two weeks ago we learned a lesson about faith from the example of the Centurion. Last week we planted our faith in Jesus as the one who holds power and authority even over death. Today we will have the opportunity to grow our faith as we grow together in the forgiveness that Jesus bestows on us.
Now, for most of us, growing in the forgiveness that Jesus bestows on us might seem like a pretty easy assignment, if you will. After all we have all been growing in Jesus’ forgiveness since the first day he bestowed it upon us at our baptism. From the very moment the water was applied to us as God’s Word was spoken over us, the seed was planted and a sprout appeared. That sprout soon became a shoot as we entered Sunday School or even Lutheran Elementary School. That shoot quickly became a definite stem as we entered into Confirmation Class and grew in our knowledge of the Lord’s forgiveness through a deeper study of the Lord’s Word. Even now we continue to grow in our Savior’s forgiveness as each week we are clearly reminded of how our Savior came to visit us in the prison of our sins, how he quickly exchanged his clothing for ours, switched places with us and allowed us to walk past the guards as free men and women while he went to his death in our place. Twice each month we are given the opportunity to participate in our Savior’s meal; his meal of bread and wine which are connected with his body and blood in a mysterious way that we cannot understand but merely accept by faith, through which Jesus himself places his hand on our hearts to assure us that we have been washed clean of every spot and stain of our sins by his blood; by his death and resurrection.
Each week we have the opportunity to grow in the forgiveness that Jesus has bestowed upon us through the very faith that he created in our hearts in one way or another. So by this time you might be asking yourselves, “Why, in all the world is Pastor calling on me to grow in forgiveness, when I’m already doing it?” Well, the answer to that question is simple. How often haven’t we simply began to take our forgiveness for granted? How often haven’t we simply taken the attitude toward sin that it doesn’t really matter what I do now because I can repent of it later? How often haven’t we sought out those dark and twisting trails that lead us off the path of righteousness and lead us into our favorite and most comfortable sins? How often hasn’t satan, the accuser of the brothers, accused our hearts of sins to the point we didn’t feel worthy to come up for Holy Communion? How often hasn’t so vehemently accused us of a particular sin that we feel that we have been separated from our God, that we are standing on a precipice ready to fall into the pit of eternal darkness, while our enemy accuses us and tells us that God couldn’t possibly forgive us for what we have done, even as we are being tempted to commit that same sin one more time? How often haven’t our sins piled up in the garages of our hearts until all the shelves are filled with gossip, lies, slander, anger, frustration, malice, and even grudges against other people? How often hasn’t it happened that these very sins have hindered our growth in forgiveness, because even though we regularly approached God’s throne for forgiveness we continued to hold on to at least some of these sins and we never really allowed God’s forgiveness to permeate our lives?
If you have ever felt this way, or have been dealing with issues like these in your lives, I can tell you that you are not alone. In fact, it is because each and every one of us has dealt with issues like this that the Lord included the comforting words of Luke 7:36-50. I invite you to open your Bibles to Luke 7:36-50 and we’ll take a look at them together. As we heard when I first read these words as our Gospel Lesson, this is the account of a sinful woman who came to Jesus in sorrow over the many sins she had committed. Luke writes beginning with verse 36: “Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:36-38, NIV)
Now, to fully understand what’s going on, we have to remember that in Jesus’ day when people ate, they didn’t sit at a table like we do. Rather, they had a table that was near to the ground and they lay on a cushion that was something like a bean bag with their head near the table and with their feet facing away from the table. So, when this woman came up to Jesus, she was standing beside him. As she began weeping and her tears began falling, it seems that she quickly knelt behind Jesus in sorrow and repentance over her many sins. As her tears began to wet Jesus’ feet, she uncovered her hair in public, which was something that just wasn’t done, and began to wipe Jesus’ feet. She kissed them again and again and finally poured perfume on them in sorrow over her sins and in thanksgiving for her forgiveness. Verse 39:
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:39–50, NIV)
When this woman came to Jesus, she was like the debtor who owed 500 denarii. She carried a weight of sin that she could never pay. She knew the debt of righteousness that she owed to the Lord. She knew that there was nothing that she could do to make things right between her and her God. Yet, when she left Jesus she left in peace because she had grown in the forgiveness that Jesus bestowed upon her, and her actions were evidence of her love for the one who had forgiven her. For in the same way that we will say the ground is wet because it rained last night, so also Jesus said that her sins were forgiven because she loved much. In other words, her great love for her Savior was clear evidence of the forgiveness that Jesus had bestowed upon her. These were not things she had done to earn her salvation; rather these were evidence of her love for Jesus who had bestowed his forgiveness on her.
In the same way that this sinful woman grew in forgiveness that Jesus bestowed upon her, so also, each and every one of us can continue to grow in this same forgiveness that Jesus himself bestows upon us. Even though there are times when satan so vehemently accuses us of our sins that we don’t even feel worthy to approach the Lord’s house for worship or his table for his forgiving meal, Jesus turns to us and says, “Your sins are forgiven...your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Even though we may have felt that we sinned so badly that we can’t possibly be forgiven, our savior reminds us that in the same way the money lender canceled an un-payable debt of 500 denarii, so also the Lord has canceled and forgiven the un-payable debt of our sins. Though our satan, our enemy, continually seeks to lead us down those dark and twisting trails that lead us into our favorite sins; it is the Lord Jesus, himself, who comes to our aid, leading us back to the path to heaven, and helping us to grow in the forgiveness that he has won for us. Though there have been times when we have sat here wishing that so and so was here, never really allowing God’s Word to permeate our own hearts, today is the day that the Lord is looking us square in the heart, calling on us clean out the garages of our hearts, throw out all boxes of gossip and lies. Toss out those bags of slander and anger. Sweep out the dust of frustration and malice, and tear down those shelves filled with grudges. In this way you will be free to live and grow in the forgiveness that Jesus himself has bestowed upon you.
What an amazing sight that would be! What an amazing thing that would be if each and every one of us would show our love for the Lord by cleaning out our own hearts and growing in his forgiveness. What an amazing thing that would be if each and every one of our members would grow so completely in his forgiveness that we were moved by his love for us to release our grudges and anger with each other and live in his forgiveness! Can you imagine what this church would look like? I venture to say that we would look like the church recorded in the book of acts, where Luke tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. ” (Acts 2:42–47, NIV)
So let me encourage you, as we come to a close, to grow in the forgiveness that Jesus bestowed upon you through his death and resurrection. Let the knowledge that he loved you enough to give his life for you permeate your heats so that Jesus love for you begins to move you to love each other and forgive each other. Let the love of Jesus and the assurance of his forgiveness which we hear every week be your motivation to show your love for your Lord in giving him the first and the best of your offerings. Let it move you to seek greater growth in his forgiveness as you pray to the Lord to help you forgive each other and release whatever grudges you may not even realize you are holding. Let your growth continue as you gather regularly for worship, bring your children to Sunday School in the Fall, and gather yourself for Bible Study before worship, only do not let your faith in the Lord grow stagnant or grow backward. Rather continue to cultivate your faith in the Lord as you continue growing in the forgiveness that he, himself, has bestowed upon you.
Pastor David M. Shilling