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Sermon for Sunday 31 March 2019

First Reading                                          Isaiah 12:1-6

1You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. 2“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” 3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. 5“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. 6Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

Psalm                                                            Psalm 32

1Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away! 2Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile! 3While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long. 4For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. 5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. 6I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. 7Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. 8You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. 9“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye. 10Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.” 11Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. 12Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Second Reading               2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Gospel                                               Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

1The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear {Jesus}. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable:

11… “There was a man who had two sons. 12And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”


There’s an interesting story that comes from the Middle Ages about Pope Gregory and king Henry IV of Germany.  For those who haven’t studied history, from the 5th to the 15th centuries, popes not only had ecclesiastical power but political power as well.  In a dramatic move, Pope Gregory excommunicated king Henry IV when he insisted on divorcing his wife, Bertha of Savoy.  This was not only devastating to Henry spiritually, but politically, for this made Henry ineligible to sit on the throne of Germany.

The king, who well knew what the pope expected out of him, came to Rome to do penance and to seek absolution.  He found that the pope was away in the mountains.  And so, during the harsh winter of 1077, King Henry IV and his servants made the long and dangerous journey through the snowy mountains of Italy to meet with the Pope.  They met in a small town in the mountains of northern Italy.

When Henry and his entourage arrived, the pope humiliated Henry further by making him wait in the bitter cold for three days before finally agreeing to see him.  Reliable accounts state that when Henry was finally permitted to enter the gates, he walked barefoot through the snow and knelt at the feet of the pope to beg forgiveness.  As a result, the Pope granted him absolution.

Now contrast what Henry IV was willing to do to obtain absolution for his sins and what you and I were forced to do to obtain our salvation.  We’re not the ones who make a journey to a remote place in order to satisfy God.   It isn’t up to us who stand cap in hand waiting to be recognized, seeking to be brought in out of the cold, longing to be forgiven.  In Jesus Christ, it’s God who has made this journey in our behalf. 

The poet writes, “I sought the Lord and afterward I knew, he moved my heart to seek him, seeking me . . .”  The journey of salvation isn’t our journey but Christ’s.  He’s the pilgrim–the pioneer, as the writer of Hebrews put it (Heb. 12:2).  He’s the One who walked the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.  It’s by His initiative that we’re saved, not our own.  As St. Paul writes, we are saved by faith through grace (Eph 2:8), and as the prophet Isaiah explains, all of us are unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isa. 64:6).  We are saved by grace alone through faith in the saving works of Jesus Christ.  And this saving work began with the incarnation.

As we’ve been taught from our youth, Jesus began the journey for our atonement when He took on our flesh.  He grew, learned, was tempted, taught and lived so that He might fully understand what it means to be human.  Near the end of His earthly life, Jesus began His final testing in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus went to pray, on the night He was betrayed.  Jesus withdrew a stone’s throw from His disciples, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:41-42).  Luke tells us that Jesus’ agony was so great, that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling upon the ground.  The human Jesus wanted nothing to do with what lie ahead, but the Divine Jesus knew it must be so.

While we’ve never been faced with a decision like this, we too have experienced our own Gethsemanes.  Anybody who has ever sought earnestly to do God’s will over their own, has wrestled with difficult decisions.  To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to make a commitment to a style of living that involves personal sacrifice.  It involves our time, our talents, our tithe, our personal resources as it were.  For some, this personal sacrifice has even cost them their lives.  History is filled with stories of personal Gethsemanes where persons have been willing, because of their commitment to God, to pay the ultimate price.  Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane over a decision only He could make.

When He came back to His disciples, He found them sleeping; not once, but three times.  How human is that?  This is one of the devil’s greatest tricks, it seems anytime we start to pray, our eyes get heavy.  Who needs a sleep aide?  Anytime you find you can’t sleep, start praying; satan will make sure you fall asleep quickly.  Some of us may even be sleeping while someone very close to us is agonizing over a deep and potentially devastating decision, and we’re not even aware of it. 

Luke tells us that while Jesus was still speaking to His disciples, there comes a crowd of men into the garden.  The one leading the mob is Judas and with a kiss he betrays Jesus.  I suppose this event exposes evil at its ugliest.  An enemy can be confronted, but when it’s somebody you trust who stabs you in the back, when a kiss becomes the instrument of betrayal, when darkness masquerades as light, that’s when we see how twisted the human spirit can become. 

The soldiers and religious leaders take Jesus and mistreat Him in several ways.  They subject Him to an illegal trial.  They weave a crown of thorns and place it upon His head.  Someone finds a discarded purple robe and they place it around His shoulders.  In an attempt to humiliate and debase Him further, they salute Him and kneel down in mock homage before Him crying, “Hail, King of the Jews.”  They strike His head with a reed and spit upon Him.  Nearby is another troubled figure who also has a decision to make; it’s Pontius Pilate.  

Pilate has examined Jesus and found no evidence that He has committed any crime.  Even more disquieting, Pilate’s wife has had a dream about Jesus that has greatly disturbed her.  “Have nothing to do with this man,” (Matt. 27:19) she warns her husband.  Pilate is facing his Gethsemane now.  But Pilate, as we find, isn’t a man of courage or conviction.  He fails the test.  Pilate, sitting on the judgment seat has Jesus brought out.  The judgment seat is at a place called The Pavement, which in Hebrew is called Gabbatha.  This is the second landmark on our final stage of Jesus’ journey for our salvation.  This final leg of the journey of our salvation began in Gethsemane and continues at Gabbatha.  

It was here that Pilate washed his hands of Jesus.  Wouldn’t it be great if it was that easy to absolve ourselves of responsibility for evil?  Pilate offers the crowd a choice between Jesus and a well-known insurrectionist named Barabbas.  “Give us Barabbas,” the crowd screams.  “What shall I do with this one who is called the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks.  “Crucify him, Crucify him,” the mob chants with frightening intensity.  Even the nails of the cross couldn’t have pierced Jesus’ soul like the chants of the mob.

These were His own people.  This was His beloved Israel.  These were God’s chosen nation.  Now they were screaming, “Crucify him.”  Rejection always hurts.  All of us want to be recognized and appreciated.  Of course, rejection is part of life.  We know we cannot please all the people all of the time.  Sometimes we can’t please anybody.

A retired man tells how he would go to the old Bill Meyer Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, to watch the city’s minor league team play baseball.  He says that there was an old man at the stadium who never missed a game.  He would sit in the same seat each game and invariably he would offer the same chant.  Whenever a Knoxville player came up to bat he would yell, “Walk him, pitcher, walk him.”  If the pitcher walked the batter, then the old man would yell triumphantly, “You walked the wrong man, pitcher, you walked the wrong man.”  Sometimes no matter what you do, you can’t win.  

I like the attitude of George Whitefield, the great evangelist who worked with John and Charles Wesley.  Whitefield once received a letter that spitefully accused him of assorted wrongdoings in his ministry.  Whitefield returned a brief, courteous reply that stands as an example to anyone who is judged and accused by others: “I thank you heartily for your letter,” he wrote.  “As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever be able to say about me.  With love in Christ, George Whitefield.” 

Of course, Jesus knew He had done no wrong.  But there He stood, rejected by His own people at a place called Gabbatha.  But Gabbatha wasn’t the end of His difficult path.  From Gabbatha the story moves to the third stop on the final journey of our salvation.  It is, as you have already guessed, a hill called Golgotha–the place of the skull.  Along the route, the soldiers compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus’ cross.  Reaching the top of the hill, they nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the crude wood.  Here they offered Jesus wine mingled with myrrh but He did not drink it.

They strip Him of His garments and hung Him on a cross between two thieves.  In fulfillment of scripture, they gambled for His garments at the foot of the cross and passersby taunted Him saying, “Aha! you who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross.”  The chief priest and scribes joined in, “He saved others; He cannot save himself.”  Gethsemane–Gabbatha–now Golgotha.  “Father, forgive them,” He prays, “for they know not what they do.”  The impact of His death would never be forgotten by His disciples.

There’s a legend about Simon Peter.  When the persecution of Christians by Nero was at its height, Simon Peter was urged by other Christians to flee from Rome.  Since discretion is usually the better part of valor, Simon Peter complied with their wishes.  But as he was fleeing the city, he encountered a mysterious figure!  As the person drew nearer, he recognized Jesus, and said to Him in Latin, “Quo vadis, Domine?” (“Where are you going, Lord?”).  Back came the answer: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again, because my servant Peter is leaving the church.”  With tears of repentance and shame, Peter turned back to Rome and went to his death.  The death of Christ had a tremendous impact on His disciples.  It still has an impact on all who will hear and believe today. 

The account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a story of love, of forgiveness and reconciliation.  But how many of us see the difficulty of Jesus’ example?  For the vast majority of us, forgiveness and reconciliation is viewed as being the burden of the offender.  When some one does us harm, we expect the offender to come to us, seek forgiveness and then work hard to make amends.  But is this the example Jesus set before us?  Is this what Jesus instructs in Matthew chapter 18?

For the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians alike, we have the process backward.  In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us to go to the offender and tell them they have hurt us.  Like Jesus, we’re expected to make the first move.  Paul in Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were yet sinners Jesus came.  God didn’t wait for us to come to Him, He sent Jesus first.  When someone sins against us, we’re to go to them.  But this is just the beginning of the difficult part.  If the person who offended us acknowledges their sin, we’re then to extend forgiveness and the hard work of restoring the relationship begins.  Again, this is another area where the vast majority of people have things backward.

            For the majority of people, forgiveness and reconciliation is a one-way street.  The offender, is expected to do all the work in restoring the relationship; again this is incorrect.  For us to truly forgive and reconcile with others we need to look to Jesus’ example.  Even in the midst of His trial, severe abuse and crucifixion, Jesus continued loving, forgiving and reconciling.  Like Jesus, for us to truly forgive, we need to do what’s hardest.  We must do the work of reconciliation.  Yes, the other person needs to ask for our forgiveness, yes the other person must change their behavior, but it’s up to us to give that person the chance to change; it’s up to us to look past our hurt feelings, resist our urge to hold a grudge, to battle against our desire to punish the offender. 

For us to truly forgive and restore the damaged relationship, we must work even harder than the one who did the offense.  We are the ones who must set aside our hurt feelings and pride and make the sacrifices necessary to ensure atonement for the offense is achieved.  This is what Jesus did in our behalf, and this is what He expects of us.  Is it easy, no!  Does it at times take time, sure.  But then again, look at the time Jesus spent in agony to atone for our sins.

Jesus endured hours of abuse, both physically and mentally.  Everyone He knew abandoned Him and one betrayed Him.  He was subjected to the whip, to within 1 lash of His life.  He was mocked, punched, spat upon, was subjected to a crown of thorns and Peter openly rejected knowing Him, three times.  In the end, He hung on the cross for six hours.  So great was His agony that He cries out, “E’lo-i, E’lo-i, lama sabach-tha-ni?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Yet, even from the cross in excruciating pain, He forgives the thief and those who were involved by saying, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) and “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  This is the example Jesus set for us when it comes to forgiving others.  He came to us first:  He knows the pain of betrayal, rejection and abuse, mentally and physically.

Jesus came to us first and did all the work to make us right with the Father.  He’s the one who looked past the hurt, the betrayal, the abuse, the hurtful words and the physical pain caused by others.  He did what you and I struggle with, to show us the effort and cost of forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation.  Jesus expects us to do the same for others.  Is it easy, no!  But then again, it wasn’t easy for Jesus either.  And in what can be seen as even better news, the story doesn’t end on Golgotha.

Near the place of the crucifixion, was a garden (John 19:41).  In that garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever lain.  It was in that tomb late on a Friday evening that they placed the body of Jesus.  The following Sunday morning, just before the sunrise, some women came to the tomb to anoint the body with spices as was their custom.  But the stone was rolled away from the tomb.  The body was gone.  Two men stood by them in dazzling apparel and said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).  It’s the story of the resurrection, a story we’ll hear again on Easter Sunday.  The road Jesus traveled for our forgiveness wasn’t an easy one.

The road Jesus traveled for our reconciliation began in the incarnation.  Jesus walked the road that you and I walk each day, experiencing the same hurts, temptations, and trials we all face.  But Jesus was willing to go the extra mile.  In Gethsemane He wrestled with the mission for which God had sent Him—at Gabbatha He was rejected by His own people and on Golgotha where, by His death, He reconciled the world unto God.  Jesus knows what it means to take the first steps needed for forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation.  Jesus knows firsthand the effort involved in forgiving others and we’re called to follow His example. 

St. Paul writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf:  Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Today, I titled this sermon, the 3 G’s of reconciliation.  For Jesus the three Gs was Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha.  For us the three G’s is, Go, go to the other person first, second, Give, give the person forgiveness and third, Get, get to work reconciling the relationship.  For Jesus, forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation to the Father meant the journey through Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha; for us forgiveness and reconciliation to others means we must Go, Give and Get.

Forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation isn’t always easy and unfortunately, we have a tendency to come at it from the wrong perspective.  Jesus calls us, as Christians to follow His example, we’re to be the ones to Go, go to those who have sinned against us and initiate the reconciliation process.  We’re to Give, give the forgiveness needed and then Get, get to work reconciling the relationship.  For us, this is a difficult thing.  But we also can be assured that Jesus fully understands just how difficult this can be, because He came first, He set the example for us.  Because of this, even when forgiving another person is hard, we know we can go to God, a God who came first, one who understands, and ask for strength in our time of need, knowing He will provide.  Go, Give, Get, it’s our call as Christians. Amen

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