Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Guilt Free

What are we doing here?
What is it that we come to see/hear this morning?
This is the question that I am always asking.
I am wondering what does it mean that there are Churches in the world?
Some people would say that they come to Church because of the people.
It is a place to come to be with others, to make friends.
The problem is that there are plenty of places to make friends.
There are book clubs, running clubs, game clubs, and a whole host of social activities that someone could be involved with.
Some people come because they want to serve others.
They want a place to be able to do good things.
The problem is there are plenty of places that have no religious affiliation that you can go to and serve.
There are boards of tons of non-profits; there are service opportunities all over the place.
You don’t have to come to Church to serve others.
The Church can include these important and great things, but that is not why we have a Church.
It is not the reason we are here this morning.
We are not here to be good people.
There are lots and lots of good people in the world who are not religious and who never (or rarely) go to Church.

We are here because of what John the Baptists testifies too this morning.
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
This is our mission statement.
We are here because we believe that Jesus Christ takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus takes away our sin, the sin of the criminal, the sin of our non-believing neighbor, the sin of politicians, the sin of omission, the sin of violence and hatred, the sin of selfishness.
We are here because on some level we need Jesus to take away our sin, and the sin that we experience on a daily basis.

I would like us this morning to think about one word from our Gospel this morning, takes.
John doesn’t say here comes Jesus who comes to receive the sins of the world.
But the word is takes.
It is an active word.
Meaning that Jesus comes into our lives and gets into his possession, power, and control our sin.
It is not that we give our sin to Jesus, it is not that we confess our sins, but that Jesus is the one who initiates the action.
He takes it from us.

I was thinking about how hard this is to believe.
First, it is hard to believe about my own sin.
Think of the worst thing you have ever done.
Think about the guilt you carry with because of that act.
I always say that we don’t have to go around pointing out others people’s sin because they know it and feel guilty already.
But now know that Jesus has taken it away.
Do we dare believe that this happens?
Maybe we can’t forgive ourselves for what we have done.
But Jesus has come and taken for us.
There is no other place we can come to receive that forgiveness except in Church.
If you are in a book club, that does not take away sins, it gives you an opportunity to read a book.

Second, think about the sins that someone else has done to you.
This is hard to imagine too.
We want to hold onto our grudges.
We want to believe the worse about our enemies.
We want to feel that we were the victims.
And yet Jesus takes it away.
Jesus allows room for forgiveness.
We can only get that here.
It is a divine thing to forgive.
That only comes through knowing that we are forgiven.

Third, think about all the things wrong with the world.
Think about all the violence, the crime, the easy sex, the venom that we spit at each other in television programs, and comment sections online.
Think about how we wish the world was, and how far it is from that picture of perfection.
Jesus takes it away.
Hard to believe isn’t it.
We can’t get that anywhere else.

This is the danger of faith.
It is the real challenge of being a believer of Jesus Christ.
To believe that it is possible for Jesus to take away sin.
Most of the time we want to add something to that.
We want to say, “Well Jesus will forgive our sins, if we ask for it.”
But the Gospel offers us something more radical than that.
It offers us the taking away our sin without any qualifiers.

What difference does it make?
That is a real question I think we have to wrestle with.
We know that being with other people makes a difference in our life, we know that serving others has real benefits to us.
What are the benefits of knowing that Jesus takes away our sins?

We can live without guilt.
I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t feel bad when we hurt someone else.
We should, and we should do what we can to make amends.
But this means we don’t have to stay in that spot, we can move on with life.
We can forgive others, and we can forgive ourselves.
I have found over the years the sustained guilt is not a helpful way to go through life.

It helps us to live in freedom.
Fear stops us often from speaking out, and engaging.
Fear that we might say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing.
Knowing that Jesus takes away our sin gives us the freedom to engage in the world with all of its mess and contradictions.

As an example of this for us to think about is what it means to engage in the conversation about race in our country.
It is Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
The legacy of Dr. King is in the belief that if we keep talking about race, and working on it that it can and will get better.
Look how far we have come.
But the Banishment of prejudice from our hearts still needs work.
We don’t really want to be part of those conversations because it might mean that we say the wrong thing.
Having difficult conversations about race is the way forward.
I know that I have had lots of conversations with black/African American friends were I have had said the wrong thing out of ignorance.
But I am glad for those conversations because I have grown and learned through them.
And there was forgiveness offered.
Knowing that Jesus takes away our sin gives us the ability to admit our sin, and for us to live without guilt from past sins.
It gives us the ability to engage in difficult conversations.

We are here because Jesus takes away the sin of the world.
That is the work of the Church.
It is our primary work.
Yes, we gather in fellowship, we speak up for justice, we serve our neighbors.
All of those things flow from the essential nature of what Jesus does for us.
Jesus helps us to live without guilt and in freedom.
Here is the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.

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