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Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

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Isaiah 43:18-25
- link to NRSV text
Psalm 32 - link to BCP text
2 Corinthians 1:18-22 - link to NRSV text
Mark 2:1-12 - link to NRSV text

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What was so shocking about those words? Far too much is made far too often about a supposed contrast between the reluctance of an “Old Testament God” or “God of Judaism” to forgive and the readiness of Jesus or a “Christian God” of grace, of letting sinners get a new start.

It's a false contrast. Read Psalm 32 -- heck, do any substantial reading at all in the Old Testament with an open mind -- and it's clear that, as Psalm 103 puts it, “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, / slow to anger and of great kindness. / The LORD is loving to everyone / and his compassion is over all his works.” The prophet Micah tells us that what God requires of us includes doing justice and loving mercy, and those things aren't in tension for God any more than they are in what God's people are called to do. Those who worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob understood deeply that God in God's mercy “has not dealt with us according to our sins, / nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. / For as the heavens are high above the earth, / so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. / As far as the east is from the west, / so far has he removed our sins from us” (Psalm 103).

Indeed, God's mercy was great enough to provide for forgiveness of sins for as often as a member of God's people failed to do God's will. Christians (especially Protestant ones) often say that the problem for which Jesus was the solution was that no human being could keep the Law, and that God couldn't forgive us for such shortcomings, and so was distant from humanity until Jesus came to make forgiveness possible. That's a misreading of St. Paul, though, following on a non-reading of Hebrew scripture. Not only did Paul believe that he could (and did!) keep the Law -- in Philippians 3:6 he notes that he was “as to righteous under the Law, blameless” -- but Hebrew scripture is clear that when people sin, God is gracious to forgive -- so gracious as to provide for a system of sacrifice and prayer culminating in the yearly Day of Atonement to provide for forgiveness of all Israel's sin -- and I've seen no indication that anyone thought that these measures were less than totally efficacious for forgiveness of sin and restoring a person to intimate relationship with God.

So why, then, were Jesus' words to the paralytic anything other than old news to all his hearers?

I think the answer is now as it ever was:

Because we still don't get it.

We still don't get that the God who created us not only can stand the sight of ourselves as we are, but really, really loves us. This is pretty much the root of the classic sermon that I hope (perhaps beyond hope) is a relic of the distant past -- the one that says, “God pretty much can't stand the sight of you, except insofar as God can hallucinate that you are God's Own Son.”

Let's get it straight, so to speak: God loves you. God really, really loves you -- even more than anyone ever loved Sally Field (whose Oscar acceptance speech still lives vividly in my memory, and whom I'll always love irrationally for her smiling endurance of The Flying Nun and the Gidget television series). God didn't have to send Jesus to make it possible for God to love you:

God sent Jesus because God loved you. Already.

And God was overflowing with forgiveness toward you. Already.

But do you get it? “Do you not perceive it,” as Isaiah asks?

On the whole, we don't. We do maybe sometimes, but usually in a manner that's a bit askew. We think that God loves us and forgives us because we said a prayer to convert, or because we really, really tried to be good, or because at least we're better than those awful, awful other homosexuals/bigots/terrorists/jerks/what-have-you.

But that's not it. God made a world that's good, and created people who were pretty amazing as creations go (I'm a pretty creative person, and I've yet to make a sentient being of any kind, let alone one capable of art and poetry and prayer and real, live, love), and then set us in communities in which we had what we needed to become the Body of Christ on earth, and we're still pfaffing around with apologies.

Your sins are forgiven, and now it's time to walk.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Is this a new thing? It's as new as God's love is for us -- new every morning, every moment. Is it enough for us to stop waiting for others to do something to deserve our forgiveness? If Jesus came to speak God's forgiveness to someone on the basis of nothing more than that this person was there and had need, I don't see why not. What excuse do we have to play Twenty Questions about whether someone deserves what God is gracious enough to give, now that we have been privileged with place to see just how boundless is God's grace?

It's not new, but I have to admit that it's new to me -- new every moment in which I'm given grace to see and to wonder.

Thanks be to God!

February 17, 2006 in 2 Corinthians, Epiphany, Forgiveness, Mark, Psalms, Year B | Permalink

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For a while now Ive been reading Sarah Dylan Breuers lectionary blog. Her reflections and insights to Scripture are often quite intuitive and profound. Todays post on Mark 2:1-12, however, was terrific. She hit the ball out of the... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 17, 2006 9:05:48 PM

Comments

As I meditate, preparing to preach tomorrow, this is helpful. I find myself struck by the closing verse of the Isaiah lesson: God forgives for God's reasons, not ours. That pretty well heads off the possibility of self-justification.

I'm also struck by the image of the Gospel of removing a section of the roof. That can't have gone unnoticed, and it can't have been fast. So, here Jesus is, teaching and touching those around him, when dirt and palm fronds start falling on his head. Did he laugh? Was he annoyed? (After all, this is his house!) It just seems such an interesting image to play with!

Posted by: Marshall Scott | Feb 18, 2006 12:33:28 PM

The passage from Mark's Gospel reminds me of the tremedouse power to forgive. The source of forgiveness, at least for me, comes from God. Though I frequently wish to forgive another, I can't of my own volition. I have to seek the power from the Lord through prayer to forgive those who have trespassed against me. Being human, when someone injures me, I want Justice. When I injure anothter, I want mercy. The only way I am able to resolve this delima is to pray for God's Power to resove it.

During Jesus day, it was believed that in the final days God would come and forgive mandkind for their transgression.

In Sum; Only the God of Israel and His Son have the Power to forgive Sin, we only mediate it.

Posted by: Gil Huhlein Jr | Feb 21, 2006 1:48:57 AM

The passage from Mark's Gospel reminds me of the tremedouse power to forgive. The source of forgiveness, at least for me, comes from God. Though I frequently wish to forgive another, I can't of my own volition. I have to seek the power from the Lord through prayer to forgive those who have trespassed against me. Being human, when someone injures me, I want Justice. When I injure anothter, I want mercy. The only way I am able to resolve this delima is to pray for God's Power to resove it.

During Jesus day, it was believed that in the final days God would come and forgive mandkind for their transgression.

In Sum; Only the God of Israel and His Son have the Power to forgive Sin, we only mediate it.

Posted by: Gil Huhlein Jr | Feb 21, 2006 1:49:48 AM

Last Friday I saw a movie that compliments the commentary in this week's blog post. The name of the movie is "Rachel Getting Married". I won't give anything away, except that the protagonist, Kym, is a recovering addict with a dark sin from her past that casts a shadow over her life. In an AA meeting she shares the story. With tears, she utters a profound sentence that I'm using for this sermon. She says, "Sometimes I don't want to believe in a God that would forgive me".

Posted by: Brian Morse | Feb 17, 2009 3:33:09 PM

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

« Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B | Main | coming soon to a lectionary blog, well, right here »

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Printer-friendly version

Isaiah 43:18-25
- link to NRSV text
Psalm 32 - link to BCP text
2 Corinthians 1:18-22 - link to NRSV text
Mark 2:1-12 - link to NRSV text

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What was so shocking about those words? Far too much is made far too often about a supposed contrast between the reluctance of an “Old Testament God” or “God of Judaism” to forgive and the readiness of Jesus or a “Christian God” of grace, of letting sinners get a new start.

It's a false contrast. Read Psalm 32 -- heck, do any substantial reading at all in the Old Testament with an open mind -- and it's clear that, as Psalm 103 puts it, “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, / slow to anger and of great kindness. / The LORD is loving to everyone / and his compassion is over all his works.” The prophet Micah tells us that what God requires of us includes doing justice and loving mercy, and those things aren't in tension for God any more than they are in what God's people are called to do. Those who worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob understood deeply that God in God's mercy “has not dealt with us according to our sins, / nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. / For as the heavens are high above the earth, / so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. / As far as the east is from the west, / so far has he removed our sins from us” (Psalm 103).

Indeed, God's mercy was great enough to provide for forgiveness of sins for as often as a member of God's people failed to do God's will. Christians (especially Protestant ones) often say that the problem for which Jesus was the solution was that no human being could keep the Law, and that God couldn't forgive us for such shortcomings, and so was distant from humanity until Jesus came to make forgiveness possible. That's a misreading of St. Paul, though, following on a non-reading of Hebrew scripture. Not only did Paul believe that he could (and did!) keep the Law -- in Philippians 3:6 he notes that he was “as to righteous under the Law, blameless” -- but Hebrew scripture is clear that when people sin, God is gracious to forgive -- so gracious as to provide for a system of sacrifice and prayer culminating in the yearly Day of Atonement to provide for forgiveness of all Israel's sin -- and I've seen no indication that anyone thought that these measures were less than totally efficacious for forgiveness of sin and restoring a person to intimate relationship with God.

So why, then, were Jesus' words to the paralytic anything other than old news to all his hearers?

I think the answer is now as it ever was:

Because we still don't get it.

We still don't get that the God who created us not only can stand the sight of ourselves as we are, but really, really loves us. This is pretty much the root of the classic sermon that I hope (perhaps beyond hope) is a relic of the distant past -- the one that says, “God pretty much can't stand the sight of you, except insofar as God can hallucinate that you are God's Own Son.”

Let's get it straight, so to speak: God loves you. God really, really loves you -- even more than anyone ever loved Sally Field (whose Oscar acceptance speech still lives vividly in my memory, and whom I'll always love irrationally for her smiling endurance of The Flying Nun and the Gidget television series). God didn't have to send Jesus to make it possible for God to love you:

God sent Jesus because God loved you. Already.

And God was overflowing with forgiveness toward you. Already.

But do you get it? “Do you not perceive it,” as Isaiah asks?

On the whole, we don't. We do maybe sometimes, but usually in a manner that's a bit askew. We think that God loves us and forgives us because we said a prayer to convert, or because we really, really tried to be good, or because at least we're better than those awful, awful other homosexuals/bigots/terrorists/jerks/what-have-you.

But that's not it. God made a world that's good, and created people who were pretty amazing as creations go (I'm a pretty creative person, and I've yet to make a sentient being of any kind, let alone one capable of art and poetry and prayer and real, live, love), and then set us in communities in which we had what we needed to become the Body of Christ on earth, and we're still pfaffing around with apologies.

Your sins are forgiven, and now it's time to walk.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Is this a new thing? It's as new as God's love is for us -- new every morning, every moment. Is it enough for us to stop waiting for others to do something to deserve our forgiveness? If Jesus came to speak God's forgiveness to someone on the basis of nothing more than that this person was there and had need, I don't see why not. What excuse do we have to play Twenty Questions about whether someone deserves what God is gracious enough to give, now that we have been privileged with place to see just how boundless is God's grace?

It's not new, but I have to admit that it's new to me -- new every moment in which I'm given grace to see and to wonder.

Thanks be to God!

February 17, 2006 in 2 Corinthians, Epiphany, Forgiveness, Mark, Psalms, Year B | Permalink

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B:

» Gods Love from Scribere Orare Est
For a while now Ive been reading Sarah Dylan Breuers lectionary blog. Her reflections and insights to Scripture are often quite intuitive and profound. Todays post on Mark 2:1-12, however, was terrific. She hit the ball out of the... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 17, 2006 9:05:48 PM

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The comments to this entry are closed.