Out of the Toybox #3
Sorry! The game of sweet revenge. That’s what the box says. And we buy into that idea every now and then. We’ve all wanted revenge at some point in our lives. That’s why this game is so appealing, because if you land on the same space as your opponent, you get to send them all the way back home where they have to start over. And somehow we think that’s sweet.
Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of people picture their relationship with God. They’ve said “Sorry!” they’ve repented but they slipped and fell. And somehow for some reason they think God’s promises and the work of Christ doesn’t apply to them. Maybe the image they carry is of God’s hand coming down out of heaven, grabbing them by the collar and slinging them back to square one.
But that’s not the God I know, nor the God I find revealed in Scripture and in Christ. Our God is a God of second chances who wants to set us free from guilt and sin and death. Today we’re going to look at Freedom through forgiveness.
Maybe you’ve heard about Jim and Joe, two old codgers both in their mid 70’s. They lived next door to each other as boys and grew up together. They became best friends. They went to Church together. They played together on the High School baseball and football teams. They roomed together in college. They double dated together. These two guys were inseparable. They even wound up working for the same company. At 25, they both finally met the women of their dreams. And they got married on the same day, in the same Church because the women of their dreams were sisters.
No one had ever seen two men or two families that were closer than these two. At age 30, a new housing development opened in their community, and they built homes next to each other. They continued going to church together, working and playing together. For 30 years, they were absolutely inseparable.
Then one Sunday, people in the church were all a buzz. You see, Jim came in with his family and sat in their usual place but when Joe and his family came in, they sat on the opposite side of the church. Everybody instantly knew something was wrong but nobody knew what. From that time on, the relationship between this two was as cold as cold could be. They were barely civil to each other. Jim built a six foot privacy fence between his house and Joe’s. Not to be out done, Joe built one right next to it that was 8 feet tall.
The only time the sisters and the kids could see each other was when the two men were at work. No more weekend family outings. No laughter and joy. The friendship that had grown for sixty years had suddenly soured.
Then one day, ten years later, Joe had a heart attack. He wound up in the hospital and the doctors weren’t too sure about his recovery and told him and his family that he should get things in order. The pastor heard and called Jim. He knew of their long time friendship and their falling out. Jim was reluctant but he went to the hospital. Joe was surprised when Jim walked into the room. But was even more surprised when Jim said: “Joe, I don’t even remember why we got mad at each other. But whatever it was, if it was my fault, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
Joe sat there for a minute just staring at Jim. Then he said, “I don’t reckon I remember what it was either. And since I’m fixin’ to die, I guess I ought to forgive you and ask your forgiveness also.”
A big old smile filled Jim’s face as he stuck out his hand to shake Joe’s hand. Joe took it and the two men shook hands. Everybody in the room sighed in relief, then Joe said, “Of course, you know that if I survive this thing all bets are off.”
Here we are on American Independence Day. Our celebration yesterday was all about the Freedom we have in this great country, the freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution. The Scripture this morning talks about a different sort of freedom, it speaks of a spiritual freedom, an inner freedom, the freedom which Christ Jesus bought of us on the cross. Listen to Paul’s words in Rom 5:15-19 & Gal 5:1.
Romans 5:15-19 (NRSV)
 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.
 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Galatians 5:1 (NRSV)
 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
A. Freedom. Steven Speilberg’s critically acclaimed movie “Amistad” is the story of the cry of every human spirit for freedom. It’s the true story of a slave revolt aboard the Spanish ship, Amistad, in 1839 and the struggle of the slaves to return home. However, the ship is seized and the slaves wind up mired in the U.S. court system. Four groups of people vie for control of their destiny. They are:
The U.S. Government who wants to keep peace with Queen Isabella of Spain by returning them to Spanish control.
Two US Naval officers who claim the slaves as salvage from the seized ship.
The two remaining crew members from the Amistad also claim them.
Then there’s the lawyer who defends them, he claims they are not property but free individuals wrongly enslaved. In the clip I’m about to show, you see Cinque, the leader of the slaves, and the other slaves watching court proceedings they don’t understand, in a language they don’t understand but they do understand what is at stake.
(Amistad: Show clip from the court room scene – “Give us free.”)
This story of this man crying for freedom for his enslaved people is the story of our Savior. That pleading cry of Cinque: “Give us, us free!” is the cry of every human spirit and every human soul that is caught and enslaved by sin.
B. You see, we’ve been CAUGHT. I read about a little girl who decided to cut her own hair while her Mother was gone. Well, you can imagine the terrible mess she made. When Mom got home she was horrified. The little girl had ruined her hair. It would take months to grow out. The little girl couldn’t understand it and said, “But Mommy, how did you know? I hid all the hair very carefully in the wastebasket.” (1)
The evidence was staring Mommy right in the face. Just as surely as that little girl got caught. So have we. We don’t like it. But then neither does God. You see, that’s one of the truths of this letter from Paul to the church in Rome. In Romans 6:17 Paul says we were “once slaves to sin.” And earlier in Romans 3:23 Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (NRSV)
We certainly don’t like to admit it. Sometimes we deny it. And other times we try to hide the evidence. But the evidence is in. And as hard as it is to accept, the verdict is that we are sinners.
B. There’s Chris Rice song that I absolutely love entitled “Clumsy.” In the first verse he starts out by saying:
“You think I’d have it down by now; Been practicin’ for thirty years. I should have walked a thousand miles; So what am I still doing here. Reachin’ out for that same old piece of forbidden fruit; I slip and fall and I knock my halo loose. Somebody tell me what’s a boy supposed to do?
In this song, Chris Rice points to the very thing that Paul is talking about. We HAVE “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We’ve been CAUGHT and enslaved by sin and just like Cinque our spirits are crying to be free. Crying: “Give us, us free!”
A. This passage is right. We’ve been CAUGHT but we’ve also been BOUGHT. There’s Chris Rice song that I absolutely love entitled “Clumsy” which is about trying to live the walk of faith, failing and falling. At the end of the song he sings:
I’m gonna get it right this time; I’ll be strong and I’ll make You proud. I’ve prayed that prayer a thousands times; But the rooster crows and my tears roll down (again). Then You remind me You made from the dust; And I can never, no never be good enough. And You’re not gonna let that come between us.
Then the chorus picks up and says, “I get so clumsy, And I get so foolish. I can get so stupid, And then I feel so useless. But You’re sayin’ You love me; And You’re still gonna hold me. And that You wanna be near me. “Cause You’re makin’ me holy; You’re still makin’ me Holy.
And he ends with, “From where I stand Your holiness is up so high I can never reach it. My only hope is to fall on Jesus.” And then the chorus repeats. (2)
Chris Rice gets right to the essence of this passage. Yes, we were once slaves to sin but through Christ we have been set free.
None of us can ever “be good enough.” But the Good News is that because of what Jesus did for us, because of the forgiveness we have received, God is not “gonna let that come between us.”
Our Freedom from sin has been bought with the blood of Christ and we have been set free. Yes, we’ve been CAUGHT but we’ve been set free. Yes, once were slaves to sin but again we’ve been set free. Through the power of the cross; through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, we’ve been BOUGHT and set free. And that changes everything. So, what do we do with this Freedom?
A. We’ve been CAUGHT and BOUGHT so now we OUGHT to live a certain way. We’ve been set free, we’re called to live free. Paul reminds us not to go back to the former life. Sometimes, that’s hard, I know. Sometimes the old life, the old ways and old customs are so ingrained in us that they are hard to break.
But Forgiveness changes everything. Forgiveness changes us. Forgiveness changes the situation. Forgiveness changes the other person. Forgiveness changes everything.
There’s a man I know, a friend and member of one of our former Churches. He was late coming into the Church. Frank was in his late fifties before he accepted Christ and joined the Church. You see, when he was a young man Frank did some pretty reprehensible things. He was rather rebellious and people said he was headed to prison. He didn’t spend any time in prison but by the time he was twenty-five he had spent plenty of time in the County Jail.
God got Frank’s attention after a horrible wreck that destroyed his pickup but from which he walked away. Investigators said there was no way he could have or should have survived. But he did, with just minor cuts and scratches.
After the wreck, Frank began to live differently, but for the next thirty years he carried the guilt of his past in his heart and on his shoulders. We met at a funeral. Something I said caught his attention and to everybody’s surprise, about three weeks later he showed up at our worship service. The looks and the stares were enough to send him home forever. But he was used to them and stayed.
After the service, he was one of the first ones out the door. This went on for about six weeks. Then one day Frank met me as I was going into the Post Office. I found out later, that he’d been waiting for me. We went and got a cup of coffee and talked. He had lot’s of questions. Most of them something like: “Are you sure, preacher? Are you sure? Even somebody like me?”
Two weeks later when I gave the invitation, Frank was down front before I got all the words out of my mouth. He accepted Christ that morning and I baptized him. After the service we walked to the door and people came by to welcome him into the Church.
One of the little old ladies of the Church, one of the sweet elderly angels, who was hard of hearing shook his hand and then asked, “And what did you say your name was?”
Frank looked at me, then looked down at her. He straightened his shoulders, stood tall, and with a grin of sheer joy on his face said, “Forgiven, ma’am. My name is Forgiven.”
Forgiveness changed everything in Frank’s life. Forgiveness changed how he looked at himself and at how everyone else looked at Frank. It changed everything.
Yes, we were CAUGHT. We were and are sinners. But we’ve been BOUGHT and we’ve been forgiven. Our cry of “Sorry!” has been answered. As a consequence we’re called to live a life of grace and faith. A life that reflects the forgiveness we’ve received; a life that reflects Christ. We’ve been CAUGHT and we’ve been BOUGHT. Now it’s time to live as we OUGHT.
As a boy he studied in his father’s carpenter shop. There he learned to shape rough wood into useful objects such as tools and doors, tables and chairs. He learned how to repair the broken and to mend the cast off. He learned how to take the broken and cast off pieces and create something new that was shaped with his own heart and hand. He learned that the strongest wood was that which survived the storm. The roots of those trees went deep and the wood was denser, stronger. The carpenter I’m talking about is Jesus.
One of the curious habits of carpenters in those days was the signal or signature that the job was finished. Imagine, Jesus, plying his trade as a carpenter. It’s a hot afternoon in Galilee. He has completed what he has been working on for several days. He takes a long drink from the leather water bottle he carries with him.
Then standing, he pours water over his arms and hands and splashes water on his face, to wash before heading home. With a towel he dries his face and arms. Then, following carpenter tradition, he takes the towel, folds it neatly in half, then in half again. He sets it on the work he has just completed and walks away. Whoever arrives to inspect the work will see the towel and understand its simple message. The work is finished.
The disciples knew this carpenter’s tradition. On the very first Easter, when the broken hearted disciples entered the tomb, one of the first things they saw were the linens left behind by the risen Christ. One of them was the towel that had covered Jesus’ face. It was folded and by itself, remember. Folded in half and then in half again, that cloth echoed the words Jesus had spoken from the cross. “It is finished.” (3)
We’ve been CAUGHT but we’ve BOUGHT. The cry of our soul: “Give us, us free!” has been heard and answered. “It is finished.” Our cry of “Sorry!” has been heard, our debt has been paid in full and we have been set free.
“For freedom Christ has set us free.” Now, out of gratitude, we’re called to live a life befitting that freedom.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. The Pastor’s Story File (Platteville, Colorado: Saratoga Press), May 1985
2. Chris Rice, Rocketown Records, LLC, Word Entertainment, Inc., 1997.
3. adapted from a quote from Sigmund Brouwer’s “The Carpenter’s Cloth” in Christian Reader, July/August 1998. (Christianity Today, Inc.) p. 89.
Other References Consulted
SermonWriter for 4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 27). Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 1999
LectionAid (Software Version) for June 27, 1999
Sermon Mall – June 27, 1999, www.SermonMall.com
William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, the Gospel of Matthew Vol. 1. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975)