Superbowl Sundays #4 in Series
The last thing Ruth saw was a little hand waving good-bye as the doors to the Sanctuary quietly closed. Caught in a wave of reverie Ruth returned to the pew and her prayers. Not for the first time, she gave thanks to God for the ability to help steer and shape a child’s life with the love of God. And not for the first time, she wished someone had told her about that unconditional love sooner.
Her mind went back to times early in life. Times that shaped her and left her marked for life. Like the time when she was five and watching her father paint the shed in their backyard. Daddy got called to the phone so she decided to surprise him and help paint. She took the brush and began painting where Daddy had left off.
A short time later, Daddy came back to find Ruth with the brush in her hand. Ruth stopped and just grinned. She knew her Daddy would be pleased with what she had done. Daddy looked at Ruth and then at the shed and shook his head. With a frown he said, “Just what in God’s name do you think you’re doing? Look at the mess you’ve made. I’ll have to paint over everything you did. Look at all the spots you missed. And look at your clothes. Those spots will never come out.”
Ruth was crushed. All she had wanted to do was help. And Daddy was right, those spots didn’t come out. Neither did the sting of his words.
Like the night of her 13th birthday. Mom had made her a special birthday dress. Mom had spent hours sewing this beautiful red velvet dress. When Ruth put it on, she felt like a movie star. The love that went into making the dress seemed to cover all the old hurts and wounds of her past that haunted her.
It was her celebration dress. Ruth was growing up. She was a teenager and Mom and Dad were taking her out to a fancy Italian restaurant to celebrate. She remembered thinking, “Now that I’m a teenager, maybe I can be better. Maybe I can do things right and not disappoint Daddy.”
Everything that night was perfect. Her dress made her feel elegant. The restaurant was beautiful. There were flowers and lighted candles on the table. The food was delicious. And Ruth was so careful while eating. She didn’t want to drop anything on her new dress. She didn’t want to stain it and mar its perfection. But just as she went to take that last bite of pasta covered with a deep, rich, red sauce, it slipped, hit her chest and landed in her lap.
She froze. Not just one stain but two. Maybe he didn’t notice. But he did. Mom looked over as she started to wipe off the sauce. Ruth could see the sorrow in her eyes. Without even looking, she knew her father was shaking his head in dismay. And then she heard him say, “How clumsy can you get? Look what you did to your new dress. Those spots will never come out. You’ll never be able to wear it again.”
He was right; she never was able to wear that dress again. It was ruined. The spots on the dress DID come out but not the spots on her heart. And not the stains to her spirit caused by the sting of his words. She finally hid the dress in the very back of the closet because every time she saw it, she felt the pain of those words again. Even six years later when she was packing to go to college and ran across the dress again.
Ruth realized that as a result of incidents like that she began to live down to her father’s expectations. As the years went by, she thought less and less of herself. She started running with the wrong crowd. She even got kicked out of High School once for smoking. During those years, she did some things she wasn’t very proud of at all.
Oh, she made good grades in school. But no matter how good they were, they just weren’t good enough. All she saw on her papers were the mistakes she’d made not the A’s and B’s she was receiving. Even when she graduated as Salutatorian she wasn’t happy. She should have been Valedictorian. She just wasn’t good enough.
And that’s the way she thought about herself. The spots and the stains of her past had accumulated and mixed with the expectations of her perfectionist father so much that she just didn’t associate the word “good” with herself. She didn’t think she was good or could do any good, no matter how hard she tried. At least until she met Harold.
And he truly was a herald of good news. Ruth first saw him at a rush party during her junior year. She noticed him because he was the only one NOT drinking. He danced and interacted with everyone but he never took a drink. Then she saw him at a party hosted by her sorority. She noticed that he was staring at her. Finally, at another party, they were introduced. And she immediately liked him. There was just something different and genuine about him.
They kept running into each other. Harold always made Ruth feel good. When she was with him she felt accepted. She admired the way he was able to let go of his mistakes and see the good in everyone, especially her. He asked her out. They hit it off and began to spend more and more time together.
One night he invited her to go to Church with him. She looked at him like he was nuts and said, “You don’t believe in all that stuff, do you?”
He grinned and said, “Well, actually, yes. I do believe in all that stuff. And I know what you’re going to ask. ‘Why?” Ruth nodded. “Well, if you’ll come to Church with me Sunday, I’ll tell you during lunch.”
She agreed. With a little trepidation she met him at the campus chapel. The service began and it wasn’t dry and boring like she expected. She found herself drawn into the music and the service. And when the preacher started preaching she realized that he wasn’t condemning everyone, instead, he talked about God’s unconditional love and mercy. She’d never heard anything like that before.
Her image of God had been more like her father, always finding and pointing out her mistakes and faults and never letting her forget them. She’d never heard of a God who loved you despite your faults. She’d never heard of a God who loved you and offered forgiveness for your mistakes.
Before she knew it the sermon was over and she was disappointed. She had so many questions. She wanted to hear more about this God of love and His Son Jesus. She wanted to know if it was really true. She couldn’t wait until lunch so she could ask Harold about it. And she did.
Lunch, it turned out, was in the campus ministries building. While eating, Ruth quizzed Harold about God and Jesus. Pretty soon, others joined in. Then the preacher, the campus minister joined them. For over two hours they talked. For over two hours, everyone but Ruth and another student who was also a first time visitor, shared what Jesus had done in their lives. They each talked about the fresh start, the sense of renewal and the best friend they had ever found.
But what stuck out most in Ruth’s mind was each one’s sense of God’s unconditional love that came through accepting Jesus as their Savior. And the burden they felt lifted when they accepted His forgiveness. A part of Ruth desperately wanted that. But it sounded too good to be true.
Ruth and Harold began attending chapel services together. One Sunday the preacher was describing all the mistakes that Peter had made as a disciple. And then he described the account of Jesus and Peter together after the Resurrection and how Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
It was then that Ruth realized that all that she had been hearing WAS true. And that God DID love her and that her mistakes, her sins COULD be and WERE forgiven. And it was like this huge burden and weight had been lifted from her heart. And that morning when the preacher gave an invitation to accept Jesus, she almost leaped from her seat and ran forward.
That day she gave her life to Christ and her life was never the same again. All the weight and burden of not feeling good enough; all the weight of her sins and mistakes fell away. She felt new and alive. For the first time, she felt at peace. She felt at one with God and at one with herself. Maybe that’s what Atonement was all about. She didn’t feel broken or pulled in several directions. For the first time, Ruth felt At One with herself and At One with God. For the first time she felt whole and clean; cleansed from the inside out. For the first time she felt “good enough.” If she was “good enough” for God to love her, then that was “Good Enough.”
Ruth remembered that day like it was yesterday. She silently gave thanks to God once again for turning her life around. She looked up and there stood her Harold. She hadn’t heard him come in. But he was standing there by her side just as he had stood by her side when she first gave her life to Christ. She grinned and said a little prayer she’d prayed many times before: “Lord, thank you for my Harold, make me a herald, too.” (1)
Today we come to the end of our series, Super Bowl Sunday’s. On the first Sunday we looked at the Ten Commandments and talked about how important they were to forming the basis for the community of faith known as the Israelites. The Ten Commandments defined them, defined their relationship with God and with each other. They were the rules of play.
In the NFL, and every sport, there are rules. We know one of them has been broken during play action when a penalty flag gets thrown. And depending on the infraction, there’s a penalty. But what happens when one of the Big Ten are broken? That’s a question Moses had to deal with. He got so mad about the golden calf they had made that he didn’t just throw down a penalty flag; he threw down the stone tablets upon which the commandments were written and destroyed them.
After setting things straight and assessing the penalty on those involved, Moses went back up the Holy Mountain to intervene and make atonement for their sin. Let’s look at Exodus 34:1-10 (NRSV)
 The LORD said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke.
 Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain.
 No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.”
 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone.
 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The LORD.”
 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.
 He said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
 He said: I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the LORD; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
Later on in the book of Leviticus, we read about a very complex system of sacrifices which were required for whatever infraction was made. You think some of the penalties in sports are stiff, read through Leviticus. My OT professor said everyone should read Leviticus once and then forget about it because all the sins listed there and all the sacrifices required were taken care of by Jesus on the cross.
Here we read how God reissued the Ten Commandments and reestablished the Covenant. If you do read Leviticus, you’ll probably get tired of reading how to sacrifice a lamb or a dove or two pigeons. Or what you needed to sacrifice if you did such and such.
Leviticus isn’t the most compelling or the most pleasant book in the Bible to read. It’s hard for us to understand because we don’t live under a sacrificial system. But believe it or not, it’s a very important book because it establishes something very clearly. It tells us that GOD HATES SIN. It tells us that although GOD HATES SIN, God loves us so much more that GOD OFFERS FORGIVENESS.
I. GOD HATES SIN:
From all the laws and all the sacrifices it’s very obvious that GOD HATES SIN. I guess the obvious question to ask then is “Why?”
Very basically, sin is breaking the rules. And breaking the rules is breaking the Covenant. During any football game there are certain rules you have to keep. You can run anywhere you want on the field when you have the ball as long as you don’t go out of bounds. When you go out of bounds, the ball is dead and play stops. Breaking the rules is sort of the same thing as going out of bounds and a penalty is assessed. The penalty has to be paid before the game can resume.
The same is true in life. God gave us the Covenant and the laws to lay out the rules and the playing field. God gave the Covenant to establish us as a unique people. God gave the Covenant to the Israelites to set them apart from everyone else in the world. Part of that uniqueness is seen in their dietary laws and cleanliness laws. And part is seen in both the way and the why of the sacrifices.
God didn’t give the laws of the sacrifices just to be cruel or so that the Israelites could appease God. The God of the Israelites, our God, wasn’t like the idols around them, who had to be bribed or appeased. God wasn’t capricious but rather “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Unlike the Greek, Roman and Norse gods of which mythology is so filled, our God didn’t treat us with disrespect or toy with us or play games with us. So, the sacrifices wouldn’t and couldn’t be seen as just our jumping through the hoops to make God happy.
No the sacrifices were there for a specific reason. The sacrifices were given to bring us back into a right relationship with God after having broken the Covenant. Because; breaking the Covenant destroys relationships. Breaking the Covenant destroys our relationship with God, and with each other. “Our sins have both a horizontal and vertical dimension.” (2) Our sin breaks covenant with God, with each other and with the community of faith. What’s needed is reconciliation and restoration.
II. GOD OFFERS FORGIVENESS:
A. And that’s where we learn that as much as GOD HATES SIN, God loves us so much more. And through that love GOD OFFERS FORGIVENESS.
That’s really what the sacrifices were all about. Having done our worst in sin, we’re called to give our very best as an offering to God so we can receive God’s very best, Forgiveness. Some sacrifices were given as a “Thank Offering” for the blessings and joy of life in relationship with God. But most were made for Reconciliation, Restoration and Forgiveness.
What we have to understand is that it wasn’t the animal that counted. It was the most sacred part of the animal, the blood. And blood was sacred because it contained the life of the animal. An animal couldn’t live without blood. When a sacrifice was made, the blood and the life of that animal covered the sin and cleansed the individual from the penalty of that sin. The sacrifice Reconciled that person with God. It brought the individual back into a right relationship with God. The Covenant was Restored.
GOD HATES SIN so much that God even made provision for the poorest to be able to be forgiven. And for all of us to be forgiven for any unintentional sin. The system of Sacrifices allowed for there to be Atonement, Reconciliation and Restoration. Because as much as GOD HATES SIN, God loves us more. And through that love GOD OFFERS FORGIVENESS.
B. Some of you may have seen this commercial titled “How Animation Works.” (WATCH)
I think that’s one of the funniest commercials I’ve seen in a long time. It is filled with so much insight to our human nature. But the thing that hit me the hardest when I saw it the first times was a sense of thankfulness. My first thought was, “I sure am glad God isn’t like that Rock Giant.”
That’s why Jesus came. He came to make the final Sacrifice. He came to be the final Sacrificial Lamb of God. Jesus came to be the final elevation offering as He was elevated on the cross. God offered us His very best. And it’s through Jesus, God’s son, that we discover that while God hates sin, he loves us so much more.
God wants to forgive us. Not through the ritual of a sacrifice. But through His Son. And all we need is confession and repentance.
Through confession we acknowledge our sin. We acknowledge what we did wrong or what we did to cause the alienation and separation between us and God or us and someone else. That confession leads to Repentance, our prayerful turning away from that which caused us to sin. And our repentance which accompanied sometimes by acts of reconciliation leads to Restoration and Forgiveness.
In other words, the penalty flag which was on the field is removed through what Jesus did on the Cross. His sacrifice was both horizontal and vertical.
On the cross, Jesus reached out to a world dying of sin. And He reached up to God offering himself for our lives. On the cross, God reached down to Jesus, His beloved Son and accepted His sacrifice for our sin. Then through the cross and the outstretched arms of the innocent Lamb of God, God wrapped those arms around the World and offered forgiveness and reconciliation to a world broken by sin.
GOD HATES SIN but God loves us so much more. And through that love, embodied in Christ Jesus, God’s only Son, GOD OFFERS FORGIVENESS to those who will confess their sin, repent and seek reconciliation.
Louisa Fletcher Tarkington in The Land Of Beginning Again, writes:
I wish there were some wonderful place
In the Land Of Beginning Again:
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never be put on again.
There is a Land Of Beginning Again, its entryway is at the foot of the cross. It leads right through the empty tomb and right up to the foot of God’s throne where Christ Jesus himself awaits to greet of us with open arms.
It’s there that penalty flag is removed,
It’s there that the alienated find reconciliation;
It’s there that sinners find forgiveness;
It’s there that the broken find wholeness;
It’s there that the outcasts are restored.
Maybe you need to take a trip to The Land Of Beginning Again. Maybe like Ruth you need to know that God is a God “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” A God filled with unconditional love who wants to lift the burden from your heart by giving you the very best that God has to offer.
The sacrifice has been made, the price has been paid. Now it’s up to you to begin again.
Know this, there is a Harold right next to you or in front of you or behind you. They want to help. Just ask. And who knows, you might be a Herald, too.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. An original story, please give credit if you use it.
2. J. Elsworth Kalas, The Grand Sweep Bible Study (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1996) p. 31