Pack in the Forgiveness

Sermon 1790 Luke 6.27-38 February 20, 2022

Couples like to do things together. I suppose that’s the secret to a happy marriage. Find something you both like to do together. It could be travel, eating out, going to the symphony, a shared zeal for the Golden Knights. Karen and I like to cook. She gives the orders, I am the assistant, chopper, stirrer, you name it. Just tell me what to do. It is a learning experience. Like the first time we made penuche frosting.

I understand frosting. Like most things it is a variation on a theme. Butter, sugar and some form of milk. Easy-peasy. Except for penuche. The proof is in the eating. The proof wasn’t there.

“Honey, did you measure the brown sugar correctly?”

“Yeah, one cup. Why?”

“Well, it just doesn’t taste, I don’t know, brown sugary enough.”

“One cup brown sugar. I know what I did. (This covered the time I got a half cup mixed up with a full cup and another time I mixed up the salt and sugar—hey, they look alike!).”

“Did you pack it in?”

What are you talking about?

“Did you pack it in? You have to pack in brown sugar, because it is so moist.”

That made no sense to me. You don’t pack in eggs. You don’t pack in water and that’s as moist as it gets. But brown sugar of all things you have to pack in? Why don’t they put directions on the label—“Must pack in!” “No,” I said sheepishly.

“Well, next time pack it in. You always have to pack in brown sugar, no matter what. And scrape off the frosting because I don’t want to ruin the cupcakes.”

I’m here to tell you today that forgiveness of sins is God’s version of brown sugar. And it does comes with directions on the label, “Must pack in.”

Pack in the Forgiveness

1. No matter what the reason.

2. No matter what the outcome.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you (27-31).”

These were not your normal directions. Everybody else had been teaching the godly people, “Love your friends and hate your enemies.” We like that recipe. That’s the recipe we understand. Be good to those who are good to you and watch out if you cross me.

But this is a different recipe, isn’t it? Enemies, those who hate you, they curse and mistreat you. Actions follow these sinful thoughts and words. They strike you, take your clothing and are nothing but big mooches. Steer clear of them would seem to be charitable, the best course of action. Defend your turf if you can’t keep out of their way is a good contingency plan.

But we’re talking brown sugar here. Brown sugar is different. So is God’s forgiveness. You have to pack in forgiveness, no matter what the reason.

How far short we fall from these words of Jesus! We have to stand right there with the late Leonard Cohen, when he sang in Democracy,

“From the staggering account

of the Sermon on the Mount

which I don’t pretend to understand at all.”

We try to evade responsibility by throwing up false arguments. “So we should just let the Russians invade the Ukraine?” Jesus is talking about individuals here. I hardly think thousands will die in Kyiv unless you shoot your neighbor’s barking dog that keeps you awake every night. I don’t think global inflation will rise another percentage point unless you make an obscene gesture to that guy who cut you off when you catch up to him at the stoplights.

Take Jesus at his word. That’s what I have been saying all my ministry. Unless the text clearly is picture language, take Jesus at his clear word.

Again I say, how far we have fallen from these words of Jesus! We teach and are taught to hit back harder, don’t let people bully us around, stand up for our rights even if it hurts other people. You know, not all the education we received was beneficial.

Did Jesus live up to his words? Did he do to others as he would have them do unto him? After his trial before the religious leaders he offered his face to those who spit on him, pulled at his beard and struck him in the face. He hurled no threats at them. He did not retaliate. When they were nailing him to the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He even healed one of those sent out to arrest him, when Peter wildly cut off the man’s ear. He healed ten lepers, even though only one came back to thank him.

Jesus lived by his words, lived by keeping the will of God. That’s why he could offer his life as the ransom for all of us. He was holy, precious and sinless.

But in faith we follow the recipe, we pack in the forgiveness no matter what the reason. By faith Christ’s holy life is counted as our life in God’s sight. When God looks at us he sees the wonderful deeds of Jesus. That’s Jesus’ righteousness on me. That’s Jesus holiness which adorns you.

Pack in the forgiveness, no matter what the outcome.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (32-36).”

When we realize we have been forgiven because of God’s great mercy, when we realize he has been turning the cheek to our abuses for years, he has been lending us a wonderful planet though we treat it like a rental car, when we realize all that, it changes us. It makes us forgiving. God has packed in his forgiveness when it comes to us. As that forgiveness overflows in our lives, it’s a good taste, a penuche taste, in the mouths of others.

We go against the grain and show mercy without a thought of what’s in it for us. I guess that’s the real calculation of faith. For years people have been stumped by the good deeds of unbelievers when compared to the good deeds of people who claim to be believers. The good deeds look identical! People forgive each other. People donate to this or that charity. People even donate parts of their body—while still alive! How can this be? Christianity claims there is a difference, but it doesn’t appear to be the case.

Here’s the difference. When believers pack in the forgiveness, they do so without a thought about the outcome. The good deeds of unbelievers are investments that will come back to them.

That’s what Jesus is talking about. If you do good to expect good in return, how is that praiseworthy? It’s self-interest! Even unbelievers do that. They will go out of their way in order to get something in return. They lend to get the money back with interest. They love those who love them. They give big donations to schools to get their name attached to the new library or entire school of medicine. They contribute to some powerful figure’s charity so they will have a good reputation among the movers and shakers. You know how it goes. We see it all around us. People are interested in doing well by doing good. And if you are caught in some difficult circumstances, why, there are public relations companies who can direct your charity to rehabilitate your image as quickly as possible! (I could have used them when I was in grade school.)

But why do good if nobody notices? Well, let’s turn that on its head. Is a law a law if nobody enforces it? Evidently not. A dearth of traffic policing leads to higher speeds on the roadways and more deaths. Slashing IRS staffs leads to an increase in tax evasion. In the minds of many, if it is not enforced, I don’t have to follow it. And these are some of the same people who are warning us of a coming police state! By their actions today they are saying they will not be responsible citizens until there is supervision and enforcement, a police state!

Christians do good even when nobody notices. It doesn’t even work into our calculations. We have a Savior in heaven. We love him. We want to serve him. He tells us to love one another, to pack in the forgiveness. That’s why we do it. It is what we were made for. So even if I live in a little town where there is only one police cruiser and I saw it parked by the local café for his lunch break, I’m not going to put the pedal to the metal and speed down the village streets. If I know the odds of me being audited are practically zero, I am still going to fill out my tax forms as honestly as I would if I got advance notice that I was going to be subject to a spot audit.

The outcome is not the issue. The action is. Let’s bring the discussion home. Let’s look at a marriage, a family. And we all have been in families, even if we are living alone now. Families stay together through forgiveness. It is impossible for a family, a marriage, to stay together if there is constant war between the parties. Do I forgive only to be forgiven? No, we forgive because the other person seeks forgiveness, asks for forgiveness, repents, if you need the proper religious terminology. Will our forgiveness be misused? I would have to say, yes! Just from looking at my own growing years, I said I was sorry over and over and over again. And I meant it! If I knew I was going to get into that much trouble I never would have done it—do I look stupid? But I kept doing stuff which my parents did not appreciate and sometimes had to pay for out of a very tight family budget. I abused their forgiveness. But they didn’t put out a classified ad in the local newspaper, “Five year old boy for sale, as is. Best offer accepted.” They kept at it.

Or consider a marriage. Of course husbands and wives take advantage of each other’s forgiveness. But they keep on forgiving and loving. If they would have spent the last twenty-five, forty years so hunkered down protecting themselves against the other abusing their forgiveness, they would have missed some of the most wonderful, spontaneous moments of their lives. To love means to make yourself vulnerable.

To love means to make yourself vulnerable. That is what Jesus did. The cross in front of our church reminds us of how vulnerable the immortal Son of God made himself. He shows the way. He makes the way. He is the way.

Pack in the Forgiveness

1. No matter what the reason.

2. No matter what the outcome.

I have to admit, maybe it isn’t cooking that keeps my marriage happy. It’s the interaction between husband and wife, the give and take, the acknowledgement of mistakes made and the receiving of forgiveness as we plow on to get a meal on the table. And maybe that’s why all of these joint activities help every group, be they married couples, families or even church groups. It is not the activities, but the sharing that counts. And so often, that sharing can be described as forgiveness, and the gratitude that flows from it.

So, here’s to mistakes! They are allowed, for none of us, save Christ, is perfect. For where there are mistakes, there is the opportunity to show mercy, as our Father in heaven is merciful.

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