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Spiritual Alienation Information

EPHESIANS 1:3a, 7-10

JANUARY 5, 2003
First Sunday in Epiphany
A sermon by Paster Betty France of
Mountain View United Methodist Church

This was one of the first sermons I heard from Pastor Betty France and I must admit that it hit home for me since I had not been active in a church for 35 years!

Here we are at the beginning of a new year – 2003! I don’t know about you, but for me it seems it was just days ago we were worrying about moving into a new century!

As we are crossing into this New Year I find that people’s minds are filled with memories of yesterday – some happy memories and some quite sobering. And then, almost as quickly, our thoughts are occupied with the anticipations of tomorrow – what will the coming year bring? There are feelings of hope as well as some feelings of fearful anticipation. It is at this crossing over into a new year, that time in the past and in the future wrestle for dominance in our thinking. None of us are strangers to this experience of the mingling of memory and hope.

As we look at our text this morning, we see it calling us to put on a new look for the New Year. As we probe this text more closely we find that this new look we can assume comes from seeing the work of God in our lives in 3 different directions. We look backward into what God has done for us through Jesus Christ; look inward to our own lives and recognize our need for forgiveness; and we look upward to the God who is being revealed in Christ to move us into the coming year with hope and confidence. I believe in doing that we can find the new look that will take us into 2003.

First, we have the backward look. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In (Christ) we have redemption through his blood.”
The New Testament word “redemption” refers to the very act of ransoming a person who is a prisoner of war or a slave. It literally means being set free from a penalty or debt from which we could never have the means to repay.

In our heads, we look backward reminds us that Jesus Christ has done just that for us. He has delivered us from situations in our lives from which we could never have delivered ourselves. When we look backward it is as if we can see a hand reaching down to redeem those of us who are helplessly imprisoned by things – our actions and attitudes - in life that attract us and at the same time disgust us.

In other words, we know in our heads that Jesus Christ is our hope and our freedom. As we move into 2003, it’s important to be reminded that we are redeemed – or set free - by the work of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

And then, we can look inward into our hearts. Paul says, “In (Christ) we have… forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace…” Once we know (in our heads) the redemption of God expressed on the cross, we can look within ourselves (in our hearts) and see that forgiveness is available for us – even for those things we thought were unforgivable.

I believe that all of us have things in our hearts that leave us convinced that we are somehow unforgivable. We believe that we are unqualified or cut off from the full measure of inheritance that God has for us. Maybe it is something like an abortion or a deep secret in your past that happened a long time ago and you would rather keep it buried – but it takes a lot of energy to keep it from rearing its ugly head. Maybe it’s a long-term struggle with a particular sin or way of thinking that you feel you “should” have overcome by now. Or maybe it is a case of what is called “terminal uniqueness”that is that very subtle feeling that we are somehow the only creature in God’s whole creation who cannot be forgiven for what we have done.

The problem is, for whatever the reason, the suspicion that there is something in our souls that is unforgivable, leaves us with hearts of stone. As long as we are convinced we can’t be forgiven, we cut ourselves off. We live under a load of shame and condemnation that lessens our effectiveness in the kingdom of God. Our belief that we are unforgivable is a wedge that comes between God and us and between ourselves and other people.

The truth of the matter is that it is not our place to decide whether, or what or how much God forgives. That’s God’s choice. But, we try to take that power into our own hands, don’t we?

I invite you this morning to embrace the forgiveness God has for you. Take it as your own and be certain that Christ purchased it personally for you – no strings attached!

You see, one of the happy results that emerges from the assurance of forgiveness is the fact that it becomes quite natural, then, for us to express forgiveness to other people as well. Paul reminds us a little later in this letter that we most resemble the God we worship when we extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

There has actually been research reported in the Journal of Adult Development that 6 in 10 Americans say they have forgiven themselves for past misdeeds. An even larger percentage – 3 in 4 – say God has forgiven them for mistakes. But, only half – 52% - said they have forgiven others for major wrongs done to them. Slightly more than 4 in 10 Americans say they have ever sought forgiveness from another person.

That’s too bad. It is documented in many cases that forgiveness is good for the body as well as for the soul. Higher levels of forgiveness are associated with overall higher levels of satisfaction with life. There are fewer reported incidences of psychological distress, including nervousness, restlessness and sadness in those persons who report an understanding of forgiveness in their own lives.

Is it easy to forgive someone who has wronged us? NO
Does it enhance the quality of our life when we are able to let that person free? YES

What is it in your life that you need to let go of? What is it in your life that you need to accept forgiveness for? Who do you need to give forgiveness to - so that you can move into 2003 with a new look?

And then, when we can put what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts together, we can look upward and “receive the riches of God’s grace that are lavished upon us.”

Russell Ford is a chaplain for Death Row inmates in a prison in Virginia. He knows he can’t save the lives of those who are condemned to die, but he can lead them to the One who can save their souls. Most of the men he works with have committed some type of gruesome murder. Many of them refuse to accept the forgiveness God offers them. But some, thankfully, are able to experience the “lavish grace of God” before their execution.

Take Alton Waye, for example. He was convicted for killing a 61-year-old woman. He was a particularly mean person. Even the other inmates found Alton Waye to be exceptionally mean. Russell Ford worked with Alton Waye for months teaching him the meaning of the Gospel message. But his life did not seem to be affected or changed by the words of the Good News of God - until just a few days before his 1989 execution. One morning, it was reported that this murderer’s whole demeanor seemed to suddenly reverse – he even was found in his cell singing spirituals. The message of God’s love and forgiveness had clicked for him and he had decided to accept - for his own life - the “lavish gift” of forgiveness.

The night before he was executed, Alton Waye professed his faith in Jesus Christ. He was baptized as 12 members of the death squad witnessed the transformation of God’s redemptive grace in his life.

You see, my friends, if we have Christ, we have everything. Without God, we have nothing. When we have God in our lives, our priority is to worship him, to celebrate him and obey him in everything we do. When we have Christ in our lives we want to share him and his message with those who do not yet know.

On this the first Sunday in the New Year, 2003, as we come to the table of our Lord, I invite us to be reminded of God’s gracious provisions for newness in our lives.

As we look backward, may we understand the redemption and freedom God’s love provides for us through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ.

As we look inward, may we be conscious of our need for that redemption through forgiveness and may we act on the need to forgive or accept forgiveness so that we will be set free from the burden of guilt and shame.

And then, let us look upward to accept the lavish grace of God available for each one of us.

What will be your new look for 2009?

The Endless Tour: Vietnam, PTSD, and the Spiritual Void.
(by Rev. Amy L. Snow, M.A.)


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