The thirst of a Soul
In a series of sermons leading up to the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, we’ve been focusing on what I’ve labeled: “Reformation Words.” These are words which encapsulate the Biblical truths that were rediscovered during the Lutheran Reformation; allowing for the truth about God to be understood clearly once again. So far our words have been “Scripture, Cross, and Grace and Love. Today, we look at the word “Forgiveness”
I was traveling on Interstate 94, headed for Chicago, where I was going to school. And for some reason, I had big bag of pork rinds that I was munching on as I drove… and I became very very thirsty. I saw rest stop; exited there , went to the drinking fountain and started drinking. But the water seemed different somehow. It wasn’t quenching thirst. In fact, the more I drank, the more thirsty I became. There was an attendant there, who managed the place and I said “What’s going on with this water, it’s making me thirsty!” And He said “It’s because of all the minerals, it’s good for washing and flushing, but not for drinking” I said “then why is there even a drinking fountain!” and he looked at me with the weathered expression of an older man grown tired with his lot in life and said, “Government.” I didn't understand him then, but I do now. So I drove to next town. But I knew a little something about geology and was pretty certain that their water would be as bad as the water I had just experienced. So I went to a grocery store, and this was before the bottled drinking water was a big thing… if you wanted water you’d have to buy it in a gallon Jug. All that had was a gallon of distilled water. I bought one of those, and leaning against my car outside in the parking lot, I drank from the gallon jug like boss. And the locals didn’t even look at me funny, ‘cuz they knew… they knew about the water in those parts.
This is kind of a description of the church in Luther’s day when it came to forgiveness. There was a lack of pure, refreshing forgiveness. They used the word forgiveness, yes; they would offer it, yes… but it was always adulterated. Today, we have what we calle confession and absolution. We confess our sins, and they are absolved…that is forgiven. But in Luther’s day, they had confession, absolution, and satisfaction. In other words, before the forgiveness that the pastor proclaimed was valid, there was deeds that needed to be done. The merits of Christ atoning death and resurrection were hidden under a smokescreen of required good works. And the teaching of indulgences confused the matter even further. The idea that you could pay money to get gots favor flew in the face of the full payment made by Christ by his satisfactory death for our sins.
Like me at that bad drinking fountain, Luther went to the confessional hoping to be refreshed. In fact he spent six hours there drinking it in, but his thirst for forgiveness was not quenched! The waters of forgiveness had been so adulterated with other stuff, that it was like a false spring. During this time, Luther was, on his own digging into the wellspring of scripture hoping of fid out how might out he could at last be made righteous in God’s sight. When he finally learned that it was by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, Luther said, “I felt like I had been born anew and the gates of heaven had opened.” Luther drank down God’s forgiveness like a boss! His thirst for a right relationship with God was quenched. He had found the pure and unadulterated waters of salvation that originate from Christ and only Christ. As it says in the gospel lesson for today “If the son of man sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” There’s nothing that needs to be added; Jesus is the it. In Jesus, God says to you and to me, “your sins are forgiven.” or like the old testament lesson says “Though your sins are like scarlet they will be white as snow; though are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:16-18) That’s old testament making it clear that Luther didn’t make this stuff up. This has always been what God had in mind… to provide us with the full and free and clear forgiveness sins. It’s nothing we do, It’s what he would do for us in Christ. This was the great re-discovery of the reformation and Luther’s gift to the world. The fountains of forgiveness were opened wide and the church would be refreshed. Water would break forth in the desert and it would bloom.
But we live in a different time; our problems are different from Luther’s. The problem for Luther was he couldn’t find forgiveness; the problem for us is that we don’t believe we really need. it. We have grabbed hold of the progressive notion that since the world is getting progressively lax in regard to sin, we should be more lax about our own sins. So even though we have the freely-flowing unadulterated spring of forgiveness in Christ, we seldom drink from it, for to do so would require us to admit that we need to be forgiven for something and that is rarely our way of thinking anymore. So we try to quench our thirst by denying we have it. Even though the pork-rinds are powdery/salty in the mouth, we refuse to drink for fear of making an admission that we are thirsty.
So how can you tell if you are spiritually thirsty. A person’s thirst can reveal itself in such things as a lack of patience, a hair-trigger anger, deep and abiding sadness. I’m just scratching the surface here, but unadressed sin not only like great thirst that afflicts you on your journey, it is also like additional weight that is added to your knapsack; bending your back. drooping your shoulders, embittering your walk, sapping your strength narrowing your horizons. So even though we might deny the fact that we need forgiveness, we still need forgiveness. In Today’s Gospel lesson Jesus said “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin”…. and “If the Son of sets you free you shall be free indeed.”
That’s what’s going on! The refusal to admit our sins and drink at the well of the absolution in Christ leave us carrying our guilt… and it embitters our lives. As described in the psalm for today, “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away, through my groaning all day long. but then I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgive the inquiry of my sin. Many are the sorrows of the wicked but the steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts int he Lord.” To live with fresh forgiveness is to live in the steadfast love of the Lord. You not only may confess your sins, but you should confess them to God regularly. We kneel each Sunday to give you opportunity to confess and receive forgiveness.
What is true in our relationship to God is true in our relationship to each other. We must confess and forgive on another. I recently heard a story of two old men. Buzz who was 80 Sheldon who was 85 and they were brothers. They hadn’t spoken to each in over 40 years! Buzz lived in Montreal and Sheldon in Miami beach…. Great distances separated them geographically and emotionally. The Son of Buzz thought it important before they die that they come together. But in talking to his father Buzz he managed to encourage him to get together with his elder brother Sheldon one last time. As the father and son drove their rental car, to Sheldon’s house, his father was getting antsy and nervous and wanted to call it off. But his son kept urging him to take it easy and see it through, since they had come this far.
They arrived at the house. They rang the doorbell, and there was Sheldon, he ushered them into the kitchen where they sat down in the table. They spent the next 3 hours reminiscing over the old neighborhood and laughing about the people they knew. But Buzz’s son was getting a little impatient for them to have the real conversation, the necessary conversation concerning the 40 year rift between them. Each of them could list quite a number of slights and offenses that the other had perpetrated against them. Each of them were bitter over the lack of respect and concern that the other had showed. But it all went started when they were children; when Buzz was 5 and Sheldon was 10.
As it turns out their father was an abusive man, and he knocked their mother around once to often. The police came and the mother left them. A day later she came back to get sheldon, living buzz with his father and then a 1/2 year later she came to get Buzz too. And from that moment, Buzz began to think that his mother loved Sheldon but not him. And that’s where it started, the animosity and hatred between these two brothers. Because Buzz; heart was hurting over his mothers lack of love he was predisposed hair trigger response to his brother Sheldon who never understood why. But in this meeting in their old age something was revealed that the 5 year old Buzz could not know. The abusive father was not only abusive towards their mother, but for some reason he focused on Sheldon and had beat him many times. But he never beat Buzz. The reasons their mother got sheldon out of their as soon as possible was because she feared for his welfare and as soon as should could manage he got Buzz too. Nevertheless Buzzes first impression forever determined his cruel treatment of his brother.
But that’s the way it often works, even when there not something there between us and others, we put something there we assume something there and make up stories in our mind about the other person to feed our hatred of them. This is the sinful nature at work.
As Buzz and his bid Son farewell to Sheldon, Sheldon point to the house across the street and said, “that’s for sale, you could buy that… Florida is much warmer than montreal!” And Buzz was seriously thinking about it. But he and his son drove away, he remarked “I feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted, a weight I had carried around for a long time.”
You see, Buzz had forgiven his mother and his brother and his brother had forgiven him….. and that how you feel. forgiveness is spiritual refreshment. I heard this story on a Podcast called “This American life” A typically liberal show, which often has great content, but in it I found this wonderful illustration of the need for and the importance of forgiveness. The players in the story weren’t even Christian, but if they saw the value of forgiveness between them, certainly, we Christians who talk about it all time can too. Paul writes in Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving on another, as God forgave you.” We are forgiven, so we can forgive… and in fact Jesus charges us to forgive and to constantly work to tear down what separates from others. AMEN