Christ the King/The Reign of Christ (Year C, 21 November 2010)

Your sins are forgiven

Luke 1.68-79
Colossians 1.11-20
Luke 23.33-43

Last week, I began by talking about a phone call I received while I was in placement in Biloela. That wasn’t the only phone call I had while I was there. One Monday, an elder rang me to ask if she and another elder could arrange a time to speak with me. They didn’t say why. Did I do something wrong in the service yesterday? I wondered.

The next day, they came to see me, two ladies in their sixties, me then in my thirties. Two ladies who had been active in the church all their lives. I was a little daunted by them back then. (I wouldn’t be daunted now!)

This is why they wanted to see me: they wanted to tell me in person of a wonderful discovery they had made. It was this: for the first time ever, they had realised their sins were forgiven.

Remember, they had been part of the life of the church as long as they could remember. But the message of forgiveness had never sunk in. Why had they grasped it now?

It was simple, really. Every week now they were hearing these four words:

Your sins are forgiven.

And they were responding with these four words:

Thanks be to God.

And the penny had dropped. They were among the forgiven. Has the penny dropped for you? Have you realised that you are forgiven?

There are several references to forgiveness in our readings today. In Colossians 1.13-14:

[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

When you ‘redeem’ something, you buy it back. You ‘redeem’ articles from the pawnbroker. God has bought us back, and in doing that has forgiven our sins.

Notice that forgiveness is ours now. We don’t have to wait till we die. We are forgiven now, today.

What about the other readings? Recall what Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, says in Luke 1.76-77:

…you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

The knowledge of salvation is the forgiveness of sins. We have been rescued by God, and God has forgiven us. We are being healed through being forgiven—remember that ‘salvation’ and ‘healing’ are the same word in the New Testament.

And in Luke 23.33-34:

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

Here, while he is hanging naked and bleeding on the cross, Jesus speaks these wonderful words of forgiveness: ‘Father, forgive…’.

You know, there is some doubt as to whether Jesus actually said those words from the cross. If you look at your NRSV pew bible , you’ll see that there are double square brackets enclosing verse 34. There’s a footnote that says:

Other ancient authorities lack the sentence Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

This sentence may not have been in the original Gospel that Luke wrote; if it wasn’t, it was put in pretty soon after. Please: don’t let that worry you.

There is another story that found its way into the Gospels that may not have been in the original version; that is the story of the woman caught in adultery, and the men took her away to be stoned (but let the man off!). It’s a strangely contemporary story these days, as we hear of women in countries like Iran facing the same fate. What does Jesus say? ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And they all fade away.

Where this story is found in ancient Christian manuscripts, it’s in one of a number of different places in John (but usually 7.53–8.11)—or it may even be in the Gospel of Luke. It seems to be a story about Jesus that had to be put in a Gospel somewhere.

Can you see what’s happening here—and why we needn’t worry if these words were ‘actually said’ or not?

Our ancestors in the faith needed to tell stories of Jesus forgiving sins and welcoming sinners. Because that was the truest and deepest and greatest thing they could say about him. Jesus is a forgiver. Jesus embraces sinners. There is nothing we can say about Jesus that is truer than that!

Remember the story of the Prodigal Son. The son decides to come home and negotiate his way into the household as a servant. He doesn’t believe he’ll be accepted back as a son. He doesn’t believe he deserves to be accepted back as a son. He thinks his father will have disowned him, and fair enough too.

How many people think God won’t accept them? That God has disowned them? But what does the father of the Prodigal Son do? He gives his son a ring and a robe and sandals on his feet, signs that he is fully restored to his place in the family. He even throws a party for him.

God is a forgiver. God embraces sinners. Our sins are forgiven. Now, today. We don’t have to wait till we die. We can accept it now.

Today is the feast of Christ the King. We are forgiven by the King of kings. We have been given a royal pardon.

Where do you imagine a royal pardon being issued from? I suppose the Queen might do it in her office, but in Jesus’ time, I think there would have been more pomp and ceremony about it.

I imagine a royal pardon being decreed from the king’s throne, with courtiers dancing attendance, soldiers with swords barely sheathed, peacocks strutting in the grounds, whole roast pigs with apples in their mouths and gallons of mead.

But look where the King of kings is as he pardons us: on a cross, at the town rubbish dump. The point is this: the throne of the King of kings is the cross.

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

That’s the royal pardon, proclaimed from the throne. Jesus is enthroned on the cross, between two bandits. We have crucified the King, yet he offers a free pardon. There is no other king like this King.

What does it mean that we have received a royal pardon, that we’re forgiven?

It means we’re sinners—but we’re able to be rescued. We’re not beyond the reach of God’s love. Nowhere near beyond the reach of God’s love actually. And we never will be. We are forgiven.

It means God loves us, but it means much more than that—we are forgiven because we are God’s beloved daughters, God’s beloved sons. We can be sure of this: we shall eternally be beloved of God.

To be forgiven means that we have a freedom to choose to follow Jesus. By God’s grace, we are free in Christ!

It means that as forgiven sons and daughters, we should honour one another. You are a child of the King, gathered with other royal children. There’s no room for unforgiveness in the body of Christ. We’re meant to forgive one another. No one has been hurt too much to forgive. There is zero tolerance for looking down on others or for holding grudges. If Jesus’ throne is the cross, how can we put ourselves on a pedastal?

It means that those who are forgiven much love much (cf. Luke 7.47). Have we allowed God’s forgiving love to seep into our souls through the work of the Spirit of Christ? Do we ‘love much’?

‘Father, forgive them…’ Jesus says that about you and me, too. He intercedes for us, and redeems us through his love. We have salvation, healing, the forgiveness of our sins. What a shame it would be to let that forgiveness slip through our fingers!

Next time we hear the words,

Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven’,

let’s remember what a great gift we have as we respond from the heart:

Thanks be to God!

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