Monday, July 13, 2009

Redemption, Forgiveness, and Grace

How many of you here today remember S & H Green stamps? Just for those who may be younger and never heard of Green stamps I’ll tell you what they were.
Every time we would buy things in grocery stores or gas stations we would get so many Green Stamps. When we got home we would lick them and put them in books. There was a catalog with different things that we could purchase by redeeming the books of stamps. We would take the books to the redemption center and tell them what we wanted and they would take the books, count them and make sure that all the pages were filled with stamps. Sometimes whatever we were buying wouldn’t need a full book and then they’d tear out just the pages needed. It’s kind of like the stamps that Subway issues when you buy their sandwiches.
It seemed as if everyone collected stamps. There were gold ones, green ones, and then there were coupons that came with cigarettes that could be saved and redeemed for items from catalogs. It gave us something to dream about and plan what we do with the thing we were saving stamps for.
Paul uses the word redemption in his letter to the Ephesians. Instead of stamps or coupons our lives are redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ. So what does it mean to have our lives redeemed?
In the times when the Old Testament was written the people of the Mediterranean area were divided into different social classes and whatever class you were born into was the class you were in for the rest of your life. That is unless you got yourself in debt and you lost the family property. Or you broke the law of the region and you were thrown into prison. Then your social status changed, dramatically. And you could only regain your place on the social ladder if someone would redeem you. In Israel this could only happen if one of the next of kin were able to perform the task. They in fact were obligated by Jewish law to assume the role of the redeemer. The next of kin almost had to be someone of great wealth in order for this to work. You couldn’t be restored to your original status without some money or something of great value being exchanged for whatever it was that had put you where you were.
In the Old Testament God usually isn’t portrayed as the sponsor of redemption but the one from whom beings were redeemed. In other words something of value had to be put up as a substitute to make compensation for the wrong that was done.
Just about all the way through the Old Testament the basic understanding of redemption is very close to the basic social meaning. Something of value had to be exchanged for redemption. If a person lost their social status then God would make it happen for them they would be restored to their former position on life’s ladder.
In the New Testament the work of redeeming lost souls is a joint effort with God and Jesus working together. Sometimes the redemption took place in a person’s lifetime and other times Jesus talked about redemption happening sometime in the future, in the end times.
Now we can understand having to pay a price for a wrong that’s been done but we have a very difficult time understanding and getting our head around forgiveness that’s freely bestowed on anyone. We like it when it happens to us but we find it hard to accept when someone else gets off the hook without suffering. That’s the human point of view.
God on the other hand doesn’t do things the way we would. He’s willing to forgive us for our sins; in fact he has forgiven us for our sins. He doesn’t say that we’ll get off without punishment but we are promised that our sins will be forgiven. And that’s good news for us, since most of us couldn’t come up with enough to compensate God for the things we’ve done wrong in this life.
Friends, that’s grace. That’s a free gift from God and even though we feel indebted to God for it there’s nothing we can do to pay him back for it.
He has forgiven us. The slate has been wiped clean. Our sin is gone from his mind. He doesn’t keep bringing it up to remind us how bad we’ve been. It’s gone forever from his book.
Now if we could just do a better job ourselves of forgiving each other for the things we do that hurt our family and friends. Jesus taught that in order for us to receive forgiveness we are obligated to forgive others. It’s not that easy to do.
It’s not an easy thing, this being a follower of Jesus, admitting our sin, accepting forgiveness, forgiving our brothers and sisters, being disciples, and sharing this love and forgiveness freely with everyone around us.
And sometimes it can be downright dangerous. There are people in this world who don’t want to hear about Jesus and they’ll hurt and maybe even kill you for talking about Jesus. Look what happened to John when he let it be known that what Herod was doing was wrong. Eventually it cost him his life. The same thing happened to Jesus. He stood up and held the religious of his day accountable for the wrongs they were doing to the children of God. It cost him his life to go against the political powers of 1st century Palestine.
It was all part of God’s plan to save the world but it wasn’t easy knowing the pain and anguish that was required.
Because of the sacrifice of Jesus for us God lavishes on us the riches of his grace. I don’t think we can even begin to understand what that all means. We may never totally understand it until we feast at Christ’s table in glory.
God has redeemed us through the blood that Jesus poured out on the cross. We have been forgiven totally for our sins against God and each other. And it’s all grace. We have been restored to new life. Our lives have purpose.
That’s why we come here to worship. Since we have been redeemed we can then spend the rest of our lives praising God and giving him all the glory.
As we hear every time we witness a baptism, we are marked with the seal of the promise of the Holy Spirit. We are free to be all that God has planned for us to be.
We may think we’re already free but unless we give our lives totally to Jesus we haven’t even begun to experience the true joy of freedom in the Lord.
Friends believe the good news. You have been redeemed, forgiven, and given new life in Jesus Christ. Accept it, believe it, and share the good news with everyone you meet.
Brothers and sisters, God loves you and so do I. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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