One nippy, fall Colorado morning my mother climbed into her car and headed to church. Backing out of her parking space mom noticed her neighbor’s car idling innocently, apparently warming up against the cool morning air.
Good. Gertrude* must be going to church this morning too, thought my mother. A couple of hours later (preachers never know when enough is enough, do they?), my mother was surprised to find Gertrude’s car still sputtering away in the same spot.
It must be warmed up by now, my mother mused (Actually I don’t know what my mother thought but I wouldn’t put any sarcastic remark past her). My mother carefully pulled into her spot, shut off her car, and crept over to Gertrude’s car–worried she might find her elderly friend dead and slumped on the front seat.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Ezekiel 35:1-36:38: The Old Testament is often gritty and harsh. So much so some have said the two halves of the Bible represent different gods or a God who has changed. Ezekiel often reads with this harshness: prophecies of destruction, promises of wrath.
Yet, here, and similarly elsewhere, God says “I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor.” These overlooked expressions of God’s love wrapped in oracles of wrath show his discipline and justice are motivated by love. God has not multiple personalities. He is One and the same forever and always. Maybe, just as we do in daily life, we simply hear the negative far easier than the positive. Whatever the reason, there is hope even in books such as Ezekiel.
James 1:1-18: The amazing scholar and reformer Martin Luther wanted to keep James‘ letter out of the canonized version of the Bible. Thank God he failed.
Luther found James legalistic and thought it contradicted Paul’s emphasis on salvation through grace alone.
What he, and many others, fail to see is how Jewish and Hebraic James is. You see James, being steeped in a Jewish culture that could not imagine separating belief and action, faith and works, understood that what anyone of us believes–truly knows and accepts–lives according to those beliefs. What we believe should change us or we don’t really believe it.
James knew salvation was based on faith and grace. He understood further that our lives between here and heaven must reflect that faith.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
“I didn’t want to look,” mom told me later, “Gertrude’s scary under normal conditions. She’s an older lady, you know. I kept imagining her dead on the seat. But somebody had to check on her. When I found her car empty,” mom continued, “I was thankful but worried. I ran [this is a figure of speech only] up to my apartment and called Gertrude. No one answered, so I left a message on her machine.”
Fretting to distraction my mom went and asked neighbors if anyone had seen Gertrude. No one had seen her. Yet, there sat the running car locked up tighter than a lost memory. Finally, mom sat disconsolate in her apartment imagining the worst. Her only consolation being that she couldn’t imagine anyone kidnapping Gertrude. Suddenly the phone rang.
“Fern,”** the crackly voice said over the line. “You called?”
“Gertrude,” my mom stammered. “You’re okay. Thank God! Your car’s been sitting in the lot for hours locked up and idling.”
“Oh, my,” Gertrude gasped. Long pause. “That’s where my keys got off to. Oh my–I went out and started my car for church this morning, forgetting a friend was picking me up. I’ve been looking all over for those keys. I forgot about starting my car.”
If not for my mother, Gertrude may have never remembered starting her car, though she may have wondered who left her keys in her car after they drove it out of gas. Gertrude couldn’t remember going near her car.
Is that kind of forgetfulness we mean when we combine the terms forgive and forget? When we are wronged and attempt to forgive do we really need to forget?
How can that be? If so, then senility becomes a spiritual gift and forgiveness becomes meaningless. No, forgiveness is more than forgetfulness. Forgiveness is choosing not throw a wrong in the face of the culprit, including yourself, each time that wrong comes to mind. And come to mind it will!
God has not forgotten the time I purposefully pulled a chair away from a girl in my third grade class and let her fall on the hard tile floor nearly breaking her tail bone. I know I haven’t! I also know, though, through Jesus’ death on the cross, I’ve been forgiven that and worse.
John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
The psalmist who wrote Psalm 116 knew this too. “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” God will hear our cry. God then does not forget our sins that forced his Son to die. God looks through the cross and beyond our sins to a time when our sins will be no more, including the pain they caused others. On Sunday mornings, before the prayer of confession, I often tell my congregation that, though God wants us to take many things home with us today, our sins are not among them.
God is not a Gertrude. He knows and remembers us through and through–good and bad, and loves us anyway. He has not forgotten and left us locked up and idling in the parking lot. The nail scars Thomas placed his fingers in on the hands of Jesus are still there (John 20:24-28). Now, however, the pain Jesus felt has been replaced with merciful forgiveness.
“When a deep injury is done us, we will never recover until we forgive,” Mary Karen Read wrote in a strangely prophetic journal entry in February before she was killed that horrible day at Virginia Tech. Jesus reminds us that we cannot forgive, as Mary Karen did, until we too are forgiven.
You and I are forgiven not forgotten. Today take a page from God’s book. When that wrong sears your heart and mind, don’t try to forget it. And don’t excuse it. Set it aside and smile the smile of forgiveness. Choose to look beyond it into the eyes of Christ.
Be forgiven and see what Jesus sees–a scar he can turn into a mark of velvet mercy.
*Not her real name. Of course most people named Gertrude make the same claim.
**Her real name.
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
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