Baggage: Receiving Forgiveness

Baggage: Receiving Forgiveness

When it comes to forgiveness, when it comes to canceling a debt, it means that someone has to pay, someone has to lose out on something they are owed.  Seen this way, forgiveness is not so simple! EVERYONE thinks forgiveness is a great idea… for EVERYBODY ELSE.This is the third week of our new year homily series we call Baggage. We want this new year to be better than the previous year. We want it to be our best year ever.

But, it may be difficult for us to make a fresh start if we haven’t dealt, in a healthy way, with the negative things, the baggage, of our past.  Hurts and hang ups, debts and doubts, grudges and regrets, all add up, like baggage, and weigh us down. If we’re exhausted from lugging around old baggage, it becomes difficult to make the New Year a better, brighter year.

We probably know people who can’t get over the past. Maybe you have an adult child, a sibling, or a good friend that fits that description. Maybe it’s you.  Maybe you harbor grudges, hold onto a hurt, and won’t let go. Some stuff can stay with us for years, heavy on our hearts. Baggage. . . can you put it down on the ground. . . let it go. . . stand up tall. . . and walk away from it?

We know people who can’t let go and forgive.  Yes, forgiveness is difficult. However, lack of forgiveness keeps us from moving forward to where God wants us to be.  The key is to embrace forgiveness. Forgiveness is foundational to Christian-Catholic faith. Forgiveness is a simple concept: Forgiveness simply means to cancel a debt.

In finances, you legitimately owe the bank that holds your mortgage or car loan money.  You are in debt to them. If they contacted you, and forgave the debt, that would be great, right?  But it would mean that the bank would have to eat that cost.

Forgiveness is complicated because of the emotions that surround those debts and the hurt they hold. When we forgive a debt, we give up our right to get something we are legitimately owed.

Two weeks ago, I asked you to think of at least one person you need to forgive and to evaluate where you are in canceling their debt to you.

Maybe you’re in denial that the debt even exists. Maybe you recognize the debt, but you’re just not motivated to do anything about it, or you don’t know what to do about it, and you’re frustrated.

Last week, we looked at our need for approval from others, which calls for a certain type of self forgiveness through acceptance of God’s forgiveness. Our inability to accept God’s forgiveness comes from our misunderstanding that God only approves of us if we are perfect.  This can cause worry, anxiety, self loathing, anger, and serious depression. Forgiving ourselves, and accepting God’s forgiveness, will reduce anxiety, worry, and anger.

Today, we’re going to look at what forgiveness looks like and feels like. This has something to do with lambs.  The gospel today mentions a lamb. Lambs are incredibly important animals throughout the Bible.  

The First book of the Bible, Genesis, tells the story of Abraham.  God had chosen Abraham to be the father of a chosen people of God, Israel, and ultimately to bless the whole world through him.

In order for God to use Abraham, he needed Abraham to trust him completely.  Abraham had waited for a son his whole life and finally God provided one in his old age.  However, Abraham still didn’t completely trust God. So to deepen his trust, God put Abraham to a remarkable test.

One common form of worship was the sacrifice of animals. Instead of keeping them for yourself, you slaughtered the animal as a gift to God. This was the culture at that time.  God asks Abraham to make such a sacrifice as a sign of his trust. But he wanted Abraham’s total trust, so he asks him to sacrifice what is most dear… his son.

An astounding request, but one that Abraham proceeded to obey.  He brought his son to the place God designated, it was called Mount Moriah. Abraham’s son, Isaac, knew they were going up the mountain to make a sacrifice to God. So, he asks his father, “We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb that we are to sacrifice to God?”

Abraham, with faith and trust, told Isaac: “God will provide himself the lamb.” 

Then Abraham raised his hand to sacrifice his son, but God sent an angel to stop him.  God stopped him because Abraham demonstrated his faith and total trust. Then Abraham saw a ram, not a lamb, caught in the nearby brush. He sacrificed the ram to God.

The question that lingered over that episode was, “Where is the lamb that God will provide for a sacrifice? Where is the lamb of God?” 500 years pass. Ihe Israelites are in slavery in Egypt. The king of Egypt, the Pharaoh, refused to let the Israelites go, even after God sent punishments and plagues through Moses’ command. 

Finally, God sent a tenth and final plague, which was the death of the first-born sons. In order for the Israelites to escape the final plague, each household had to take a lamb, a valuable possession, and sacrifice it as a worship offering, smearing the blood on the door post and then eating the lamb in a ceremonial dinner commemorating what God was doing that night in saving them from slavery.

The pharaoh finally admitted defeat and released the Israelites.  But, the question remained: “Where is the lamb that God will provide? Where is the lamb of God?”

The Jewish people had to provide their own lamb to escape from Egypt. God didn’t provide it. Another 500 years went by, and a prophet by the name of Isaiah began preaching and teaching. He predicted the coming of a Messiah, a savior.   He described the Messiah as a suffering servant, meaning someone who would suffer for the good of many. He described this servant in this way: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb.” 

Lambs were sacrificed in the temple as part of worship.  It was a reminder to the Jewish people of the debt they owed to God for their sins.  The problem was, it was never enough. The sacrifice was never enough to pay off the debt.  The people always had more sin. So, more lambs were always needed. Isaiah looks ahead to a lamb God will provide.  But, the question remains, where’s the lamb?

Another 500 years go by and another prophet emerges by the name of John the Baptist.  Crowds of people follow John. Some even think he might be the long awaited Messiah, but John says he is not the Messiah, he has come to prepare the way for the Messiah. 

When John sees Jesus coming toward him, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” 

John the Baptist sees Jesus coming.  He recognizes him as the long awaited Messiah.  He could have called him by many — different — titles, but the one he chooses is. .  .“the lamb of God.” 

Here is the Lamb of God who has been promised for nearly 2,000 years, he has finally arrived.  He will be the one who takes away the sin of the world. not just of church people, not just religious rule keepers, but the world.

He cancels the debt.  Then, on the very same spot where Abraham was to sacrifice his son, God does it instead.

Why was a sacrifice even necessary?  God is all good, all holy. He created us purely out of love, so he deserves all of our love, all our worship, all of it.  All of us have fallen short of that goal, creating a debt we cannot repay.

Jesus went to the cross, like a lamb to the slaughter. But since he was perfect, his sacrifice on the cross was perfect.  The cross says. . . “Debt canceled.” God says. . . you — don’t — owe — me — anymore.

There are things you and I have done that might very well be IN-EXCUSABLE, but thank God they are not UN-FORGIVABLE.

The challenge of this series is to follow God’s example, and grow more like him, specifically through the process of forgiveness.  That process doesn’t start with us. That’s where we get it wrong, forgiveness — is — a — divine — act. 

The process of forgiveness begins with understanding that — we — have been — forgiven — by God.  To become people who forgive others, we accept that forgiveness, and then allow the truth of it to permeate our minds, penetrate our hearts, and direct our attitude toward others, especially those who owe us.

There are many Christians, there are practicing Catholics, who have never accepted Christ’s work on the Cross in a personal way, they don’t even know what that means.  Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’ve denied the reality of your sin, so you don’t even think there is a debt. Maybe you think you can cancel that debt for yourself, through your own efforts and good work.

You. . . me. . . we. . . have to accept Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in a personal way.  That means you do as Jesus did, you cancel the debts owed you. In your heart, you forgive those who owe you.  Maybe you will never have the opportunity to do it face to face, maybe you wouldn’t want to anyway, but in your heart, you can forgive them.

Maybe what they did to you is IN-EXCUSABLE, but it is not UN-FORGIVABLE.

You are forgiven by God, in Christ, the Lamb of God.

Forgiven people. . . forgive people.  Forgiven people. . . forgive people.