New Year, New You: Forgiveness

Mark 1:4-11

I’m glad to be back in the sermon-writing saddle after being out on vacation last Sunday.  More than just Sunday – my family was out-of-pocket for 8 full days.

In our world of work, school, and church, 8 days is a really long trip.  Long enough to have a cornucopia of celebrations:  5 Christmases, 3 extended family meals, an anniversary party, a reunion with old friends, and new year’s eve.  Oh, and a stop for ice cream almost every day – because what’s vacation without ice cream?

By the time we rolled back in to town (with Chick-fil-a milkshakes in hand, because peppermint chocolate chip), even the kids were recognizing we couldn’t live this way forever.  “When do we get to go back to school?”

NewYearNewYou

Are you feeling it, too?

Maybe you, too, are ready for something better for you.  Maybe the last month of celebrations made your jeans uncomfortably tight… or your credit card debt uncomfortably large.  Or maybe it’s something bigger.  Maybe there are things about 2017 that you’d like to leave in last year.  Maybe you want 2018 to include less bad choices and more good ones.

If so… this month at Andrews UMC is for you.

For the next four weeks we’re going to be taking a look at common new year’s resolutions; topics like food, money, and decisions.  But today we’re going to lay the foundation for all of it with an important first step.  And forgive me, I have little kids so the only way my brain can think it is to sing it:  Let it go, let it go…

To move from 2017 to 2018, we have to let some stuff goExcept not the way Elsa meant it – not “letting go” like I’m not holding back anymore and I don’t care what they’re going to say.  What we need is more of a selective letting go – letting go of the bad stuff from the past and moving toward what’s good for us.

What we need is… baptism.

The baptism that Jesus received came at the hands of John the Baptist; it was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).  And that is exactly the kind of letting go we need.  It liberates us.  It lights up our souls.  It sets us on the right path.

If you’ve not felt this before, let me tell you how good it feels.  It feels like… like getting out of trouble with my mom.

My mom was kind and funny and wonderful… and also a force to be reckoned with when she was upset.  I hated getting in trouble with her.  One of the worst times happened when I was 13, and it was a very stereotypical thing:  I told a lie so I could go to a party.  It was the end of eighth grade and my friends were having a party and I knew my parents wouldn’t agree to where it was and who was going to be there.  So… I lied and only told them the parts they’d approve of.

And wouldn’t you know it… word got around.

I was grounded for the first and only time of my life.  It was my first time on the receiving end of my parents’ anger and disapproval.  I was miserable, not just because I was stuck at home but because I felt like I had severed some kind of family bond.  Being that I’m the oldest, this was an unprecedented event in our household.  Had I ruined the good thing we had going?  Would things ever be the same again?

And then, after a few days had passed (but while I was still very much grounded) came this moment when I knew it was going to be OK.  It was nothing big, but a kind of release into normalcy when our brows un-furrowed and we started joking around a little, smiling more, and saying “I love you” in the easy way that was normal for us.  Then I understood what my parents had known all along:  that they still loved me, and they forgave me.

But there was something else I knew, even as they had their arms around me and we were laughing together again.  I knew my parents were serious about me telling the truth.  I knew I better do differently next time, or else the consequences would be worse.

That combination made an impact on me.  I knew I was forgiven.  I also knew where my parents stood on me lying to them.  I needed both lessons, desperately.

That is what it’s like to be baptized into repentance and forgiveness.

The God who loves you, loves you.  Period.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.  Probably you’ve done some stuff way more harmful than lying about where you were at a party.  Yeah – me, too.  God loves you.  God forgives you.  If you have any doubt, remember that Christ died on a cross to prove this point.  The sacrifice has been made; you and God are good.

In my experience, God doesn’t punish us – but God does let us live with our consequences.  And through the Holy Spirit, we do get that sick-in-the-gut feeling that tells us when we’re doing something wrong, when we need to do something differently.  Those things lead to repentance – the decision that we better do differently next time, or else the consequences could be worse.

In order to make any real change in our lives, we need this combination.  We need God’s radical and real forgiveness.  We also need to see the mistake that got us into this place, and repent of it by knowing we better not repeat it.

Thank God we’ve got both.  When we’re baptized, this is what we’re baptized into:  turning away from sin and leaning into the embrace of God’s forgiveness.  Every time we remember our baptism, we remember this powerful combination.

So:  it’s 2018, the chance for a new year, a fresh start.  Do you want the gift made possible through baptism – forgiveness and repentance?

In church, we touched our hands in water we had prayed over to remember our baptisms.  If you’ve got water nearby, you can touch it and do a similar thing.  But first, consider these questions:

What do you need to leave behind in 2017?
What have you gotten in trouble for?  What do you need to be forgiven from?
What is it that you better not do again, or the consequences will be worse?

Take a deep breath, and remember the God who gave us all life and Spirit.
Touch the water, and know that through Jesus Christ, God loves you and forgives you.
Always.
Before you take your hands out of the water, think of what you’ll do differently.
And as you remove your hands, visualize yourself making that new kind of choice.

May the gifts of forgiveness and repentance be yours – every day of 2018, and every day of your life.

Amen.

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