Thursday, April 30, 2009
hope and good friday
Hope and Good Friday
a sermon by Troy Cady
Remember: we are in the desert. If you cannot see that, none of this will mean anything to you for what we are about to say depends on the realization that we are in the desert.
We are using the image of the desert to express the fact that we are impoverished. The desert is a place of deprivation and we are a people that stand in continual need. Some time ago, I wrote about the importance of “need” in our lives. I said:
There are two kinds of people: The first kind of person has needs and they know that they have needs. The second kind of person has needs and they do not know that they have needs. In either case, everyone has needs.
The foolish person attempts to rid their life of the appearance of need or even of need itself, as if that were possible. This is nothing less than a manifestation of our compulsion to become self-sufficient, independent. The foolish person…has no precise understanding of what their needs are, nor do they understand the extent to which their need reaches. Because of that, they also often have no understanding where and how their needs can be met.
The mature person, on the other hand, knows where and how their needs can be met. Directly speaking, my need for food cannot be met by going to the library. If I’m hungry, and want my hunger to go away, I need to have food. Reading a book—no matter how many books I may read (even if those books are about food!)—will not take away my actual hunger pangs. Or, if I expect my thirst to go away by simply running more, I am stupid, not brave. Every need has a proper counterpart, a place where that need can be met.
The drug addict is just like you and me. We both have needs—often identical or very similar needs. The difference is where one looks to fulfill that need. In either case, notice: both the whole person and the addict have a measure of hope in something. The difference is not, at first, in the absence of hope; it is in the placement of hope.
The Psalmist says: “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from the mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.” (Psalm 121:1)
And again: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.” (Psalm 20:7)
And Solomon writes: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding…” (Proverbs 3:5)
There is nothing more tragic than the misplacement of hope. Those who make a habit of misplacing hope are doomed to despair, because the longer you misplace hope, the less hope you have. This is why the addict (of any sort) will inevitably end up frustrated and, eventually, hopeless. It’s like thinking that hitting your hand with a hammer will mend your broken thumb if you but hit it harder each time. After a while you won’t have any strength left to continue hitting your hand even, and you’ll just give up.
So, remember: we all have needs; we do well to know the nature and extent of our unfulfilled needs; and we do well to know where we might find the fulfillment of our needs.
I’ll just come out and say it: God not only provides for our every need, He Himself is the counterpart to our every need.
Teresa de Avila puts it this way: “Who God possesses in nothing is wanting; alone God suffices.” In other words, God is the only One who can fulfill your every need, and we look in vain to search anywhere else. Nor are we wise to think we do not need Him.
Unfortunately, there are many people who think they do not need God. In fact, sometimes I act as if I do not need God. For example, I get my schedule to a point where I can manage, where I am comfortable and I think, “Ah, if things could just stay this way now, I would be happy!” So, I go on my merry way, spending whole days at a stretch where I do all but ignore God. I don’t look to Him in His Word, I don’t bother listening to Him through the fellowship of believers, and I certainly don’t look to Him in prayer. (In fact, prayer is usually the first thing to go when I’m feeling self-sufficient). But then, inevitably, I get restless, because no amount of temporary comfort can change the simple, indisputable fact that:
The fact is: everyone needs God. Jesus himself said, “Apart from me you can do nothing. Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (John 15:5 and 4) To abide in Christ, to remain in Christ, then, consists in understanding that, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. This is why I say that the chief difference between the mature Christian and the immature Christian lies in developing a deepening awareness that God, and only God, can meet our every need. Christian maturity primarily involves a strengthening conviction that one is totally and utterly dependent on God for everything; in a word, we are helpless. The mystery of the Christian faith is that the more helpless you know yourself to be, the more apparent God becomes.
One musical artist I like has also addressed this notion of need. In one of his songs he has written: “I believe there is one thing we need, more than to be understood or be known: it’s forgiveness.” The song continues: “It’s our need, a true, undeniable need, for me and for you, this is our need: it’s forgiveness.”
Put another way: we are in the desert because we have not loved God with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We have sinned by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have sinned in thought, word and deed. The bottom line: We—yes: you and me, each and every one of us--stand in need of mercy and forgiveness. The question is not whether you need forgiveness or not; the question is: for what do you need to be forgiven?
On another occasion I wrote about our universal need for regular forgiveness. I said:
There is a mystery that shall likely remain untangled this side of eternity: it is only when we realize that we stand in need of forgiveness (yes, really!) each and every day that we can move beyond the experience of “mere” forgiveness. We are all Oedipus: the day you think you need no forgiveness is a day of blindness and exile, for that day is a day riddled with hubris. The gods know better.
…we have been--and forever will be--defined as "the forgiven ones". The depth of God's love for us is revealed in that he not only forgives the sins of the entire world, but he also continues to forgive me--imperfect me--again and again and again.
Forgiveness is like water: though we need more than water to thrive, there is not a day that passes that you don’t need it.
So, yes: each and every one of us needs forgiveness.
Take a moment now, in silence, and ask for God’s forgiveness. Or, if you like, take a moment and ask God to help you forgive someone you’ve found it difficult to forgive. After this time of silence, read on to hear the good news about Good Friday.
We call today Good Friday for a reason. It is because something good happened on this day nearly 2,000 years ago. On this day, Jesus died on the cross, taking our sin upon himself, forgiving our sin.
The apostle Peter, who denied knowing Jesus three times just hours before Jesus’ death, understood the hope that forgiveness brings. He writes, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” He tells us that “once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Because of that, he reminds us that we have been “called out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Hopelessness is darkness and deadness. Forgiveness provides us with a way out of the darkness, a way to pass from death to life. In other words, forgiveness leads to hope because…Forgiveness at the foot of the cross fills life with so many possibilities!
I recall a time when I received forgiveness for something I had kept secret for many, many years. This “something” that I had done was not just a “personal” sin (is there such a thing?), but rather something that had caused actual harm in my relationship with someone I loved dearly. I confessed this sin, and, thankfully, the offended person forgave me. I recall thinking before my confession, “What will I do if they don’t forgive me?” I thought, “I will be crushed!” When, on the other hand, I confessed and they forgave me, I can remember leaving the room feeling indescribable elation! I got into the car, and wanted to celebrate, so I turned up the radio real loud (and drove around really fast!—now there was something else to forgive!). The point is: I felt free. I had my whole life ahead of me, an empty slate waiting to be filled with beautiful art. Forgiveness fills life with so many possibilities!
Once, I was talking with a couple of people who were still exploring what it means to be a Christian and whether or not they wanted to call themselves Christian. In one conversation, I asked them about receiving forgiveness for everything they had ever done wrong. I can’t remember my exact words, but I said something like this to them: “What if I told you that all of this was real? What if I told you that you really can be forgiven of every wrong thought, word and action you’ve ever had or done? And what if I told you that you could receive that forgiveness simply by placing your faith in Jesus, simply by saying ‘I believe in You’ and by telling Jesus you wanted to follow Him? What if I told you that you could be forgiven just by faith, just by believing? Does that sound like something you’d want? Does that sound like something you’d jump up and down in hysterics about once you had it?” When I said this, there was a smile on their faces. They looked at me as if they were thinking, “Wow!!!!” I could practically see their minds and hearts whirling with the endless possibilities such forgiveness afforded them. Forgiveness really does fill life with possibility!
That’s exactly what Jesus offers to us: a life filled with possibility by receiving forgiveness. That’s the message of [Good Friday]: God forgives you. Perhaps you’re plagued by guilt, limping under condemnation, afflicted with justifiable self-doubt. This is to assure you: there is no sin (no murderous or self-centered action, word or thought) that Jesus does not forgive. He even forgave those who put Him to death, after all! If He can forgive them, He can forgive anyone-- including me and you. Thank God for freedom! Thank God for forgiveness! Thank God for the cross! Because of the cross, we don’t have to wonder: “What if all this were true.” We can know right here and now: “It is true. Jesus forgives.” That’s the message of the cross.
And that’s a message of hope. There is no hope without forgiveness. So, take heart and have hope: in Jesus Christ you are forgiven!
For Further Reflection
In what ways do you see yourself trying to meet your true needs through worldly substitutes?
What is required for us to have our needs met in Christ?
Ask yourself, “Do I still wrestle with feelings of condemnation?” If so, why? Jesus doesn’t condemn you, so why are you condemning yourself? Consider: “Jesus, in His mercy and forgiveness accepts me unconditionally and sets me free. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Let that truth sink in, then thank God for freedom in whatever way you’d like to, by yourself or with others.