Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don't be a mule, 1.15.12

Luke 6:31-38
31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Psalm 32:1-11
1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

10Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

            Have you ever had a secret that ate you up inside? Have you ever had something in your life that you felt wasn’t right but you felt powerless to do anything about it? Maybe you were ashamed to say anything to anybody so you kept it locked up inside you. Maybe you didn’t even want to think about it yourself, but part of you couldn’t let it go.

            Maybe it was something wrong in your relationship with someone else. Maybe something someone did to you just stuck in your soul and kept you from moving forward with your life. Maybe it was something you did that you just haven’t been able to feel right about since. Maybe it’s not so much something you or the other person has done, but a gap in your relationship, something keeping you apart that has slowly built resentment even though you can’t remember what started the problem. You try to ignore it; you tell yourself you’ve forgiven yourself or the other person, but every now and then something will remind you and it’s like you’re back to square one.

            Many days you manage to avoid thinking and talking about it, but there’s part of you that feels stuck, like it’s sick and wasting away. You can’t find your way forward because the issue feels so big you worry if you say anything about it, it will totally overwhelm you and take over your life.
            That feeling is what the psalmist is getting at in Psalm 32. It doesn’t matter if our particular problem is in our relationship with God or another person, or even if it’s just some hard to define feeling that something isn’t right inside us. These things we keep buried inside us keep us from growing and trap us in guilt, anger, regret and sorrow.

The psalmist remembers being there: “While I kept silent my body wasted away because of my groaning all day long. Day and night your hand was heavy on my; my strength was dried up like in the heat of summer.” There’s a heaviness, a powerlessness in feeling that something is just not right. When we keep it inside, when we keep silent we feel like God’s hand is weighing us down.

When we overcome our fear and confess, the sky opens up above us and the sun comes out. When we say to God, and possibly to the person we’re struggling with, that we’ve done wrong, the way is open for healing.

There’s power in confession, power in letting the secret out, in opening our heart to God. When we’re honest with God and with ourselves, the power of fear starts to melt away. Once we start sharing where we’ve fallen short, the past doesn’t have the same hold over us because we stop being afraid that someone will find out our secret.

When we open ourselves to God, the haunting fear that God will reject us disappears like fog in the sunshine. When we open ourselves to God we remember who God is and remember that God sent Jesus into the world exactly to bring forgiveness for sinners. Jesus went to the cross to show how much he loves us and how dearly he wants to bring us home. When we remember that, we know that no sin can keep us away from God’s love.

God already took the first step towards us, reaching out through Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. We know, at least in our heads, that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. We say it every week. Our job is to let that knowledge sink into our hearts so we really believe it. We are forgiven; Jesus sets us free from the burden of our sin and our past.

Jesus comes into our lives to bring freedom from the past and another chance. What we do with that new beginning is up to us. When we let that reality sink in, it can change us. God takes the first step, but we have to accept forgiveness to claim the freedom Christ offers us. When we claim the freedom of forgiveness we open a new chapter in our lives.

Our work isn’t done with accepting forgiveness from God. Usually when there’s something wrong in our lives we need reconciliation with other people too. God can forgive us for the sin keeping us from God, but we need to go to the person we’re in conflict with to resolve whatever stands between us.

Usually there are faults on both sides of a conflict that need to be forgiven. When we know that God has forgiven us our sins, we’re called to forgive others what they have done to us. Often that’s easier said than done, but the fact that forgiving is hard doesn’t excuse us from making the effort. Usually forgiving someone else will start with spending time in prayer for God to give us the strength to forgive. We’ll need to reflect on how we’ve been hurt to let those hurts go.

We also need to ask the people we’ve hurt to forgive us, and usually that’s the place to start healing a wounded relationship. If we begin by honestly apologizing for where we’ve hurt the other person it starts breaking down the barriers we’ve put up between us. We make the first move towards them by admitting our mistakes. That makes it easier for them to open up and admit how they’ve contributed to the problem too. Then we can offer each other forgiveness and start rebuilding the relationship.

There are times that approaching someone we’re in conflict with is not the right thing to do. There are situations like abuse where it isn’t safe, or where the other person is so angry with us that anything we say will only make the situation worse. There are times when only God’s intervention can bring healing, where all we can do is pray for the other person and try to let go of the hurt done to us. Prayer and discernment, often with a trusted friend to help us sort things out, can help us figure out whether a given situation calls for reconciliation in person or keeping our distance.

In either case, we begin by being honest with ourselves and God about our role in the problem so we can at least confess to God and let go of the paralyzing guilt and anger that threatens to keep us trapped. When we confess, God forgives.

Forgiveness offers a new beginning in our relationship with God and with other people. It’s an ongoing process because we will always have times that we do the wrong thing. At the same time, once we let Jesus take the burden from us and start living in the power of grace, more and more we’ll find God guiding our steps and our life will be more in synch.

Like with God’s forgiveness, to have it make any difference in our life we have to accept God’s guidance. When we let ourselves, we learn from our sins and change the way we do things. The psalmist speaks for himself when he talks about the joy of forgiveness; he speaks for God when he voices hope that the future will be different from the past.

Listen to God’s voice in the words of the Psalm: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go... Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.”

Unlike mules, we have the capacity to learn from our past and to learn from God’s instruction. We learn to walk by faith, to love others as God loves us, to seek justice for the oppressed and to seek peace with our neighbors. As we learn and grow in the freedom of forgiveness, we’ll become the people God calls us to be. That’s where we’ll find true peace and happiness as we follow God’s path into a bright future.

Thanks be to God.

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