Hey, I’ve got a great knock knock joke but you’ve got to start it off. (They say, “knock knock.”) Who’s there? (confused silence.)
Did you hear about the guy who got fired from his job at the bank? An old lady came in and asked him to check her balance, so he pushed her over.
I’m regretting these jokes.
I’ve been known to talk my children about the pitfalls of instant gratification. What entertains us today is fun in the short run but doesn’t help us in the long run. What we want to become or do in the future doesn’t just materialize. Some day we may look back and wish we had made better use of these days.
I’m not always this much of a curmudgeon but what’s the point of being an adult and a parent if I’m not going to pass on what I’ve learned in life. After all, Proverbs says, “My child, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding.” Not that it always happens, but many times they listen.
If we could go back in time, most would want to change things she or he thought, said, or did. A time machine would be great to visit other famous people in history, but many people could take a trip or two to visit themselves when younger and change a one-time event or continual action.
We would like to give ourselves a hand up to help us make the better choice than what happened those days.
Now of course this isn’t true of all people. Some look back and just can’t see themselves doing wrong. Now I’m not saying they never did anything wrong; it’s just they believe it can be explained away. It’s always mitigated by someone or something else. They were victims. It was fate. It didn’t really matter. Folks who have a tough time seeing themselves as having done anything wrong often place the blame on someone else. “She needs to quit complaining.” “He needs to toughen up.”
It’s never a good thing to reason that your behavior or words weren’t that bad because what you did made them “grow up.” It’s never an act of Christian love that you’re the cause of someone getting hurt and making his or her heart harder.
We want to do better than point fingers. We aren’t the decider of everyone else’s spiritual life or maturity. We take care of our own.
Scripture warns us that we may regret particular past decisions when it says, “at the end of your life you will groan… oh, how I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!”
If we don’t just sweep our past under the rug, there are two ways of going about regret: We can feel terrible, self-incriminate, and become bitter or we can acknowledge our actions and make amends.
We can ask forgiveness from someone or pray about it to ourselves. Don’t let regret fester. Stop avoiding the situation. Seek out the person or spend time in active prayer.
Looking at the past raises shame in most people, but shame’s power comes about when it stays hidden and in a corner. Nobody is perfect, and all do wrong. Nothing, says the book of Ecclesiastes, is new under the sun. The worst thing of all is to continue to live with something so negative lodged in your soul. Who knows, others may surprise you, as one mom found out.
She said, “I sat down with my two daughters, ages six and eight, this afternoon to explain to them that we have to move out of our four-bedroom house and into a two-bedroom apartment for a year or two until I can find another job and build our savings back up. It’s a conversation I’ve been avoiding for over a month, as I’ve struggled with the doubts and regrets of not being able to provide a financially stable household for us. But my daughters just looked at each other after I told them, and then my youngest daughter turned to me and asked, ‘Are we all moving into that apartment together?’ ‘Of course,’ I immediately replied. ‘Oh, so no big deal then,’ she said.”
Open up to someone about what you did. The strength we reveal when doing so heals us. Let the light shine in a dark corner and your soul will feed for the first time in a long time. We can move God’s grace faster and more fully if we acknowledge wrongs and make amends.
There are stories of people who saw their past anew or realized how they would have liked to have done things differently. Little things may make the difference.
One person says, “In the final decade of his life, my grandfather woke up every single day at 7 a.m., picked a fresh wild flower on his morning walk, and took it to my grandmother. One morning, I decided to go with him to see her. And as he placed the flower on her gravestone, he looked up at me and said, ‘I just wish I had picked her a fresh flower every morning when she was alive. She really would have loved that.’”
Do the better thing now, so you can be free of remorse. And remember, God is the Lord of the past, today, and our future and seeks to remove regret from our lives.
Our reading in Ephesians tells this is so. Our passage first comes on strong, however. Ephesians 2:1-3 pulls no punches about what its original readers had been doing and what they had been a part of before they became Christian.
Now I know these verses talk about the spirit, the world, and cosmology in a way that doesn’t make easy sense to us. But there’s something written here that while not holding precisely to our world view still carries with it the ring of truth. Ephesians says there’s something in the “air” that can lead us far from God.
At that time, in their ignorance the Ephesians accepted teachings that led them astray. They spent their lives looking to satisfy physical and sensual cravings. They gave in to passions and temptations that left them unfeeling, uncaring, devoid of heart. They followed forces that corrupted and damaged them. Their morals were in disarray. Their consciences were shredded. Their souls shrunken. They had died spiritually, not ever knowing of their death, nor lamenting it. Complete was their spiritual destruction.
As Jesus said, “If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it but to be thrown out and stepped on.”
Is there a difference between them and us? Oh, definitely, but it may not be what we’re thinking. The difference isn’t that it could never happen to us. The difference is that if it does happen, we don’t have ignorance of who God is as a petition for mercy. Leniency may come from the judge who sees the defendant wasn’t completely aware of what is required by law and goodness, but it doesn’t favor those who know.
When one has been taught to love your neighbor—and doesn’t; when one has been fed from the banquet of earthly blessings—and refuses to share; when one has drunk from streams of a multitude of mercy—but turns a hard heart to those who are in need, whatever their kind, whatever their story, whatever their creed, whatever their orientation, whatever their economic status; when his and her own sacred book tells them God “has told you, O human, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” yet these are not what animate their thoughts or actions—ignorance can’t be pleaded.
If scripture tells us those who were ignorant of God still died a spiritual death, and were children of wrath, then certainly we who know better cannot be absolved when we practice the same wrongs, indulge the same passions, give in to the same temptations, reject the same wisdom, clamor after the same gains.
Mercy must save again, but on grounds different than that of ignorance.
Now if I have come on strong, it’s good that verse 4 comes next. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” Truly one of the greatest “Buts” in all human writing occurs right here.
No matter what came before, God’s wealth of mercy, overflowing from the wellspring of love that is God, washes away wrong doing and trespasses of every kind and sort, all sin whether remembered and regretted or forgotten and ignored. They may be stacked high, but…. They may be stacked deep but…. They may be stacked wide, but God, who is rich in mercy…made us alive…” in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
This is God’s big hand up.
If God seems too kind toward some, find comfort in the fact that because of the great largesse of God’s love, you are entirely forgiven, completely redeemed, wholly embraced. Whether we acknowledge what we’ve done wrong, we have forgiveness. Whether we accept that we have caused pain to others, we have God’s love to heal us. Whether we’re willing to bring to light what is ours, the Lord redeems.
The question then isn’t whether you’re forgiven but whether you experience God’s love for you. You’ve been given the gift; it just has to be opened.
Put that love to use. Stop avoiding past stuff that hinders your present spirit. Apply God’s mercy to you. Accept Christ’s work of salvation exactly where you find it hardest to let go. Like water softening rock, remind yourself you’re forgiven and freed. The Lord is working on anyone else we may have hurt. He can take care of it. You take care of you.
The most famous verse in our passage is verse 8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so no one may boast.” Sounds great and easy, but for many this is hard.
For many years we have done the Christmas Angel Tree here at church. Can you imagine what it’s like to be the recipient of Christmas presents from complete strangers, and not just for you but for your children? I have a tough time imagining what that must feel like.
The parent has done nothing for the gift and yet it comes. You didn’t do anything to merit it and you can’t pay back, not really. You just receive. Of course, you’re glad when your child has something they wouldn’t have but still…. It must be hard to accept such gifts, even when given with complete joy and respect by us and others.
Freebies from God aren’t easy to accept either.
The other reason we’re not good at receiving God’s freely given forgiveness is that then we have no say in it whatsoever. We can’t do something to control the process. Nothing we do influences, let alone determines when or where or who or how or why we’re forgiven or not forgiven. It’s a gift, so we can’t boast, as Ephesians says, nor control.
God’s grace is a gift. The Lord gives it freely. It’s a hand-up. We hold on to it by faith. Trust the Lord to forgive. Have faith in God’s love for you. Accept the forgiveness that comes from the Lord’s great wealth of mercy.
May you accept God’s hand up given freely to you in the grace of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
Can the church say Amen?