Whom Shall I Fear? Fear of a Guilty Past
Third sermon in a series of three
Annual Theme Sermon Series, “God’s got this!”
September 22, 2019
Psalm 27 // 2 Corinthians 12:5–10 // John 8:1–11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Psalm 27, our annual theme verse, and annual theme God’s Got This!
Dear Friends in Christ,
Two weeks, ago, we dealt with the problem of present pain, the idea that we most associate with fear, the terror, the horror of what is right before us, knowing that our God is a very present God in our day of trouble. Last week, we considered the fear that lies behind our anxiety over the future, that our future is most affected by that great action in the past – the death and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf.
Today, we consider a third fear, not of the present or of the future, but today we consider fear of a guilty past, and it is eminently appropriate for me to be delivering this sermon because today (Yes, today!) marks 6 years since I was installed as your pastor here at Trinity Lutheran in Janesville, MN.
It has been and is a privilege and an honor to serve, and in almost every way it’s been a joy. The way I am strong has made you strong. And in turn, the way I am weak has hurt you and our life together. The longer our time grows, the more mistakes you’ll have seen me make.
And this truth, the truth of our theme, is still apparent: the longer you live, the more you will struggle with... Fear of a guilty past.
A fellow preacher told a story, about a man named George D. Aldrich recalling a story from Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes guy): “He said that at a dinner party he had attended the guests began discussing the daily discoveries made to the detriment of people occupying high stations in life and enjoying the confidence of the business world. Dr. Doyle said that it had always been his opinion that there was a skeleton in the closet of every man who had reached the age of forty. This led to a lot of discussion; some of the guests resenting the idea that there was no one who had not in his past something that was better concealed. As a result of the controversy, Dr. Doyle said, it was suggested that his views as to family skeletons be put to the test. The diners selected a man of their acquaintance whom all knew only as an upright Christian gentleman, whose word was accepted as quickly as his bond and who stood with the highest in every respect. ‘We wrote a telegram saying “All is discovered; flee at once” to this pillar of society,’ said Dr. Doyle, ‘and sent it. He disappeared the next day and has never been heard from since.’” There’s a skeleton in every man’s closet. There’s guilt over the past in every man’s mind.
We go to our text. David writes, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” There were at least two times in David’s life where armies encamped against him in strong fashion: once was through no fault of his own, the King Saul had it out for him, and David couldn’t help but flee. But the second time, the second time, it was his own son, one he had raised, who raised an army against him, one that he loved, Absalom, was coming after him to kill him, to take his throne.
Consider the humanity of that story, from 2 Samuel 13–18. Could a dad like that keep himself from wondering what went wrong? Could a dad keep himself from wondering what he could’ve done to make this different, where he failed, what he could have done better?
Not all of us have sons that look to kill us and take the throne of Israel, not all of us have sons, but all of us know the fear of a guilty past.
The woman of John 8 knew it too. She was caught in the act. She was guilty. She was going to receive what the thief on the cross did in fact receive: due punishment for her crime. It wasn’t a misunderstanding and it wasn’t a cultural issue. She was guilty of sin there before the Pharisees, the scribes, and before the Son of Man, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, Jesus himself.
And Jesus, knowing her past, knowing her guilt, he says something that our culture knows, “Neither do I condemn you.” And our culture usually ends there, but Jesus continues “Neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more.”
Notice what he does to her guilty past. One way you could say it is that he forgives but doesn't forget, but that doesn’t get to the bottom of it. He acknowledges her sin, and he forgives that sin. He sees her for exactly who she is. No illusions, no frills, no lies, exactly who she is, warts and all, and he forgives her and tells her, “Go and sin no more.” We get what Jesus means by the first part (at least we think we get it). He’s talking about his atoning work on the cross for this woman. He has taken away all of the guilt of her sin and has paid the entire price for it. It is nailed to the cross it is no more. But what does Jesus mean by “Go and sin no more?”
That’s what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 12. He had much the same kind of a life. Obvious sin. Obvious baggage, Obvious guilt, Obvious room for condemnation, a guilty past.
What does Paul mean, “I will not boast, except in weaknesses”? He means, “I will boast in the guilt of the past. I will boast in my shame. I will boast in my weakness.” He means what he says next, “So that the power of Christ may rest on me.”
I will boast in my weaknesses. That’s different from a Hugh Heffner, boasting in his millions and his playboy mansion, his obvious sin. That’s different from a Kim Kardashian boasting in her fame, in her possessions, in her obvious materialism. That’s different than a “You do you” “I’ll do me” attitude, that says we don't have anything to do with each other.
Instead, it’s an attitude that says, “I am strong because of Christ’s strength.” It’s an attitude that says, “My worth isn’t based on my performance; it’s based on Christ’s accomplishments.” It’s an attitude that says, “I can fully and freely admit every one of my shortcomings, because ‘my grace is sufficient for you.’”
I can be content when others insult, when others bring up the past, when others look down on me, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”
So, how are we to be content in hardships and weaknesses? How does God got this in the middle of our guilty past?
When we repeat it. We can hear again and again how we have been forgiven. There are two kind of repetition in this life: repetition that makes something meaningless and repetition that makes something meaningful. Meaningless repetition that, when you say it over and over again it becomes meaningless. Take any word of the English language. You say it enough you write it enough and it starts to look strange, starts to look wrong.
The other type is repetition that makes something meaningful. You say, “I love you to your wife” over a lifetime and you will understand what that little word love means in a way that you could not have known when you began the journey. You hear how God forgives you enough and it will mean much much more to you after you realize how much there has been to forgive.
The difference between the two? The difference between is the time you take to say it. Today, take the time to dwell on the forgiveness proclaimed in the cross. Take the time to remember that forgiveness is the miracle that only God can give, and he lets you be a part of it too. Take the time to pause, to think, and to thank God for what only he can do.
God’s got this. Amen
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