When I was about 22 years old one of my best friends took his own life in one of the most horrifying ways and when I was told over the telephone by my dad of what had happened I was basically stunned to silence. Stunned by what had happened yes, but also stunned that only weeks before he had rang me pleading with me to repent of my sins and follow the Lord Jesus Christ and in all seriousness, when I sat down and pondered his life and what we had done together and what I could’ve and maybe should have done,
I’m not sure which of the two phone calls stunned me the most because as I looked back in retrospect, it became evident that unless a miracle occurred he seemed destined for a short life and in one of the more subdued moments we shared together, I remember when about both 18 years old and sitting in the pub late in the evening on a cold and blustery night he became agitated and saying he was going for a drive. His agitation worried me and so I joined him and the next few minutes would see us hurtling along the highway with the accelerator flat to the board in his old Datsun 180B with him advising me that in the fierce rain, wind and puddles on the road that he was finding it hard to control with the car skating left and right and if that wasn’t bad enough, I knew I had only a five minute window of opportunity until we arrived at the infamous S bend in the road that had already claimed many lives from car roll overs. So what to do? I knew I couldn’t talk him down by pleading or logic because this man was on a mission. So, I did the opposite and urged him to go faster and after he eventually said he can’t because he was already flat out and couldn’t drain another ounce out of his Datsun, I remarked something to the effect of “what a piece of crap, let’s just go back to the pub”-and he did.
One of the more “unremarkable” situations we shared that in hindsight, was a life somewhat like experienced by people in car accidents where they say that while it was happening, it all seemed so slow. That his life was short, in hindsight if without great fortune, luck or a miracle did not surprise. But what of that phone call a few weeks before his death-urging me almost anxiously to repent and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe that was his life saving miracle, and just maybe it was part on mine.
The common theme in the readings this morning is a call to repent, to turn away from those things separating us from God, to turn about around and look back to God.
But turn from what and why?
Our lives can be confusing and in many ways, the experiences we have had, the sins committed and the grace received can see us living like what is said of the brilliant where often their great skill is because they walk that fine line between genius and madness. A fine line that has seen many of the greatest minds in authorship, musicians, artists, comedians and invention cross that line and be devoured by the very experiences of desire, of ambition that never seems to bring peace but painfully higher striving, of things started small in drugs or alcohol that started innocently enough but now have taken over to claim the mind, body and if not for the Lord and Saviour, the soul.
A sermon I will never forget is one which over and over carried the message of forgiveness in Christ. Everything the Pastor said was true and it was comforting like all messages based on the grace of God are. Until he said the words that shook me too my core finishing with “you know what you’re doing wrong, so stop it, stop it now.” A very unfamiliar technique of Gospel first, law second. Unusual because the recommended manner, and the truth of the matter is that in the law we are convicted and brought to our knees in order to see the grace and forgiveness of our Lord and Saviour as said so well by once slave trader John Newton in his great hymn Amazing Grace of his life’s testimony with the words:
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; (and) how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”
In that Church listening to message of Christ I knew that grace just like you know it now, and yet I was still brought to my knees with those words “you know what you’re doing wrong, so stop it, stop it now.” And so I left, still knowing of the precious gift of forgiveness but also mixed with a heightened desire to change my ways only to find myself here today still doing what I don’t want to do, and not doing what I want to do and as you too are both sinner and saint, sinners in ourselves and saints in Christs forgiveness I imagine that you to only know too well that daily physical and spiritual battle, and that if weighed down more by our failure than the Lords grace and forgiveness, life can truly seem harsh. A battle when we see our own dark hearts up against other Christians so upbeat in song and the greatest battle of all of when the powers of darkness come and remind us of what we are in order to take our focus away from the only answer that is Jesus Christ.
A Spiritual battle fought between good and bad, between God the Father and the fallen angel Satan and the battle within us and in the Church. A battle were one seeks that we take our eyes from the cross and punish ourselves with dread, up and against Jesus who asks we see simply the truth that is Him. A battle where one desires that those of the church lower their eyes from the cross and bicker, argue and create divisions based on their own agendas or air of superiority against simply keeping their eyes lifted and stead feast to the cross and see these side shows for what they are. Yet try as we do too remain focussed, that inner battle, no matter how our great faith still to some extent continues to rage. A battle that can so easily take our minds away from the truth of the good news in the battle itself.
The battle the sinless Jesus felt when in the garden of Gethsemane and approaching the direct moments that would see Him crucified on a cross ask His father is there another way. The battle Jesus felt knowing of Lazarus’ certain fate of eternal life, yet still weeps when his earthly body lay before Him. In Jesus earthly body He felt our battle and knows the grinding within us and the grinding between His earthly and Heavenly kingdoms. The battle He felt yet followed His Father’s will to perfection, and the battle that He sees in us, A battle that He does not dismiss lightly, but one that He sees in truth as we run the good race. The good race still with that grinding, yet remaining in faith. Remaining in the faith in and amongst our lives of grinding that does not question, but actually confirms that the Holy Spirit is in you and that truly you are of childlike faith and will most certainly inherit internal life in Jesus Christ the Son of God-Your Saviour.
That is the good news and should you lead a life still scarred from the past but still with faith in Christ, or upbeat and still with faith in Jesus Christ the result is still the same. That in Faith in Jesus Christ as the only measure of forgiveness-that you are forgiven, both now today and on your last day, that will see you will stand beside Abraham, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Stand beside Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther, your departed husband, wife and children and all those who have departed in faith in Christ. Stand together united before God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and for the very first time feel absolute peace.
There may be a fine line between genius and madness and between earthly happiness and sorrow, but there is a canyon between our earthly self-destructive sin which we daily fight to the sin that has been taken away and forgiven eternally in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
So daily we repent, not to be saved, but because we are. And so too daily does the Lord ask us to turn back to him. Not with a big stick, but with a loving heart that asks us to remove the hurdles between us and His loving arms. To not remove them not to add discomfort, but to bring comfort. To turn over to Him the chains we feel bound by that promised much, but only brought further and greater discomfort. To repent and turn back to God not that we live dour and joyless lives. But repent and turn back to God to live vibrant and joyous lives in the freedom that with or without our earthly binding chains we are saved and forgiven in Jesus Christ and rejoice in all things, and yet still take a chance to follow Him without our props and like Lazarus know of Jesus’ power, love and compassion that saw his earthly life re-ignited. To be raised from the dead to live “a new” life on earth as most assuredly he would again in forgiveness on his last day in the presence of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit and all the Company of heaven. Amen.