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SEVEN TIMES SEVENTY
(Presented November 24, 2013 at Parkside Community church)

A man came to church to hear the preacher speak about the Ten Commandments. When the “Thou Shalt Not Steal” part came, he was so angry because he remembered that someone had stolen his hat. He kept fuming about this until the sermon got to the part about Lust. Then he remembered where he left his hat.

SIN. Something we all watch for and want to eliminate. In the other person.

It’s a billion dollar industry and the more information to which we have access – stories, books, newspaper, radio, television, Internet – the more exposed we are to it. But there is one industry that is not growing because of sin. Which is odd, because the foundation of this organization IS sin – or, more directly, how to avoid it. Of course, technically, the church CREATED sin – or at least quantified it – by bringing Creator God’s word to us through Moses and God’s other prophets.

As Christians, we may be dismissive of the Old Testament laws. We mix cottons and wools, we don’t stone fortune tellers to death, we get tattoos and we don’t eat weasels, mice, lizards… well, actually, that last one sounds like a very good rule. But generally speaking, we disregard most of the Old Testament laws. Anyone who drove to church today – created a fire of any kind on the Sabbath – broke God’s law.

As Christians, we must believe in a Creator God. And a belief in a Creator God means we must believe and observe the laws God handed down to Moses. But which laws?  The Torah teaches us that God handed down 613 laws to be observed by God’s people. We are well aware of the Big Ten and following them is mostly doable. Certainly, none of us is a wanton murderer — none of us IS a wanton murderer, are we? – but how are we to follow every single one of God’s laws?

This was the conundrum until about 2000 years ago. Until God sent God’s son, Jesus, to us to say, “You are so caught up in the law, you are ignoring God’s will. And God’s will – God’s Greatest Will – is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus combined the laws from Leviticus and Deuteronomy and told us that “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Simply put, the law is Love. Love God. Love Everyone Else.

If you are a parent, you may know what that Unconditional Love – Agape – is about. While we will always take a bullet for our child, sometimes we want to put them in front of the firing squad. Yes, our children disappoint us, just as we disappointed our parents. Well, not me of course, but you should meet my brothers and sister. But regardless of that disappointment, parents will always love and forgive their children, just as our Creator God will always love and forgive us as God’s children.

Everything we do as Christians should be built on that foundation of love and forgiveness.

And though the Great Architect of the Universe has given us that foundation, we are poor craftsmen and craftswomen. Fortunately, we have a superior Contractor overseeing us – a shepherd, if you prefer the Biblical analogy – and it is his guidance which allows to build and, when we fail, to rebuild – on that foundation.

When we sin – when we don’t love as we should – Jesus tells us, in a very real and immediate voice, that we are forgiven. But he doesn’t say, in his forgiveness, that it is okay to continue our ways. He says, “Tear it down and do it the right way.”  Start over. But don’t start over and do the same thing, knowing you will be forgiven.  Knowing you can do anything you want because you will be forgiven is called “Cheap Grace.” The term was coined by the Reverend Dietrich Bonheoffer.  Bonheoffer was a German pastor who spoke out against the Nazis during World War II and was eventually arrested and executed because of that.  He was a man of amazing courage. He said that Cheap Grace – “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance” – requires no contrition and is a denial of the living word of God – a denial of Jesus the Christ.

So in realizing our errors – our sins – saying “sorry” is not enough. Not even doing better is enough. We must acknowledge our mistakes against God, but then we must – with a repentant heart – ask for forgiveness. That is the most important step and in accepting that forgiveness, we must act in a way that shows we deserve that forgiveness. We must make right what we did wrong. And we must make a habit of continuing to act in such a way that shows we deserve God’s grace and forgiveness.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”  Make God’s grace a habit, exercise that muscle in everything you say and everything you do. Celebrate the love that Jesus holds for you and demonstrate to the world your celebration by renouncing sin in all its forms. And the best way to do that is to follow Jesus’ teachings and love, love, love.

In Romans 8, Paul continues “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We shall always have hope as long as we have Christ. And as long as we have hope, we shall never be completely defeated by sin. Let that knowledge give us strength against whatever the devil may throw our way. With Christ in our heart and on our side, there is nothing that can defeat us. And for that love – that greatest of all gifts – we should truly give thanks.