You Need Not Scramble And Hide; There Is Another Way

Text:  Matthew 9:1-8

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We are living in a time where everybody is desperately looking for affirmation, acceptance, and wholeness.  For example, people will do almost anything to get on television in order to have spectators applaud them.  We even take selfie pictures of ourselves and post these pictures on social media in order to bring about large amounts of attention and affirmation from others.  Or, when we gather together in large groups of people, we make sure to try and talk about our accomplishments in order to shift the praise to us.   

More specifically, though, without even realizing it, we develop talking points about ourselves – positive slogans about our identity.  Like a strainer, we strip away the bad moments of our past and elevate that which is good. We only apply the positive aspects of our lives to our talking points, while conveniently leaving the things that we are ashamed of out.  In the court of popular opinion, we gather friends that believe and uphold the version of ourselves that we have created, while keeping those that do not at a distance.

We do all of this because we have this inborn desire to be liked, to be whole, to feel accepted, and to be affirmed.    

Things become a bit more difficult though when sin has its way with us, as it always does.  That is to say, we all have this old sinful nature that is a part of us and this sinful old Adam wreaks havoc on us.  So, we find ourselves doing that which we do not want to do and doing what seems to be the right at the moment, but in reality is sin.  As a result, we can make fools of ourselves and damage our reputations.  We can damage our relationships and damage these positive talking points about ourselves.  Our sin ends up ruining the affirmation, support, and encouragement that we get from our family and friends and community. 

There is another aspect of sin, though, sin wounds our conscience.  Who can forget King David in the Old Testament?  He committed adultery with a woman named Bethsheba and had her husband killed as a way of trying to clean up his adultery.  As a result, he confessed that his sin made his bones waste away.  His sin weighed heavy upon him all day long, driving him to groan.  This sin caused him to feel like his strength was dried up; his body and mind felt pressed from the hand of the Lord pushing upon him.[1] 

This is the way it is with sin.  When we break God’s Law we not only damage and hurt our neighbor, but we also ruin our reputation and then wound our conscience.  Sin is damning; it leaves a trail of destruction in its path.    

In response to this, we do about everything possible to regain affirmation, acceptance, and peace within our conscience.  So, we develop ways in which we try to manage our sin and acquire affirmation.  Actually, there are approximately six ways that we try to manage our sin, keep our affirmation from others, and free our conscience from the weight of condemnation. They are as follows.   

First, we deny sin.  ‘I didn’t do anything wrong!’  This is a way of denying our error, in order to put ourselves at peace.

Secondly, we blame our sin on others.  ‘The devil made me do it; I sinned because of my upbringing; those people over there misguided me.’ We acknowledge sin but redirect sin away from ourselves to someone else.    

Thirdly, we legalize our sin. In other words, we create two categories of sin – really really bad sin and average sin – and then we create two categories of sinners and say, ‘At least I am not as bad as those drug-attacks or those alcoholics or those scum over there. At least I am not as bad as them!’ 

Fourthly, we can attempt to numb our conscience.  We run to the bottle and substance abuse, in order suppress the troubled conscience.  ‘Let us eat, drink, and be merry; let us drink our troubles away!  Life is grand!’

Fifthly, we can go the way of works righteousness.  We do all sorts of good pious works and good deeds as a way of trying to overcome our sin.  We think to ourselves, ‘If we do enough good stuff then we can overshadow our sin, like a payment we can pay our bad deeds off with good deeds.’

Sixthly, we go the way of slander and gossip.  If we can bad mouth and slander enough people around us and make them look really bad, we can keep them beneath us and we can look really good.  In other words, if anyone appears to be doing better than us, well… we set out to ruin their reputation and destroy them with our words.  By this we make everybody around us look really bad, while we can look like we are the king of the hill.  

All of these ways are ways in which we try to deal with sin – our sin.  They are ways that we try to manage sin so that it does not ruin our reputations and destroy our positive affirmations.  These ways are how we try to diminish and minimize our wounded consciences.  They are ways in which we try to convince ourselves that we are right and whole. 

The problem with all of this is none of it works.  In fact the more that we try to forcefully manage our sin and the more we try to forcefully produce peace within our hearts and the more we try to acquire affirmation from others, the more we make things worse.  It is true, the more we try to conceal sin, quiet our troubled conscience, and acquire the applause of others, the more we typically entangle ourselves in the web of guilt. 

All of this can lead us to depression and hopelessness, to the point that we may think like this: ‘What does God care about me? God must be angry with me; what can I do?  Can I ever know acceptance?  Can I ever have peace?  Can I ever be affirmed?’  

Dear friends, do not let such thoughts sink too deeply into your heart and mind, for there is another way. 

In this morning’s Gospel reading we heard Jesus speaking to a paralytic man saying, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  In other words, cheer up, do not look at your illness, do not look to your hopelessness, do not look to your circumstances, but look away from yourself and hear the good news,  your sins are forgiven. 

Dear friends, the devil, and your sinful nature try to make you look elsewhere for affirmation and they tempt you to manage your sin on your own.   However, hear this today, there is another way.  What Jesus Christ said to the paralytic man in our Gospel reading, He is saying to you and to me every day in our baptisms, every week in holy absolution, and every week in public preaching: ‘Take heart, dear child, your sins are forgiven!’ 

If you are plagued by sin, do not try and manage these sins.  If you are seeking acceptance and affirmation, do not try and force it with other people who are here one generation and gone the next.  No my friends, this way of thinking may seem right, but it is the way of destruction, it is the way of deception, it is the way to the pits of hell.  But rather, go and be baptized, if you are not already.  Hear God’s Word in Holy Absolution, which says, “Your Sins are forgiven!”  Receive Christ body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins!  It is only in your baptism, God’s Word, and His Sacrament of the Altar that you find affirmation, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace for your troubled conscience.  It is only in the Gospel that your sins are 100% absolved – that is, forgiven.    

Today, we must know that when the world around us frantically goes around looking for acceptance and affirmation and when the world around us tries so eagerly to manage sin, you need not scramble here or there, but rather, you can know that here in Christ’s church that you possess forgiveness, life, and salvation - completely.  You do not need to scramble and look around and you do not need to sit in some corner and wonder if God will forgive you of your sins.  You also do not need to wait for an angel from heaven to come to you and say, “Your sins are forgiven.”  But God drew near to you in baptizing you.  He draws near to you right now in this Divine Service to speak forgiveness into your ears in the Holy Absolution.  He draws near to you to proclaim the message of forgiveness through the mouth of a sinful pastor.  He draws near to you to lay upon your tongue His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins in communion. 

Not only has the Lord proclaimed this message of forgiveness, life, and salvation to you in His church, the Lord has placed this message of forgiveness in the mouths of every Christian, to comfort and pronounce to you God’s grace for the sake of Christ’s victory on the cross.  It is placed in the mouth of parents to proclaim to their children. It is upon children to proclaim to their aging parents.  It is upon friends to proclaim to other friends.  It is upon the mouths of Christ’s holy saints – that is you.   

Baptized Saints, we are just like the paralytic man, for the more we try to fix ourselves, the more we end up in our own helpless anguish.  However, like the poor helpless man, our eyes and attention are taken away from ourselves today to hear the Word of Jesus, “Take heart, do not be discouraged, your sins are forgiven!” 

Dear friends, hear now and again, the Word of Jesus – Words of assurance, acceptance, affirmation, forgiveness, life, and salvation – “Take heart; your sins are forgiven.”

In the name of Jesus Christ: Amen.

[1] See Psalm 32:1-5.

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