3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2016
“Everybody Has a Story – Part 4”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I continue my sermon series called “Everybody Has a Story” is Hebrews 8:12, which reads as follows:
“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
This is the text. My dear friends,
David Neeley is a fireman who works 24-hour shifts for the Clinton Fire Department in Clinton, Massachusetts – a typical American town of about 13,000 people in mid-Massachusetts. On August 30, 2015, David Neeley’s wife, Felicia, had to bring him a few things he had forgotten at home. She was only out of their house for a short time. That short time was long enough for thieves to break into the home, ransack everything, and steal some valuable items from the Neeleys. One of those items stolen was the Neeley’s camera. “Well, okay.” You might think. “That kind of stuff happens all the time. People steal from other people every day. And a digital camera? So what. A digital camera costs, like $50 on Overstock.com.” All that is true, however, consider the fact that on that camera were some 200 personal pictures; some of those photographs were of their son … a son who had died shortly after he had been born. Oh. The police released surveillance images of the culprit and before too long a lady turned herself in. When she did so, she also brought Neeley’s camera with her. Sadly, she reported she had already erased all of the images on the camera’s memory. Ugh; thanks for nothing. But there is a “rest of the story” to this heartbreaking tale. The police used special software and managed to recover those photographs. This can actually happen! Even the things you “delete” from your PC can still be recovered. When I was working in the Computer Lab at Bemidji State University working on my English degree 100 years ago, there was a PC “newbie” who signed up for a PC, worked on a research paper all day – never saved it once – and then accidently deleted it. The Lab supervisor used some special recovery software to retrieve the document and she was a happy camper. Anyway, when the police returned the camera to the Neeleys, they also gave the couple a set of their pictures. It was an emotional exchange, which had one of the officers remarking, “A day like today is the most rewarding part of being a police officer.” As for Felicia, she calls the police “Awesome.” Now many people don’t know that when you erase something on a camera or a computer’s memory chip, that information is not always entirely gone. Skilled experts can often reclaim such information using specialized software designed to look in places you and I don’t even know about. In the case of the Neeleys, that was a good thing. But it is not a good thing when it comes to sin. Jesus knows what’s on your computer, but more drastically, He knows what’s in your heart and head. All of it…ALL of it. Every sinful thought. Every sinful deed. Every sinful inclination of your soul. Every time you’ve given up on Him. Every time you’re almost wash your hands of the Church and everyone in it. Every time you have willingly disobeyed His Word because that’s not what you wanted to do or how you wanted to live. Sure, you may not want someone poking around on your PC or tablet to know what all you’ve been up to, but Jesus has access to the hard drive of your soul and He knows every single dark crevice. All of it.
Thankfully, though, there is no such recovery possible for all our sins when the Lord erases them. David reminds us in Psalm 103, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (8, 10-12). Jesus, our Savior, came into this world to win us forgiveness. He gave up His life so our sins would be erased, and they could never be used against us when we are being judged by the Lord. His blessed resurrection from the dead says to all believers they can rest and be secure of their forgiveness. In God’s eyes — and His are the only ones which truly count — our sins no longer exist. As the writer to the Hebrews assures us, God “will be merciful toward their iniquities, and (He) will remember their sins no more.”
So, does that mean we can just keep doing what we do and not worry about the forgiveness part? Isn’t it easier to “just do it” and then worry about the permission/forgiveness later on? Nope. Romans 6:1-2 says this: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Your life in faith makes you a different person. Your faith in Jesus changes you. Faith alters how you perceive the ups and downs of life and how you deal with them, too. Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Where there is faith, true faith in Christ Jesus and all that He has done for you, there is hope and where there is hope miracles can and do happen because when faith fills your heart, there is no room for worry and fear and doubt and shame!
Just ask David and Felicia Neeley.