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Following Directions

“. . . repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  Luke 24:48

I have always taken the story of the ascension of Jesus rather casually.  It seemed way too much like a fantasy with him being lifted up into the sky and disappearing from the disciples’ sight.  Yet, as I read this passage again for this coming Sunday, I took notice of what is probably more important than how Jesus went to heaven:  his instructions to those who would carry on his ministry.

So often we hear popular Christian culture saying that “being saved” is the most important thing that counts, and truly that is important.  We believe we are saved by faith alone, so often the actions that develop and are grounded in our faith do not receive as much focus.  Yet, when I read the words above from the Luke 24 passage, I was struck by the emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sins as what was to be preached.

In Matthew 28 we read the great commission:  “Go make disciples of all nations” which is the theme of United Methodism, but Luke has a different emphasis:  repentance and forgiveness of sins.  I suspect that is the key to opening doors for making disciples because faith often begins with repenting of our sins and receiving forgiveness, so it follows that even as we have received forgiveness, we are to offer it to others and encourage them to forgive and know God’s forgiveness as well.

I had an experience of forgiveness this week that was rather an unusual way of receiving it.  When I was growing up, I had a good friend named Susie (not her real name).  Her father owned the local pool hall, and the family lived over it.  My mom didn’t particularly approved of our friendship, although, if I remember correctly, the family was a decent type and raised their children well, even though they didn’t attend church much.  Susie attended Sunday school and was confirmed with me.

As a rather naive child, I made a stupid decision to try to end the relationship one day, so I passed her a note saying that we had been friends long enough and should stop.  Where did I ever get that?  Who knows!  It hurt her, and she cried which made me feel badly, so I made up with her after class.  Our relationship was mended, but never quite the same.

When I was in Junior High, I had a crush on a boy in our class, and he liked me.  During one sleep-over at Susie’s house, she goaded me into telling her who the boy was, and I did.  The next day on the bus as we road to school, she told everyone who I liked.  That hurt, and maybe it was her way of getting back at me for the stupid de-friending thing.  Of course, at thirteen years old, both the boy and I denied it, and that ended the crush.  However, Susie and I continued to be friends through our sophomore year of high school until I moved away to another town ninety miles down the road.

I lost track of her, but heard from a friend that she was dating the fellow I had the crush on – I thought it was rather ironic.  It turned out that we both attended the same college, and Susie was still dating this young man.  I found out later that she got pregnant, and they were married.  Well after I moved to the East coast, one of my high school buddies told me that Susie and her husband had divorced.

Okay, so fifty years has passed since I have had any contact with Susie except for those few bits of information from former classmates.  Last night I was friended on Facebook by Susie!  I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t even recognize her from her picture, but I saw the name of her son which would have been the same last name as her first husband, and she has remarried.  In fact, I believe she is living only thirty or forty minutes from where my parents live.

What felt like forgiveness was having her friend me – ME!  The one who had tried to de-friend her way before we even had internet technology in every home and way before Facebook was even possible.  Through the new social media, I had found my childhood friend again, and she “friended” me!  It felt like forgiveness, and I wrote on her wall telling her how excited I was to reconnect again after all these years.

God is good!  And we are to PROCLAIM REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS in the name of Jesus Christ – what a great reminder to me of the love of God that can come from such unexpected and seemingly tiny places.  Thanks be to God!

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