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Friday, July 29, 2011

Pardon

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
- Isaiah 55:6-7 (NIV)

How long does a guy have to wait to get a pardon in New Mexico?
    At least 132 years, apparently. That’s how long William Bonney has waited. And it looks like he’ll be waiting a little longer, since New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson decided not to pardon him on his last day in office.
    In 1879, Bonney was offered a pardon by territorial Governor Lew Wallace in exchange for his testimony in a murder trial. Bonney kept his end of the deal, but the Territory of New Mexico failed to keep theirs. Bonney, who had submitted to arrest until after his testimony, escaped from jail when the promised pardon failed to materialize. When he died two years later, he was still a fugitive in New Mexico. Still is, in fact. Which is just as well. Bonney doesn’t care now what the State of New Mexico thinks about him. And who would have remembered a former outlaw whose career ended with him turning state’s evidence?
    William Bonney is just one alias used by Henry McCarty. Another of his aliases is the one you know: Billy the Kid.
    Though it suits the legend better for The Kid to have been killed by Sheriff Pat Garret while a fugitive from justice, maybe you can understand what it’s like to live without pardon. Without grace, without forgiveness, without mercy. Some folks grow up in families in which every mistake is magnified, every sin scrutinized, every demerit tallied. The records are kept meticulously and opened and reviewed regularly. There is no way to expunge them, or even put them away out of sight. And so those folks grow to believe what they’ve been told: their sins make them unlovable, out of the reach of grace.
    Others come to a consciousness of their sin in churches with a well-developed sense of God’s judgment and a poorly-developed sense of his mercy. They hear over and over that God hates sin, and hear church leaders do little more than rail against the catalogue of sins that he hates. (Though it’s often pretty selective.) And they know the sins that they struggle with, and in time they learn well the lessons they’ve been taught: that God wants nothing to do with them until and  if they get their lives shaped up. And often enough, they decide they want nothing to do with God, either.
    Others wait vainly for pardon from a spouse, a friend, a child. They know the damage they’ve done, and would give anything to take it back or clean it up. They need mercy, but they hear only anger for so long that they eventually give up hope of anything else. Hungering for grace, they sit alone, in the dark, slowly starving to death.
    You know what it’s like to wait vainly for pardon, because you’ve seen first-hand what it does to people you know. You’ve seen the bitterness, the sadness, the anger, the cynicism that has all the nourishment it needs to thrive in a heart empty of the experience of grace.
    Maybe you know it first-hand. Maybe you see the hunger for pardon etched into the lines on the face you see in the mirror. If so, then there’s something you need to hear:
    The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a God of pardon.
    The prophet urges his people to seek God, turn to him. Yes, they need to give up wickedness and unrighteousness. But he counsels his people to turn to God because he knows this God as one who offers mercy and pardon. While he hates sin, he loves to forgive sinners.
    Paul says much the same, pointing out in Romans that, though everyone has sinned, fallen  short of God’s glory, in Jesus everyone can be made right again. Jesus himself compares God to a shepherd seeking a lost sheep, a housewife turning her house upside-down to find a coin, a father who welcomes back his lost son. In all those stories, the searchers to some degree overlook the sheep, coins, and son that were never lost in their joy over finding the ones who were. He pictures God’s grace as extravagant, his forgiveness as going beyond what some might consider fair or just. Those who need no pardon might well be incensed by that. But to folks who hunger for pardon, it’s just what they need to hear.
    I know which group I belong to.
    Jesus perhaps nowhere makes the depth of God’s grace any more clearer than he did on the  day he died. He prayed for those who killed him, after all. And he offered forgiveness and acceptance to a dying thief with nothing to bring to Jesus but his own regrets.
    I think that thief understood grace better than any theologian ever has. “We are getting what  our deeds deserve,” he acknowledges. That’s the first step toward receiving God’s pardon, of course. You have to know you need it.
    But the second step is the one that takes him to Jesus. That’s the difference between Judas, who killed himself after he betrayed Jesus, and Peter, who found pardon and began a new life after doing the same thing. One went to Jesus, and the other didn’t. That thief - he knew he had nothing to bring, nothing to offer. So he went to Jesus, hand outstretched, and received more than he could have possibly dreamed. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
    You aren’t intended to live your life waiting for a pardon that never comes. You don’t serve a God who enjoys punishing sins, or who goes back on his word. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves,” the Bible warns us. But if we’re willing to admit what everyone with a conscience knows, that we need pardon: well, in that case, God “is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
    So if today you’re feeling the weight of your sins, and you’re tired of waiting for a pardon that never seems to be coming from the people around you, then maybe it’s time you turned to God. Maybe it’s time you went to him, not with promises or pride or petulance, but with trust that the God who sent his Son to a cross for you will not withhold his forgiveness. Once you receive his pardon, you’ll know that you can never be the same. And your new life will finally be able to start.
    I think you’ve been waiting long enough.

1 comment:

  1. A thought i have been thinking on this week: Those who do not know Him are scared/afraid of Him, but those who know Him will fear Him. while i was trying to explain the fear of the Lord, i found myself tongue-tied. Now i think, those who know Him, who truly experience Him will not only fear Him, but will love Him, truly love Him. Thanks for another good one.:)

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