Scripture Reference: Luke 15, verses 1-10
A minister, touring in West Germany was invited to spend the night with one of the families of the host congregation. The family consisted of the father. the mother, and a twelve-year-old boy.
The father began to tell the minister something about the family, and especially about the circumstances surrounding the adoption of this youngster whom they had rescued during the war years.
The father said: “The boy was just a poor orphan when we first saw him. He was in rags and very dirty, but his shoes were the worst of all. The upper parts were in tatters and the soles had huge holes in them. When we took him in, we gave him new clothes and threw his old ones away.
“We decided, however, to keep those battered shoes as a reminder of how badly off he had been when he first came here. I keep them on a shelf, and when the boy complains or becomes unruly, I merely walk slowly to the shelf, haul the shoes down, and remind him of how much we have done for him.”
The boy looked hurt, ashamed, and even a bit unwanted.
The guest, afraid to say anything, in case he should offend his host, thought to himself: what a blessing it is that God doesn’t continually drag out our old shoes.
When God’s forgives, He also forgets.
After God has changed us, he doesn’t constantly remind us how we were, he doesn’t point back to the rags of sin we used to wear. He doesn’t point back to the shoes of self pride, we used to wear.
Rather, we live with his love guiding us, caring for us, comforting us, upholding us and trusting us as his children.
God is joyful when one sinner returns to the flock, or one sinner who is lost is found. And notice, if this is a parable about God, who is he in this parable? He is the shepherd and he is the woman. God finds the lost!!
In our opening story, if the father could have truly accepted this adopted child out of love, he would not have had to use the shoes as a reminder of his love for the child. The child could sense his love by the way he was treated and accepted as the man’s son.
Then the father could love him in spite of the wrongs he had done, in spite of the misbehaviour.
We are forgiven each time we wander. Each time we sin and God seeks us out, we are forgiven and returned to the fold.
We try not to wander, to sin, but we do. But through Christ, our sins are forgiven and covered with the forgiveness of Christ,
Nome, Alaska, on the edge of the Bering Sea, is like many villages of the Arctic. The ground on which the community sits is frozen, sponge-like tundra. Burying the dead is a real challenge.
Sanitation landfills are unheard of. Dustbin men don’t empty wheelie bins as they do here.
Instead a typical front yard displays broken washing machines, junked cars, old toilets, scrap wood, and piles of non degradable refuse.
Tourists who visit Nome in the summer are amazed at the debris and shake their heads. How could anyone live like that, they wonder. What those visitors do not realize is that for nine months of the year Nome sits under a blanket of snow that covers the rubbish.
During those months, the little town is a quaint winter wonderland of pure white landscapes.
The reality of grace is that the garbage of our lives has been covered by a blanket of forgiveness.
The prophet Isaiah declares that the blight of our sin, once red as crimson, is now white as freshly fallen snow. And unlike the situation in Nome, our sin is covered forever!
We are forgiven people. We are people who are lost and then found. We are lost sheep and lost coins, but at the same time, we are found people, found sheep and found coins because we are forgiven by Christ.
Not far from New York there is a cemetery which has inscribed upon a headstone just one word – “Forgiven.” There is no name, no date of birth, or death.
The stone is unblemished by the sculptor’s art. There is no epitaph, no fulsome eulogy – just that one word, “Forgiven”, but that is the greatest thing that can be said of any person, or written upon one’s grave, “Forgiven.”
Forgiven, that is what we are, we are forgiven in Christ.