Freed for Joyful Obedience

It being the first Sunday in Lent and the first Sunday of the month, we took Communion at church this morning. I’d had some things I was struggling with that I needed to repent of, and while the Getting Things Done side of my brain was chiding me for procrastinating the repentance, Communion gave me a great opportunity to set that down at the foot of the Cross.

As I prayerfully contemplated things, something jumped out at me from the liturgy in the Confession and Pardon response in A Service of Word and Table Ii in the Methodist hymnal:

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pary.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Larry’s sermon echoed, in part, what he’d preached on Wednesday: how none of us is ever so good that we fail to need Jesus. He said, “We can sometimes get caught in that ‘Woe is me, for I am a sinner and unclean’ place, forgetting that Jesus frees us from sin and binds us to Him.”

It all sorta clicked for me; in this particular case, as with anything in the world of repentance, I was rebelling after being given forgiveness for this particular sin.

I’m reminded here of my childhood dog, Buttons. [Hey, my brother named her, not me.] Anyhow, we lived along US 80 in the middle of Mississippi’s poultry district in the 1990s, and from time to time, a chicken would escape the truck as it zoomed past our house. Chickens, being largely flightless, would end up dead on impact. We tried to watch for this and act quickly, but we weren’t always successful.

One time, we didn’t get to the bird until it had been decomposing for a week or more. Buttons, however, decided she had to check it out. She ended up rolling around in it for reasons that have forever escaped me. I had to hose her off with the garden hose outside, then carry her inside for a bath—the stench was just that bad. It was hard to do—at this point, the dog was probably 14 or 15, and so she really wasn’t up to being hosed off with cold water. I apologized to her the entire time.

A few days later, she went and did it again. This time, I wasn’t so loving, as I was frustrated. She’d also done a more thoroug job of getting mucked up the second time, so I had to bathe her once outside before I gave her a second bath inside. I never will forget the scared look she gave me that day, that night, and into the next day. She was an eternally forgiving dog, always willing to forgive me my transgressions within a half-hour or so. I don’t think she ever really regarded me in the same way after that day, at least not until she was near death and was ready to spend her last days cuddling with us. [Pardon me if I’m a little distracted from here, folks; I still miss that dog almost a decade later. She was my constant companion as a kid, and she lived far longer than we expected.]

Thankfully, Jesus isn’t like me, frustratedly turning the garden hose on us.

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Matthew 18:21-22, English Standard Version

Of course, Jesus goes on to tell the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, which is instructional for any of us who hold grudges. But if we mortal men are to forgive so many times, how many times is God willing to forgive? Far more, I’d imagine.

Of course, that doesn’t invite us into using Jesus as fire insurance, which brings us back to joyful obedience. I find repentance to be wholly necessary because the act of forgiveness, when well and fully done, ends up with me forgetting what the depths of that sin really were. God forgives through Jesus’s sacrifice, and then I forget … and, sinner that I am, I fall back into the same old traps. But, through joyful obedience, I can remain repentant and not turn back. I already have today, and that’s a start.