As you look around today you can see the new walls and the new roof that is our new Church. And we remember back to what it was and realize how much has changed. Before all this we didn’t even see the possibility of what today has become our reality. I myself had no idea of the majesty that has unfolded before my eyes. So much is new, so much is different, so much has changed.
In the Gospel today we heard of another change – that of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The man who was brought before the Lord was paralyzed – not only physically but also spiritually. He could not move because of his sins. He came before the Lord, on a stretcher, carried by his friends, and lay there in complete helplessness. And our Lord looked at him and had compassion upon him. Seeing in his heart the seed of repentance, our Lord said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” By this act He freed the paralytic from the most binding and limiting of all his disabilities – that is, He freed him from the bonds of sin. Then in order to demonstrate the freeing nature of forgiveness, He said to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” At this moment the paralytic man was freed not only from his spiritual immobility and helplessness brought on by sin, but also, he was freed of his physical immobility and helplessness that reflected the state of the soul.
Such is the power of repentance and forgiveness – when we repent of our sins, God freely forgives us and He heals us from our infirmity, both spiritual and physical, that is brought on by that sin. We depend on His forgiveness and it is a cornerstone of our faith. By faith, we believe the words of the Apostle who says that if we repent and confess our sins, He will forgive us our sins and free us from all unrighteousness.
And so in faith, we see our sins and cry out to God for forgiveness, knowing that our prayer will not go unheard or unanswered. Based on this faith, we proceed to struggle against our sinful nature, and are confident that with God’s help, our sinfulness will be (and in fact “is”) overcome.
It does not matter what our sins might be – they could be small and private or large and public – if we come before God and repent, He will forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. There is no doubt of this, and so we do not despair, but we ever more firmly anchor our hope in Him, and in His promise of forgiveness. Peter, who denied Christ not once but three times, was forgiven; the Centurion who had him nailed to the cross was forgiven; St Mary of Egypt who lived a reckless life, enslaved to the passion of lust and love of pleasure, was forgiven;
St Moses the Ethiopian was a thief, a murderer and the leader of a band of thieves, was forgiven; No one is excluded, all who repent are saved regardless of their past.
And so we have great hope for ourselves. For when we look at our own sins, we see the hopelessness of our own situation, we see that we are as weak and helpless as the paralytic, we see that we are indeed the worst of sinners and that we deserve nothing other than condemnation. But when we repent, we know that we are forgiven. We all believe in the transforming power of forgiveness.
But do we really? Oh yes, we believe that we are forgiven and that God will transform us – but how about our neighbor; do we believe that God can and will forgive him and transform him? How often do we refuse to extend to our neighbor the same hope of forgiveness that we hold for ourselves? My neighbor was cruel to me – and so now I refuse to believe that he can repent and be forgiven, but forever I hold on to my belief that he is a cruel man. My neighbor lied and now I refuse to believe that he could ever be honest, but hold to the idea that he is dishonest and not to be trusted. My neighbor was a drunkard or an addict and so now I refuse to consider him as anything other than that. My neighbor was responsible for the loss of another life and so now I condemn him as a murderer. How often do we refuse to believe in the transforming power of forgiveness for our neighbor? If I sin, I know that if I repent, God will forgive me and transform me; but my neighbor – well I’m not so sure that he or she can be forgiven.
Do you truly believe in forgiveness – in the transforming power of God’s grace? If so then you must forgive your neighbor, and especially if he asks forgiveness from you. If God has forgiven Him then how can you do anything less; if God has erased that sin from his soul and freed him from the power of it, how can you not embrace your brother as a new man? And then pray for him or her.
Consider this building around us again. Now the walls are finished and the roof in in place, will we doubt that the old walls and crates are done away with, will we doubt that we have a new and transformed Church around us – or will we continue to think that “once this building was just a pile of old crates and I can never see it as anything else no matter what appears to be different.” No, this building has changed by the power of man’s labor and craftsmanship and so also can the heart of a man be changed by the power of God’s grace. You and your neighbor are and can be changed by God’s hand and the action of His grace.
If you can be forgiven, so can he (and conversely if your neighbor cannot be forgiven then neither can you). Your forgiveness and his are bound up together – your salvation is tied to his salvation for we are all saved together. Without your neighbor you cannot be saved and without you he cannot be saved.
Therefore, love your neighbor; embrace him as one who has been forgiven even as you have. Consider him to be renewed by the grace of God, freed from his old sins and preserved by the Holy Spirit, even as you are. Do not see him as the murderer, adulterer, fornicator, glutton, thief, liar or cruel man that he might have been – see him instead as the man cleansed by the Blood of Christ as you are, who is washed clean by the same font of healing as you, who is filled with the grace of God even as you are. Embrace your neighbor as your co-struggler on the path of salvation and turn away from his old sins (even as he has). In this way, we live together in the love of Christ; in this way we are one in Him sharing in the same mercy and love and being filled with the same Spirit. We are one in Him even as He and the Father are one. Little children, love one another even as Christ has loved you.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner! Amen!