Summary: God is not the God of the Past but of the Present and Future. We should not let our past define us.
“Forgetting the Past”
"So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new" (NRSV)
Welcome to this first Sunday of the New Year! I trust since you are in worship that one of your intentions for this New Year is to be in church regularly. That is one resolution that you have kept for at least one week. Only 51 more to go toward perfect attendance. Seriously, I am glad to be here in 2014, and I am glad you are here.
Is there anything worse than being chained down by your past? You and I probably have some regrets from last year that we had just as soon erase. It may not be some horrible sin that we have committed that we fear God will not forgive us for. Maybe it is a small thing. A setback. Or something we wish we could do over again.
Did you know that God is not a God of just the past, but more importantly, a God of the present and the future? Some of us let our past define who we are in the present.
There have been interesting contrasts of individuals who have faced very similar odds in life, reaping very different results. I like the story of the two brothers who were separated at a young age, and placed in different foster care facilities. They had both come from an abusive family, where their father was an alcoholic. After the parent's divorce the brothers were removed from the family.
Thirty years later, the two brothers, not knowing one another, met in a downtown subway. One brother was dressed distinctively; having a career in the legal profession, and the other was obviously without work or a place to live.
Somehow the two men began a discussion, and the conversation led to their upbringing and how this had affected their current life situations. The disheveled man recounted to the other his miserable story of growing up in an abusive home, where his father had been a heavy drinker, and how he had been from foster home to foster home. He looked to the other man, as if this explained his current lot in life.
Interestingly, the other man said, "I too grew up in a similar environment as you have described, but it has inspired me to move forward and move ahead in life." Interesting, is it not? We see here two men with similar past-times and one was blaming his failure in life and the other his success in life on a virtually identical upbringing. We all know that life is more complicated than this story, don't we?
We have issues like heredity, environment, personality and biology to consider. I suppose the story has a grain of truth to it as well, for perhaps it is the element of CHOICE that may make all the difference in the world.
The NRSV proclaims, "Everything has passed away; see, everything has become new." The Apostle Paul is saying that our rap sheets have been erased in Christ. In Him we are made new creations. Paul should have known. Remember when the Apostle was converted to Christianity after years of oppressing Jewish-Christians?
Even with the testimony of his good friend Barnabas, and the disciples as character references, Jewish-Christians were not all that convinced of the sincerity of Paul. They thought the Apostle's conversion was a secret plot to infiltrate the Jewish-Christian movement even more, and further persecute them. They did not trust Paul. Can you blame them?
Even though the Apostle Paul had been converted, his crimes against Jewish Christians could not easily be forgotten or forgiven. Paul was probably haunted by a “less than-perfect past,” but this did not stop his new mission. In his letter to the Church at Philippi, Paul says: "But this one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ." (NRSV)
Whatever hand has been dealt us, a new set of cards is always being dealt. In Christ, the Bible promises that our past, as blemished as it may be, is erased. But to begin again, we must be present and future minded people of faith, believing that God indeed has a plan for our lives. We are part of his majestic plan. God calls us from the prisons of the past to the freedoms of the future.
There is a terrible belief that people cannot change. Being a minister, I have seen how terribly untrue that is. The truth is that people can change. You and I don’t have to be defined by our past. Yet how many times have you said in your mind: “I am forever defined by this course of action I took?” Or we put that on someone we know – maybe even a member of our family. “They will always be like that.” We define people by their past mistakes.