Summary: On Ash wednesday, we realize that God is always ready to forgive those who go to him in honest repentance.

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Forgiveness is Not an Accident

Psalm 51:1-17 (NRSV)

February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

On the corner of State Roads 5 and 120 up in LaGrange County, there is a campground. The best thing about the place is that there is also a little ice-cream shop on the corner. It’s a great place to go in the summer when it is hot and you need to cool off a little bit.

Also on the corner is a steel guardrail like the one we have out in the middle of the Airport Expressway. I remember turning at that corner one day a few years ago in a blinding snow storm. Just minutes before I got there, someone had come from the other way, missed the corner, and slid up on the guardrail. I have never before seen anything like this. I was astonished to see this car, with its two occupants sitting uninjured in their seats, perfectly balanced on that rail. All four wheels were about three feet off the ground and it was slowly and gently rocking back and forth in the wind.

I called 911. After asking if there were any injuries and being told that the people in the car were alright, the police dispatcher told me that an officer was on the way and that the weather conditions were too dangerous for me to hang around. They didn’t want to take the chance that someone might run into my car because of the slick roads.

I thought about those folks and knew that their insurance company wasn’t going to be too happy with them. Having guided three children through their early years of driving, I am well aware of how unforgiving insurance companies can sometimes be.

But there are always exceptions. I first saw Dennis Haysbert the actor, when he played the President of the United States on the first few seasons of “24.” He is now playing the character of a tough army sergeant on the television series, “The Unit.” He’s big and tall and boy, do I wish I had his voice. All preachers, in fact, should be so lucky.

Anyway, he is also doing television commercials for Allstate Insurance company. The selling point for this automobile insurance is its “accident forgiveness.” If you drive for a certain period of time free from traffic accidents, but then happen to have one, the company will promise not to raise your rates. I think it’s a great idea.

On this Ash Wednesday, as we begin the season of Lent, I guess that I would like to put a question to you. Here it is. If large impersonal insurance companies, whose major goals are to make profits for its shareholders, can offer forgiveness for mistakes, can you imagine what sort of grace God can offer?

A few weeks ago, Toni and I rented a movie to watch one evening. It was “The King” starring William Hurt. In the movie, he was a pastor who, before becoming a Christian, had fathered a child by a woman he did not marry.

Twenty years later, this young man had gotten out of the Navy and came looking for the father he had never met. It came as quite a shock because the father had never been open about his past with his wife and two teenaged children. They knew nothing about the unacknowledged son.

As the truth became known and the family struggled to make sense of what they considered to be a betrayal, the pastor knew that he needed to come clean to his congregation as well.

The next Sunday, with his son sitting in the pew, he confessed his sins in public asking for the congregation’s forgiveness. One by one, as the camera panned over the congregation, the people began filing out of the sanctuary, unable or unwilling to offer him the forgiveness he so desperately sought.

In the Old Testament book of II Samuel, we find King David, who was fairly settled on his throne, but had not yet defeated all of the nation’s enemies. One spring, he sent his armies out to the field of battle, but stayed behind in his palace. He took a nap one day and then got up to stretch his legs up on his roof. While he was looking out over the city, he noticed an incredibly beautiful woman taking a bath. He found out that her name was Bathsheba and so he sent for her. Unable to resist the king, she at once found herself in his presence.

Back in the 1970’s, there was a musical group named “The Starland Vocal Band.” They were a one hit wonder with their song, “Afternoon Delight.” They could have been singing about David. My personal belief is that David acted as a sexual predator in this case. He had the power. Bathsheba had none. He could force his will on anyone, at any time, under any circumstances. Bathsheba had no chance to resist. The fact that she was married mattered not at all to the King. The end result of that afternoon’s dalliance was that Bathsheba became pregnant.

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