Starting Point: Coming to Terms

Feb 26, 2017 by: Sam Hestorff| Series: Starting Point
Scripture: Matthew 5:20–5:28

Everything has a starting point. You had a starting point. Relationships have a starting point. Your career had a starting point. Your family had a starting point. Everything has a starting point.
But what we forget sometimes is that faith has a starting point as well.
Your faith, whatever it is, had a starting point as well.
For most of us, our faith starting point happened somewhere in childhood with a conversation with a parent, or a priest, or a pastor. Maybe it was something you heard in church, or at a camp, or at a vacation Bible school.
But somewhere in your childhood, you were handed some building blocks and your faith journey began.
And for many of us, our starting point included a framework for faith that told us things like
• God is good.
• God punishes evil and rewards good.
• You can talk to God and God will answer your prayer.
Maybe you grew up in a tradition where you were told Bible stories; Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, Jonah, Jesus and his disciples.
But then something happens . . . we get older and the starting point of our faith as children takes a hit as we noticed that there was a gap, between what you had been taught about God and what you experienced as an adult.
And so sometimes our childhood faith, and what started off so fresh, and so real, and so passionate, doesn’t survive the rigors and the pressures of adulthood as life chips away at it. Sometimes, chips it away to where it doesn't exist at all.
So, what we're doing over the next few weeks, is hit the restart button and ask the question, "What if we didn't know anything, were would we start? What if we'd never heard any of those stories? What if we'd never read the Bible? What if we'd never gone to church, where would we start?"
Last week, we said that “the bible says” is not an adequate starting or returning point for many adults.
In fact, “the bible says” was never intended to be the starting point for the Christian faith. You see, for those first believers . . . there wasn’t a bible. The bible wasn’t put together and distributed for another 250 years after the first believers started following Jesus.
Sure, there were letters from Paul being passed around that gave encouragement and instruction but there wasn’t a bible that they could sit down and read, and study, and have a little quiet time with God as they struggled with their faith.
Instead, the starting point for their faith . . . and ours . . . is a question; who is Jesus?
That’s where we left off last week and we’re going to swing back around to that in three weeks. But if you weren’t here, or if you’re going to miss any of the weeks, it’s important that you read or listen to them online because all these messages build off each other. I would also encourage you to do the homework assignments I hand out to you each week. Those can also be found online if you miss one.
Today, we’re going to tack a term that always rears its ugly head in discussions about faith . . . Sin.
It’s an uncomfortable word and somewhat antiquated term.
We only use it in religious contexts. You don’t really use this term unless you’re talking about something that deals with God.
• When my kids disobey, I don’t say, “You’ve sinned against me”
• When an employee does something wrong, you don’t say, “You’ve sinned against our company”
• Judges and police don’t use that term. No one has ever received a sin citation or been put in jail or on probation because they sinned . . . at least not in our country.
And it’s an uncomfortable word because it leaves no wiggle room. There’s no one to blame. You can’t say, “Well you see, my parents, my situation, my obstacles and challenges, my inner child”. You can’t do that when talking about sin.
Not to mention, it’s heavy . . . it’s weighty . . . and it leaves us feeling a bit hopeless and condemned. When I asked on Facebook what comes to mind when you hear this word, some of you said things like, “Shunned”, “Separated”, “Ashamed”, “Unhappy”.
And who wants to feel like that?
And so, what we’ve done is substitute the word sin for a word that’s a lot easier to bear; mistake.
• If I were to say, “raise your hand if you’ve ever made a mistake,” every hand would go up because you don’t want people saying, “Oh, I see, they think they’re perfect.”
• But if I substitute sin for mistake you would probably hesitate. Maybe the people in the back would raise their hand but the front row would be a bit hesitant.
But the word mistake is an inadequate word.
• A mistake is something you do on a math test or your tax returns.
• A mistake is a word politicians use when they flip flop on issues.
• Because mistakes are what happen when there is insufficient knowledge; “I didn’t know what I was doing”, or “I didn’t quite understand”, or “I didn’t realize that I should have turned left at that corner because SIRI didn’t give me enough time to get over to the left-hand lane to make that turn.”
Here’s something that I know about us . . .
Sometimes we make “mistakes” on purpose.
We do things that we know that we shouldn’t be doing for years and years, and then we get caught, and we say, “oh, that was just a mistake”. No, it wasn’t. But what do you call it then?
Sometimes we plan our “mistakes”.
In fact, some of you have a stash of mistakes hidden around your house, ready to pull out at an opportune time. Especially, if it’s a “mistake” you want to use on someone who has hurt you. You get a little revenge on someone but when you get called out on it, you say, “Oh, that was just a mistake”.
Is there such thing as a premeditated mistake?
And what are we supposed to do with mistakes . . . correct them, right?
Some of you have tried to correct your mistakes for years. Your friends, family, and spouses have tried to correct your mistakes. You’ve paid people to help you correct your mistakes.
But nothing seems to work and you think to yourself . . . why can’t I stop making these mistakes?
Maybe what’s going on is much bigger than “a mistake”
And what I will suggest today is that restarting your faith journey requires an honest look in the mirror and coming to terms with the fact that perhaps you are not just a mistaker. It’s deeper than that.
You, me, all of us, should consider the possibility that we are sinners. A 101 definition of a sinner is someone who knows better but does it any way.
Jesus talked about sin . . . A LOT . . . but when Jesus talked about sin he talked about it connection to relationships. Jesus said, what all of us have experienced, that sin breaks relationships.
If you’ve been in a broken relationship, it’s because you did something, or they did something, or both of you did something that you shouldn’t have done, even though you knew you shouldn’t have done it.
But Jesus’ purpose in talking about sin . . . A LOT . . . was restoration, not condemnation.
We think sin, we think condemnation. But Jesus says, “I want to talk about sin because I can’t get you restored until you’re willing to accept the fact that you’re not just a mistaker, you are in fact a sinner.”
He taught that sin separated us from God, and forgiveness connected us to God. But if we only think of ourselves as mistakers, we will never seek forgiveness because a mistake doesn’t require forgiveness – only correcting.
And his approach was unusual.
Read Matthew 5:20-22, 27-28
When the people gathered that day to listen to the teachings of Jesus and he went on and on and on condemning the entire group as he raised the goodness bar higher and higher – so high that nobody could possible correct themselves to be good enough - not even the religious people whose jobs were literally to be good people . . . I’m sure they were thinking, “Great, there’s not hope for me. I’m doomed. I’m toast. Why even try?”
But then he rushes in and says, “That’s exactly why I’m here.” Because it doesn’t end with sin condemned. It goes from sin, to condemned, to I need to ask for forgiveness, to God will forgive you.
But you will never be restored until you acknowledge that you need to be restored. And that’s hard to acknowledge if you only think of yourself as a mistaker.
As Jesus continued his ministry, he realized that no one understood what he’s talking about. It just doesn’t make sense. Sure, they understood that they had made mistakes and broken the relationship with God but they had always been taught that there were things they could do to correct their mistakes . . . rituals they could perform . . . to make things right with God.
So, Jesus told three stories so they could better understand how God views sinners . . . but they weren’t stories about sinners, but lost things; a lost sheep, a lost coin, and the most famous of all, a lost son.
Here’s the story . . . a young man comes to his dad and basically says, “Dad I wish you would die so I could get my inheritance but you just won’t die. So, let’s just pretend you’re dead and you give me my half of the inheritance.” And he gives it to him.
The boy goes away and wastes all the money on stuff . . . a great apartment, great clothes, great friends, Bucs tickets, Lighting tickets, and Uber eats.
But then the money runs out and he finds himself out on the streets with no one to help, and he realizes, “Man, I really messed up” so he decides to go back home.
Now at this point, everyone who is listening to Jesus’ story has figured out that the father represents God and the boy represents someone who, by his own choice, has been separated from God.
And when he finally arrives home, he says, “Hey Dad, things are tough. Things didn’t really didn’t turn out the way I thought. People took advantage of me. I made a mistake . . . oops.”
That’s not what he said, I’m making that up but that’s exactly what a mistaker would say. Mistakers make excuses, they find someone or something to blame for their mistake.
Instead he says, “I sinned”. I have sinned against you and I have sinned against God and I completely understand that I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Our relationship has been broken and its broken because I am a sinner.
The son is owning it. This is important because that’s the first step towards restoration.
But equally important is the father’s response. He says to his servants, let’ have a party!
Again, the people listening this story are thinking
• Doesn’t the father want to know where he’s been?
• Doesn’t the father want an explanation about where all the money went?
• Doesn’t the father want a spreadsheet showing exactly how the son is going to repay him?
Nope, the doesn’t want or need any of that. His son has been through enough. And now he’s owned up to his sin and their relationship can be restored . . . and that was good enough for him . . . so let’s quit talking about what happened and place any more burdens on him and let’s have a party to celebrate!
What Jesus is telling us is that sin is not a path that leads to condemnation. It is the path back to relationship because recognition of sin is what paves the way to restoration. Jesus says to each of us . . .
• You must embrace who you are to become everything I want you to be.
• You must embrace that there has been a severing in the relationship.
• You’ve been separated from God who loves you and the only way back is to quit making those silly excuses and racking it up to “I’m human, I make mistakes”
• You must be able to say “I have sinned”
• And as soon as you do, I’m going to give you what a mistaker never asks for . . . forgiveness.
• I’m going to give you forgiveness, and I’m going to restore you to the father.
• And after that happens I’m going to fill you with the holy spirit and surround you with other sinners . . . called the church . . . so you can pray with each other, encourage each other, walk side by side with each other as you struggle with your faith, and you can celebrate what I have done for you . . . set you free!
I don’t know what you’ve taught about Jesus up to today, but when Jesus talked about sin that was his message.
We are going to leave it there but come back next week as we continue to build on a starting point for faith. Here’s what I want you to do in the meantime. Here’s your homework.
Do you resist the idea that you’re a sinner? Why or why not?

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