So, before I give my sermon or message, I wanted to just share a confession with you all.
Ok, so first of all, I should tell you that Kelly and I have a favorite phrase which represents a core belief we have and that is: "I am unoffendable"
What this means is: "You cannot hurt me, but I can hurt for you when you do or say hurtful things''
Nice quotes and we do - really do- believe them!
More fully - what we mean is: “If you knew who you were and what you had- it would change your life.”
"IF you really knew who you were- based on God's view of you-- and who you are in Christ- IF you knew who you were and knew what you had- in Christ- it would change everything, and you would be .... unoffendable!
...because God's truth about who you are - when known and believed when known and believed - trumps all else-
It's so big and deep it's like being insulted by a 3-year-old- whatever they say- I mean they're 3 years old! You don't get hurt or take it seriously.
OR if you knew the school bully was going to find and insult you just to make you react- and whatever he said was a lie and silly and made up- you see what I mean? Then, “You would be unoffendable! “ So, this is a powerful truth, and we promote it but...
Yes, I have a big but here...
On Dec 30th- New Year’s Eve day- I got an email. The same day we filed for bankruptcy in the US- possibly one of my darkest days- the businesses I had built from scratch for 33 years - with God and all the amazing stories and testimonies were now done and I felt a bit- no not a bit- I felt a lot! like a failure.
Luckily for me- my best friend in the US hired lawyers for us- several lawyers for 4 bankruptcies- personal and business in Japan and also in the US- really good and really expensive lawyers-- shockingly expensive!
So, here is the yucky part- my confession- so the main lawyer in the US - on that day when we filed - sent me an email
I was going to read it now -- but- it's too yucky and that's not actually the point- what he said though cut me to the quick- deep and wide.
I mean he made me feel so low and like more than a loser- more like I was a crook or somehow was trying to game the system with this bankruptcy and that I said I was a pastor but...
I was just devastated- how could he say these things! And although I was not the one paying the bills .... technically he worked for me! Sort of anyway! What the heck!
Man, when I got that email my mind raced- how could he misunderstand and be so far off and then.... be so bold- rude- cold- I mean mean! How could anyone just say what he has said in that email- the day we filed for bankruptcy! And he knew my physical condition had suddenly gotten quite bad- amazing.
Let me quote just one of my many lines to him that day when I finally got hold of him:
"It’s lies and accusations and misrepresentations like this that make me want to let the cancer kill me and stop fighting and just give up- I am so angry but also so hurt."
So, he apologized, and we cleared up what we were some weirdly big misunderstandings and things which were simply not true- it was amazing to me how things could have become so misrepresented! (Suspicously.)
So, we hung up and I sat in my car thinking - this sucks so much- I was sort of in shock-
I was not sure which it was- was I more angry or more hurt
and then - I had a moment...
ok- so looks like I DID get offended right? I did. And suddenly here is what I felt the Holy Spirit whispered to me:
At the very beginning of our relationship the lawyer had said, “I know how hard it must be for you to be physically handicapped”- meaning my cancer and all that- he said, “I TOO am struggling and will need a very serious back surgery soon” and that he could hardly walk- after biking more than 10k each way each day to work- and we are the same age. At that moment I wondered- God, is this a set up for him to get prayer? - then that moment passed but then now here it was back again - but in bold letters and in all caps! Hello!
Then I could feel this realization- why and how would this guy really have said all these things- it truly felt unnatural and sort of creepy- and I know many of you hate this idea or language, but it felt evil to me- not HIM but as though he had been used- played if you will- and... whatever that was had played me too.
Man, I just sat there and knew- I knew- I needed to pray for this mean despicable person! But I mean he wasn't really- in that moment of realization- in that moment where I knew I would pray for him- I actually smiled- I thought- no no no- I win- not you- not evil- not whoever that was
I win and maybe he would win with a healing and I'm not sure, but I did pray for him and it was moving for both of us- unnaturally so I feel- just like that email had been unnaturally yucky.
I don't know yet what he got or if he was healed- I have not received an update- but that is my confession of "being had"- of being offended and of almost missing sight of someone who needed a touch from God as I got distracted to focus on me.
Ok, so that is my confession and that story and now here is my message!
So, the title of my sermon “You forgot the candlesticks” comes from one of my absolute favorite stories and musicals: Les Miserable. If you have not seen it- you will have to now! I believe it's an incredible timeless message and that it is as powerful today as when it was written in 1862.
What it gives us is a powerful God truth in a story which finds our heart while passing through our heads. Six weeks ago I felt like this month would be a month of healing for all of us at KUC- a time when God would show us how to find healing for our hearts in the God way- the Bible way.
Here is the Les Mis story for those who don't remember. The main character is Jean Valjean, and he has been put in prison for stealing bread to feed his family- so a crime yes but it is one we must feel conflicted over and his punishment is too long and too hard.
When he gets out, after 19 years, he carries the passport of a convict so no one will have anything to do with him until he comes to a church. And there the Bishop lets him in. He feeds him and he is allowed to spend the night.
Unfortunately, in his desperate state he steals a bag of silver items- the silver he sees around the church.
The next day he is caught by the police who bring him to the bishop and throw him down in front of him- we have caught this man stealing from you and the church!
At this moment we must pause. The Bishop had taken a chance, had taken in a known criminal, had put people at risk who lived there with him, he knew the risk and now- here is what happened- how ungrateful, how low could this man go!?
BUT the Bishop who we now see is truly a man of God and not just of the church- says, "no, this man has not stolen from me- I gave him all the silver but here- and he takes two silver candlesticks- and gives them to Jean Valjean and says,
“here you forgot these in your hurry."
You forgot the candlesticks.
This is not just being forgiven- this is more and is simply unnatural- to me it feels like God. In fact, it is the representation of the grace we receive from God when we accept the death of Jesus and a new life- not what is fair or what we deserve- it is also what the Bible tells us to do - to show mercy and grace - to forgive as we have been forgiven- period.
Ephesians 4:32 says in the amplified:
Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.
The Bible is clear and without doubt in this command- over and over in verse after verse forgive SO that your sins will also be forgiven- as YOU have been forgiven-
Matthew 6:14 says:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
In a powerful and sort of scary parable often called The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Jesus makes clear- we are to forgive and show mercy just as WE have been forgiven and shown mercy and the consequences of NOT doing so are terrible not just a gentle warning!
At the end of the parable-in Matthew 18- is the punchline:
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Yikes. But here is where I choose to direct us- just as I prefer to preach the compelling beauty of heaven rather than the terror of hell- what does it do to one when we do as the bishop?
I can tell you from years of repenting and years of joy in giving- the act of giving the candlesticks - it’s a supernatural blessing and brings a joy one will never find from forgiveness alone-
some will cite the turning of the other cheek and that is a deep and profound story and a command which I find few people truly understand
but what I hope is that the story of the Bishop and the giving of the candlesticks is a reminder of what Jesus was trying to teach us all about we have received and that what we get is not fair- it is not just forgiveness- it is a gift we don't deserve-
in giving the candlesticks the Bishop looks at Jean Valjean who is likely in shock- not understanding how this turn of events has occurred and he says:
"Valjean your life has been spared for God, use the money from the silver candlesticks to make an honest man of yourself.”
Wow, maybe you can feel it even in the retelling but watch the scene on YouTube or better watch the whole musical if you cannot read the book.
Anyway, the message I want to give you has been in my heart for this day for weeks- long before we were trying to unravel what to do here at KUC if we faced a tough situation like this-
I believe God wants everyone in our church to stop and feel how you are forgiven- to take to heart the commands of Jesus to forgive- to go beyond forgiving- as led by the Holy Spirit - which is part of what makes it so cool- God will guide you in how to "give the candlesticks" in each relationship and each situation.
Your desire to obey and honor God- to show Your gratitude for you own forgiveness- God will guide and provide for you as you offer the candlesticks to those who deserve punishment and certainly not silver candlesticks.