St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Lent Midweek 3, 2024 image

Lent Midweek III
Matthew 15:1-20
March 6, 2024

The question before us tonight concerns emotions and particularly the emotions that come after forgiving another or being forgiven by another.

Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had full control of our emotions. That, if we didn’t want to feel angry, we could just snap our finger and our anger would go away, if we didn’t want to feel sad, we could just think happy thoughts and sadness would disappear. If we didn’t want to feel scared, we could just blink our eyes and fear would subside.

But this is not the world we live in, and certainly not the bodies we inhabit. And God created us to be emotional creatures. Emotions help with lots of important matters. But when emotions run amuck, when they control our lives, when every conversation is about what I “feel” and not about what I “think,” this is where problems arise because we are judging our circumstances by emotions – which are tied to our hearts – and not objective reality.

Oftentimes when people are living by their emotions it is also true that they are not living in Christ, they are not trusting His Word when they look to their feelings for guidance and assurance.

And here’s the thing, if you forgive someone who hurt you, but you allow your emotions of that hurt to rule you, your forgiveness can quickly revert to unforgiveness. We have a hard time letting go of the emotion of our hurt even if we forgive the person who hurt us, why? Well, as already said, emotions are seated in the heart, and therein lies the problem. Jesus says that it is what proceeds from the heart that defiles a person, that from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, etc. So, if emotions are also seated in the heart, you can bet your bottom dollar that our emotions are also affected by sin.

A guy by the name of Charles Taylor wrote a book called, “A Secular Age,” and in his book there is a chapter which looks at and parses out what he calls “expressivist dispensationalism.” And what he writes is that for modern, western Christians, spirituality isn’t so much about objective, external authority but it has become a matter of subjective, internal, self-authority. Essentially, each individual has become his or her own god, own authority over the Scripture, over Christ, and over the spiritual realm.

And it’s from this “expressivist dispensationalism” that we get phrases like, “The Bible can be interpreted in many different ways,” and “Who can know the truth,” and “As long as you believe in Jesus none of the rest matters.” It is a total rejection of the external, objective, universal truth which God established at creation, for internal, personal, subjective truth which each individual establishes as his or her own god, and much, if not most of the time, this subjective truth, subjective spirituality is built upon emotions, how an individual personally feels ABOUT the teaching of our Lord.

We might equate this to an art gallery where you see all sorts of painting and sculptures. If you stand in front of a painting, perhaps like the one you see on your bulletin or on the screens, the painting is very much empty of meaning unless you apply your own subjective interpretation to it. The painter or the sculpture, his intent doesn’t really matter because even his interpretation of his own work of art may be different than yours, which is the whole point.

Now take this subjective interpretative method into Christian spirituality and what do you end up with? A faith built on and driven by subjective emotion, feeling, and personal conviction. And then, build a society on this subjective, “expressivist dispensationalism,” and what do you have? Men dressing as women and thinking they’re women, children being encouraged to do mutilative surgeries to change their gender, as if it were even possible, teenagers dressing as furries at school such as cats or dogs and being fully-engaged in the lie that they’re really cats or dogs…you have an entire generation or two or three who are convinced that what they feel is what they are, that reality is what they make of it, and truth is only a matter of who has the strongest opinion or a law passed by congress.

And when this disaster of reality touches the realm of forgiveness, it’s no wonder we have such a hard time “feeling” as if we’ve forgiven someone who hurt us or “feeling” that we’ve been forgiven by someone we hurt. Our feelings are tied to our hearts and our hearts are evil by nature, and put these two things together and you have the perfect storm for either intentional unforgiveness or unbridled feelings even if forgiveness is real.

But here’s the truth – no not, “my” truth, but God’s truth – THE truth, the truth we have no business or ability to change because it applies to all people and comes from heaven. Emotions cannot save you from sin, death, or the devil. They can’t. Being saved isn’t something you “feel” subjectively; being saved is something you ARE, objectively.

You are saved, you are forgiven because God, in Christ, has said so. This salvation has been applied to each of you individually through the external, objective promise given in baptism. This isn’t up for debate or personal interpretation; this is what the Scripture plainly, objectively, and universally says.

Your emotions can attach to this one and only truth and reality and give you a sense of joy and assurance and peace and comfort. This is where emotions are very helpful for a sinner who is redeemed in Christ. You, as a child of God, can look at your sins and your weaknesses and, because of the objective, external promises of God given by His objective, external Word – the Holy Scripture – you can say, “I stand forgiven in Christ, and no one can take that away, be it a person who refuses to forgive me, or when, in my forgiving of another, I have a tough time getting over the hurt.”

And this objective, external truth is what gives you hope. You don’t need to feel Jesus dancing the Macarena in your heart because you have the external Word of God proclaiming Christ and His cross to you and your heart every day. Living in this reality helps you deal with those emotions of hurt and anger and even hate so that when you forgive a person, you forgive from the heart and the emotion tied to their sin is abated.

I’m not suggesting to you that it’s easy or even comfortable to move on from hurt, especially sins such as abuse or slander, but in Christ you have the strength, just as Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

God does not desire that you linger in emotional baggage because such baggage is not healthy for the soul or the body and it most certainly does not help the neighbor whom you forgiven. God does not desire that you linger in emotional baggage after your neighbor has forgiven you. Instead, God gives us His Spirit so that we might have hope, strength, and peace with Him and with one another so that sins forgiven are truly forgiven, and forgiveness received is truly received.

And at the center of all this is faith. Trust in the Lord, trust that He holds no anger or animosity or resentment against you for your many, many sins against Him, that in Christ, He has forgiven you all your sins and is well-pleased to call you His child and heir of His kingdom. Amen.