“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”

“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”

Pentecost 13 (NL3) John B. Valentine
The Means of Grace: Psalm 51:1-12 August 22, 2021


“The Means of Grace.”

That’s what we’re pondering right now ... “The Means of Grace”.

• Those avenues by which the Good News of the Gospel actually gets through to us.

• Those tools God uses to stir up faith in the lives of God's people.

• Those things which Lutheran Christians identify as being God’s particular instruments for making the grace and goodness of God REAL in our lives.

So .....

A couple of weeks ago we took at look at PREACHING ...

And last week ... I’m told ... Pastor Pam examined HOLY COMMUNION ... and did a fine job of it!

But this week ... the topic on the table is CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS ... the so-called “Office of the Keys”.

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Now maybe the first thing you need to know about all of these ‘Means of Grace’ is that they are two-step dances.

PREACHING isn’t a Means of Grace unless it involves both the Preaching and the Hearing.

THE EUCHARIST isn’t a Means of Grace unless it involves both the Giving of Holy Communion and the Receiving of Holy Communion.

And this OFFICE OF THE KEYS thing isn’t a Means of Grace unless it involves both the Confession part of it and the Forgiveness part of it.

• It’s not “Confession OR Forgiveness”.
• It's not "Confession AND THEN MAYBE Forgiveness".
• It’s not “Confession WITHOUT Forgiveness”.
• It’s certainly not “Forgiveness WITHOUT Confession”.
• It’s “Confession AND Forgiveness”.

It’s owning up to our brokenness and receiving the liberating forgiveness of God ... God’s act and our response.

It’s pleading “Guilty as Charged” ... and hearing the Judge say “You’re guilty .... but I don’t hold it against you!”

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Now there are LOTS of ways we could look at this whole Confession and Forgiveness thing ... but I think that the one that makes the most sense to me harkens back to Robert Fulghum’s little book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”.

Any of you remember that volume ... Fulghum’s accounting of all the lessons which we learned as young children that apply full well to adulthood?

In the preface of that book ... Fulghum wrote:

“Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I learned:

• Share everything.
• Play fair.
• Don’t hit people.
• Put things back where you found them.
• Clean up your own mess.
• Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Confession and Forgiveness made Fulghum’s list ... as Item Number Seven:

Namely ... “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”

In other words ... learn to say you’re sorry.

The only problem has to do with HOW we learn to say “I’m sorry” when we hurt someone ... because ‘sorry’ seems to be the hardest word.

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I mean ... think about how ‘learning to say you’re sorry’ actually plays out in the lives of most Kindergartners.

Billy hits Bobby .... and Bobby goes running off to the teacher and says “Teacher, Billy hit me!”

And ... exasperated by the fact that this is the third time this week that Billy has hit Bobby ... the teacher blurts out ...“Okay, now. Billy, come here. Billy, you say you’re sorry. And Bobby, you say it’s okay. And you both go back to playing ... and stay away from each other!”

And Billy looks down and mumbles “Sorry” ... and Bobby looks down and mumbles “Okay” ... and both of them go back to what they were doing before.

Not that saying “I’m sorry” isn’t something we shouldn’t learn in kindergarten ... but those Kindergarten apologies teaches us that “saying you’re sorry” is an insincere and perfunctory verbal transaction ... and nothing more.

• Billy isn’t sorry for what he did ... Billy’s sorry that he got caught.

• And the only thing ‘okay’ about it for Bobby is that he got Billy in trouble ... and maybe made the teacher a bit more sympathetic to his plight.

‘Kindergarten apologies’ teach our kids ...

• that apologies are cheap ...

• that forgiveness is cheap ...

• and that when somebody ... sincerely or insincerely ... says “sorry” ... the only acceptable responses are “It’s okay” ... “No big deal” ... and “Forget about it.”

These Kindergarten apologies teach us that the whole confession / forgiveness thing is simply a face-saving device that really makes nothing “all better” at all .... again because ‘sorry’ seems to be the hardest word.

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Im mean ... consider just how messed up our communal sense of apology ... “repentance” ... has become ... folks.

If you listen for what passes as apologies these days ... they aren’t REALLY apologies at all!

They’re excuses and/or explanations and/or even accusations!

• When we say “I’m sorry I missed that appointment .... but the traffic was really bad” ... what we’re really saying is that “‘I’ didn’t do anything wrong ... and that ‘the awful traffic around here’ is the one with whom ‘you’ should find fault.”

• When we say “I’m sorry you misunderstood me” ... what we’re really saying is more along the lines of “Why can’t you read my mind to know what I really meant?”

• When we say “I’m sorry you took offense at that” ... what we’re really saying is “If you were more mature and less sensitive ... like me ... this conversation would be unnecessary.”

An apology that comes with an excuse attached ... or an explanation attached ... or an insinuated accusation attached ... isn’t an apology at all!

Then again ... we also seem to assume ... based on our experience with ‘Kindergarten apologies’ ... I suspect ...

That ... if someone apologizes to us ... that we must accept that apology.

And that ... if we apologize to someone else ... that they must accept that apology.

Like the countless politicians and celebrities and professional athletes who say things like “I’m embarrassed for what I’ve done and I want to apologize to all my fans and followers for my past actions ... but I will not be offering any further comments on this matter. I have apologized. We are moving on.”

What most of them ... and ... most of us ... fail to realize ... is that true repentance true confession involves an acknowledgment of wrongdoing ... a willingness to make it right ... and the hopefulness (and specifically not the presumption!!) that forgiveness may be offered.

Sincere ... honest ... REAL apologies ... are tough to speak precisely because they put the one who is apologizing in a vulnerable position!

Real apologies:

• aren’t muttered into a pillow ...
• or whispered against the noise of the television ...
• or hollered from three rooms away ...

And then followed up with a sharp “I already said I’m sorry once ... okay!”

Real apologies:

• begin with taking full responsibility for one’s own actions ...
• acknowledge that responsibility in the presence of those we’ve harmed ...
• and hope ... but never presume ... and that the other(s) may choose to forgive ... and restore something of a relationship between us.

But then again ... ‘sorry’ seems to be the hardest word ... does it not???

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But now ... here’s the really most amazing thing about all this.

In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke ... Jesus tells three stories ....

• One about a lost sheep ...
• One about a lost coin ...
• One about a lost son and his brother.

And EACH of those three stories ends with an assertion that ...

Of all the things that could ‘fire God up’ ...

Of all the things that God could get excited about ...

We the one thing that really DOES ‘fire God up’ is ...

• when people like us repent ... and apologize ... and turn to Him ...

• when people like us come to the awareness that there is more to life than our petty little egotistical self-esteem projects and declarations of ‘independence’...

• when people like us discover that real life is less about “thinking that we’re good” and more about “discovering that we’re forgiven”.

Is that not an amazing / crazy / unbelievable thing to say?

I mean ... of ALL the things that could “make God’s day” ... we have this promise that does “make God’s day” is when people like us repent ... apologize ... get ‘honest to God’ ... and discover our dependence on the divine!

• “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine so-called righteous persons who ‘need no repentance’.”

• “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

• “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

For in Confession and Forgiveness ... the radical grace of God really does get through to us.

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For it may well be that ‘sorry’ seems to be the hardest word ...

But it’s a word that can ... and ... will change your life ... for the better.

‘Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word’ was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our summer sermon series on “The Means of Grace” — and particularly on ‘Confession and Forgiveness’.   It was offered in conjunction with our worship celebration on Sunday, August 22, 2021 — the 13th Sunday after Pentecost — and is grounded in Psalm 51 and Luke 15.  To access a copy of the worship bulletin for August 22, click here: Worship Order.20210822.print