When we repent, God forgives and welcomes us
Reading: Luke 18:9–14
Additional reading: 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18
Hymns: 464, 293, 324
Blanks: pray, mercy, justified, humble
Jesus told a story today.
The story goes like this:
Two persons came to the church and prayed.
One was a very religious person who was expected to be seen in church.
The other was a tax-collector who was not expected to be seen in church.
But then as they prayed to God, we learned what kind of prayer God wanted.
First let’s learn about the proud religious person who came to church.
He was trying to serve God with various activities.
He worked hard and kept many religious traditions.
But he was not serving God with his heart.
His heart was far from God.
He didn’t agree the fact that God examined his heart.
So he allowed unforgiveness, hate, greed, pride and bitterness to fill his heart.
Various unclean thoughts filled his heart.
Then he despised others and judged others.
This must be the heart of the older brother of the prodigal.
This kind of person judged others even in God’s house.
This kind of person convinced sinners that God would not forgive them.
So if anyone want to repent before God, that person should not meet this man but meet the Father of the prodigal son.
When we meet God of the prodigal, we know God forgives us.
We know God restores us to be the sons and daughters of God.
And we are thankful.
But the religious man stood up and prayed:
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people.
I fast twice a week.
I give 10 percent of all my income to the church.
I didn’t steal.
I was not adulterous.
I am not like this tax collector.
Thank you that I am not like those people.”
This prayer shows that this man has not met God lately in his religious activities.
He just felt righteous, because he checked his religious checklists which was difficult.
But so he was stressed out finishing his religious duties.
Then, he felt tired and became a mean person.
Then he started judging others who didn’t do their religious stuff.
Anyway, his practicing of religion didn’t help him to be kind to others.
So even in his prayer, he judged and condemned those whom God loves.
Even in church, he would not want to have any relationship with people like this tax collector.
Instead, he complained about people like tax collectors whom God loves.
He was hurting them even through his prayer.
He was hurting their feeling because he didn’t understand God.
God was not happy and turned his face away from him.
But then God might have said something like this to him before:
“When have you helped the poor?
When have you comforted the weak?
When have you shared your food with the hungry?
Look. You don’t love them, because you are not in me.
Also you cannot judge others in my church.
When you judge others, I would not accept your prayer.
Do not deceive yourself.
Don’t pretend that you know me.
You don’t know me.
We have not met lately.
I want your heart to worship me.
I am interested in your hearts.
So I want you to bless sinners and those who need your help.
I want you to stand up for the despised.
Love them and pray for them.
Be kind to them.
Then I will answer when you call me.”
No one is righteous without God’s help.
Only by the grace of God we are righteous.
Without God, we are sinners even in our best effort.
We consciously or unconsciously twisted and turned the truth.
My best effort is not sinless if God does not help me.
When we are found in Jesus, God calls us righteous, because of Jesus.
May we understand God’s heart.
So we may think about our spiritual life.
Is our spiritual life stressful?
So am I mad at those who don’t live like me?
Am I judging other people instead of praying for them?
Is there someone does not come near us because they feel that we are judging them and condemning them?
I hope that I am not becoming the older brother of the prodigal.
I pray that people may not be nervous around me.
May we pray and wait for sinners to grow in God.
May our spiritual life free us and relax us so that we be kind to sinners even when we don’t understand them.
Now there was the tax-collector.
He was cheating people at his job.
People knew that he was a dishonest person.
He was lying to get more taxes from people so that he might get some income and profit for his service.
Even though people knew this, they had to pay the tax.
So, people didn’t like him.
The tax-collector came to church to pray.
He understood the holiness of God.
So he was struggling before the holy God.
He knew he was a sinner before God.
But he wanted to ask God to help him and his life.
But the religious person was judging him with his loud voice.
So he was beating his chest and said:
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This simple prayer touched the very heart of God, as it came from his heart.
Then God did what he asked.
God forgave him.
God of the prodigal son didn’t punish him but honored him and loved him.
God was like:
“I know. I know.
I don’t judge you.
I forgive you and free you from your guilt.
I love you.
You are my son.
You are forgiven.”
God welcomes the prodigal sons and daughters.
God loves the humble prayer of sinners.
God is kind to them.
God renews them and redeems them and helps them to live as the son or daughter of God.
But even after God said this, this man’s heart might still condemn him.
He might wonder:
“How could God love me, accept me and call me righteous?
How could God gives another chance to someone like me?”
Then Jesus might have said:
God forgave you.
God’s grace and mercy is greater than what your heart can feel or imagine.
God is more right than your heart.
Don’t worry even though your heart still judges you.
Come to God more often so that your heart may accept this truth:
God has forgiven you.”
Is our God kind to people like this?
Does my God love people like this?
Do we understand this God?
Or does this sound unfair?
The religious person gave more money to the church.
The religious person had done more for the church.
But God judges him as he judges others.
God would forgive him if he forgives others.
Now we could imagine this kind of scenario.
The tax collector became a disciple of Jesus.
Then he became a faithful disciple of Jesus and felt that he is righteous.
As he felt he was righteous, he might start to judge others.
Then strangely he would become far away from Jesus.
He needed to remember who he was without God.
He needed to remember what God’s love has accomplished in him.
Then he may forgive and pray for those who are not like him.
He may pray for people and love people instead of judging them.
He may bless them and pray for them.
Then he may become a channel of God’s love.
God’s blessings may come through him.
We understand God is like this.
Also if the religious person understood this God, he might pray like this:
“God, I didn’t know you.
I misunderstood you.
I have not helped the poor.
Instead I judged them and pretended that I was more righteous than others.
I hated those whom you love.
I didn’t love those whom you love.
Forgive my sins.
Have mercy on me a sinner.
Change my heart.
Heal my heart.
Help me to understand you and love you.
Help me to love people and pray for them.”
If the religious repented, God would forgive him, just like God forgave the tax collector, when he repented.
God loves the tax collector and the religious.
God loves all.
We cannot understand this God:
God hates sins but loves sinners.
How can we explain this God?
I cannot understand the heart of God.
We cannot understand God who gives away God’s Son to forgive our sins.
We cannot understand the Son of God who died to take away our sins.
So because we want to understand this God, we say God is love.
We say God is kindness.
We say God is forgiveness.
God forgives us because God is forgiveness.
God is good to us because God is good.
God loves us, because God is love.
God cannot help but to love.
So we cannot follow Jesus without forgiving and reconciling.
As God welcomes us into the kingdom of God, we need to remember that God forgives and frees other people as well.
When we accept God’s forgiveness, we must forgive, as God helps people to repent and be forgiven.
God loves when sinners pour our their broken and repenting hearts.
We may also repent with them and ask God’s forgiveness.
Then God may ask us to open our heart to God even though God already sees what's in our heart.
When we see ourselves in the eyes of God, we truly see who we are.
Then we may surrender and allow God to come and clean our hearts.
Then God change our heart.
When we repent, we also feel really good.
We feel free from sins.
We will experience freedom in our hearts.
We feel God’s welcoming love.
When we experience this God's unconditional love, we change.
We slowly change as we experience God’s healing power.
And we live together with God.
We may see clearly and serve God as God wants us to serve.
We may welcome each other, sinners and strangers.
Then we will welcome all people.
Then we may live in an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation.
This is something beautiful.
Only God’s love can accomplish this.
May God guide and save us.
May Jesus help us to live like God.
Jesus, we humbly come to you.
We surrender our life to you.
May you forgive our sins.
May you change our hearts so that we may also forgive your people.
May we welcome people whoever they are without judging them.
May we grow together in Jesus name.
In Jesus name, we pray.