I wish there were some wonderful place called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all of our past mistakes and heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief,
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never be put on again. (Louisa Tarkington)
With God, we don’t need a do-over. You would only make the same mistakes, or worse.
When I sit down with families in preparation for a funeral, at least 75% of the time, something like this happens: The family meets me, and because of my personality, and position as a chaplain, most of the time they immediately trust me. The family wants to tell me a story of a person they loved. The family starts talking. Often one of the family members will say something not so flattering about the person, such as a character flaw like anger, or sometimes quite serious issues like beating the children, unfaithfulness, or discouragement. On more than one occasion I took a risk and said, “your father had a problem with alcohol, didn’t he”, and an incredible sense of relief could be felt once the words were spoken. I hear a lot of dark secrets that are never spoken publicly. As the family starts to talk they pause and look at me sheepishly, and realize what they’ve just said; what follow is something like, “now you’re not going to say that.” I assure the family that I will focus during the funeral on when the person was at their best. I tell them I believe it is incredibly important to not paint a picture of the person that’s not true, but that does not mean I have to dwell on the negative either. Sometimes the family wants an entire negative aspect referenced. Last week, everyone knew there was a whole lot more behind the sentence when I said with permission of the family, “The family is so proud that in her 40’s she overcame alcoholism.” When I do my job well as a story teller, I tell an honest story, not ignoring the past, but not dwelling on it either. I am far from perfect and don’t mean my funeral eulogies to be the ultimate example of God’s redemption of the past, but it’s the best I can do to try and understand how God sees our past. God knows our past, but somehow he sees the best in us, he sees our character emerge through our past.
When I read today's scripture, Paul alludes to past conflict… “we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within.” Paul makes reference to the hurt he has caused the people of Corinth, “I see that my letter hurt you…” Paul does not criticize the Corinthians, he does not try to get even or defend himself, but rather, he says, Let God redeem our relationship, Let us draw closer to the Lord by trusting in him.
Paul brings out the whole idea, not of ignoring the past, but focusing on that which is good from the past, “when we were at our best.” We all know people who major on everything that is wrong, complain about the past, lament that which was hurtful. and they say the same thing over and over and over, seemingly never to move on. Too many folks are stuck int he past. To redeem the past means to find that which is right, that which is good, “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Redeeming the past means to look for God among us and how God has shaped our character. I like how one person defined history: “the place where character and circumstance met.”
Redeeming the past starts with understanding the nature of God’s promises in this life: God’s promise is not to give you a perfect stress free life, but rather, God’s promise is to help you through(Read v. 10). Not only to make it through, but shape you into a more faithful person. If you are living with tension in your life, or if your life is turned upsidedown because of a broken relationship, my prayer for you is not only that you make it through, but that you make it through as a stronger person of faith. Being a Christian does not mean a pain free life! I wasimpressed years ago from a book by Dave Draveki, an MLB pitcher that lost an arm to cancer. In his book Dave Draveki said, “In America, we tend to pray for healing, for God to take away the pain, to overcome the problems. In other countries, people tend to pray, “Lord, help me endure" (a quote from my memory, so not exact).
Christians are not immune from broken relationships. A broken relationship is always because something went wrong. The relationship was once good, and something happened to cause tension, perhaps a bad decision or a betrayal. God does not say, “I will undo your past.” Everyone has a past, God’s promise is, “I will redeem your past. I will give you peace. I will shape your character to be a stronger person of faith." That’s the kind of thing I see happening in our scripture reading with Paul and the Corinthians. Yes things happened, yes there were problems between us, but look at the strength that emerged, look at when we were at our best, God wasthere through it all and he will make us stronger than ever because of it.
How does God redeem your past? Start by looking for the silver lining. In v 5-6 Paul alludes to all the difficulties he’s had, but then v. 7 he speaks of a measure of joy. But Paul goes deeper than just finding the silver lining or trying to put a happy face on the past. That's only a beginning, and there is so much more.
How does God redeem your past? (read v. 9): Look for the power of God in midst of the tension of your past, and ask for forgiveness. Repentance means to learn from the mistakes and sins of your life and turn your life around. It’s not a hard concept. Establish better patterns, live with better attitudes, and make better choices. That’s the power of God. That’s the hope of a better tomorrow. For me, the best thing about getting older: I have more of life to look back on and to see God’s hand in my life.
How does God redeem your past: understand the difference between Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow (v. 10)? The difference is simple: when you lament the past, does it drive you to God? Worldly sorrow is hollow, it has no roots, no object, and no way out. Godly sorrow throws your emotions, your trust, and your faith into the arms of God. V. 10 speaks of sorrow without repentance, meaning nothing ever changes, no hope, no future, no confidence that anything will ever change. I like the way the NLT says it, “For God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation. We will never regret that kind of sorrow. But sorrow withoutrepentance is the kind that results in death.”
Redeeming the past. God promises you a better life of peace and salvation, not by undoing your past, not be giving you a perfect stress free life with everyone getting along at all times, but by focusing on that which was right, by opening your eyes to see his presence during the good and the bad, by giving you the gift of forgiveness as you repent of your past sins, attitudes and patterns and use the past to grow in your faith. There is no statute of limitations on repentance. Redeeming your past does not mean the past changes, but rather, when you look at your past with the eyes of faith, the power of God emerges, repentance sets you on a path right living (i.e. righteousness), and a joy emerges because of what the Lord has done for you. How do you restore a broken relationship? Let God redeem your past. You will emerge a stronger person of faith! Amen.