"Love Story" Doesn't Know Love
If you're around my age, you remember the movie "Love Story." It gave us 5 feet long stocking caps, put the romance back in ice skating, and the tears back in movies just when it seemed that "Dirty Harry" had blown them all away. But despite its title, it doesn't know what love is. "Love Story" gave us one of the most loveless lines ever spoken: "Love is never having to say you're sorry." How un-loving. If love wouldn't make you need to say you're sorry you had hurt someone, what in the world would (Elliot, Let Be a Woman, 80)? No "Love Story" doesn't know what it's talking about. Love is always being sorry.
Our love for God should make us always sorry for our sins not viewing any as small. "Small sins become great when they are regarded as small" (Law and Gospel, 332). But regarding your sins as big isn't enough, and feeling sorry for them isn't repentance. This fiction is popular today. "I'm forgiven for all my sins even if I'm still living in them as long as I feel sorry for them." "I'm forgiven for sins that I live in as long as I believe." What a distortion of Christianity! Paul says in Romans 6 sins aren't forgiven with the privilege of continuing in them. Luther after quoting a heretical group saying that if an adulterer believes he still has a gracious God says, "What kind of church will it be...in which so awful a statement is heard" (LW, 3, 223)?
Don't you hear this said or implied? People living together in the sin of fornication are nevertheless considered Christians, even being communed. People committing adultery are regarded as forgiven because they're sorry although they won't break off their adulterous affair and return to their spouse. In the 1880s the Synod's president said we would be insane if we ever started thinking that way. He said, "We would consider a person insane who would talk like this: I want to be forgiven, but I want to continue doing what I am asking forgiveness for" (Law and Gospel, 220). We're insane, aren't we? We believe love is being sorry for sins sometimes and there's no need to stop them. Before us, no Christians ever believed such nonsense. Augustine in the 400s said we aren't to think "'believers can be saved for the sake of their faith alone, even if they continue to live in their evils'" (in Chemnitz, Locci, II, 545). Luther in the 1500s preached, "Accordingly, Christian teaching does not allow you to believe in Christ and at the same time persist in sin" (Klug, Luther Sermons, II, 123). Chemnitz, a 16th century Lutheran wrote, teaching "faith alone justifies" doesn't mean we've been promised immunity from punishment even if we continue in sins (Locci, II, 544).
Love is always being sorry for sins. Love wants to rip that sin out of our life, to tear it out of our heart, to break off doing it forever. Based on this, we must fear what the LCMS's first president did over 100 years ago, "We must fear that many of our members have never truly repented of their old sins" (Epistepostelle, Sermon, 484-5). Yes, contrary to what we prayed in the Collect, many of us don't "show forth in our lives what we profess with out lips." And worse still how many of us don't care that we don't?
That's why God decreed that "repentance" be preached in Christ's name to all nations. God wants people to be told they aren't to accept their sins, live with their sins, be comfortable in them. When Augustine lay on his death bed he had the penitential psalms written on the walls of his sickroom (Companion to Augustine, 278). Psalms where repentance, grief, sorrow over sins is expressed, where sin is treated as a mangy, snarling, stray dog and not a pet. Our love for God means always being sorry for our sins, i.e. repenting not just feeling sorry for them. God's love for us means He wants us always to be sure we're forgiven. And this is a battle every repentant Christian faces: How can I be sure God forgives my sins? In reality this is everyone's battle. Karl Menninger, a famous psychiatrist, said if he could convince the patients in his psychiatric hospitals that their sins are forgiven, 75% could walk out the next day (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 155).
This is true of many of us. We're in self-imposed prisons because we're not sure we're forgiven. But how can I be sure my sins are forgiven? Not by being repentant. What did I say? You can't be sure of your forgiveness by being sorry for your sins, by repenting, or even by changing. While some of us err thinking our sins are forgiven because we're sorry even without breaking off our sin, i.e. even without repentance, others err thinking we can be sure of forgiveness only if we're sorry, repentant, changed enough.
This is your problem when you think, "I don't feel bad enough to be forgiven. I haven't suffered enough. My heart shouldn't rejoice so quickly in forgiveness. Surely for such a serious sin as mine, I need to feel worse than I do before I can be forgiven." This is such a deadly error because it seems so pious, so Christian, so holy, to shake your head sadly at the absolution and say, "No after what I've done, words can't forgive me so easily."
How dare you! How dare you think that the blood of Jesus isn't sufficient to wash your sins away. How dare you think that God needs something other than the suffering and death of His Son to pay for your sins. How dare you think that your sorrow needs to be added to what Christ did and gave before your sins can be forgiven. How dare you think the thoughts put in your heart by doubt are more certain than the words put in my mouth by Christ. How dare you think that Christ only wanted repentance preached to the world. No, He wanted repentance and forgiveness preached!
Do note; He didn't say, "Repentance for forgiveness." You do not repent in order to be forgiven. It's a grave error to believe that your repentance causes God to forgive sins as if sins were not totally paid for on Good Friday while you were still an ungodly sinner, as if God is not a gracious, loving Father till you recognize Him as one, as if there is hunk of forgiveness in heaven and each time you repent it causes God to slice off a piece to cover your sin.
No God sent forgiveness into the world before anybody believed it, asked for it, or repented. Both repentance and forgiveness are to be preached to the world. If forgiveness is meant to be preached to the world, it can't be based on repentance. What does a world that cares nothing about sins care about forgiveness? Yet Christ sends forgiveness into the world. Forgiveness means nothing to an unrepentant world but Christ still sends it. So how happily does Christ send it to you who are bothered by your sins! He doesn't wait till you've been repentant, sad, or sorry enough.
Love is always being sorry, but love is also always being sure you're forgiven. But some of you wonder if you really are constantly sorry and even more if you really are totally forgiven. Love is the only answer. Not your love for God and not your feeling of God's love for you. But love in the concrete. Love is not a feeling of being sorry; love is not feeling certain God forgives you. The Bible says, "God is love." It doesn't say, "God is loving." Love is not a quality of God; love is His essence.
"Love Story" makes love a feeling between people; it makes it intangible which means untouchable. Watching it you can't help thinking, "O if only I had a love like this." "Love Story" puts love out of reach. Easter puts love in reach. Love is a living Jesus in our midst allowing Himself to be touched and handled. Easter is as the Judds sang in their 80's hit, "Love is Alive." The Judds made love concrete. "Love is a man, and he's mine" they sang.
In that song they weren't referring to the Man Jesus, but Easter does. Love is alive in the living Jesus. Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached to all nations in the Name of the living Man Jesus. You're to root your repentance and your forgiveness in the Man, the physically risen Man, Jesus, not in your feelings towards God or in how you think God feels toward you.
Therefore, you're to hear the call to repent in Jesus' name, not my name, not your spouse's, not the government's, not anyone else's. Christ calls us to repent of what He says is sinful. So much of the time we repent of things that aren't sinful. Luther called such things "nonsensical and counterfeit" sins. You don't call yourself to repent of eating meat on Fridays or for not going to confession like people in Luther's day did. But you do call yourself to repent of breaking a diet, of not making more money, of not having a Better Homes and Garden family. You do call yourself to repent of not meeting your husband's unreasonable standards or your wife's unscriptural expectations. You do call yourself to repent for not being as talented or smart as your brother or sister.
These are not things the risen Lord calls you to repent of. Jesus could care less how well you stay on your diet, what your income is, and whether you fail to meet standards other people set for you. He calls you to repent of real sins, not of made up, nonsensical, counterfeit ones. And Jesus brings forgiveness for real sins. Preaching repentance is based on what He says sin is; likewise preaching forgiveness is based on what He forgives. And what does the risen Jesus forgive? He forgives every single sin that He paid for.
Won't you take comfort in this? Don't seek comfort in your repentant love for God or in how greatly you feel His forgiving love toward you. Seek comfort in the concrete, living Jesus. Don't be like Thomas who refused the forgiveness Jesus put in the disciples' mouths. "No," Thomas said, "I'll decide when I'm forgiven, and that won't be till I poke my finger in the nail holes and shove my hand in His side." Thomas wouldn't believe the forgiveness Jesus put in the disciples' mouths. He wouldn't believe he was really forgiven until he felt there was enough evidence, how about you?
Jesus has risen and He sent me to tell you not only "Repent," but "You are forgiven." He also says He's here every Sunday to forgive you in person through my mouth and with His Body and Blood. Contrary to "Love Story" love is always saying your sorry, but just as important love is a Man who's here with you to forgive your sins by my Words and His Sacrament. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday of Easter,