Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
November 19, 2017
“The Permanent Record”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, CO
I’ve always had a loud voice. That can be a good thing. If I speak to those who are hard of hearing, I can often be heard. I can sing loud, preach loud, pray loud. At sporting events I holler loud. But in the fourth grade my loud voice got me in trouble.
At the end of the fourth grade I brought home my report card. My grades were o.k. – A’s and B’s. I didn’t even have to improve them with an eraser. But when my mother saw my report card she had a stern talk with me. Both my mother and father had been public school teachers, before my mother had 5 children in seven years (she said she never knew how this was happening), and my dad realized that he wasn’t going to feed all of our faces with a teacher’s salary. Their teaching background meant they always took the side of the teacher. And my teacher on my report card made a check mark, meaning NEEDS IMPROVEMENT, under the section “Practices the art of self-control”. That meant that I was a discipline problem.
I pointed out the good grades. I showed her the perfect attendance. (Why do kids who have the problem with self-control show up every day?) But all she could see was the mark next to self-control. It was this loud voice that got me in trouble. My others friends would talk to me. But it was “Mr. Larson”, who was always heard.
But it is what my mother warned me about that scared me, then and for years to come. “John, can’t you see that this is going on your permanent record?” Everyone from that day forward would know that I was a loud-mouthed brat. What if I ever wanted to go to college? Seminary? Would the woman that I wanted to spend my life with have access to those permanent records? I wonder if you knew that I had such a problem before you asked me to be your pastor? Permanent records are scary.
A lesson from the Old Testament paints this picture of what the Judgement Day looks like. “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out before Him. Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-10)
What is in the books? A permanent record of all we have done? All the good we have done and all the bad that has happened? In the books are the mistakes of our life mentioned, the foolish choices, the harsh words, the hateful thoughts, or the numerous sins of our years?
Revelation 20 gives us a picture of that final day. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:11-12)
This serious picture of God shows us One who knows all things and to whom we are accountable for our life and our decisions. In one of our Confession of Sins it addresses God as the ‘One to whom all hearts are open and no secrets are hid’. He knows what is in the books.
That unsettles us. We enjoy forgiveness but are troubled with accountability before God. But we are accountable. Do you remember the words of Jesus, “To the one who has been given much, much more will be required.”? (Luke 12:48) James writes, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
This can disturb us because we know what the book of our life may look like. We are not proud of every choice and decision. We have secrets that we do not want recorded in any book, to be read by anyone. They are secrets!! We don’t want that stuff on a permanent record.
Psalm 85 may be the word of our heart, “Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away Your displeasure toward us.” (Psalm 85:4) We are one with the Psalmist who says, “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3)
What is in that book? What is listed on our permanent record?
Anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked what the first signs of civilization were in a society (the questioner expected her to talk about different tools, and so on). She said that the first sign of an emerging civilization was a healed femur. In early society, if a person could not hunt or gather, a broken leg would mean his or her death. A healed femur meant that someone had to care for the injured person, not just the leg, by bringing the person food and taking time away from their other activities to care for the person. Compassion, Margaret Mead said, was the first sign of civilization.
We are in need of such compassion. We need Someone to heal our brokenness. Is it possible that the permanent record can be changed? Yes. That is the wonderful news that comes from God. We live with so much discouragement in life. Some people get beat up daily with life that places heavy burdens and deep problems on their shoulders. Some only hear words that defeat them constantly. And then we fight the battle against the devil and sin and evil and temptation and guilt!! To all of this God has spoken, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:9-11) Our permanent record tells us that God is for us and that He loves us and He has sent Jesus for our very life.
Can the record of our life be changed? When I was a student at Concordia College in Ann Arbor, Michigan I had the great joy of going to the Rare Book Library at the University of Michigan. It was one of the largest collections of ancient manuscripts in the United States. It contained a number of pages from Gutenberg’s Bible from the late 1400’s or early 1500’s. But what really caught my eye was a tax receipt from the time of Jesus Christ. It was a Roman receipt. It included the name of the man who owed the tax and the amount of that tax.
A Greek word was stamped on the bottom to say that the payment had been made and nothing else was owed. The word was Tetelestai – a Greek word. What made that word so important to me was that this was the word that Jesus spoke from the cross as he was nearing the completion of His work for our forgiveness. Tetelestai is the word “It is finished!” (John 19:30) On our book it is stamped – ‘It is paid’, ‘It is completed’, ‘It is finished’. Christ has changed the permanent record.
It is Jesus who speaks, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) It is these words that bring us peace: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) How about this, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b)
The New English Bible quotes Psalm 130 like this, “If Thou, Lord, shouldest keep account of sins, who, O Lord, could hold up his head? But in Thee is forgiveness, and therefore Thou are revered.” (Psalm 130:3-4) The Book of Revelation tells us of the battle and the victory. “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.’” (12:10-11)
The permanent record speaks of our life and our righteousness given through Christ. The Old Testament says, “You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) The New Testament says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
What does the permanent record say? Forgiven, cleansed, pure, righteous. The prophet Daniel tells us what is in that book. “But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.” (Daniel 12:1b)
In a few days is Thanksgiving. How about thanking God for treating us with such forgiveness, mercy, compassion and love?
My mother was right. She always has been. Mothers seem to have that way about them. What goes on your permanent record is important. And nothing is more important that finding our name written in the Book of Life. It is written there permanently and gracefully. It is our permanent record that brings great joy and hope. Amen!!
(This sermon was originally preached at Ascension on November 16, 2008)