Weekly Reflection (NEW!)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
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Please read this passage in your Bible or follow it as a link: Romans 3
The Lost Parking Ticket
I was out looking for garbage on a windy Wednesday. There was a lot of stuff caught in the hedges along the Cathedral of Learning lawn. I saw something promising and I picked it up. It was a parking ticket. I thought that this would make a great devotion. The ticket was dated for that Wednesday. The description of the car read: brown, four-door, Chrysler. I looked across the street and saw a car that matched the description. Even the license plate matched the ticket! I trotted across the street and placed the ticket back under the windshield wiper. Boy! Was that guy lucky I came along. Otherwise, the owner of the brown Chrysler would have never known about the ticket, and it would have probably remained unpaid to this very day.
Anyway, I kept walking along finding some good garbage to write devotions about when all of the sudden there was another ticket! I rushed toward it hoping that I could once again repeat the good deed performed for the owner of the brown Chrysler. (I hope the owner of the brown Chrysler isn't reading this. Who owns a brown car anyway? This car was brown, brown too--not cool frost or metallic brown.) I picked up the ticket. It was dated for the day before. Oh, well. But wait! The description of the car said that it was a red, two-door Chevy. I looked around and saw one parked right on the sidewalk leading up to the Cathedral of Learning. That must be the one! Alas, the license plate number did not match. The ticket could not be returned to its rightful owner.
Then I began to wonder aloud, "What's going to happen to the owner of the red, two-door Chevy? The owner of the red, two-door Chevy won't be able to pay the ticket." Students started looking at me the way they look at mentally ill people who talk to themselves out loud; so I scurried back to the Lutheran University Center with the rest of my garbage where I could ponder the fate of the owner of the red, two-door Chevy. I have in my possession a parking ticket with a $54.00 fine. The owner of the red, two-door Chevy may never know about the ticket until the owner of the red, two-door Chevy gets another one or perhaps gets so many that the owner of the red, two-door Chevy gets hauled off to jail. Maybe the owner of the red, two-door Chevy didn't know that place where the car was parked was a no parking zone. The owner of the red, two-door Chevy may not even know that the ticket could possibly exist. More probable, however, the owner of the red, two-door Chevy thought that parking there for a few minutes would go unnoticed. The owner of the red, two-door Chevy goes about to this day believing that there was success in this small game of chance. Whatever the frame of mind of the owner of the red, two-door Chevy, that person is guilty. The intent of the crime is not important. Ignorance of the ticket will not acquit the person of guilt.
God doesn't go around issuing "sin tickets" every time we sin against God or neighbor. If God did, I would probably have one right now taped to my forehead for making of people with brown cars. If God did, we would all have tickets pasted to our foreheads, the backs of our heads, on our shoulders and eventually all over. For some of the tickets we could easily admit our guilt, but for others we would plead not guilty and protest God's judgment. Still others might perhaps go unnoticed or even get lost among the myriad of tickets sticking like feathers to our bodies. Ignorance, agreement, or disagreement would not be the issue. Guilt would be the issue. We would, like it or not, be guilty of the sin. Paul tells us plainly in Romans chapter that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No kidding! Of course we all have sinned. Of course we have all been opportunistic and self-serving to the detriment of others. Everyone has. Everyone bears the guilt of sin.
I once got a parking ticket from a Pitt police officer. I was returning a book to the library. All I had to do was run in and run out. There were no parking places in the immediate vicinity of the door; so, thinking myself above the law for the sake of convenience, I doubled parked. I jumped out of the car and made a dash for the library. An air horn barked and a siren chirped as I ran through the doors. Ten seconds later I was back, and there was an officer issuing me a ticket. She was irritated. "Didn't you hear my air horn?" I put my best "sheepish" face on, "I didn't realize that it was for me. You hear those things all the time around here. I learned to ignore them. Sorry about that." She softened up a little, "Look. Somebody called and wanted these cars cleared out. I have to give you a ticket, but show up and court and I tell the judge to go easy on you." "Thanks," I said.
The court date came and I went before the judge. She asked me how I wanted to plead. In order to get out of the paying the full fine ($96.00) I had to plead not guilty even though I was. She asked the officer to tell her side of the story. The officer accurately recounted the event and told the judge that I was very polite about the whole thing. The judge looked at me. "Do you have anything to say?" What could I say? I was guilty. I croaked out, "No." The judge grabbed her gavel and banged it down while proclaiming, "Not guilty!" Go in peace and serve the Lord! I was off the hook entirely. The most I had hoped for was a reduction in the fine. I didn't have to pay anything. I was literally Scot-free! (Pun intended.) I have never doubled parked since... I don't think.
We are all guilty before God. The penalty is death. This death is more horrible than a cessation of physical function. This death is life diminishing in our daily relationships with those around us. This death separates us from the ones we long to love, from our true selves, and from God. The Good News is we have an advocate. Like the officer who testified before the judge on my behalf, Jesus stands before God on our behalf and tells God the event just like it happened. Jesus tells God that he loves us and wants to be with us even though it cost him death. Jesus tells God that not even death cannot separate us from the love he has for us. Jesus tells God that he lives to love us and to love us forever even when we are not polite about it. God declares us not guilty! "Not guilty" is proclaimed and we are released from death to love our neighbor, to love God, and to be our true loving selves. Jesus looks at us in love and says, "Go in peace and sin no more."
We will sin again. That is the pervasiveness of sin and the human condition. But we struggle on relying and God's promises to love and forgive us. We struggle on having faith that the Holy Spirit will cause to grow in love and service.
Pray and give thanks for God who will always love and forgive you.
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