St. Andrew's
United Church of Christ

1320 Spruce Street, Reading, PA  19602-2161
"More than a Century of Service to the City"

Message From the Pastor

"Our Permanent Record"

"As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us." - Psalms 103:12

Back in my days as an elementary school student, one of the things we all dreaded was that we might commit some infraction, seriously mess up on a test, or otherwise get into the sort of trouble that would end up on our Permanent Record. I am unsure just how we thought this record would overshadow us all the way through life in the manner of Hester Prynne's scarlet "A," but the threat seemed real enough at the time to serve as a significant deterrent. All these years later I suspect that if my "permanent record" is still intact in some dusty, cobwebbed storage room in the bowels of my high school, no one has cracked it open in decades, nor do I think it likely that anyone will bother to disturb that file again until the paper has begun to crumble into dust itself.

Those were the good, old days, when paper records deteriorated and crumbled with age, and memories faded as years and then decades went by, and people enjoyed the real possibility that their worst behaviors, their biggest mistakes, and even their most egregious transgressions might someday be put forever behind them. Sadly, we live in a time when, thanks to the digitalization of everything, that is no longer possible. Time and again I hear news stories about younger adults whose injudicious teenage rants on digital media have recently resurfaced to cause them serious harm, even though said younger adults have long since matured and outgrown the follies of their youth. In spite of their best efforts to delete the mistakes of their past, nothing every really disappears from the digital world, and there is always someone, somewhere who will dig it up and spew it out, over and over again.

Of course, in the political world, this is a goldmine for opposition research. Aside from any question about youthful indiscretions, no one running for public office is permitted to grow and learn and change an opinion. And no one is ever, ever allowed to make a mistake. Forgiving and forgetting are inextricably linked together in our Christian faith. True forgiveness requires the injured party to blot out the transgression and restore the relationship as if no injury had ever been sustained. It seems counterintuitive, because to do so would leave us vulnerable, but forgiving--without forgetting--is not really forgiveness, at all. "Trust, but verify," may have served President Reagan well as a watchword for international relations, but it has no place in the practice of forgiveness as Jesus taught us.

Unlike the lords of the internet, our God, who sees all and knows all, chooses to forget, to blot out, to wipe the slate clean for us whenever we confess our sins and truly repent. God's permanent records file consists not of our failures, transgressions, and shortcomings, but rather of our names. Each of us and all of us: God knows us by name and God loves us. And that is forever!

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