Empty Pockets…


A few days ago I discovered an old overcoat and began to go through the pockets. It’s amazing how much stuff you can accumulate, or stash away. I pulled out some old tissues, a few bits of paper covered with some old scribbled messages, a used train ticket and a very smelly bobble hat which hadn’t been worn for years!

What do you keep (or lose!) in your pockets?

As we have just celebrated the Jewish new year, I wondered how much “excess baggage” I might be carrying into this new season? Annually, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the orthodox Jew would symbolically empty his pockets of his sins at a river or running stream, casting them into the water while reading the following verses from Micah 7:18-19.

 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?

 You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

 Make sure you go into the future with “empty pockets”.

The apostle Paul certainly knew the “lightness” and enthusiasm of the empty pocket journey when he wrote in Philippians 3:13-14:

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Press on to what is ahead. You may have many goals, but make the knowledge of the Holy a priority.

How easy is it to “forget what is behind?”

Depending on our circumstances we may have to come to terms with all sorts of tragedies and incoherences. Some events may seem to cast too profound a shadow into our future to be easily forgotten. Some theologians talk about the ultimate “attrition” of memory in heaven as a fulfillment of redemption.

Redemption will be complete only when the creation of “all things new” is coupled with the passage of “all things old” into the double “nihil” of non-existence and non remembrance.”  Miroslav Volf – “Exclusion & Embrace”

Our own human efforts and psychology will always ultimately fail at the challenge to forgive and forget. It is only the love of God, incarnated and dynamic, flowing out into the world through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross that has the means to genuinely clean out the pockets of this world.

Our challenge is to embrace this love in humble faith and submit to its crucifying overflow into our own life experience. We too need to learn to love.

The famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13:5 makes an amazing statement about one of love’s qualities saying that:

“it keeps no record of wrongs.”

 Love doesn’t take an inventory. (logizomai in the original Greek). It wipes the slate clean. Obviously, for there to be “closure” on many events we need to consider issues of truth and justice, but, just as Christ was willing to reach out to us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8), so we can cultivate “a will to embrace” the other and see beyond the differences and the offence.

As we journey deeper into grace for our own lives so we can call our fellows (and enemies?) to travel with us.

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

 A new season is like a new birth. This “new birth” is named in many cultures where the year is given a name. What will you christen your year?

Miroslav Volk recounts the story of a Muslim woman who, during the war in Bosnia, suffered terrible abuse and affliction. When she became a mother she named her newborn son “Jihad”, seeing in him the means to enact revenge on her enemies.

Another birth is recounted in Genesis 41:51. This time Joseph, the dreamer, the one who knew such cruel rejection from his brothers, the one who suffered unjust accusation and prison, is welcoming his first-born son into the world. What does he name his child? Revenge…Bitterness? No!

“Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh (derived from the Hebrew “to forget”) and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

 Manasseh points us to a far greater firstborn son, Christ himself, who, as a suffering lamb, carried the sin of the world on his shoulders and bore away our troubles and community strife.

Why not christen your year “Manasseh?” At the beginning of each new season, leave behind your troubles. A “father’s household”, speaks of family, or church. Some of the deepest wounds can be inflicted in the “house of my friends.”  (Zechariah 13:6) Allow the Lord to ease you into a “generous amnesia” concerning such communal hostilities so that you may speak kindly to your brothers (Genesis 50:21), amazing yourself with grace and bringing healing words of redemption.

Happy…empty pocketed Manasseh…New Season…or, owning a special “Yom Kippur” blessing, we might say:

“Gmar Chatimah Tova” – May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good ! (Literally: A good final sealing.)


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