Tag Archive | forgiveness

3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

3rd Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (proper 5), preached 6/5/16

first reading:  1 Kings 17:17-24

Psalm 30

second reading:  Galatians 1:11-24

gospel reading:  Luke 7:11-17


Today we continue hearing from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians – as we did last week, and will for the next four weeks to come.

Last week we read his very angry, person introduction, in which he let the churches in Galatia know, in no uncertain terms, that they were headed down a WRONG path.  Today we pick up exactly where we left off, even overlapping verses 11-12.

In our verses today Paul is reminding the Galatians of his “earlier life,” and the life he is leading in their present tense. And he makes a point of saying that only God could bring about such a transition.  It’s a very stark “before and after.”

Some people come to faith because they reach a rock bottom and they have nowhere else to turn.  This wasn’t the case at all for Paul.  He was doing well.  He was respected.  He was successful and had “advanced… beyond many… of the same age…”  He LOVED his Jewish faith, and saw the upstart Christians as WRONG.  And he would use his respected position to protect the faith which he loved.  He writes, “I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.”

But in the midst of this success, his life is rudely interrupted – changed forever.  The before and after couldn’t be any more different.  It all starts in vs. 15-16:  “But when God… was pleased to reveal his Son to me…”  Without warning, without any desire or effort on his part, his life and purpose were changed forever.

From a worldly perspective it became exponentially harder, filled with persecution from within and without.  Within, there were those who challenged his authority – from without, those who saw faith in Jesus as a threat like he once did.  The gospel did not make his life better on the outside, it made it worse.  He went from powerful to struggling, from persecutor to persecuted.

This is the main argument he gives for the gospel he’s preaching not being of human origin.  It must be God’s work, because it makes no earthly sense at all.

The other way Paul makes the argument that his “conversion” is not of human origin, is the enormity of the grace he has received.  To be the persecutor, to be the one violently trying to destroy the gospel – then to become its chief evangelist is a sign of mercy that can come only from God.

All the pain Paul caused those early Christians, even perhaps sending some of our earliest martyrs to their deaths – and God says, “I forgive you, and I will use you.”  WOW.  Think about it.

If God can forgive Paul and then use him to spread the gospel – if Jesus died and rose for Paul – then there’s nothing that could possibly stand in OUR way of receiving God’s mercy and love.

God took a hateful religious zealot bent on revenge and destruction – and turned him into a missionary for love and forgiveness – gave him the call to reach out to EVERYONE even to the Gentiles!  God called Paul, the Jewish zealot, to spend most of his mission reaching out to those who were the “other” to him in his previous life.  God called Paul, the Jewish zealot, to proclaim to the Gentiles that Jesus loved them too, and that God’s love and grace was just as much for them as for the original followers.

This is a living testimony to the POWER of God to wipe OUR slates clean and give US new beginnings. It’s hard to imagine a modern day equivalent.  Perhaps God converting and calling a member of the Westboro Baptist group to become an evangelist proclaiming God’s love for the LGBT community…

If God can extend grace and new life to THIS extreme, imagine what God can do for you and me.

broken-chains1-1-300x217Is there something that you’ve been holding onto?  Something you did (or WAS) years ago?  Some embarrassing or hurtful event you were a part of that still eats at you?  Do you ever have the feeling that you’re just not good enough? That God couldn’t possibly forgive this “thing” you feel hanging over you?

Even people sitting in churches, even pastors, sometimes have events and feelings either come back to them, or “stuff” they haven’t been able to let go of.  But that’s on US, not on God.  God isn’t holding onto it, WE are.

KNOW THIS – from Paul’s example – if Jesus forgave Paul, including the destruction he wrought in his life before God “was pleased to reveal his Son to [him],” then God certainly forgives you and me and all the awful things we have done and things that still weigh us down.

Let them go.  Because through Jesus they’re already gone.

There’s nothing we have to do – praise God for that.  Nothing required for us to do, because Jesus has done it already. As Paul will make clear throughout this letter, in Jesus we’re FREE.  Free from having to pay for our sins.  Free from all our past mistakes.  Free from having to try to be perfect.  Free from having to do “a” or “b” to “get” God to love or forgive us.

This is what GRACE is.  This is MERCY.  An undeserved outpouring of God’s love.  It means each day we get a new beginning, a new life.  Each time we call our for forgiveness it is there for us because we have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Because of this freedom in Christ, we are free to be bold in faith.  To try and even fail in serving God, just like Paul.

Our mistakes do NOT define us.  Our past does NOT define us.  Even our successes do NOT define us.  GOD’S GRACE DEFINES US.

And that, Paul says, is not of human origin, or from a human source – THAT power is from God alone. Praise be to God.

AMEN.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Lent, year C, 2016 (preached 3/6/16)

First reading:  Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm 32

Second Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Gospel Reading:  Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


This is one of the best loved of all the parables of Jesus.  Even non-Christians have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son.

It seems like a simple story, but it’s really SO much deeper.  None of these three characters are ideal. We’ve got a son who won’t grow up, an angry son who grumbles all day, and a father who wouldn’t know tough love if it hit him in the face.

Jesus tells this story because the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about the lowlife with whom he was associating.  They don’t think Jesus should be eating with “sinners.”  In response, Jesus tells them parables about being lost, then found, and the rejoicing that comes with the finding.

Makes sense when put simply – but it’s really NOT that simple.

I’ll be honest with you.  I identify with the elder son.  And I think Jesus meant for the Pharisees and scribes to do so as well, because the comparison is very clear.  They didn’t think Jesus should be eating with those who clearly didn’t deserve him.  So Jesus tells a story about a father who throws a FEAST for a child who clearly didn’t deserve HIM.

Jesus eating with sinners.  The father feasting with an undeserving son.

Rembrandt, 1662-1669

Rembrandt, 1662-1669

Again, back to describing these characters:  one is selfish, immature and wasteful; one is rigid, unforgiving, angry and bitter; and one loves with no boundaries or discipline.  WE are the children, and God is the father.

Jesus is telling us that THIS is how God operates with us – God loves recklessly and forgives foolishly. THIS is the love of God.  It knows no bounds.  It doesn’t abide by human rules of what is proper or “good.”

God’s love accepts those of us who try our best and those of us who don’t try at all.  God’s love embraces those of us who sweat for the Church and those who have abused the Church.  God’s love prepares a feast for the lifelong faithful and for deathbed confessors.  God’s love makes no earthly sense.

It IS reckless and foolish.  There is no sense of fairness or right and wrong.  And thank God for that!

The father’s only actions in this parable are to forgive, show mercy and REJOICE.

And while we, (or at least “I”), grumble at the unfairness of it all like the elder son, God is forgiving US of THAT sin – the sin of wanting to be judge – thinking we can tell God who is “deserving” of God’s love and rejoicing.  How arrogant and presumptuous!

prodigal son - elder son clip artMost of us look at this parable and see the CLEAR obvious sin of the younger son, but because most of us identify with the elder son, we fail to see HIS sin.

Sure, the elder son did all the right things, but he was angry and bitter, even lashing out at his father at the unfairness of it all.  He refuses to attend the feast and greet his brother – and he rebukes his own father.  He does all the right things, but his attitude is rigid and unforgiving.  And he is more than a little jealous.  “Why didn’t you let me have a party?”

The father forgives them both.

The father could’ve said to the elder son, “Look, I’m in charge and if I want to throw your brother a party then I’ll throw him a party.  Now get in there!”

Instead he says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we HAD to celebrate and rejoice…”

The father even tries to repair the relationship between the brothers.  When the elder son refers to the younger son as “this son of yours,” the father changes it to “this brother of YOURS.”  The father wants them all to be reconciled – a theme in our second reading where St. Paul calls us to a “ministry of reconciliation” – not only to God, but to one another.¹

From a human perspective we get jealous and think that somehow love is a finite thing and that a loved one giving another love will somehow mean less for us.  And you know, sometimes with human beings that happens because of sin.  But it is not so with God.

God loves me more intensely, more personally, than I’ll ever know.  Yet God loves all of you the SAME way.  God’s love for me doesn’t mean there’s any less for you; God’s love for you doesn’t mean there’s any less for me.

And that love is with us no matter how well we’ve done, or how far we’ve fallen.  This may not seem fair, but it’s a glorious thing.  Because each one of us has times in our lives when we fall, when we fail – when we KNOW we have done wrong.  We feel small, humiliated, weak.  Each one of us has had times when WE are the younger son.

And we have been like the elder son – rigid, perhaps even jaded by events in our lives, only looking at the world with eyes of judgment instead of love and grace.

And in BOTH these times thank God that we are welcomed back by God with arms that embrace instead of reject us.

The world can be cruel, but God is not.  God is love.

Heaven rejoices whenever we, as we sing in our Lenten gospel verse “return to the your God”² again and again and again.  Every time we confess, every time we petition for God’s mercy, there is rejoicing in heaven.

Thank you Lord, for loving us foolishly and recklessly, when it makes no “earthly” sense to do so; thank you that there’s enough of your love to go around for us all; and thank you for loving us SO much that you rejoice whenever we return to you.  Please teach US to rejoice in your gifts of love and mercy, and in the gift you give us of each other.

AMEN.


¹Matthew 5:24, plus many other texts that speak of our need to forgive one another as God has forgiven us.

²Joel 2:13 – each week our congregation sings a verse from the Bible to introduce the gospel reading.  In Lent, we sing this verse.

 

15th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 9/6/2015)

first reading:  Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

second reading:  James 2:1-17

gospel reading:  Mark 7:24-37


For vacation this year I spent two weeks traveling around the western area of our country.  I saw some amazing sights – marvels of God, the power of water, the genius of the Native people in living with their environment.

But I also witnessed evil genius.  I also witnessed the power of self-destruction.  I also witnessed greed and egotism on one of the grandest scales I’ve ever seen.

My family experienced the Grand Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Bryce Canyon National Parks among many other places – and our journey ended in Las Vegas.

I could go on and on about feeling God’s power and majesty in creation – but my thoughts after pondering the readings for this morning are more with Las Vegas.  And those thoughts aren’t near as nice or clean or beautiful.

What we have in our readings this morning are hypocrisy, beggars, and not listening to what Jesus says.  That seems to sum up Las Vegas pretty well.  Except it’s not that easy.

The nickname most of us know for Vegas is “Sin City.”  But after being there a mere two days I came to see it more as “SAD City.”  There were people, including me, who walked past homeless folks on the streets.  There were people bent on self-destruction.  Activities that given the right frame of mind and context are fun and life-giving, but are taken to such extremes that one can only wonder why more people don’t DIE there.

At first I wondered why the pool was only four feet deep and closed at 8pm, then I saw how people were behaving at the pool at 6pm and I knew.  The casinos are open 24 hours.  I only saw them by 9am, but even at that hour they were filled with people staring at their machines with desperation as their cigarettes burned in their fingers.

All in all I felt an overwhelming sadness for these folks, and ANGER too – at the “higher ups” who were benefiting from people’s addictions and desperation.  Evil geniuses that profit from our greed and compulsion to stake it all for the chance to win big.  Anger at the old women who were trying to push “baseball cards” of young “girls for hire” into my husband’s hand as the two of us walked past.

But I only saw there on a grand scale what I see around me in my daily life on a regular basis.

James, in our second reading, calls out our hypocrisy.  Our tendency to play to the money crowd, our accumulation of things, our hoarding of stuff, while we see our neighbors suffering around us.  Jesus himself acknowledges our baser instincts, our attraction to exclusion, our need to think of ourselves as better than others, when he calls the Syrophoenician woman a “dog.”

And we, like the crowds in Jesus’ time, are just as incapable of listening to his words.  To them he said, “don’t tell anyone,” but they couldn’t contain themselves and told EVERYONE.  To us he gives the new commandment to “love one another,” and the mission to “teach all nations,” and what do we do?  We keep it to ourselves, happier to share the latest gossip than our faith, insulted by the instruction of the Church to give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions.

What are we to do when confronted with our sin?  What are we to do when we realize what a mess the world is – and OUR part in making it and keeping it that way?  What are we to do?

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

We’re stuck.  We are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves.

WE ARE THE SYROPHOENICIAN WOMAN – unworthy of anything, even the smallest crumb that falls from the table – from THAT table [pointing to the altar] especially.

Depressing isn’t it.  In our “do it yourself” culture, none of us want to hear that we “can’t.”  But there it is, like it or not.

Well, as much as I might not “like” it, I’m also eternally grateful that I’m not left to work out the mess of my life, or anyone else’s, on my own.  I’m grateful I don’t have to rely on my own strength of character or righteousness to get on God’s good side.

Jesus has done all that and more on the cross.

He didn’t give his life for us because we’re good or noble.  He went to the cross for us precisely because we’re NOT. We don’t deserve a place at his table, we don’t even deserve the crumbs from it – yet he invites us, every one of us, to feast on his love and forgiveness.

We are beggars – yet he lifts us up and gives us a place of honor.  We are beggars – yet he carries us through our deepest pains.  We are beggars – yet he gives us hope beyond this life.  We are beggars – yet he gives us strength to meet the day ahead.

We may not be able to do anything to save ourselves, thank God.  But now that we ARE saved, we beggars have a LOT of work to do.  Sure we screw it up.  We fail.  Sometimes we make a real mess of things.  But it doesn’t keep us from working – because we are FREED from the bondage of all our mistakes.  Jesus sees us fall, picks us up, and sends us out again.

That freedom is tremendous, indescribable.  Jesus may have healed the woman’s daughter, he may have healed the deaf man – but how much MORE has he healed and given to you and me?

We go to the casino empty handed.  Not one coin to put in the slot, and yet the owner himself comes up to us and says, “You’ve broken the bank.  You get it all.”  What would we do?  Jump for joy!  Hug everyone around us!  Drinks for everyone!

Jesus does so much more than that.  We get MORE than money – we get our LIVES.  We get LOVE.  We get to SHARE that love without losing any for ourselves.  We get HEAVEN.

HOW can we keep that to ourselves?

Let’s not.

AMEN.

 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (year B), 2015 (preached 6/7/15)

first reading:  Genesis 3:8-15

Psalm 130

second reading:  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

gospel reading:  Mark 3:20-35


There’s an old saying that I’m sure most of us have heard before – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Our world has changed remarkably in the past one hundred years.  There have been amazing life-changing advancements – we’ve gone from riding on horses to speeding in cars and flying in planes, to sending people into space.

We have cures for diseases that used to threaten and kill.  Technology allows us to see our insides without a doctor having to make a single cut.  Encyclopedias and dictionaries are just about obsolete – if you want to know about something, just google it.

The world is indeed a different place, a changed place, from where it was just a hundred years ago.  And it is most certainly different than it was in the time when Jesus taught the crowds in parables.  And it is almost a completely different world than the one in which Adam and Eve lived.

But – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Raffaello (1483-1520)

Raffaello (1483-1520)

It is true that our outer lives, the stuff that surrounds us, differs dramatically from the time of the first people, but INSIDE, we see in our reading from Genesis, that since the beginning of the world itself, we have NOT changed very much.

All the technology and comforts that surround us have not been able to fix our human, instinctive desire to shirk from responsibility for our bad behavior.

Those of us who are parents, or who have cared for children, know this.  We “catch” children in a “wrong” activity, and one child says, “It’s not my fault, SHE made me do it!”  And the other says, “No, HE made me do it!”  Sound familiar?  Sounds an awful lot like Adam and Eve.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What do most adults in our day and age do when they are confronted with a fault within themselves, or something they shouldn’t have done?  We try to shift the blame off of ourselves, to move the responsibility for our bad behavior onto another person, or create some reason to excuse ourselves.

Adam – had the ultimate audacity.  He not only pointed the finger at Eve, he point his finger at GOD.

He didn’t just say, “The woman made me do it.”  He said, “The woman, whom YOU gave to be with me made me do it.”  In other words, “If you hadn’t given her to me Lord, I wouldn’t be in this trouble – so it’s really YOUR fault.” Sounds an awful lot like my son!  He also tries to make it MY fault when he does something wrong.

Eve doesn’t do much better.  She may not blame God for her mistake, but she also tries to point the blame elsewhere. “The serpent tricked me.”  “Don’t look at me Lord.  It’s not my fault.  It’s the serpent’s fault.”  Adam and Eve point the finger of blame at everyone but themselves.

But does it work?  Does God excuse Adam because Eve “made” him eat of the tree?  Does God excuse Eve because the serpent tricked her into eating from the tree?  Nope.  God holds all of them, even the serpent, responsible for their behavior, and the role they played in acting out the first sin:  disobedience – going against the direct command of God.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Human nature has changed very little over these thousands of years.  We still do the same, in our society, and even with God – even though we don’t have to.

Why are we so prone to running from our sins, trying to hide them, deny them even to ourselves and to God – when we have a God that is ready and wanting to forgive us?

None of us are without sin, without thoughts and actions we regret, things we wish we hadn’t done.  We confess this every Sunday at the beginning of worship.  “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” taken from the first letter of John.

But do we allow the deep meaning of those words to enter our hearts?  Do we use those words to confront ourselves, to humble ourselves before one another and before the Lord?  Or do we say those words and try not to think about it too much, or run from them altogether?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Adam and Eve learned the hard way that we can’t hide from God, and it’s impossible to run from ourselves.  I wonder why, age after age, we have to remind ourselves of this? Why do we run and hide, when through Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of ALL our sins and the gift of eternal life?

As we heard in our second reading, “we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” And, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

What wonderful words.  What wonderful promises.

They should make us unafraid to say, “Yes, I made this mistake.  I was WRONG.  I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.”

But just because the promises should make us unafraid, doesn’t mean they do.  Because – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When most of us think of the story of The Fall, we think of disobedience – the first sin – but perhaps a large part of it is also DENIAL.

Not the kind of denial that is the deep psychological inability to see something – the denial that is the cover up of what we know is wrong.

Political careers, stardom, and even everyday relationships are killed by that kind of denial – it’s been happening since Adam and Eve.

And it’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be.

For just as “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” is true of our fallen nature – the more things stay the same is also true of God’s natureforgiveness, given to us through Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

forgiveness vs. getting away with

When I was doing my C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education) as a hospital chaplain while in seminary, I was called to see a woman who was described by the nurses on her unit as “depressed.”  She requested a visit from a chaplain, and so I was called.  All I knew about the woman when I walked into her room was that she had been in a terrible automobile accident and had been a patient for about a month.

After introducing myself and exchanging some social niceties I asked her why she wanted to see a chaplain.  She proceeded to tell me the story of her accident.  She had been drunk and had caused the accident which brought her to the hospital.  She had extensive injuries and some setbacks as she was trying to recover and she was convinced that God was punishing her for drinking and driving.  She was desperate to get back “right” with God, and would I help her with that?

I’ve been thinking about this woman a lot the last few days since the “Duggar situation” has exploded. Why? Because the pastoral/theological counsel I gave to her is exactly the same as my reaction to those who say that we should just move on from this – that Josh Duggar confessed, asked forgiveness, received forgiveness from those he abused (although I seriously have doubts about forgiveness granted so quickly by minors and family members!), and has been forgiven by God.

In some ways the situations are polar opposites – this woman being convinced God was punishing her, and those who advocate for Josh Duggar who say that he’s forgiven so we should just move on as if nothing happened (after all, it happened so long ago).  But the statement I gave to this woman, and how we “unpacked” it, and the statement I would put forth to those who advocate for Josh Duggar are the same:  there is a difference between divine forgiveness and getting away with something.  God’s forgiveness often runs a completely different path than earthly consequences.

I assured the woman in that hospital bed that God was NOT judging or punishing her.  She made a bad decision by drinking and driving and paid earthly consequences for her actions – she got in an accident, and had legal ramifications for breaking the law that were still forthcoming.  But God’s love for her was constant throughout, and God loved her even in that moment.  Indeed God grieved for her suffering.  She knew she made a mistake, she confessed the mistake (repeatedly), and I reassured her God’s forgiveness was real and that God wanted her healthy again, not languishing in judgment and physical pain.

I would say to Josh Duggar and those quick to move on that he too has been forgiven.  God was deeply grieved and angered by his actions of abuse, but Jesus died for him just as Jesus died for me.  His slate in heaven is clean. HOWEVER, just as with the woman above – there are earthly consequences for his actions.  The statute of limitations ran out so that legal ramifications were no longer possible (although one wonders if that would have been the case if his father and church leaders had gone to authorities in a TIMELY manner instead of waiting so long!) – so instead the ramifications seem to be a loss of reputation in a VERY public way.  And since he saw fit to be a public personality, loss of reputation in a public way is a logical consequence, the price for putting his life on television.

As for his parents?  They too are paying an earthly consequence for their cover-up.  Their salvation is not in question. Perhaps if they had dealt with their son’s actions, again, in a timely manner, and if they had gotten the victims (some of whom were their own daughters!) and their son REAL counseling – instead of punishing Josh with “hard labor” and a “stern talking to” and expecting the girls to “forgive,” this situation wouldn’t have exploded like it has.  They too have lost credibility and now have lost their show.   For them it is the earthly consequence for their “mishandling” and what boils down to a cover-up.

Some of the exploding has to do with the sick and twisted theology to which this family adheres.  The self-righteousness and purity culture, the patriarchy and the subjugation of women are a ripe breeding ground for sexual and physical abuse.  Men get free reign and women are expected to “take it” because the men are truly in charge. Women are discouraged from working outside the home and even from going to college.  They have no positions in church leadership.  They are expected to tolerate physical abuse from their husbands, and for them there is no such thing as spousal rape.  But all this is a topic for another post which I’m not sure I have the stomach to write…

What I wanted to do here was explain that, yes, Josh Duggar can receive God’s forgiveness for his actions – but that doesn’t mean there won’t be earthly consequences for his illegal behavior.  His parents may be forgiven for their “inaction” but are also paying an earthly price.

There is a difference between divine forgiveness and getting away with something.  Josh and his parents have been forgiven, but they have also gotten away with something for more than ten years – so perhaps the uproar is just the interest on their earthly debt….

3rd Sunday of Easter, 2015

3rd Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 4/19/15)

first reading:  Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

second reading:  1 John 3:1-7

gospel reading:  Luke 24:36b-48


The days after Easter must have been chaotic and troubling for Jesus’ followers.  We have several accounts like last week’s and today’s readings, where the presence of the resurrected Jesus among the disciples cause fear and doubt and confusion.

We can only imagine how they must have felt.  How would YOU feel if someone you loved and believed dead suddenly appeared before you?

Some of us might be convinced that we had gone MAD – others that we must have eaten or smoked something funny, other, that we must be dreaming, and other might believe we were seeing an angel or a ghost.

We’ve had movies and tv shows with these kinds of storylines – remember “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” “Touched by an Angel,” “Ghost,” and “Highway to Heaven?”

But this was no angel, no apparition.  This was a dead man come back to life, and we read the disciples were “startled” and “terrified.”  Jesus understood that he needed to show his followers he wasn’t a ghost or an angel.  He needed to show them that he was real flesh and blood.  And how did he do this? He ATE.

The One who had shared the Passover with his disciples as a farewell meal, was now joining them in everyday food!

But Jesus intended more than simply proving that he was a real LIVE person.  He began to tell them again the purpose of him being human in the first place.  And the end of his work on earth, Jesus was now bringing the disciples to the place where they would begin their work.

We read in verses 45-47:  “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'”

In this statement, Jesus highlights three important things.

  • First, that he IS the Messiah, and that his death and resurrection are not only real, but also the way God is bringing healing and reconciliation to the earth.

Jesus was a real man, died a real death for you and me, and was resurrected.  Through his sacrifice we are made part of God’s family – as we read in the first letter of John today – we are God’s children, and brothers and sisters of one another.

  • The second point Jesus makes is that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed.

This would be a new twist on an old theme.  The disciples knew the Jewish practice of calling for repentance.  We have good examples of this all through the Old Testament prophets through John the Baptist.  But Jesus had the authority to do more than just preach repentance – he proclaimed FORGIVENESS.

Now that Jesus is risen, repentance and forgiveness will always go together, and God’s forgiveness becomes the pivotal piece of a disciple’s proclamation.

  • Thirdly, Jesus tells us that this word, HIS word, is to go to all nations.

The word of repentance and forgiveness, Jesus’ act on the cross, does not belong only to the Hebrew nation, even if it begins there.  There is no birthright involved or at stake.  The word about Jesus, and what God has done for us through Jesus goes out to all people – of every race and nationality, every age, every economic and social class.  The message of the gospel is for EVERYONE.

Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God’s love – of repentance and forgiveness, throughout his earthly ministry. The distinction that is made after the resurrection, is that the Word Jesus brought, the Word Jesus IS, and its proclamation, now belongs to his followers – YOU and ME.

At first it was Jesus’ work, but after his resurrection and ascension, he passed on that work to all of us who follow him. Jesus became human like us, died and rose for us, so that the Word of God could be proclaimed IN, AMONG, and FROM the people of God.

Jesus wants us not only to love him, but also to love each other.  God wants people not only to repent, but to know that they’re forgiven.

Now, I would bet that the average Christian doesn’t necessarily think of him or herself as a proclaimer.  But Jesus makes it clear in this passage that the work of proclaiming belongs to all those who follow him.  We have the gift of salvation, not to hoard it or keep it to ourselves, but so that we may share it with others.  And we are made proclaimers through gift of Holy Baptism.

But what does it mean to be a proclaimer?

Many people think, “Sunday sermon,” or “pastor’s job.”  And that’s true, but that’s only one kind of proclaiming.  You and I proclaim God in countless ways everyday.

When a neighbor is helped – in a soup kitchen or food pantry, by a nail hammered in home repair, a ride to the doctor, a kind word for a young mom or dad struggling with a toddler at the grocery store, standing with someone being bullied, praying for the sick, giving a much needed hug – the list goes on and on.

This is proclaiming Jesus’ love through our actions.  A saying attributed to St. Francis goes something like: “Proclaim the gospel, when necessary use words.”

But there are also words – when we share how much God has done for us, how much Jesus’ love impacts our lives – you don’t need a fancy theological degree to do that!

In this Easter season, may we all be moved by Jesus’ love for us, and also moved by his words to us today:  “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations…”

AMEN.

 

I’m sorry

It was a snowy Saturday afternoon and the streets had not yet been plowed.  At around 5pm my teenager asked me if I could drive her to her boyfriend’s house.  I looked at her incredulously.  “Don’t you know it’s snowing out?  The roads haven’t even been plowed.  Plus it’s getting dark and it’s only getting colder.  I’m sorry honey, but not tonight.”

My teenager is an awesome person.  She is so caring, so kind, always looking out for the marginalized, always rooting for the underdog.  She is often wise beyond her years.  But then she does something that reminds me she is still only a teenager, with normal wild teenage hormones and developmentally appropriate selfishness.  Problem is, I still haven’t figured out when I will welcome the one and have to brace myself for the other!

Suddenly I was being attacked.  I was unreasonable, unfair.  She hadn’t seen her boyfriend all week and couldn’t I understand?  Didn’t I care?  I kept my cool, repeated myself and told her I honestly felt bad about it but our minivan isn’t great in the snow and the driving would only get worse – I was sure the roads would be better tomorrow and I would happily drive her to visit him then.  But for some reason, my comments only exacerbated the situation and she became even more worked up.  Now, I was being told (loudly!) that I never did anything for her, and she stormed away from me, went to her bedroom and slammed the door.  I had been hit with the developmentally appropriate selfish monster.  wow.

My parenting style is quite different from the one I grew up with.  I wasn’t allowed to express anger towards my parents, what they said was law and that was the end of it.  I wanted my children to have something different.  I didn’t want them to be afraid to be angry – at anyone.  So, once in a while in our house things will get loud – and I’m ok with that.  We DO have certain rules of respect – ways we can talk (and NOT talk) to each other – but as long as we stay within those parameters my husband and I generally let things play out.  The other behavior we try to model for our children is confession and forgiveness.  Our children know we are not perfect.  I’ve been saying I’m sorry to my kids about stuff since they were babies.  In my sermon on Ash Wednesday last week I challenged the popular phrase, “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” with the truth, which is, “love means having to say you’re sorry A LOT.”  If we love someone, and we’ve hurt them in some way, even if we couldn’t avoid it, it’s important to acknowledge it, and ask for forgiveness if called for, or have compassion for their feelings if we stand by our actions.  Of course, since we’re religious folks, we’re also modelling a good faith practice – you know, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….

  • Sometimes I’m sorry is an offering of confession and request for forgiveness. “I know I did something wrong and I hope you forgive me.”
  • Sometimes I’m sorry is an offering of compassion and consolation.  “I know you’re hurt or angry about what I did/said, and although I stand by it, I do care for you and feel badly, and want to be here for you,” or simply “I’m sorry for your loss.”

In this case, there was nothing I could do for my daughter.  The I’m sorry I said to her at the beginning of this story fell into the second category.  I really did feel badly that I couldn’t take her, but I would not be changing my mind and driving on dangerous roads.  I made a decision that caused her hurt, and I couldn’t change the situation.   I offered her compassion but she got angry with me and lashed out.

About a half hour later my daughter came into my bedroom quietly, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry I got angry with you before.”  THIS was an example of the first I’m sorry – confession and forgiveness.  Internally I was cheering for her bravery and maturity, and at having a part in the raising of this amazing young woman – YES!  Externally I remained calm and replied, “Thank you.  I really do feel badly you can’t see him tonight, and I WILL take you tomorrow.”  I accepted her confession, she accepted my compassion, and we were reconciled.  (And she DID see her boyfriend the next day!)

sorry 3

For the record, the first kind of I’m sorry is MUCH harder to do!  It takes courage to admit when we’re wrong.  It takes trust to acknowledge to another person that we have done/said/acted in a way that hurt them.  It takes humility to place ourselves before another and ask for pardon.  It’s risky!  What if they say no?  What if they take our confession and toss it back in our face?  What if they don’t believe our sincerity?  What if they hurt me in return? In the second instance the one who causes the hurt still has control and power – but in the first instance, in confession, we relinquish power and control.

When we confess, we make ourselves vulnerable.

Certainly I’m sorry is a hope for reconciliation with the other, but it begins with our desire to take responsibility.  So, even if the other person isn’t ready to forgive, we have taken the first step (acknowledgment of wrong) and opened up the possibility of dialog and restoration.  In our walk of faith there may indeed be times when our confession is rejected by the other.  It’s not a good feeling, but in that instance we need to focus on our confession and willingness to repent instead of the person’s reaction.  We need to pray for them in their journey of healing, because forgiveness is important to both parties – the one who commits the offense and the one who is hurt.  If there is reparation to be done in order for reconciliation to happen, then we do it.

Above all, we need to remember that while forgiveness in human relationships may be risky and imperfect, divine forgiveness is NOT.  There may be earthly consequences for our actions.  This is part of making amends.  There may be times we’ve hurt people and the relationship cannot be saved.  But our relationship with God is one of eternal love.  God certainly isn’t happy with us when we sin, especially when that sin causes harm to our neighbor.  But God is always present to hear and accept our confession, and to grant us absolution.  The human party may not be ready to grant forgiveness, but God always is.  And unlike human relationships that may be permanently broken, our relationship with God is forever, through no doing of our own.

One of disciplines of Lent is repentance (remorse or contrition for past conduct or sin).  As we practice this discipline in our lives, I hope we take special notice of all the I’m sorrys we hear – the ones we speak, and the ones spoken to us.  It really is an amazing thing – I’m sorry – it holds so much power to reconcile and restore – both in our human relationships and in our relationship with God.

Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent.  Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (prayer for Ash Wednesday)