25B, 2018, readings appointed can be found here
I hold a litany of wrongdoings.
For all the goods, for all the hard work, for all the prayer, for all the sacrifices, for all the love.
I still hold the wrongdoings tight.
That thing I said.
That thing I did not say.
That thing I did.
That mistake I made.
Easily called to mind, mistakes decades past, still present in the here and the now.
I am not unique in this tendency to ruminate on misdeeds and mistakes of the past.
I am not alone in regrets or misgivings.
An expert in grudges, a devotee of revenge.
Here I am.
And, I am not perfect, none of us are.
And, it is right into the heart of our imperfection, straight into the midst of our regrets, and frustrations, our mistakes and our misdeeds, that our Savior goes. Journeying with us no matter what, and no matter where, because the worst has been done, and the worst redeemed.
We are, as the letter to the Jesus followers amongst the Hebrews says, “subject to weakness”.
Subject to weakness—in thrall to our mistakes and misdeeds. Subject to weakness. As I reflect upon these three words, I am struck at the trap that our past can be. At the ways in which we find ourselves living according to our weaknesses and not our strengths. At the ways in which we, through our patterns of shame and blame, find ourselves serving a past that serves no one.
And, when we serve the past, we fail to serve God in the present—“sin cripples us because it traps us in the past; never-ending resentment and guilt can shut down our natural vitality and inhibit our growth”. (Ginger Grab FOTW, 211).
Thus, the encouragement we hear today, to be subject not to our weakness but to our strength—to Christ whose experience of humanity, as base as we might be, led not to judgment but to compassion. No grudge held against us, no shame brought to bear—simply the intercession of the one whose love meets us in the midst of our greatest shame.
Our petition is heard and forgiveness is granted.
Forgive us, we say.
And the answer comes, “yes”.
Jesus “always lives to make intercession for us”.
And, always, the answer is “yes”.
And, in this I wonder, how this forgiveness liberates us from the shame. I wonder what it would look like to live a life defined by God’s all-encompassing compassion rather than our own all-encompassing shame.
In an essay on forgiveness, pre-eminent Anglican author C.S. Lewis wrote,
“We say a great many things in church (and out of church too) without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed " I believe in the forgiveness of sins." I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. "If one is a Christian," I thought " of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying." But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not so easy as I thought. “ (http://www.graceseattle.org/uploads/documents/Forgiveness-Essay-Lewis.pdf )
We need to hear it every time we go to church. Every, single, time.
We need to hear it when we find ourselves consumed by anger or despair at the news. We need to hear it when we’ve been harsh to our children or unkind to a spouse. We need to hear it when we find a mistake in the bulletin. We need to hear it when we don’t like the tune or the text. We need to hear it when we meet another’s best effort with judgement rather than gratitude. We need to hear it when we’re tempted to dehumanize another human being. We need to hear it--again, and again, and again.
Forgive us our trespasses…our sins…our debts. However, we put it, we need it…desperately.
O Lord, forgive us.
I recently became acquainted with the work of “The Forgiveness Project”, a (https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/our-purpose ) a secular non-profit founded by journalist Marina Cantacuzino in 2004. The Forgiveness Project provides opportunities for people to share their testimonies, their story of forgiveness, as a means of celebrating resilience and providing an “antidote to narratives of hate and dehumanization, presenting alternatives to cycles of conflict, violence, crime and injustice.”
Forgiveness as an antidote. Forgiveness as a means of interrupting the cycle of hatred. Forgiveness as a way forward.
To be clear, forgiveness requires repentance. Forgiveness requires an honest reckoning. Forgiveness requires accountability. And, in this, I want to be clear—victims are NEVER required to remain in relationship with their abuser—that is not, nor will never be forgiveness. What forgiveness is, is a means of releasing ourselves from the chains of the past so that we can experience the fullness of liberation. Forgiveness.
Consider, for just a moment, who do you need to forgive in order to be free?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow member of the Anglican Communion, led post-apartheid reconciliation efforts in South Africa grounded in a theology of forgiveness. He summed these efforts up most succinctly in his title, “no future without forgiveness”.
No future without forgiveness…
Our future depends upon our capacity to forgive.
This is kind of scary.
Because, if the future depends upon my human capacity to forgive…well, “Houston, we have a problem.”
But, the future doesn’t depend on my capacity—it depends upon God’s capacity. Christ, “always lives to make intercession” for those who have fallen short. And, each week, we are given the opportunity to petition for forgiveness. Forgiveness, freely given in response to our cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Which brings us to the Gospel we heard proclaimed today. Before germ theory, or understandings of genetics or the capriciousness of accident or illness—physical disability was understood as an external indicator of spiritual disease. And, it is critical that we understand this when we hear or read of miraculous healing in scripture. Those who witness healing would have seen it not just as a physical healing but principally as a spiritual purification. Spiritual purification which then allows for the individual who has experienced healing to reintegrate into the social life of the community.
So, when the beggar Bartimeus cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”, he is petitioning for restoration to community. And, isn’t this at the heart of what it means to forgive and be forgiven? The restoration of community. But, not just the restoration of community—the restoration of our ability to live into God’s call to us.
The trajectory of our journey, as enacted in our liturgy each week, moves us from: confession, the act of owning our sins so that they no longer own us; to absolution, granted not by a person but by the holy mystery of God’s love for us; and into the tangible enactment of reconciliation, the peace given to our neighbor. As a community, we liturgically enact the mercy, justice, love and forgiveness of God every single week. And, we do so in order to respond to God’s call to us as both a corporate body and as individual, beloved, children of God.
Confessing, forgiving, and restoring ever single week.
I wonder, what it would mean for us to take that liturgical action out into the world? What it would mean to own our faults, forgive each other, and live our lives in such a way that we constantly point towards reconciliation—not because we are perfect but because we are forgiven.
So once again, I ask, who do you need to forgive in order to be free?