Sunday, October 28, 2018

Forgiveness, 25B

On Forgiveness

 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.

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. “ (  )

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 ( ) 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.

Forgiveness, granted.

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?


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Suffer some so that others might suffer less?

23B, Scripture appointed (track 2)


Growing up poor meant growing up with the constant awareness of who had what.

More or less, fair or unfair, needs and wants—all carefully weighed and measured by my parents and ultimately, us.

My parents did their best to insulate us from financial uncertainty, but the message that I internalized was that whatever I had, came at the expense of another.  

If had more milk, my sister had less. If I got new clothes, my father went without new shoes.

My mom’s IRA was cashed in so that we could have a computer for school. My brother’s heart surgery came at the expense of my parents’ pride as they begged a wealthy relative for the money to get him to the hospital thousands of miles away.

Ultimately, I was indoctrinated into my maternal family’s narrative of how wealth had been lost through my ancestors’ foolishness and greed. The question of who had more milk was connected to the question of who owned the dairy my father worked for. The question of how we were going to afford the extravagances of things like computers and heart surgery emphasized the lines between the relatives who had and we, who had not.

My mom had a narrative of “if onlys” that shaped our collective understanding of our family’s place in the economy of this world--if only the money had not been squandered, if only that side of the family hadn’t cheated us out of the inheritance, if only my grandfather had invested better, if only my grandmother had married better, if only my great aunt had not died, if only her son had not been mentally ill…if only.

I don’t think that my parents intended to teach us that wealth was a by-product of exploitation, but ultimately, that was the message that took shape.

And, in encountering the texts we heard proclaimed today, I am both amused and troubled by the reality that my parent’s unintended message was biblical in scope.

Because, within the biblical world there was a shared understanding that goods are limited and that the only way to get ahead was to take advantage of others. From Pharaoh’s reliance upon slave labor to Jacob cheating his brother of his birth right—there is an oft repeated theme in scripture that, for better or for worse, resources are finite and advancement comes at the cost of another.  

For those of us who occupy the space of the haves, the implications of this biblical understanding are uncomfortable at best. And, so today, many of us are going to feel uncomfortable…

Because, if we are to take these scriptures seriously within our own context we need to grapple with the impact of contemporary theories of limitless economic growth, personal hoarding of wealth, and exploitation of this planet’s resources, and hear the truth in the prophet Amos’ 8th century warning to the wealthy, “you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.”

Amos is not simply castigating, he is issuing a caution to those whose wealth comes at the expense of others—making it clear to his audience that the short-term benefit, gained through the exploitation of the poor, will ultimately fail to protect them and their descendents from the fall out of their excesses.

This isn’t about haves or have nots—it’s about all of us who have to wrestle with the real cost of our lifestyles and livelihoods on others. Because, while it is true that in the short term our wealth can protect us from suffering, in the long term, our failure to act on behalf of others will cost us and our descendants the very security we have strived for—our own metaphorical houses of hewn stone and our vineyards, abandoned.

Let me pause for a moment to offer that I wrote these words and speak them now out of the fear and anxiety instilled in me by reading portions of the UN Climate Report—a report that is, in its own way prophetic.

Prophets in Israelite society served as a means of criticism and opposition to abuses--both political and religious.  Prophets pointed out the injustices in society when warranted, and gave warning and challenge to the powers that be. Amos, specifically, is seeking to address the social, political and religious abuses of the people as a whole as opposed to the excesses of a single king or religious authority. So, to understand the UN Climate Report as prophetic is to understand that it is offering us a collective warning that our individual and societal injustices have both immediate and future consequences.

In this, I see climate scientists serving as modern day prophets and urging us to action, both individual and collective, so that we might begin to mitigate the impact of our excesses on this fragile earth, our island home. They are not without hope…but hope demands action and the prophets are shining a light so that we might use our resources wisely and liberate ourselves from the pursuit of wealth at this planet’s expense.

Both the prophet Amos and this prophetic climate report are giving us an opportunity to pursue the kind of intense engagement and self-critique that can lead to true repentance. In Hebrew, the word to repent is a word that means to return to God, shuv. And, as I bring the contemporary prophets challenges into the context of biblical prophecy, I am challenged to explore how we are being called to return to God—to re-align ourselves, our lives and our livelihoods with God’s intention for the good of all creation.

For the good of all.

Not some, all.

Repentance is not easy, returning is not easy, none of this is easy. But, it IS essential. For our good and the good of all creation, we must (as the prophet says), “seek good and not evil, so that we may live”.

So that we may live--this brings us to the Gospel and a rich man’s question, “ Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

For all of his wealth, the rich young man is still seeking something—he does not know what or how or why, but his wealth has proven insufficient. And so, having heard of a teacher who may have some answers to this pervasive sense that all is not well, he approaches Jesus and his followers. What must I do to “inherit eternal life”, to enter the kingdom of God, for myself?

It’s a self-centered question, and it’s met with a response that pushes the rich man to consider those apart from himself. One of the key themes of this week’s passages is the importance of moving from isolation to connection. As I heard the Gospel proclaimed I imagined the scene—a young man walking alone, approaches Jesus and his followers. He’s heard that Jesus’ teachings are enlightening and he is seeking what they seem to have found. But, when Jesus tells him that he needs to relinquish his wealth for the good of others, the man is disappointed and walks away, alone. 

To live the commandments, yes, but to further the commandments by relinquishing his wealth in service to others—that’s much harder. Wealth has, arguably, made his life and the lives of those he loves easier. But, in a world of limited goods, the enrichment of self, beyond any sense of enough, means the impoverishment of others. We may not want to think about it, I know I don’t, but the scripture is not letting us off the hook. And, so we need to take our discomfort seriously.

If our enrichment of self comes at the expense of others, we will, like the rich man in today’s Gospel find ourselves, ultimately, bereft. Because, while our wealth and our resources may protect us from suffering in the short term, they can also blind us to the suffering of others. This begs the question, what kind of sacrifices are we willing to make in order to reduce suffering for others? Or, to put it another way, are we willing to suffer so that others might suffer less?

I know these were hard words and my heart hurts, and so as you move from this space and into the next, do not go comfortless and let us hold the words of the prophet as our prayer, our calling, and our hope,

Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.