14 Pentecost—Proper 19-A
September 14, 2014
Every Sunday we say in the Creed: We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and then, in the Lord’s Prayer, we say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Right here in the middle of it all we proclaim that our faith is not just about ideas on the existence of God, but about how we understand who this God is and how this God impacts our living.
The God revealed in Jesus is a forgiver of sins. He says to the woman taken in adultery:
neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.
In Luke 7 he says to the prostitute who is bathing his feet with her tears: her sins which are many have been forgiven; in Mark 2he says to the paralytic who is lowered down through the roof by four friends: Son your sins are forgiven–take up your bed and walk.
At the Last Supper he says, Take and drink, for this is the blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.
From the cross Jesus cries out, ”Father forgive them….”
It’s there on every page—we hear it every Sunday—because it comes out of the heart of God.
God the father forgives, Jesus the Son is the “forgiving victim”, the Holy Spirit, which is the spirit of Jesus, is breathed into the disciples on Easter, so they can forgive the world in Jesus’ name.
When we don’t see forgiveness in the heart of God we turn to our default image of god which we learned from a song written in 1947 we hear every Christmas. We turn to that tired game of “I’ve got to be good because an old man with a beard is keeping a list and checking it twice to find out who is naughty and nice”, so he can deny the bad children a present and give all us good children X-Boxes and smart phones.
With this image of the list keeping god who can’t wait to punish us we naturally have to look for a way out since we know we aren’t perfect, so as psychologically sophisticated people we turn to making excuses.
We don’t confess our sins we list our excuses: all the reasons why we did what we did: I was really tired and I’d just been yelled at by the boss, so I couldn’t help snapping at my children when I got home.
We know these excuses from the inside and they feel legitimate and in fact sometimes there are mitigating circumstances for our sinful behavior. We were tired and our blood sugar was low and we were sleep deprived…on and on. These are all valid excuses.
But as C. S. Lewis puts it, once we list all of them there is usually at least 1% leftover for which there is no excuse—which is just “our own fault, our own most grievous fault”.
Other times our excuses are only 1% and the other 99% is all on us.
Either way when we realize our excuses only go so far then we stand before God recognizing that “we have done those things we ought not to have done and have not done those things we ought to have done.”
We stand before God as sinners. We can see the wreckage of what we’ve done and know that what we’ve done is inexcusable.
- S. Lewis says, “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the [person] who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.” On Forgiveness
If you’ve been watching the news this week you’ve seen plenty of inexcusable things. Scenes of murdering terrorists and a video of a woman being beaten unconscious on an elevator—by her fiancé, now husband, who is a NFL running back.
Surely you don’t think God forgives those things or wants us to, do you?
It’s in these moments that we come face to face with the question: can I really believe Jesus when he says “Father forgive them….”?
This is the hardest place for the “always in control and full of excuses person” to go—but it is also the best place to go and the beginning of all healing, health, and salvation.
“Have mercy on me, O God, for I am a sinner.”
There are no excuses here. There are no more strategies for success.
As Lewis puts it: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” On Forgiveness
Here we see that forgiveness is not the same thing as condoning.
Forgiveness is not the same thing as ignoring.
Forgiveness is not the same thing as imagining that bad things don’t matter to God, that God doesn’t care if people get blown up or beaten up
Forgiveness doesn’t mean some people don’t need to be in jail.
Forgiveness means no one is outside the love of God who in Christ suffers the pain of our sin in his own flesh.
Without forgiveness there are no second chances, no new life, no possibility of every changing or growing or loving.
God forgives, not to indulge his wayward children but to transform them into creatures capable of sharing in the glory of the Divine Love.
So we throw away every image of god that does not conform to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Mercy is the center of all that is.
As others have said, matter—the stuff we are made of is condensed energy. Energy is condensed consciousness or spirit. And spirit is condensed mercy. Mercy is the center of all things. See Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, page 150ff.
The mercy of God incarnate in Jesus is outrageous. It goes against all our notions of fairness. It presents us with a world so different from the one we normally inhabit, because in our world retribution, getting even, is a core value and holding a grudge is the cultural norm.
Jesus tells us in Luke 6 that God is merciful—sending his rain on the bad and the good.
In many romantic comedies early on the about to be lovers get caught out in the rain. They run around screaming until they give in to the rain and their love for each other and get soaked together.
When we get caught in the rain of God’s mercy we realize why the Lord’s Prayer says: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
When we are standing in the rain of God’s mercy it is impossible not to see that everyone else is also getting wet. If God is forgiving us then God is also forgiving them, too.
If we can’t forgive others from our heart it simply means we have not yet experienced deeply enough God’s forgiveness for ourselves.
As priest and poet George Herbert puts it: He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.
We need to give ourselves to the rain.
“Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in a South African prison, said, Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That’s why it is such a powerful weapon”. When asked about his jailers [who abused him], he responded that forgiving them was a choice to set himself free. He could leave those guards there in the prison instead of remembering them always by nursing resentment. Nancy Rockwell blog
As we go through the service pay attention to forgiveness.
Wonder if that forgiveness could really include you…and those who have hurt you.
Wonder what it would be like to spend the rest of our days running around like a crazed lover in the rain of God’s mercy.