Saturday, July 27, 2013
A Rainbow of Forgiveness!
The following is a third in a series of sermons on Love, Reconciliation and Forgiveness. They are Gospel words. They are Gospel words, they are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Living the Gospel III
I have some news for your this morning; extraordinary news! You are forgiven. All the wrongs you have done throughout your life have all been wiped clean off the slate and are no more counted against you. All the big sins as well as all those everyday ones you still struggle with on a daily basis. They’re all gone. Your are forgiven.
We come now to the most difficult of all the great words of the Gospel. The word of course is forgiveness. I find it difficult for many reasons, beginning with me. Then there’s everybody else. How in the world is it that God would take even the first thought for the likes of me or you? Every time I read the 8th Psalm, words of amazing grace stop me in dead my tracks and take my breath away.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor”
Every time I gaze into the stars of heaven, or stop to take a thought for the magnificence of creation and the mystery of life, I wonder; God is mindful of me? God has made me but a little lower than the angels? Male and female, all humankind alike, such is the mindfulness of God?
The idea of forgiveness comes hard to me.
That’s because the signature moment of my life early on was the death of my father at Christmas when I was eight years of age. Yes, you heard right. Just the saying of the words is harsh let alone the reality I lived with in those years. And harsh words were said of my father then by those who should have known better. Young and traumatized ears were around. But harsh words were said. The religious folks in the family even went so far as to say that my dad could not go to heaven because he did not go to church. Good God! Not only am I not to see my dad in this life again, now you’re telling me I won’t see him in the next either? This is how an eight year old child is to cry himself to sleep every night? As I say, harsh words were said. Thankfully my immediate family was not religious. They said that my dad would go to heaven sooner than that religious lot.
It was hard at church too. My grandmother sent me there hoping it might help. I said the words “Our Father”, and I sat under the crossing of St. James in North Cambridge peering into the vault that was the marvel of that church but alas I could not see my Father; either the one who died or the one who was Almighty Eternal. I confess that I was glad for the Psalms I read in church. They gave me the latitude for anger and rage I felt, if only of the biblical sort;
Awake, O Lord! why are you sleeping? *
Arise! do not reject us for ever.
How long, O LORD?
will you forget me for ever? *
how long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day? *
And my all time favorite, the one Jesus himself used when he was staring into oblivion;
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
It was that way for me for over two years when one day on the way home from Church on a sunny summer’s day, I was walking along a shabby old scrawny urban hedge and pulled a leaf from one of its unkempt branches and as I pressed my finger into its green girth a sentence came to my heart. I did not hear voices as some of those characters on TV do. No, it was just a sense of things that came to me.
And it said; “Do you not know there is room in my heart for your dad?” I stopped dead in my tracks to listen. It did not repeat itself, but my heart had heard it and I repeated it. Then I gave it voice and repeated it out loud. I ran home as fast as I could. In those days I could do such a thing. I burst into the kitchen where my grandmother stood presiding over her cast iron skillet as she was peppering up something good to eat.
I hastened to her and tugged at her apron as I often did when I needed to ask for something.
“Ma, is there a God?”
“Of course there is” she said as if that were plain and obvious.
“Ma, is there a Heaven?” I asked more urgently.
Now with just a note of irritation she said; “Of course there is!” You could tell she was in no mood to do theology just now. There were mouths to be fed.
“Ma, is my daddy there?” This I had to ask with a note of daring authority. I knew what she thought of the Irish. I’d heard her say that they ruined Boston more than once. So I realized I was pressing my luck here.
She hesitated, I must tell you. After all the idea of spending an eternity in Heaven with an Irishman, especially with my father, must have given her pause. There was that separation and the nasty divorce to factor in to what she said next.
She knelt down then. I can’t say as I remember her ever doing that before or since. She held me close and folded my head into the nape of her neck. It is as if I can still smell her hair for this moment has stayed with me forever since and she said;
“Of course he is.”
With these words my dad was forgiven both by God and my grandmother. Yes, there is room in God’s heart for my dad! Yes Ma loves him too if only grudgingly. At least as much as to allow me to spend time with him in heaven, which is all I ask.
It was in the wake of this second signature moment in my life that I decided to become a priest. The forgiveness and grace I experienced in that one moment is the forgiveness and experience that I share with you now in this moment. And I will share it for the rest of my life with all whether they ask for it or not.
Jesus who stood on the cross and forgave those who did him violence stands with me and my dad, my grandmother and my difficult and harsh mother, somehow pouring out forgiveness over the whole world. Is there Balm in Gilead? If there is, it is a most precious balm indeed. It is a healing compound with which God salves all our wounds.
What I find astounding about forgiveness is that Jesus begins with it. He stands on the cross and forgives the sins of the whole world, pouring out his life for us. He forgives the tax collectors, the fishermen, the woman at the well, the sick, the lepers, and especially the sinners and the outcasts. This offends the religious folks. I have always found that refreshing.
Then comes repentance. I know that John and Jesus both preach a repentance for the sake of the forgiveness of our sins. But, when we read the record, he begins with forgiveness. Repentance then seems to be the fruit of forgiveness not the other way around, which had always been my assumption up until I reread the Gospel again and again for the first time. How refreshing the Gospel always seems to be.
There is, however, the matter of abuse. I must tell you that there is the matter of abuse. I faced a great deal of harshness as a child and it took everything I had within me to fight my way out of it. Many of you have had to do likewise. In fact I found the church was my refuge to tell you the truth because my home was not always so. Again the Psalmist came to my aid;
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, *
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
hide me under the shadow of your wings,
From those who assault me, *
Isn’t it dreadful to know that the church has also been a source of abuse for so many?
One of the most difficult things for those who face abuse verbal as well as physical is to confuse forgiveness with victimization. To be forgiven does not mean to remain inside the grinding cycle of violence. That’s called guilt.
No, we are forgiven and the greatest marvel of forgiveness is that we are called to be nothing less than what God has created us to be; “a little lower than the angels”...that’s what God wants us to be remember. If you find yourselves in an abusive relationship then forgiveness requires you to fight for the dignity God has created you for. You must ask for help.
Remember this; God did not create junk. We have been created for “glory and honor”.
This is because we are forgiven; each and every one of us. Yes, we are forgiven.
In these three weeks we’ve have focused on three great Gospel words: Love, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness. I find it helpful to appreciate the simplicity as well as the complexity of the Gospel. I hope you have too.
Let me leave you with these good Gospel words; “My you be filled with all the fullness of God”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.