Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Forgiven Forgiver


We begin the new Christian Year today with the First Sunday in Advent. Advent is a season of expectation. As an expectant mother awaits her unborn child, so the Church awaits the birth of Jesus. We eagerly look, yet again, toward this wonderful season of celebration. At no time of year is the Church more beautiful than at Christmas. At no time of year are our families more excited. At no time of year is the sense of the sacred more in the air.

Yet, for so many, Christmas is also a time for depression, anxiety and alienation. If ever there were a time when our brokenness becomes more apparent, it is now in this holy season. The fact of violence in our cities involving police and our young people is obvious. Poverty is still with us. And the unjust concentration of wealth continues unabated. Internationally tensions also break out all too frequently in violence and in Congress gridlock has just become the mainstay of our daily political diet.

The Church knows this and names it for what it is; Sin and Darkness. 

We begin this season with the great collect for Advent; “Almighty God give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility”.

Jesus knew the Darkness of Sin. He came to us in utter humility. Born, I remind you of an unwed mother, homeless and poor in a stable among the animals. This is how it all began. The more Jesus loved us and taught us, the more abuse he took, until ultimately he took it all in upon himself at the cross, stretching out his loving arms so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. 

In the same way that that we pray for Godly intervention in our own history, so too the Prophet Isaiah prayed in his time; “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence”

Last week I began my ministry with you focusing on three great Gospel words. Clearly a time of great darkness needs these words as we move forward into our new life together. The words you remember are Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Love. This week and next I will focus on the first two of these words. Bishop Bud Cederholm will be with us on the third week in Advent when we will continue our conversations between the congregation and the diocese, and then I will conclude the Advent season with some the idea of the Love of God.

We begin in a difficult place; with the word Forgiveness. First comes an acknowledgment that something has gone terribly wrong. In theological terms we call this the Fall. Things were going along well enough in the Garden, and then somehow our willful self centered disobedience kicked in and everything went out of kilter. We were expelled from the Garden and things then went from bad to worse. Cain killed Abel and fled to the East. All of this Biblical imagery invites us to understand that it is in the nature of human nature to get it all wrong and then hide. Only when we acknowledge that and come to our senses we can look to the source of our redemption.

In today’s First Lesson, for instance, the Prophet Isaiah names the sin as twofold. God has hidden away from us somehow and we turn away from God as well. The order in which that occurs is interchangeable, interestingly enough. What is clear is that we become alienated from God and one another.

“But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,”

and again, 

“We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,”

And that, my friends is the condition of our Darkness and the reality of our Sin. The endless and self perpetuating cycle of violence on a scale large and small is the dark and drear disease that infects the human soul.   It is this condition which Advent addresses.

Advent, like Lent calls us to Repentance. Advent finds us in the midst of Salvation History with the understanding that the Holy Spirit had already embraced Mary at the Annunciation, then soon to follow will be  the embrace of Mary at the birth of the Savior, and in that one moment Heaven and Earth are joined by the embrace of God for the whole world. The magnificent words from John’s Gospel say it all;

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” 

The Word is Jesus. The Word is Forgiveness.

If we look at the anatomy of the word Forgiveness we will see that Repentance, Amendment of Life, Restitution where possible, are all pre-requisites to the possibility of Forgiveness. 
But not so when it came to Jesus’ dealing with the likes of us. Jesus merely forgave us period. Such was his humility that he just plain forgave us. He gave his life not just for our sins but for the sins of the whole world. He did not count our sins against us. He freely gave us forgiveness. 

And that is where we often get stuck. You expect me to swallow my pride and talk to my brother? mother? father? friend? enemy?
How can I forgive when I am hurt so or when violence strikes so close?
How can I forgive when the racial and ethnic groups, class, or gender tensions strike so close to home. How can we forgive or maintain closeness when misunderstanding and bewilderment are at the heart of how we relate to one another over issues of sexual orientation.

To tell you the truth, I often find myself full of hurt and anger over matters close to my heart. When I am in that condition of sinful self centeredness, I also find myself challenged by the prayer or Jesus.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Or in another translation
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

The prayer asks God to forgive us the way we forgive others, God help us! As we look at a world so full of blame and hatred, we ask ourselves, where is forgiveness possible?

Or even more urgently how can we endure when we find ourselves in abusive relationships or when the ugliness of power is such that our relationships are strained beyond the possibility of ongoing grace?

I do not ask these questions because I have answers to give. I ask them because they are at the heart of the Gospel.

To tell you the truth the question still applies; “How many times are we to forgive our brother? Perhaps seven times?” We know the answer to that question. “No, I say unto you seventy times seven”. In other words, my dear friends, forgiveness is a way of life that is a matter of urgency. 

Today’s Gospel makes it clear that the end is at hand. Perhaps not the end of the whole world, but certainly any one of us may find ourselves at the Gate of Heaven without a moment’s notice.

Among the deeper questions God will ask of us will be have you Forgiven with the Forgiveness that I have forgiven you? 

The end that Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel is not just about the end of your time or mine on the planet, it is about the purpose of our lives while we are here.  

Clearly one of the great reasons we are here is to find a way to Forgiveness.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Fr Paul

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