Tagged: confession, forgiveness, guilt, James Alison, Luke
November 6, 2012 at 10:44 am #537Suzanne RossKeymaster
Please share any of your FV inspired sermons or articles here.
December 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm #913AnonymousInactive
Year – C, Advent 4
December 23rd, 2012
Dr. Thomas and the Rev. Laura Truby
Luke 1:39-45, 1:46b-55 and Micah 5:2-5a
He Shall Be the One of Peace!
Why did Mary hurry to see Elizabeth? Our text says, “Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country.” The angel had told her that something wonderful had also happened to Elizabeth, a much older woman known to be childless. Maybe Mary needs the blessing of the older woman, confirmation and affirmation that what has happened to them is real. Certainly she needs someone to talk to about the miracle happening in her body. Who can you talk to about such things? She’s an unwed mother. Who would believe her holy encounter except maybe Elizabeth? Everyone else would be either threatened because Mary was claiming an experience that elevated her above them or they would be scandalized and dismiss the whole affair. No, she must leave home and run to Elizabeth!
Mary enters the house of Zechariah and greets her cousin. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.” God gives them each other and the leaping child confirms them both. They are sharers in a profound joy. They know something no one knows. God is coming in human flesh and they are its bearers.
“And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” I think the Holy Spirit is characterized by the absence of rivalry. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we know our place and it’s the place just right. We have turned, turned, turned and come to the place of love and delight and there is no rivalry in it. This centered place allows Elizabeth to be for Mary and to say what she says. Elizabeth models a willingness to be second place even though Mary is younger.
After Elizabeth exalts Mary, she references herself in tones of humility, gratitude and wonder. She asks, “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” Mary and Elizabeth are not in rivalry with each other in any way. Already Jesus is overcoming the human predicament though he is in the earliest stages of development. The child in Elizabeth’s womb, who we know will become John the Baptist, leaps for joy as though to confirm the wonder of a unity based on mutual respect and self-giving.
Now Elizabeth pronounces the affirmation Mary had sought in coming. “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Elizabeth believes Mary and this confirms Mary’s belief in what God has revealed to her. They encourage each other and their relationship plays huge in forming their mutual faith. Isn’t that how it works for us too? I need you to believe so that I can believe all the more. This is one of the ways we serve each other in our community of faith and I am so grateful to have it. Elizabeth’s affirmation of Mary’s call to be the Mother of God releases her to proclaim one of the most beautiful and profound statements ever uttered by a human. We call it the Magnificat.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Powerful Words! Mary is full of joy and strong self acceptance even as she is humble and in touch with God’s compassion.
Young and vulnerable Mary still a teenager goes on. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” What does this mean? How will God scatter the proud? The proud, in rivalry with each other, have no center that unites them. Without a victim to gather them they chase after their own desires which takes them away from community. But there is something bigger than us that is able to unite us. It delivers us from pursuits that don’t take others into account. And this is what Mary is celebrating when she exclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” God saves us by pulling us back from our violent scattering ways and gives us a Center around which to build our lives. This is why the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy at the One to be born!
God, coming toward us as a vulnerable child, scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts by exposing the victim as the center of their togetherness. The victim has been their center and without him they scatter. The destiny of this innocent and vulnerable child will lead to a cross where he takes the place of the millions of victims in history and reveals the sacrificial process as a false and evil way of attempting to preserve the peace. The proud siphon off their negativity, their enmity with each other, and pour it on the vulnerable, the lowly and the marginalized. But this thing that humans do is about to be exposed and the One who will expose it is about to be born and we call him Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
This is why Mary exclaims, “He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Jesus’ birth marks the beginning of the end for the proud who always maintain unity by blaming someone else for the noxious gases they themselves release. When people discover the truth and no long buy the lie, they begin discovering God as merciful and not against them as they had thought. And with this discovery their love for God deepens and their joy and capacity for love expands like the Grinch’s heart.
Gradually it dawns on us that the proud have used God’s supposed anger with us as a tool to keep us in the dark, to control us. But at Christmas time the lie gets exposed, the bright star in the sky cannot be hidden, the lowliest shepherd sees it and the angels burst forth in singing “Peace on Earth and Good Will toward all human kind.”
In a mystery that almost defies human logic “the strength of his arm,” the strength that scatters the proud, comes in the form of a human baby born in poverty, born in obscurity, soon to be a refugee on the run. The strength of God’s arm is not revealed in armies and weapons but in precisely the opposite. God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their imaginations by being born among us as a vulnerable infant totally exposed to our envy, greed, rivalry and violence. In fact, these are the realities that pursue him though out his earthy life and eventuate in his death at our hands.
But his death does not end it. No! His death and resurrection turn out to be the very place the strength of his arm gets revealed—for it is in his death and resurrection that he scatters the proud by taking away their false way of attempting peace. He shows the world how the proud have achieved their peace through despising and rejecting the lowly. As the power of the cross and resurrection are set loose in the world we increasingly see the truth. It is the Babe’s humility and willingness to suffer rather than impose suffering that most reveals it. This is how he brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. Mary catches a glimpse of what the Mighty One is doing and her spirit rejoices.
The thrones the powerful sit on are formed of accusations directed at those they think beneath them but the lowly increasingly know they have value because Jesus has been revealed as one of them. When Jesus took the part of the lowly, and made his entrance into the world through that door, he lifted up the lowly and filled them with good things. Now they know the truth. But the rich don’t see it. Their eyes are on each other, so miss the miracle hidden in lowliness. They go away empty because they are looking for nurturance in places that have none.
But there is another way and Micah points toward it. “But you, O Bethlehem…one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me One who is to rule…whose origin is from of old, from ancient days…He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and He shall be the one of peace.” Come Lord Jesus! Come! Amen.
Year C-Third Sunday of Advent
The Rev. Laura and Dr. Tom Truby
December 16, 2012
All Saints Episcopal Church
Searing Sorrow, Deep Darkness and Advent Waiting
This has been a week of searing sorrow and deep darkness. We have been stunned by disaster close to home. We have been traumatized by the two senseless shooting sprees that wracked our country first on Tuesday, then on Friday; killing school children, parents, principals, teachers, and young men. Even without being directly connected to the tragedies that happened at the Clackamas Town Center in Oregon or at the Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, we all feel the pain of the families who lost loved ones this past week. Our president spoke for us all when he said, “our hearts are broken.” We are plunged into mourning. We feel great sadness that violence is so prevalent in our world. We all feel traumatized by the unpredictability, and realize it could have been any of us, any of our children or grandchildren. We are all more keenly aware of our vulnerability and need for a savior on this mid-advent morning.
“What’s happened to our young men?” asks the Oregonian, “Why do they have no hope, no empathy, no response except rage to life’s frustrations and disappointments?” The shootings set off a tide of anguish nationwide with prayer vigils and flags lowered in memory of the victims. We pray for all those whose lives were suddenly cut short; for family and friends whose hearts remain unconsoled; for emergency response people, care-givers and counselors, for police and for the young perpetrators. We pray for the victims of the carnage this week. Pray with us and pray for us!
The prophet Zephaniah speaks to us of a day when “the Lord is in our midst and we shall fear disaster no more.” He speaks to us of a day when “he will remove disaster from us, so that we will not bear reproach for it.” He promises us a day when “he will rejoice over us with gladness, when he will renew us in his love, and will exult over us with loud singing, as on a day of festival.” Our nation and the world long for the coming of this day!
John the Baptist believed the water of baptism would turn us away from disaster. He gets right in our face, as he did the crowds that came out to be baptized by him and chastens us with harsh words that shake us up. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Vipers are snakes that are likely to make a preemptive strikes, lashing out in rage or fear at their perceived enemies. Could it be that violence itself is the viper? Does this describe the human condition?
Sternly John the Baptist tells us to “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Show by your lives, by your desires and your actions that you have turned away from violence and all that creates an atmosphere for it. John challenges us to re-think our culture; he calls us to a different way of living; a living not premised on besting or outdoing each other and thus leaving some behind (often young men) who then fester and explode.
When confronted by reality John the Baptist’s crowd knew something had to change; things could not continue as they were without disaster following. And we humans are the ones who are bringing “the wrath to come”. God has nothing to do with our violence and has sent Jesus to stop it. But how do we do it? We don’t know how to stop the mounting violence!
John answers: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” We must remove the sources of envy and rage. We must care for one another and attend the stranger who feels left behind. We must turn and look to God who causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
To the tax collector he says, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Translated, renounce your desire to best your neighbor by taking more than your due just because you can. With the soldier he answered, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” Don’t use your power to coerce unjustly; it sets up rage and sows seeds of violence. Be content with what you have.
John goes to the root of the human problem by addressing the disparity that creates conflict in the first place. The underlying intention of his spiritual direction reduces the cause of violence by reducing rivalry and envy. Getting rid of what contributes to violence is more important than acquiring and maintaining power and with having and maintaining status.
Our president called for “meaningful action” to stop random violence but he did not spell out details. What would meaningful action look like? A child psychologist of OHSU said, often there are layer upon layer of underlying issues. “We can’t do anything except maybe this: Treat each other better…..The poor economy has left them, young men, with fewer opportunities at a time when imagery suggests that everybody should be wealthy and successful. Toss in media and entertainment culture dripping with violence. It’s no accident some shooters wear a mask or costume…..We should be focused on loving acts toward others,” the doctor said, “Because that’s what we can control.” The woman who checks the flagpole every day at Sandy Hook School said, “People will stick together. They have to.” Maybe you give the homeless guy on the corner a nod instead of a sneer. Maybe you let that car into your lane.
John tells each and every social group anything that helps reduce violence is extremely important. At its root the gospel message points toward peace. Whatever contributes to peace has to do with the gospel. This is the message that is coming clearer to me in our violent and turbulent time. Jesus is about peace. He teaches us how to live together in peace.
The people that heard John speak recognized that he was on to something. Somehow it felt right, and the people got excited and felt hopeful. “Filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” But John’s way depends too heavily on human effort. It doesn’t get at the heart. John does his best but he knows something more is needed. “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than I IS coming. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus is the one Malachi described as “like a refiner’s fire.” He has the power to refine us like gold and silver, and burn away what’s useless. Could violence itself be the part that’s useless?
Is The Coming One different from John the Baptist because he makes himself the chaff, and this is what changes people’s hearts? He allows himself to be burned by our violence and then forgives us as we do it. Is this his refining fire? Is this how he gathers the wheat into his granary? Rather than inflicting violence and revenge, Jesus absorbs the violence we inflict on him. His forgiveness is the flame. This is how he changes our hearts and burns away our chaff. The good news is that this is coming and has already happened. Not even John can imagine it!
The Coming One turns us from violence. He changes even our desires. This Christmas, let your gentleness be known to everyone. Let your hearts be filled with expectation. Our Savior has come! He will renew us in his Love.
Year C, Advent 1
December 2nd, 2012
By Thomas L. and Laura C. Truby
Standing with Peace on Our Hands
How many of you are watching the news on TV less than you used to and this is because you are just tired of hearing about wars and rumors of wars? How many of you grew so tired of the election campaigns at both the state and national level with their constant accusations and loud contentious displays of sound and fury that you began thinking it signified nothing at all or at least nothing very significant? How many of you find yourselves wanting to reduce the tumult and confusion in the life around you and seek a quiet peace undisturbed by all the hoopla? If this is you, this Advent 1 sermon is for you. Hang on, it’s quite a ride.
The Lucan text begins with Old Testament images recycled for New Testament use designed to convey a sense of earth shattering events happening around us. There are huge changes afoot and the metaphors drawn from nature express this. Signs in the sun, the moon and the stars signal something significant in the process of happening. On earth there is distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. It is tempting to apply an ecological interpretation to this text but I am not going to. Instead note the distress among nations and the constant confusion as each makes its claim against its neighbor and self-righteously defends its own innocence. Everywhere, it seems, people are fighting with each other and we are forced to see it.
Almost every night, if we watch the news, we see people crying after loosing their loved ones and sometimes we actually see them faint from fear and foreboding. The powers that keep violence at bay seem to have been shaken.
In the gospel text we just read, I think Jesus, now filtered through Luke’s words, is describing the human situation. We are increasingly seeing the truth of his words and growing tired of the violence that seems to be the world’s driver. Everywhere we are getting tired of it and more and more of us are looking for a better way of living on this earth than the way we have been living. The way we are living now seems only to make it worse and the nightly news rub it in.
Advent 1 is the beginning of the New Year for Christians. It signals the wait for the coming Christ who is at the heart of the beginning, the end and everywhere in-between. As we wait for Jesus’ birth, we start off with the description of the world in need of him. It is a world characterized by tumult and distress with the smoke and confusion of our own violence flashing before us in high definition. In such an environment it’s easy to succumb to fear and foreboding or to avoid it in “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”
In the text we just read Jesus seems to be describing a world that is coming apart by its own violence. He may have been thinking about Jerusalem that he knew would be destroyed by Rome if the Jewish people continued their violent ways. This did happen in 70 A. D. Or was he looking at an even bigger picture and knew the whole world would gradually loose its capacity to contain its own violence when the mechanism for containing it got exposed on the cross? At any rate, according to this text, here is how the world ends.
In the midst of all of these changes during a time of world wide upheaval, “they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” Jesus tells us how it ends so that we will not get so distressed as all these earth shattering changes are happening. It’s alright to take the news with a grain of salt. That desire to not catch the anxiety you hear in the voices of the people on the news may be of the Spirit. That impulse to turn off the TV and focus elsewhere may be a form of faith.
The next phrase is really interesting. “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” While the world may be fainting in fear, you can have a different attitude, a different take on it all, a different emotional response. We know something the world doesn’t know. We know that as the world’s way of making and keeping peace through violence breaks down and things start getting out of hand, it is not hopeless. This has to happen. Only when the old way no longer works can a new way be embraced. And we are already living in this new way. It is a way characterized by love and peace and not envy, resentment and contention, so we are called to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”
We know that the world has been breaking down for a long time. In fact, the breaking down began with the cross of Jesus when the mechanism of violence was revealed for what it is—a satanic mechanism that cannot save us. Violence never resolves violence in any permanent way and always it leads to more violence. The generation that “will not pass before all these things have taken place” is our generation and refers to the generation of the world that depends on violence to contain violence. We are living in that generation and clearly it is breaking down but that is not a reason for despair. In fact, Jesus says “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” It is getting closer. Our redemption is coming!
Now, I am going to make a bold move. I think our decrease in watching the news out of boredom with violence and more violence and our decision to look elsewhere for peace and calm are leaves sprouting on the fig tree! All around the world an increasingly vocal minority are waking up to the futility of violence. In every country from Israel to Iran and from United States to Panama, people’s consciousness is changing. You hear it in the music, you see it in literature, and you discover it in the opposition to violent revolutionary movements of all forms throughout the world. All of these things are fresh leaves bursting from previously dormant branches. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.” Maybe the fig tree is Israel or maybe it is the Judeo-Christian tradition and all the other trees are the rest of the world. But at any rate, they are all leafing out. “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
In our translation Jesus says, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” I suppose that is a way of telling us we can depend on what he is saying. It’s going to happen. N. T. Wright in his New Testament Translation translates the text as “Heaven and earth may disappear, but these words of mine won’t disappear.” That’s softer and I like it better.
We continue. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” The leaves are popping out on the fig tree and all the other trees, summer is near, but your heart is heavy—so heavy that you pour yourself an extra drink, or party yourself silly or obsess constantly about your life. In running from the boredom, fear and meaninglessness of it all, you are tempted to lose yourself for lack of hope. The signs are there but you are too spent, too wasted, to emotionally obliterated to notice them. Don’t let that happen! The form of dissipation I most worry about these days is consumerism. Feeling anxious, go buy something—anything, just get it.
Our text reads, “For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.” What is the “it?” What will come upon all who live on the face of the earth? Is it God’s judgment, some horrible divine visitation of wrath? No! The “it” refers to our redemption. The “it” coming toward us and very near, the “it” “that all who live on the face of the whole earth” will see is our redemption. Jesus comes again to redeem us all. That is the message of Advent 1. We can stand up and raise our heads for our redemption draws near.
In this context we are encouraged to “be alert at all times”. Our alertness is driven not by fear but hope. We want to be ready when he comes because if we are ready we won’t be drawn in by all the hoopla and frothing, all the contention and accusations, all the anxieties and violence the world offers us. We will be able to watch the news without going into a panic. We know how the world works so we can see these things coming. Along these lines it’s helpful to pray; pray for the world and pray that we not be drawn into its contortions. Or, as our text puts it, “pray that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place.” These things will take place. They have too. But we understand and see them as signs of His nearness.
While the rest of the world is frantically running this way and that or dulling themselves into some sort of oblivion, we are staying alert so that we can stand before the Son of Humanity. And if we have managed to keep our perspective we stand with peace on our hands, not blood. So be it. Amen.
January 30, 2013 at 9:29 am #999Suzanne RossKeymaster
I preached this past Sunday on Luke 4 and Adam played the High Priest Melchizedek who appeared to explain the liturgy of atonement. People really enjoyed it and seem to understand — yeah! http://www.ravenfoundation.org/blogs/religion/jesus-gives-a-reading-lesson/
June 13, 2013 at 11:45 am #3063Forgiving VictimParticipant
Thanks to Melissa Berkey-Gerard for sharing her “Generous Love” sermon!
Germantown Mennonite church
Luke 7:36-50 “Generous Love”
Every Sunday night, since Lent, twelve of us from church have been getting together for dinner, wine, and conversation. Ostensibly, this is a weekly study group, reading and discussing the work of James Alison, in a course called Jesus the Forgiving Victim. But it has become so much more than a theology geek club or book group. I’m not sure any of us knew what we were signing up for, even me, the organizer.
Even though I’ve read and taught this theology in the past, reading with this vulnerable community has soul, and speaks to my soul—feeds it. And well, maybe some of the warm feelings can be attributed to the wine which is pretty central to our gathering each week…
A little background –James Alison is a British Catholic theologian who believes that God is absolutely nonviolent, God comes toward humanity with absolute love, which is not dependent on humans being “good,” or believing a certain thing about God. Alison is absolutely convinced that this unconditional love and forgiveness is what can transform us, give us new lives. This love is what will move us away from doing violence to others, and toward the generous love that we see in the reading from Luke 7, where the woman cleans Jesus’ feet with her own tears and hair. Alison’s central example of love is of Jesus, who after being executed, comes back to life with absolutely no vengeance, only with forgiveness, for even a violent humanity.
So, as you can imagine, in our Sunday night group, we have done a lot of talking and thinking about forgiveness, so here goes- a sermon on forgiveness.
Did you just tune out when I said forgiveness? You’re probably not the only one. But come back, stay with me for a minute—I agree with you the word forgiveness is loaded, and actually makes most of us feel bad. If we think about forgiveness, we zero in on we have done wrong. The sin part, or the part where we hurt someone. Or we think about how we are supposed to forgive, forgive, forgive…and we have a hard time with that. And then we feel guilty. And so, we don’t really want to hear about or talk about forgiveness.
I think this may be why some people are uncomfortable with a prayer of confession too. During a time of confession, instead of freeing us from anxiety and stress, it just makes us feel bad. This might be a remnant of our upbringing, having to search our hearts for all of the sins that we did that week and need to bring to God. I know it’s still hard for me to not start doing an inventory of –you know– impure sexual thoughts–when we get to the prayer of confession, as the fourteen year old me starts to feel guilty.
Taken this way, it’s a real downer in the middle of the worship service. Why do we have to be reminded that we are bad? We already know it.
So today, I want to flip it, and look at it from the perspective of being forgiven. Our entry point into this new perspective is the story you just heard, of the Sinner Woman (Capital S—read “unclean”) who followed Jesus into a Pharisee’s house. This woman is filled with tears, and uses those very tears to wash his feet, and dries his feet with her hair. Something about him has moved her to flowing tears- enough tears to wash the dust and grime from his feet. Something pulled her to touch him, even though in the eyes of society, she was an unclean woman whose touch would defile him. She is not named, just called “a woman who was a sinner.” (although church tradition names her as Mary Magdelene. But we’ll stick with Luke here, where she is just plain old sinner woman)
What gave her the nerve to do this outrageous act? Despite the rules of society, she charged right at Jesus and went to work washing his feet. Something about Jesus moves her to touch him. Simon, the Pharisee uses the woman as a way to get at Jesus- he accuses Jesus—“If you were a prophet, you would have known this woman was a sinner. “
But, she knows that she is welcome to touch Jesus. She seems to sense that he didn’t play by those rules, that he didn’t observe the same borders. He did not live by the same system which defined who was clean and unclean. In other words, she knows that she is forgiven. And what is astonishing, and flips our assuptions on their heads, is that she is not forgiven AFTER she gets down on her knees at Jesus’ feet, or after she prays the sinners prayer, or confesses her sin. Instead, being forgiven, being unconditionally loved, is what touches off her outrageous sign of humility and love.
In this instance, forgiveness meant that this woman, clearly defined as a sinner, was welcomed by Jesus, and nothing was asked of her. She chose to wash his feet in response to this welcome, but it was not a prerequesite. Jesus didn’t walk into the room and wave his magic forgiveness wand over her after she said the prayer of salvation. She didn’t have to utter certain words, subcribe to certain beliefs, change her religion to Jesus’ religion. It’s not like in one moment she wasn’t forgiven, and then suddenly—bam—she is.
Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman predates her generous act of anointing him. And you can tell, because it’s precisely this forgiveness which frees her to do this audacious act. The move toward her in love existed before she made any move toward Jesus. So when he says she is forgiven, he is just telling her the fact. It’s like an after thought. “Oh by the way, as if you didn’t know already, your sins are forgiven.”
Another example of this is in the story of the prodigal son. Or, as my friend John Linton likes to refer to it, the story of the running father. In this story, it is the father who moves, even runs toward his wayward with an unrelenting love, before the boy asks for forgiveness. Again, after Jesus betrayal, execution, and resurrection, It is Jesus who moves first toward Peter the betrayer.
And it is Jesus who returns from death without vengenance for his killing, undoing the violence humanity does to one another, and did to him. His greeting when he came back?
“Peace be with you.”
And just like the running father, God’s movement toward us in love comes before any move we can make in God’s direction. Or even in the opposite direction. But it’s hard to remember that, to believe that, or to feel it.
As a way to get at this feeling of being forgiven, in one of James Alison’s essays, he asked us to pause in our reading, and remember a time when we had been forgiven. To take a few quiet moments and think of a time when we had been let off the hook.
I thought of a dear friend who forgave me for a few years of bad behavior on my part, which stemmed mostly from my ugly jealousy. I didn’t outright ask for forgiveness. But I received it from her. I sat with this memory.
Thinking about forgiveness on a human level took some of the fear out of it for me. Usually, when I think about forgiveness, I go to an old place in my mind, a place where I feel like I’m a bad person, just for being human. It’s an old belief, that we are always trying to rid ourselves of sin, and always asking for forgiveness for these sins. And it’s really hard to keep up, with remembering to ask for forgiveness all day long for all the little ways we fall short. But it seems like very important work, because it’s how we think we get God to love us—We ask for forgiveness and THEN God is accessible to us, when we are sufficiently clean and confessed.
Thinking about being forgiven took it out of that realm. Because I can look back on the memory, and know that my friend forgave me, and put it into the past, what I did to her was inconsequential. What I was able to focus on was the generosity that my friend had in forgiving me, and the expansion of our friendship that followed. Our friendship was forever changed, made more truthful and more vulnerable through that act. We are now much more honest with each other, more willing to help each other, more willing to be open about our struggles.
So, I’m going to now give you the opportunity to pause and reflect on the same thing. I will give you a minute now to bring to mind a time when you were forgiven by someone.
[ONE MINUTE PAUSE]
In James Alison’s words, remembering being forgiven is allowing yourself “to sit in the strange place of remembering being approached by a forgiving other, who is letting you go.” Remembering a person forgiving you may eventually help heal your image of God and understand Jesus as that forgiving person who comes toward you in love.
I hope you were all able to remember being forgiven. I want to invite you today, during our time of communion to hold that memory in love (if you want to). As you hear the words of institution, the invitation to the table. As you wait for your turn at the table. Turn the memory around in your mind. As you take a peace of bread, “Bread of life,” and dip it into the cup. The cup of forgiveness. Or as you remain seated and watch others take the Lord’s supper.
What did it feel like to be forgiven? To be let off the hook and not punished? What does it feel like to remember that moment now?
If you find it meaningful during communion, I wonder what it would be like to practice this every day for a few minutes? If anyone decides to try that out, let me know how it goes. I just came up with that idea yesterday so I haven’t had a chance to try it out, but I have a good hunch about it as a practice.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, he followed after the example of the sinner woman and washed his disciples’ feet. Then he offered them bread and the cup.
This table is a visible sign of God’s open armed welcome coming toward us, offering the bread of life, and the cup of forgiveness. What will it look like when our system of judgment of ourselves crumbles, when we find our selves forgiven? When we are freed to love with outrageous tears? I can’t wait to find out.
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