Tag Archives: forgiveness

Sermon at Morning Prayer | Sunday, June 21, 2015

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance said. “And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

“As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you,” survivor Felicia Sanders said. “But may God have mercy on you.”

How in the world can these people from Emanuel AME Church in Charleston be at peace?

How in the world can they have forgiveness in their hearts?

How did they come to possess “the peace that passes understanding”?

The Cycle of Gospel Living

It’s clear that most of us do not have that peace.

We try to talk about racism and violence and the other ills that plague us, but we end up talking past each other and inflaming each other further. The news media and social media erupt with argument and counter-argument.

Even when we are fellow-Christians trying to speak about the Gospel, we do not always help as we had hoped to. We try to “proffer the Word of life,” but we still talk past each other.

The Rev. Eric H. F. Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute teaches about the “Cycle of Gospel Living,” and I believe it can help us in these challenging conversations.

We have studied this cycle in our Education for Ministry groups this year, as we reflect on “Living Faithfully in a Multicultural World.”

Take a moment to look at the diagram carefully.

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We all participate in the dying and rising of Christ, in the cross and resurrection, but we enter the cycle from different places – the powerless from the bottom, the powerful from the top.

This cycle is reflected in all three of the readings assigned for the Daily Office today:

From the bottom, from complete defeat and disaster for Israel, “The wife of Phinehas said, ‘The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.’” (1 Samuel 4:22)

After speaking to someone on top, a rich young man, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23).

And writing to Christian Jews living in “the Dispersion,” in a variety of different places, James says, “Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low” (James 1:9-10).

The Coded Gospel

How in the world can these people be at peace?

How can we come to possess the peace that passes understanding?

“If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps…. Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery” (Big Book 58-9).

Through my own experiences in recovery I have heard in the 12 Steps of AA what Richard Rohr calls “the coded Gospel” (Breathing Under Water).

An experience of powerlessness can trigger our awareness that we cannot handle our life alone.

When we admit our powerlessness, we can find reprieve – “a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).

We may even find that our regular spiritual practices become an oasis, rather than a burden.

Sitting in the Oasis

The members of Emanuel AME Church were meeting for their regular Wednesday night Bible study.

They were sitting “in the oasis,” and they welcomed a stranger to join them, even offering him a seat of honor next to their pastor.

As African-American people in South Carolina, they lived in relative powerlessness – even though their pastor was also a state senator, the streets around their church are named for Confederate generals, a constant reminder of slavery and of past and present violence against people of color.

As people of color, their identification with Jesus, their entry into the cycle of gospel living, may have been at the bottom, but their endurance like Jesus, their empowerment by Jesus, and the daily maintenance of their spiritual condition in union with the resurrected Jesus produced in them an oasis, full of living water.

Choosing the Cross

We do not necessarily have the same experience of the Gospel.

Our identification with Jesus, our entry into the cycle of Gospel living, is more likely to start at the top and to require us to choose the cross, giving up the power and privilege we enjoy as white people in northeast Wisconsin.

Whether something like addiction calls us up short, whether the death of a loved one brings us low, whether we are cut to the quick by the words of Scripture, our falling and failing will also lead us into “the way of the cross, [which is] none other than the way of life and peace” (BCP 99).

You Cannot Transmit Something You Haven’t Got

So how did they come to possess the peace that passes understanding?

And how can we come to share in the peace that does not “treat the wound of [God’s] people carelessly” (Jer. 6:14)?

The “Big Book” of AA reassures me that “the answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got” (164).

Many people in the Episcopal Church, especially as we prepare for General Convention, are calling us to a preach resurrection and engage in the kind of practices that will get us what we need to transmit.

A Memorial to the Church by the Acts 8 Moment invites the Episcopal Church to:

  • recommit itself to the spiritual disciplines at the core of our common life,
  • go into our neighborhoods boldly …, and
  • restructure our church for the mission God is laying before us today.

And 3 Practices TEC invites us to:

  • follow Jesus together
  • into the neighborhood, and
  • travel lightly

The Spiritual Disciplines at the Core

Like the 12 Steps of recovery, the “spiritual disciplines at the core of our common life” are deceptively simple:

  • Celebrate the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Major Feasts
  • Pray every morning and evening, soaking yourself in the Scriptures
  • Confess your sins to God, and to another person if you need to
  • Feast during Christmas and Easter and on Major Feasts; fast during Lent and on Fridays
  • Baptize, confirm, and teach new disciples
  • Care for each other “in sickness and in health”

And, just like the folks in AA have a “Big Blue Book” we have a “Red Book” (the Book of Common Prayer).

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The “daily maintenance of our spiritual condition” is not a depressing burden, as I feared when I first entered recovery.

“You’ve got it all backwards,” a fellow deacon said when I called him in a panic. “Every day you don’t drink is an oasis!”

Rather than being a burden, our spiritual disciplines can create in us an oasis, a place where we are free to greet the stranger whom we meet in our churches or as we follow Jesus out into the neighborhood.

And one last thing, these practices are mostly portable, making it easy to travel lightly.

Sure, we usually gather in a church building on Sundays and holidays, but the book we need for the Daily Office fits easily into a briefcase – in fact, you don’t even need a book, since the Forward Movement iPhone app works just as well!

And soaking daily in the Scriptures means that following God “is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven … neither is it beyond the sea …. No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and your heart for you to observe” (Deut. 30:14).

The Word is Very Near You

Listen again to that word:

“We enjoyed you … and may God have mercy on you.”

These are the words of a woman who lives in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.

These are the words of someone whose own experience of powerlessness, death, and violence is being transformed by her endurance, empowering her to offer a blessing instead of a curse.

We may not be able to offer those same words – we are not at the same place in the cycle of gospel living – but we can also participate in the resurrection life.

For us it may require a costly admission or an unwelcome realization, and it may require us to choose the cross, giving up the power and privilege we hold onto so tightly.

But we, too, can know the peace of Christ, recognize it in our neighbors, and share it with those around us.

And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among us, and remain with us always. Amen.

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Having the Son of God

And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

What does it mean to “have” the Son?

Does it mean saying particular things about Jesus? Reciting particular creeds of the Church?

Does it mean arguing about religion? Imposing religious laws on people?

Does it mean wearing certain Christian t-shirts? Wearing certain ecclesiastical robes? Having a certain hairstyle? Wearing a certain hat?

Does it mean reading special prayers? Making up special prayers? Singing special music?

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What might it mean to “have” life?

Might it mean owning up to our own faults? Admitting our own mistakes?

Might it mean praising God for the way things are? Thanking God for what is?

Might it mean receiving forgiveness? Giving forgiveness?

Might it mean serving God? Might it mean being served by God?

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

-George Herbert

Forgetful of the cleansing

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

One of the first insights I had about the Daily Office after I entered recovery was that, even though the rubrics say the Confession of Sin is optional at the beginning of Morning Prayer (BCP 79), for me it is required.

It’s so easy for me to be “forgetful of the cleansing of past sins,” to press forward without remembering the hard-won lessons of my recovery and my new life.

It’s easy for me to start thinking things are fine, but how quickly I can slip back into the thoughts that led me into trouble in the first place. How little I really want to do what is good, how little I want to wait for anything, how little thought I give to anyone else, how little self-control I have!

The grace that filled me when I entered recovery, admitting my powerlessness and my need for God’s help, is the same kind of grace that is given to us in the sacrament of baptism.

It occurred to me today that we make our Confession of Sin and then say the Apostles’ Creed each morning so that we do not become “forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.”

The point is not to rehearse our past sins over and over — they have been forgiven, and we are made new in baptism. Rather, the point is to learn from our experience in order to better trust in the hope we have been given.

The point is to be mindful each day of our need for God, and each day to recommit ourselves to walking in the steps laid out for us.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:10-11)

A Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Without shame or fear

In just a few minutes, Fr. Ralph will lead us in the Great Thanksgiving as we prepare to celebrate Communion:

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, because you sent your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.

“That we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing …”

But we should be ashamed.

We are citizens of a country in which black men like Mike Brown and Eric Garner and black boys like Tamir Rice are killed and the police officers who killed them are not indicted. We good citizens too often prefer to talk about the character of the victim and not the behavior of the police.

We live in a world in which at least 20% of women report being victims of sexual assault, and where 1,600 years after St. Nicholas saved girls from slavery they are still sold into sex trafficking. We well-behaved people too often prefer to talk about dress codes for young women or blame the woman for not protecting herself, instead of focusing on the behavior of the rapists and abusers.

We are part of a society in which a mentally ill man is not only not in the hospital, but is on Death Row and just a day away from execution. He was pardoned this week, but the scandal is that he was that close to being killed for being mentally ill. We who are supposedly “sound of mind” would rather not think about it.

We belong to each other, but we feel like we’re individuals. We feel alone.

And we are so afraid …

We are afraid to offer a hand to a poor person, in case a working mother uses her SNAP benefit to buy something tasty for her family. We’re so afraid that $74 billion is too much to spend, that we don’t notice she’s only getting about $125 a month for each person in her family. [FNS USDA 2014]

We are afraid that we’re not beautiful enough, or thin enough, or sexy enough, or fit enough, and we spend $60 billion each year on dietary supplements and gym memberships and diet soda [US News 2013]. Even in the middle of the recession, in 2010 we spent $11 billion on plastic surgery [Reuters 2010].

We are afraid to admit that we benefit from a strong military presence around the world, that our being able to feel secure and safe means that innocent people sometimes die in raids and drone attacks.

How long, O Lord?

We are too often blind and cheap and shallow in our daily lives, but what we’re really afraid of is dying, and what we’re ashamed to do is face up to our own failings.

Advent, far from being a run-up to Christmas, to gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild, is as much a reminder of death as it is of life, and it confronts us with the question of judgment. Will we be forgiven?

The reading from the Second Letter of Peter is a perfect example. “What happens to the people who die?” is the question behind today’s passage.

Peter replies by saying this: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think about slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” He goes on to say, “Regard the patience of the Lord as salvation.” (2 Peter 3:9,15)

Regard the patience of the Lord as salvation …

Peter also asks the question, “What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?”

That is, how should we live in the meantime?

I don’t think Peter means for us to live in shame, but rather in humility and expectation, having experienced the forgiveness of Jesus.

The author Marilynne Robinson writes that:

The one letter confidently attributed to Peter, the friend of Jesus, represents Jesus in terms of his humility and patience to suffering … Perhaps it is Peter’s memory of the moment in which he himself injured Jesus that gives such power to his description. (from Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament)

If Peter, who denied Jesus before his crucifixion, has been forgiven, who are we to remain ashamed? If you have confessed your faults to another person, as I have, and received forgiveness, as I have, who are you to feel ashamed?

And who are we to be afraid?

Another of my favorite authors addresses Paul, the other great apostle of the New Testament, who would not want us to live in fear.

Robert Farrar Capon writes:

[I]f God has really done what the Epistle to the Romans says he has, he’s gone ahead and solved all his problems with sin independently of what sinners might or might not do about it. That’s outrageous, of course; and it’s not at all what most people think a God who’s a card-carrying member of the God Union ought to do. But it is what the Mystery of Christ is all about, because by that Mystery, God’s love and forgiveness are intimately and immediately present in full force to everyone in the world, virtuous or wicked, Christian or not, simply because the Word of God incarnate in Jesus is present to everyone in the world. Nobody has to clean up his act in order to be forgiven or loved; all anybody has to do is *believe (trust, have faith)* that he’s home free already, and then enjoy the forgiveness he’s had all along by passing it on to everybody he runs into. (The Mystery of Christ … and Why We Don’t Get It)

So, to Peter’s question, what sort of persons ought we to be?

If we have been seen in our shame and forgiven for our blindness and pettiness and shallowness, can we pass along that forgiveness? Can we look clearly at the behavior of those who injure others – or kill them or abuse them or belittle them – and see them through the same forgiving eyes as Jesus saw Peter?

If we have been set free from the fear of death, how should we treat those who are still afraid? Can we defend those who do fear death – or abuse or imprisonment or hunger – because they are vulnerable? Can we protect them so that they might experience the same freedom we enjoy?

If we can see and forgive, defend and protect, perhaps then we can inspire people to repentance and holiness, as we ourselves have been inspired.

If we can help people see that the grace and forgiveness comes first, and that our repentance, our turning around, is how we respond to the freedom we’ve been given, maybe then we can inspire others to live that way, too.

And maybe then our prayer will indeed be true:

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, because you sent your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.

 

Amen.

God hates nothing God has made

Pinned Insects

Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 217)

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Since late last year, following a serious lack of judgment at a company event, I have been on a disciplinary plan at work and have been seeing a counselor through our Employee Assistance Program.

Having my failings made visible is really uncomfortable — the first image that comes to my mind is an insect pinned to a board — but the process of dealing with the issues openly and with help from other people has led to some long-overdue changes in my life.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of discipline in the reading appointed for today.

Endure trials for the sake of discipline … [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems unpleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7, 10-11).

On Ash Wednesday, we rehearse the heart of the Christian message about sin and forgiveness.

God hates nothing God has made, even though we fall short of the mark again and again.

When we confess our sins and get them out in the open, when we allow others to help us deal with our failings, we open ourselves up to receive from “the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.”

Having received forgiveness, having been trained by discipline (not just once, but as often as it takes!), we in turn extend that forgiveness to those around us.

Yes, we are mortal — ashes to ashes, dust to dust — but we are God’s. “He himself has made us, and we are his” (Jubilate, BCP 83).

God hates nothing God has made, and God forgives the sins of all who are penitent.

Unworthy as I am, you will save me,
in accordance with your great mercy,
and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.
For all the powers of heaven sing your praises,
and yours is the glory to ages of ages. Amen.
(Canticle 14, BCP 91)