Sermon: Proper 19 RCL A – “Beloved”

The complete service can be found here.

The only time I’ve really ever thought about suing someone was because they were being a complete and total jerk. I just think if you’re going to act like that, you should be treated like that. However, there are some who are very creative in their search for suing and the easy dollar.

You’ve probably heard of the energy drink “Red Bull.” Their original ad campaign was pretty clever, “Red Bull gives you wings.” Well, some smart fella discovered that Red Bull actually does not give you wings, literally or figuratively, so he sued. Red Bull settled out of court for $640,000.

Or take the judge who lived in the Washington D.C. area. He took his pants to the dry cleaners, but when he came to pick them up, they weren’t there. Turns out that the dry cleaners has multiple locations and the pants had been delivered to the wrong one. The pants were found and presented to the judge; however, he claims the pants were not his and stating that dry cleaners promoted “satisfaction guaranteed,” he sued them for damages. What did he decide that his pants and time were worth? $67 million. Given the fact that this man was a judge in D.C. should have told us something about his character, but he is also one that I would sue for “being a jerk.”

I don’t really know what it is about some folks who feel the need to sue every time someone sneezes in their direction, but it seems there is no end to it. I would say that there are some cases that are truly legitimate, but others not so much. These are surely for the easy money, but I also think these are oftentimes about being right or a “legal” vindictiveness.

In our Gospel reading last week, Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

When someone sins against us, there can be times in our need to be right or simply out of vindictiveness, that we want to or even will skip those first two steps and go directly to “telling the church” or just expelling them all together. In these cases, telling the church isn’t really about an attempt at reconciliation or to bring someone back into the fold. No. It’s about gossip and it’s about getting people on our side. A judging in the court of public opinion. Get enough people to side with you and regardless if you’re right or wrong, you win. Again, it never was about reconciliation, it was vindictive. Getting even with them for what you perceived they did to you. Jesus provides us a roadmap on how to seek and hopefully find reconciliation, but this passage from last week was not the end of Jesus’ teachings on reconciliation, because this week, he dials it up.

Immediately after saying these things, Peter asked, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter is wanting to do the math and Jesus response is a formula that goes beyond our understanding. “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” That can also be translated, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” The number of times we are to forgive is inexhaustible. Seriously? Now, not only can’t we be vindictive, but we have to forgive them, time and time again. This is all that turn the other cheek business and it is so annoying. It is much more fun to get even. Isn’t it? We can plot, scheme, imagine…. “Oh, if they do this, then I’ll do that. If they say this, then I’ll say that. I’ll stick it to ‘em good.” Isn’t that far more entertaining than just forgiving them? Anger. Vindictiveness. These things are exhausting. In addition, you are allowing someone else’s sin, something they did against you, to cause you to sin through your own anger.

Yes, it is OK to go to someone and say, “You hurt me by doing such-and-such.” That’s being an adult. That’s building relationship. And, forgiving someone does not mean staying in an abusive situation. There are a few folks that I have forgiven and I want absolutely nothing to do with them. I’m not going to walk back into something where I know I’m just going to get smacked around again and neither should you. But in our lives, there are many minor hurts that we hang onto and that fester into severe wounds, when we should have simply forgiven. So, how do we go from vengefulness to forgiveness?

Henri Nouwen, one of those beautiful spiritual thinkers and writers, addresses this in an article he wrote for Weavings, a spiritual journal and he further developed in the book, Life of the Beloved. The title comes from the words of the Father to Jesus, when Jesus came up out of the water at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Beloved is also how John and Paul began to refer to the believers. Nouwen writes that the statement, “You are my Beloved,” “reveals the most intimate truth about all human beings.” What is that truth? That just as Jesus was the Beloved, so are we. If that is not true, if you do not believe that you are also the Beloved, then ask yourself why else Jesus would have died on the cross.

When it is revealed to us and we accept the fact that we are the Beloved of God, then we understand that there is no barrier that will separate us from the love of the one who calls us. It consumes and then it transforms, not into something alien or foreign, but the Father’s love begins the process of transforming us into his image. Yet, the gift of being the Beloved is not something that we hold solely for ourselves. It must be shared.

In speaking to another, Nouwen says, “The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness.” What does that look like as it pertains to forgiveness? In the article from Weavings, Nouwen writes, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” Forgiveness is the name of love, the great work practiced among the Beloved.

There was a king who had suffered much from his rebellious subjects. But one day they surrendered their arms, threw themselves at his feet, and begged for mercy. He pardoned them all. One of his friends said to him, “Did you not say that every rebel should die?”…. “Yes,” replied the king, “but I see no rebels here.”

How do we go from vengefulness to forgiveness? How do we go from wanting to seek the deaths of the rebels? By recognizing the Beloved in the other. By recognizing that we all rebelled against God, yet he does not desire our death. “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die.”

Instead of beginning by taking someone to court, judging them before others, or calculating the number of times you’ve forgiven—whether it be seven times, seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven times—instead of doing these things, see them as the Beloved, just as you are seen by God as the Beloved, and forgive them, just as you have been forgiven.

Let us pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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