Sermon: Proper 9 RCL C – “Forgive and…?”


The apple.  I’m not a real fan of the apple unless it has sufficient peanut butter or is baked in a pie, but regardless of my thoughts on that particular piece of fruit, it is both famous and infamous.  There’s the Big Apple, American as Apple Pie, Johnny Apple Seed, and more, but there is also that one little apple in a Garden that enticed Eve. Yet, in this case, the apple is falsely accused because nowhere in the Holy Scriptures are we told that the piece of fruit was an apple.  It is only ever referred to as fruit, so how did it become an apple?  For the answer, we have to go back to the fourth century when St. Jerome translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Latin: the Vulgate Bible.

The word for fruit in Hebrew is peri, and according to a professor of English literature, whose name just so happens to be Robert Appelbaum, “Jerome had several options, but he hit upon the idea of translating peri as malus, which in Latin has two very different meanings. As an adjective, malus means evil. As a noun, it seems to mean an apple, in our own sense of the word, coming from the very common tree now known officially as the Malus pumila. So Jerome came up with a very good pun.” (Source)  What was the name of the tree that Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat from?  Answer: “The tree of the knowledge of good and malus/evil” (Genesis 2:17) but could also, according to Jerome, be named, “The tree of the knowledge of good and malus/apples.”  Afterward, the fruit showed up in many paintings as an apple, and in the seventeenth century, when John Milton published Paradise Lost and referred to the fruit as an apple—game over.  It will forever be thought of as an apple.  So what is the point of this apple lesson?

Throughout our culture, we say/believe many things that we believe are passages of Holy Scripture when they are not.  For example: “God helps those who help themselves.”  That’s in the Bible.  Right?  Wrong.  That was Benjamin Franklin in the Farmer’s Almanac.  How about this one: “God will never put more on you than you can handle.”  Scriptural or not?  Not.  St. Paul says something similar in his letter to the Corinthians, but it is only about sin, not everything else that comes against us.  There are many more, but the one I want to look at today is a favorite of Christians: “Forgive and forget.”  Exactly where is that in the Bible?  Nowhere.  The source of this misguided piece of wisdom is actually Don Quixote.  The line: “Let us forget and forgive injuries.”

Forgiveness is hard enough as it is without adding other conditions.  Heck.  In many cases, it doesn’t even seem like the fair thing to do.  Someone hurts you somehow, but the onus is placed on you instead of them having to do anything.  You have to go to that person and say, “I forgive you,” when you would probably prefer to tell them something entirely different.  I’m the one that was hurt, so why should I have to do all the hard work to make it right?  Now someone is going to come along and say, “Not only must you forgive the other person, but you must also forget what it was they did to you.”  Where does such a notion come from?

In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “I will forgive their wrongdoings, and I will never again remember their sins.”  Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has [God] removed our sins from us.”  Forgiving and forgetting are part of the nature of God and St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Forgiving each other, yes.  Forgetting? It’s not really there.

I’ve told you this one before: it is the story of a young peasant woman living back in the middle ages who began to have visions of Jesus.  The report of her visions spread far and wide, eventually reaching the ears of the Archbishop.  Not believing that a young peasant woman could possibly be having visions, he went to see her and asked her what she saw, and she told him.  Still, in disbelief, he told her, “The next time you have visions of Jesus, you ask him what I confessed at my last confession.  If you can answer that, then I will believe.”  Some months later, the report reached the archbishop that the woman was again having visions, so he went to her again and asked if she had spoken to Jesus and asked the Lord about the Archbishop’s last confession.  Her response was, “Yes.”  “Well then,” said the Archbishop, “What did Jesus say?” Her response, “Jesus said, ‘I don’t remember.’” God forgives, and God forgets.

Another story: a woman went to visit her priest in great distress.  Through many tears, she told him about how they had discovered that her father had for several years been sexually molesting her daughter.  When questioned even more, the woman told the priest that her father had also sexually molested her as a little girl.  She said that in her later years, “Not only did I forgive my father, but I also worked very hard at forgetting what he had done to me.  I didn’t want to remember; it was too painful.”  She had tried to do what we see as the “godly thing”; however, in forgetting, she did not remember that her father never confessed to a wrong, never repented, so in her forgetting, she placed her daughter in great danger.

When we forgive, it is not spiritually possible to forget. In many cases, to forget will only increase the potential harm done to us or others, so perhaps a better saying would be, “Forgive and be prudent” or “Forgive and use sound judgment.”  

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus made what some would consider an uncharitable statement, but it is speaking of prudence in all our actions, including forgiveness.  He said, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”  Matthew’s Gospel expands on the same statement: Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  In other words, Jesus says, “I know that the world is not a safe place; therefore, be peaceful in your actions, but stay alert.  Be prudent in your dealings with this dangerous world.”

The author of Proverbs writes, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways” (Proverbs 14:8) and again, “Whoever strays from the path of prudence comes to rest in the company of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16)

We must forgive the wrongs done against us—end of discussion—we must forgive.  We forgive even if the person who committed the wrong never repents or refuses to repent.  That’s between them and God.  However, when we forgive someone, we are not saying that what happened didn’t matter, that everything can go back to the way it was.  In addition, we have to keep in mind that forgiveness is very much a process.  It will probably not happen overnight unless you are a saint, so there will be days long after you believe that you have forgiven when the anger rises in you all over again, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven.  It simply means that you are human.

With all that said, there are parts of those hurtful and wrong instances that we should forget; specifically, we should forget—set aside—the deep hurt and anger that builds in us because if we persist in it, then we are allowing another person’s sin to lead us into sin—a vicious cycle.

By forgiving, we may allow the other person to feel better about themselves for bringing harm to us or someone else, but ultimately our forgiveness is not for their sake or their benefit.  Instead, it is for the sake of our souls so that it will not torment us and draw us into sin.

Bottom line: forgiveness is about healing.  If it can heal relationships—Good.  If it can heal other situations and bring comfort to others—that’s fine too.  However, in the end, forgiveness is about healing you.  It is about freeing your soul so that you may experience the joy of the Lord.

Forgive and be prudent, but whether those who hurt you ask for forgiveness or not, forgive them.  Unshackle your soul and be free of the bitterness.

Let us pray: Lord, we sinners who are in need of Your mercy.  Help us to have a heart of genuine sorrow for our sins and turn to You for that grace.  As we seek Your mercy, help us forgive the wrongs others have committed against us.  We do forgive.  Help that forgiveness enter deep into our souls as an expression of Your holy and Divine Mercy.  Jesus, we trust in You.  Amen.

Sermon: Epiphany 7 RCL C – “Forgive”


I’ve been working on my mind reading skills.  Let’s see how I’m doing (you may want to grab a pen if you need help with some light math.  I know I do!): 

1. Pick a number from 1-10. Any number.

2. Multiply it by 2.

3. Add 8 to that number.

4. Divide it by 2.

5. Subtract. Current number – Original Number. Take your time to do it right.

6. Match that number to an alphabet letter. For example 1-A, 2-B, 3-C and so on… Got the letter?

7. Think of an European country that starts from that letter

8. Take second letter from that country and what is the first animal you think of that starts with that animal?

9. Now think of the color of that animal

Ready?  Ok… let me read your mind… If you are thinking of a grey elephant, please raise your hand.

Why are we concerned with mind readers this morning?  Because, after reading that first sentence of our Old Testament lesson, I figured many would need to be a mind reader in order to know what the heck was going on: “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”  What in the world is this all about?  Some will know (and a bit later on I look forward to covering the story in more detail during our Sunday school lessons on the Patriarchs) but maybe we could all use bit of a refresher.

In our study, we know that Abraham was the father of Issac and Issac was the father of Jacob (who will later be named Israel).  Jacob will have four wives and twelve sons.  His favorite wife was Rachel and his favorite son was Rachel’s first child (and Jacob’s eleventh son), Joseph.  Joseph’s younger brother, by Rachel, was Benjamin.

Because Jacob showed favoritism toward Joseph, the ten older brothers did not like him.  When Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colors, the ten liked him even less.  When Joseph had two dreams demonstrating that his brothers and father would eventually bow down before him… things just got nasty.

One particular day, the older brothers were out tending the flocks and Jacob sent Joseph out to find them.  When the older boys saw him coming, one said, “Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”  They did not end up killing him, but sold him as a slave and Joseph ended up in Egypt.  They took Joseph’s colorful coat, covered it in blood, and holding it out to Jacob, their father, told him that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.  

Now, fast forward through twenty-two years and many adventures: then a great famine settles in the land.  Jacob and his family need food, so Jacob sends those same ten brothers who sold Joseph to Egypt to trade for their needs.  In order to receive the food, the ten must go and ask it of the man who in Egypt was second only to Pharaoh.  They did not know it, but that man was their brother, Joseph.  We are told, “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.”  Eventually, there is the great reveal and Joseph makes himself known.  The brothers, seeing Joseph who they had treated so badly, are greatly disturbed by their actions, yet Joseph says to them… insert our lesson from today: “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”  He said to them, “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”  In other words, Joseph forgave his brothers and said, all that has happened is a part of God’s plan, so that we might be in a position to save God’s people.

Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers; and he was one of the most powerful people in the world, so he could have done whatever he liked to them, from sending them away empty handed, to placing them into slavery, to putting them to death, but he chose another path.  A path that led to reconciliation. 

With that understanding, hear again the words of Jesus from our Gospel lesson: Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies even if they sell you into slavery, do good to those who hate you even if they think of killing you, bless those who curse you because they do not understand how God is working, pray for those who abuse you, because you may win them back as a brother or sister. If anyone strikes you on the cheek or throws you into a pit, offer the other also and allow God to work his purposes; and from anyone who takes away your coat, even if it is a technicolor coat, do not withhold even your shirt or your life. Give to everyone who begs from you even if that person has done you very wrong; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again, for they were God’s goods to begin with. Do to others as you would have them do to you, regardless of how they’ve treated you in the past…. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.’”

I’ll tell you a story that I know I’ve told you before, but like any good story, it doesn’t hurt to hear it again: it takes place in Spain.  A father and son got into a tremendous heated argument, which led to the son running away.  Almost immediately the father felt remorse over what he had said and so he went in search his son.  He searched for months, but he could not find him. Finally, in a last frantic endeavor to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On that Saturday, 800 boys named Paco showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their father.

You don’t need to be a mind reader to know that if there is one thing this world needs, it is forgiveness.  We need to be forgiven by God. We need to be forgiven by others and we need to forgive those who have hurt us.  So we need to stop judging over who may or may not be right.  We need to stop condemning and being so stubborn because we simply don’t want to let something go.  We need to start forgiving and being forgiven.  In that last phrase, Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you.”  I suppose we could think of that in terms of some sort of material gift: goods, money, etc., but in this context, I don’t think that is what Jesus is asking us to give.  I think Jesus is asking us to give love.  Love.  For in not judging or condemning and by forgiving, we are truly loving; and by loving in such a manner, we are becoming more like Jesus, because that is exactly how he loved us.  

“Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
(An Essay on Criticism: Part 2 by Alexander Pope)

In your relations with others, strive for the divine.

Let us pray: 

God, our Father,
You redeemed us
and made us Your children in Christ.
Through Him You have saved us from death
and given us Your Divine life of grace.
By becoming more like Jesus on earth,
may we come to share His glory in Heaven.
Give us the peace of Your kingdom,
which this world does not give.
By Your loving care protect the good You have given us.
Open our eyes to the wonders of Your Love
that we may serve You with a willing heart.

Amen.

Sermon: Lent III RCL A – “Forgiveness, Pt. 3 – Obedience, Guilt, Imitate”

images-19The new priest is nervous about hearing confessions, so he asks an older priest to sit in on his sessions. The new priest hears several confessions, then the old priest asks him to step out of the confessional for a few suggestions… The old priest suggests, “Cross your arms over your chest and rub your chin with one hand.”… The new priest tries this. The old priest suggests, “Try saying things like, ‘I see, yes, go on, and I understand, how did you feel about that?”  The new priest says those things, trying them out. The old priest says, “Now, don’t you think that’s a little better than slapping your knee and saying, ‘No way! What happened next?'” – I’m not sure if this would be a good time to encourage you all to go to confession during Lent or not.

It is in the fifth chapter of James that we hear specific instructions on healing: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil.”   A few verses later, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  James is showing us that there is often a link between sin and sickness, therefore he encourages us to confess our sins to each other.  Often, when we hear these instructions we think of the confession between a penitent and a priest, but James is also talking about Christian speaking to Christian as a means of accountability.  For example – if you have a problem with ___, then you can confess this to a trusted friend or even a group of trusted friends who will in turn hold you accountable.  They do this not so they can beat you over the head when you slip and fail, but so that they can support you in your time of weakness and give you encouragement when you hold strong.

So we confess our sins to God and to a priest for absolution.  We confess to one another for accountability and encouragement, and finally we confess so that we might receive forgiveness from the person who we injured.

Back in the day before I was the saint that you see standing before you today, I had a favorite expression for someone who had injured me in someway when asked if I would forgive them.  I heartily responded, “I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire.”  That left very little room for reconciliation and Jesus was not amused.  Yet finally I heard that call from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  I understood that I must learn to forgive as I have been forgiven.  For me, I also discovered that there were three main reasons that compelled me to forgive: obedience, guilt and imitation.

Take obedience.  Some folks choose to go to work out of obedience, which can sometimes be closely linked to fear.  Obedience in that they know what is expected of them and fear that they will be fired if they don’t.  The same line of thought applies to forgiveness.  Consider Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant: a servant owed a great debt to his master and yet was unable to pay when his master called in the debt.  He therefore begged his master for forgiveness and the master forgave the debt and let him go; however, when that servant went out he encountered someone who owed him a debt and demanded that it be paid.  When the man said he couldn’t pay the servant had him thrown into prison until he could.  When the other servants saw what had happened they went to the master and reported it.  The master recalled the servant and said to him, “‘You wicked servant; I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”   Jesus concludes by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  There are times when we may also forgive someone out of obedience to the command to forgive and out of fear of the repercussions of not forgiving.  Is that forgiveness?  Yes, as long as it is from the heart.  As long as we truly forgive.

Second, we may choose to forgive out of guilt.  Take for example the parable of the father who had two sons.  The father went to the first and said, “‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.”  Jesus asked those who were listening to him, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”  “The first,” they answered, but the question for us is: what turned the first son’s heart?  Probably a number of things, but I suspect it started with guilt.  “Dad asked me to do this [grumble.  grumble.]”, yet off he went.  In a similar manner – because of guilt – we may choose to forgive.  If I am being hard hearted and not wanting to forgive, but then look at an image of our crucified Lord and recognize the price he paid for my sins that I might be forgiven… guilt.  Plain and simple.  The guilt of my own sin and understanding the price paid by Jesus for those sins, will compel me toward forgiveness.  Is that forgiveness.  Again, yes, as long as it is from the heart.

So we can forgive out of obedience and guilt, but I would suggest to you there is an even better way: imitation.  Why do you do something in a particular way?  Oh, that’s how my dad always did it.  Why are you a dentist?  Oh, my mother was a dentist.  We imitate the behavior we see from others.  In the first paragraph of the first chapter of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, “‘He who follows Me, walks not in darkness,’ says the Lord.  By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 5:12 (NIV), “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  “Follow God’s example” is also translated in other versions as “Be ye therefore imitators of God.”  That word “followers” / “imitators” is translated from the Greek word “mimEtai” (μιμηταὶ)  It is where we get the word “mimic.”  What is it we are to imitate / mimic as dearly loved children of God?  “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”  That is what we are to imitate.  We forgive, because Jesus forgives.

If you forgive from your heart out of obedience or guilt, then you have done as Christ commanded.  You have forgiven because you have been told to forgive and know that you must, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; however, in being a follower / imitator / mimic of Jesus you will forgive – not because you have been told to do it – but because you want to be like Jesus.

Is that asking too much?  Is it to hard to want to be like Jesus?  If so, then to paraphrase George Herbert, set it up there as a mark, something to aim for “since he shoots higher that threatens the moon, than he that aims at a tree.”  Forgive by any means you can summon, but seek the higher way of imitating Christ.

Sermon: Lent I RCL A – “Forgiveness, Pt. 1 – Where to Begin?”

forgive-tumblr

The Beatitudes.  Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted.  Have you ever read those and thought to yourself, “I am so going to hell!”  There are days when I think that my ticket is already stamped.  This notion  of going to hell is only confirmed when I consider the seven deadly sins.

Pride.  How could I possibly be prideful when I’m the humblest person I know?  Greed?  Yeah.  Here’s a good one, lust.  You know what I think of when I think of being lustful?  Roy Orbison.  No.  Not Roy himself, but that song of his, “There she was just walking down the street, singing do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do.  She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind”  What is wrong with me?  Sloth?  Wrath?  Gluttony?  Please!  Just look at me.  I couldn’t come close to measuring up to a single one of the Beatitudes, but give me the seven deadly sins and I’m batting 1,000.  I am most certainly going to hell and my only consolation is that I can look around the congregation and know that I’ll at least have several friends with me!

In our Gospel today Jesus was able to overcome all the temptations that the Devil threw at him – worldly pleasures, fame, power, everything – but if you were to set a double beef cheeseburger, large fries and an ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of me, I’m fairly certain that I would commit at least half of the seven deadly sins.  If you set that same double beef cheeseburger, large fries, and ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of somebody else, I would probably break the other half.

I know it is Lent and we aren’t suppose to be having any fun in Church, but I’m sure you see the point as it would apply to a wide range of sinful activity that’s a bit more serious than a double cheeseburger.

St. Peter implores us, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”  As a Christian people, that is the goal, but so often we end up in the same boat as St. Paul, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Pride is at the top of the list of the seven deadly sins, because it takes a great deal of humility to admit that we have sinned.  Think how difficult it is to go to confession, how much humility it takes to confess your sins to another –  many can’t even make themselves practice this sacrament, but if we do humble ourselves, we can recognize that we have sinned, that we have damaged our relationship with God.

But the committing of the sin is not the saddest part?  We can discuss the fact that we have sinned.  We can identify times in our lives that we committed horrible acts.  We can identify times in our lives when someone committed horrible acts against us.  We will gladly beat ourselves up time and time again for something we did wrong even if it was years ago.  I can stand up here, point you out, and say, “You are a sinner.”  With the exception of the very proud, most, in humility will hang their head in agreement and defeat.

During the Ash Wednesday service we recited the 51st Psalm and we can agree with the words David wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.  Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.”

But you know what?  That’s not the sad part.  The sad part is that in the next sentence after I have said you are a sinner – in the very next sentence – I can tell you that you are forgiven – you are forgiven – and the sad part is… you won’t believe me.

Jesus said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  Again “Jesus said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” And again, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Peter declares, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”  St. Paul writes, “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  St. John confirms, “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name.”  All that and many still won’t believe those words, “You are forgiven.”

Not only that, but believing that we are forgiven is almost as difficult as it is for us to forgive others.  That whole bit about “forgive, that you may be forgiven.”  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.”  Yeah, there are days when I definitely don’t want to pray that!  Do you really always forgive others?

Forgiveness, in every form, is key to the teachings of Holy Scripture.  We know that it is a large part of our Christian identity, but what does it really mean?  I should probably spend Lent beating you over the head with your sins, but most of us don’t need any help with that.  So I’ve decided that during this Holy Lent we are going to look at the various aspects of this rather illusive topic.

To begin with, you have an assignment for this week: think about forgiveness.  No.  Not about who you should forgive or anything like that, but consider your ideas about forgiveness.  What do you think Jesus means when he says we should forgive?  How can we forgive ourselves?  Next week we will begin with many of the myths out there about what true Christian forgiveness is all about and see if what we believe is right or wrong.

In the meantime, consider these words Mahatma Gandhi: “The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

 

%d bloggers like this: