|The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 18, 2015||Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B||I Corinthians 6:12-10|
|The First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 11, 2015||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||The Book of Common Prayer –Holy Baptism|
|Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B||January 4, 2015||Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B||Luke 2:41-52|
|Two Christmas Eve Meditations||December 24, 2014||Christmas Eve, Year B||Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-5, 14, 16|
|Advent 3, Year B||December 14, 2014||Third Sunday of Advent, Year B||Psalm 126, I Thessalonians 5:16-24|
|Advent 2, Year B||December 7, 2014||Second Sunday of Advent, Year B||Mark 1:1-8|
|Advent 1, Year B||November 30, 2014||First Sunday in Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
|Christ the King, Year A||November 23, 2014||Christ the King, Year A||Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7a, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46|
|Pentecost 23, year A||November 16, 2014||Proper 28, Year A||Matthew 25:14-20|
|Pentecost 22, year A||November 9, 2014||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, 2014||November 2, 2014||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12|
|Pentecost 20, year A||October 26, 2014||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36|
|Pentecost 19, year A||October 19, 2014||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|Pentecost 17, year A||October 5, 2014||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46|
|Pentecost 16, year A||September 28, 2014||Proper 21, Year A||Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32|
Pentecost 13, year A
Sermon Date:September 7, 2014
Scripture: Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 18, Year A
"Forgiveness – Sofiya Inger (2006)
I’ll admit that today’s passages about pointing out others’ faults make me extremely uncomfortable. After all, we are also warned in the Bible not to judge—judging is God’s job.
I generally have a “live and let live” mindset. I don’t like conflict and would prefer to avoid it.
But Jesus himself gives us Christians this authority to bind and to loose, to make these judgment calls, and to hold one another accountable when we sin against each other.
First of all, sin is all about making death dealing decisions.
And so part of loving one another is for us to help each other choose life over death for ourselves, for our church, and ultimately, for the whole world.
And there’s another practical reason as well. When we inevitably sin against one another, then our community can be ripped apart, sometimes never to recover, and that’s the last thing we would want to have happen, because we would be less able to witness to God’s love in the world.
So how do we do we hold one another accountable for the good of one another and the community?
For me, this is a two part answer. I’m going to talk about the second part of the answer next week—forgiveness as an essential part of this process.
But before forgiveness comes the actual conversation between the sinned against and the sinner, and for that conversation, having a safe space for the conversation is necessary.
I’m talking about the safe space we create together when times are good–the trust and love we develop for one another within our community—the attention to living into one of our baptismal vows—to respect the dignity of every human being, even though sometimes that respect is really difficult to hold on to, depending on how greatly we’ve been sinned against.
Now email, Facebook and Twitter weren’t around in the time of Jesus. But Jesus knew about how poisonous gossip and complaints against another can be. Sometimes when we’ve been hurt, the first thing we want to do is to tell it to the world, to round up sympathetic people who are on OUR SIDE. And our current ways of communicating make this temptation to talk to everyone in the world about how we’ve been wronged incredibly easy to do—with incredibly negative results. It only takes a second to go on Facebook, write a status update about how angry I am about something someone did or said, and then hit “Enter.”
The MIT Techology Review website reports that several studies of online media done within the past year show that anger is the most powerful emotion on social networks, and the one that spreads even faster and farther than joy http://www.technologyreview.com/view/519306/most-influential-emotions-on-social-networks-revealed/
That’s why Jesus says simply to go to the other person who has sinned against you when the two of you are alone and to talk it over. This can be a very hard thing to do,but it’s easier to get up the nerve to talk to that person if we have already bought into the idea and the practice of loving one another, that is, loving our neighbors as ourselves, as Paul tells us to do in today’s passage from Romans.
And also easier if every day we get up and get dressed and make the conscious choice to put on the armor of light, to put on the Lord Jesus himself.
That way, we are not alone when we go to talk to this person who has wronged us. Jesus goes with us, wrapping us in love, so that we can extend that love and light to the person who has sinned against us.
Unfortunately, not all conversations of this sort bring reconciliation, and so Jesus goes on to say that then it’s time to call in reinforcements—not to banish the sinner, but to offer yet another opportunity for reconciliation to occur.
A great example of this next step was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that was put into place at the end of apartheid in that country in 1994.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says in his new book, The Book of Forgiving, that the transition to a new society in South Africa when apartheid ended could have caused a bloodbath.
Instead, South Africans managed to enter into the next part of their history together without bloodshed, thanks in part to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This commission did the very important work of creating a safe space in which people could come and tell their stories in “clear, honest, and sincere” language. People found the space to forgive and to be forgiven.
Those who had committed acts of violence could come receive amnesty for their crimes if they were willing to tell the entire and whole truth about what they had done. People who had suffered from the violence now had the truth, and could begin a journey toward forgiveness.
Remember though, that creating a safe space, hearing the truth, and offering forgiveness does not exempt a person from taking the consequences of the sin that has been committed.
As Tutu states in his book, “even God doesn’t take away justice in order “to open the door to eternal forgiveness and peace. The thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus was the only person to be promised paradise. But he still died on a cross for his crimes even though he lives in eternity for his repentance.”
Sometimes, though, reconciliation just isn’t possible, as today’s passage from Ezekiel reminds us.
But the good news is that we don’t have to worry about the end result of our holding another person accountable. Because even if we talk with the person and the conversation does not lead to reconciliation, and we end up having to let a relationship go, God never lets anyone go.
Ezekiel reminds us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but instead desires life for each and every one of us.
It’s up to us to remember that God is in the midst of us, not to take us out, but to help us find the way to eternal life, starting right now. This is God’s work.
Our job is to have the courage to hold those who have sinned against us accountable, and then, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous,
Let go and let God.
I was at the jail this past Thursday night. One of our goals in this Bible Study is to create a safe space for the prisoners so that they can talk about what’s on their minds in the context of the scriptures that we study together.
The prisoners and I talked about this passage from Matthew, and they shared stories about what bound them and kept them stuck in death dealing situations in their lives.
At the end of the hour, when we were talking about what we would pray for in the closing prayer, one man said, “Every morning I wake up thinking about how my wife hurt me, and what I can do to hurt her back just as soon as I get out of here. And then I think to myself, but if I hurt her, my kids won’t have anyone to take care of them. Sometimes I think I just need to let it go.”
And what happened next indicated that Jesus was there in the midst of us. Several of the prisoners, who would have gotten an A+ in pastoral care for the way they responded to this man, encouraged him to let these sinful feelings go.
They didn’t denigrate him for having those feelings—they just offered suggestions about how to move forward in life giving ways. They wanted to clothe him in the Lord Jesus Christ and show him the way to life.
He told me afterward that he usually just keeps this stuff bottled up inside, and that he realizes that he needs to talk about it more if he wants to get past the hurt and the anger that keeps holding him back.
He was grateful for the opportunity to talk and for the helpful words he had gotten from his brothers there in the jail. He had found a safe space in which to take a hard look at the destructive feelings he was having and to see a way forward.
So next Sunday, we’ll talk more about forgiveness,
but until then, let’s choose to love one another,
to put on our Lord Christ Jesus, to seek the courage to go to those who have hurt us and who need to find a light along the way,
and continue to do our best to create the safe spaces that will allow us all to live and grow in our love for God and for one another.
Tutu, Desmond, and Mpho Tutu. The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. Edited by Douglas C. Abrams. New York, New York: Harper Collins, 2014.