Monday, September 12, 2011

Reflections on forgiveness

Sermon from Saturday evening.

September 10, 2011

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen. 

There’s something unique about this service, isn’t there…okay maybe it’s not just one thing…and maybe the service isn’t too unique, but because of a few simple differences this service allows us to deeply connect with today’s Gospel lesson. 

The basic order of service is the same as Sunday, and it can be simplified to 4 parts. 
Gathering: we gather together in confession and song
Word: we hear God’s word
Meal: we come forward for the Lord’s Supper
Sending:  we are sent from this place…back into the world.

But the gathering is where this service is just a little different. 
Immediately following the confession and forgiveness, we pass the peace. 
Now that’s a bit different.  And truth be told, it’s tripped me up a few times….but today, when our lessons revolved around forgiveness….how many times should we forgive? 

Here’s a comic to illustrate today’s lesson, from Agnus Dei…

(Above is the weekly lectionary based comic from Agnus Day.)

We’re left with the sheep to ponder…really, how many times are we to forgive…and is it really as easy as the click of a mouse?  Probably not…

And like last week…this whole forgiveness thing isn’t about making life easier for you or me individually…it’s not about forgiving so you can forget what happened, it’s for the sake of the larger community. 

This is a tricky parable we come upon this weekend…and it’s a weekend that calls us to think about the past, about actions we have taken not only as individuals but also as a community and as a nation.  How are we to forgive those who have purposely hurt us? 
How are we to forgive those who have taken lives who have hurt families who have instilled in us a sense of fear? 

I don’t have a clear answer for you.  That’s the truth.

Maybe the other truth is the reality that maybe we cannot forgive. 

Every time we speak the words of the Lord’s Prayer we speak forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. 

We continually pray for forgiveness…for new starts, for fresh beginnings, for the opportunity to have a clean slate.  And time and time again….God reaches in with a hand and a promise that we are forgiven.   We are freed to see outside of our own hearts and lives to see each other and the impacts we have in all our relationships. 

So here we are…forgiven.  A new people.  A new creation. 

Pretty amazing, huh? 

So how do we live in a world full of hate and revenge as people walking in the light of Christ…as a people united by the cross…washed in the waters of baptism…and forgiven and freed to love one another? 

It could be that we don’t think we deserve this unconditional love from God that we are only human, and we don’t deserve this love and grace. 

Yet we begin worship each week with this gracious reminder…
And at this service it is immediately followed by the passing of the peace…

Not a time to catch up with each other on the week’s gossip,
Not a time to find someone to volunteer for a new committee or project…

But the passing of the peace of the Lord…
It’s a time in the service where we make amends with one another…
It’s a time for us to forgive others…
It’s a time that helps us prepare to come forward to the Lord’s table…not focused on one another. 
Not worried about our own issues or someone else’s problems…or gossip or hurtful words, coming up to this table is that second reminder of God’s amazing grace and forgiveness…that we are welcome here no matter what. 

Think about that…
No matter who you are, you are loved.
No matter who you are, you are forgiven.
No matter who you are, you are free….to share that love and forgiveness. 

So what does that mean for us…here and now? 
Within the walls of Trinity, within the community of Robesonia…and as a nation? 

How does who we are as a chosen, loved and forgiven people impact the world around us? 

How does that change how we respond to war, pain, suffering, attacks, world hunger, broken families, sickness and death? 

I’ve heard it said that the heart of God is cross shaped. 
Pretty cool, huh?
The heart of God is cross shaped….because that’s where God’s unconditional love was and is shown for us as Jesus died on the cross.  That’s how much love god has foe us…so as a new people, as a chosen, loved and forgiven people, how do we point out God at work in the world…even in the suffering and the pain, in the remembering and the reconciling….

There’s this well-known tag line, or call and response that says, God is good…all the time. 
All the time….God is good. 

I’m not sure if I can agree with that…God is good in the midst of war?  In the midst of famine?  In the hurricanes, storms, floods?  In the political arguments?  In the economic struggles?  God is good? 

What I can stand behind I that God is God.  All the time….
And all the time God is God. 

God is with us in the midst of all that happens…loving and saving us and watching us mess up and continuing to love and save us…throughout history…this cycle seems to repeat itself. 

That won’t make life any smoother…
That won’t take away the pain and suffering in the world…
That isn’t a go directly to go and collect $200….it means we are still a vital part of this world, this church and this community. 

But knowing God is active in our lives each and every day changes who we are in the world. 

So as you leave from this place, this day…hear and know this:
God is with you. 
God loves you. 
God forgives you. 

And may those words of forgiveness remind us of the new creation we are in Christ.  . 

May God’s amazing grace in our lives change us, move us and free us to love and serve and forgive….

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say amen. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's the cross that unites us.

(Just a note: the illustration for this sermon is the short story by Dr. Suess, The Zax.  It is found in the book The Sneetches and other stories.  If you haven't read it, please, check it out, I have a copy you can borrow.)

September 4, 2011
12th Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

The North-going Zax and the South-going Zax…both set in their ways. 
Both certain that they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do be doing.
Both unwilling to budge, even in the least. 

You don’t know anyone like that do you?  
I love this story because it takes a common occurrence, a disagreement between two individuals and takes it to the ridiculous!  I mean really, have any of us not budged from one spot for 59 years….or more? 

Maybe we need to think outside of the box on this one…not just about two people going in conflicting directions physically, but what about the differences that spring up between us on our everyday lives.  Think for just a moment about a time when you have disagreed with someone…when you’ve not seen eye to eye, perhaps it was something at home, or something at work…or perhaps something here at church. 

It’s so easy to get stuck in our own ways…that’s human nature…that is sin…to turn in on ourselves, to turn away from God and others and in on ourselves. 

We live in a society that promotes me, myself and I. 
We live in a society that glorifies the isolated individual and marginalizes God. 

It’s a tough world out there…and it’s a world that will keep going on…so how are we to break out of ourselves, to see each other…to see God in our midst and to be open to the bigger community? 

Well, I think that’s where Matthew’s passage speaks to us today. 
I’d like to read the first part of that passage again, but this time from the New Revised Version, it’s just a little different than what’s printed in our bulletins so give it a listen,

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  

Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and almost warning them about the disagreements that can and will come up in the midst of their community.  He gives them these guidelines as a reminder that their identity is communal.  And while disagreements and sins arise within our midst there are ways to address them for the sake of the community. 

So if something comes up, Jesus recommends face to face conversation about with the person who you feel wronged you.  Don’t go to three other people first, talk with that person about it.  If, at that point you don’t see eye to eye, then bring a few people with you.  

I don’t think that you are purposely headed out with a posse behind you to drive your side home, but they are there to see the interaction, to see with new eyes both sides of the story, to hear with fresh ears how both people feel.  Again, it is for the sake of the greater community.  

If there is still a struggle, then bring into account the whole church, the whole body who is being affected by this disagreement….and if that doesn’t work…Jesus tells them to treat that person as a Gentile or tax collector: two of the types of people that Jesus continually reached out to and repeatedly welcomed in.

Because, again, that’s what it’s all about…continually inviting and welcoming all to hear the good news in Christ Jesus and to share God’s love and grace with everyone. 

Who we are in this place, in the context of Trinity Lutheran, is because of our unity through baptism, through the cross on our forehead and together we are brought to the cross of Christ. 

Maybe you have come to this congregation because of the fellowship, or because of the Bible Studies or because of the activities that connect us to the greater community.  You may have been drawn in by this space…by the liturgy and the hymns or because this is where your friends go to church. 

While these are all things that bring us together or that open the door to welcome in others…it is the waters of baptism that truly draw us in…and it is the cross of Christ that binds us together.  Truly it is the remembrance that God in Christ Jesus died for each and every one of us…that unites us, that defines us and is the reason we are here. 

So, in that same vein there may be things that you don’t like in this place. 
You may not like some of the hymns we sing…(all a million verses of them) you may not like all of the community activities Trinity is involved with, you may not like how an event is planned and implemented, you may not like how a project is developed and seen through…but that’s not what the deciding factor should be…there may be things that bother you in this place, attitudes and even people… 

But while there are peripheral things that bring us together…there are also those peripheral things that cause division….and you can live in that division if you want…just like those two Zax did…until the end of time…they held onto that grudge. 

But here Jesus reminds us that whatever we bind here on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

You can hold on to whatever grudge you want, but what will that do? 

Because here’s the thing, today’s gospel passage, all our readings today, actually guide us to and remind us of life in community. 
We are called to live with one another, the body of Christ is a life in community.  And our call, is to remember that bigger picture….

Our identity is communal. 
Our life is a life together and our life together surrounds and is surrounded by God. 

Coming together in this space affirms that our life is life together.

In this space, the word of God is proclaimed, Jesus is present in the wine and the bread….the waters of baptism wash over us, unite us and bring us ever humbled to the Cross of Christ where forgiveness and love and grace abound. 

Let us pray,
We give you thanks O God, for each other and for your presence with us.  We celebrate the experience of community that build us and others up. 
We especially seek your guiding hand and wise spirit when we find ourselves at cross purposes with one another.  Help us to be grateful, and not fearful, of honest encounters that enlarge our lives. 
May we not fail to listen for your Spirit’s stirring in our lives for the good through the voice of others. 
May we not fail to speak, when it is through us that you would speak truth, and seek justice and build up one another. 
We give thanks for each other’s prayers that accompany our days.  We give thanks for shared laughter and tears signs of true community in you.
And may the peace which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

* The closing prayer is adapted from a preaching resource The Minister’s Annual Manual.