Sermon: Forgiveness

Our God is a God of second chances, a God of Healing not just for us, but also for those who hurt us. We cannot deny the pain they cause, nor should we, but we can receive God’s healing. We begin this process for ourselves, and those who sin against us, through forgiveness. Forgiveness is God’s love in action.

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni
The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni

With the recent mass shooting in Charleston and the death sentence for the Boston Marathon Bomber we are once again witnessing the spectacle of one who is a purveyor of hate being confronted by those who have survived their brutality and evil. Some say such monstrosity can never be forgiven.  Others say that while justice must be done, it is wrong to answer evil with evil.  Both are correct.

We’ve seen the survivors in Charleston confronting the unrepentant murderer, and forgiving him. They’ve been lauded as an example of what Christian forgiveness is really all about. But is that true? Doesn’t their forgiveness seem too soon, perhaps even forced?

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Jesus’ Last Command

This week in Boston, we’ve seen so many people in our community coming together to minister in many ways to those who wounded, whether visibly or not, by this tragedy. This reflects how Jesus called upon his disciples to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture. It is a story we know all too well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet.

Sermon presented 4/28/2013, Sudbury Memorial Church, UCC
Scripture: Excerpts from John 13:4-35

This week in Boston, we’ve seen so many people in our community coming together to minister in many ways to those who have been wounded, whether visibly or not, by this tragedy. This reflects how Jesus called upon his disciples to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture.  It is a story we know all too well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet.

What the disciples knew was that Jesus had just washed all of their feet, and told them that if they truly love him they must follow his example by ministering to one another, as he had.  He then foretold his imminent betrayal by one of their own.  Finally, Judas accepted an offering of bread and vanished into the night on some unknown errand.  It was the evening of the “Last Supper.”  The disciples had taken shelter from the darkness outside in the cherished, annual celebration of their love and connection with each other, and with the people of God.

We remember and celebrate this even today, in the sacrament of communion.  The sharing of the bread is seen as the sharing of the Body of Christ that has been broken for us.  By eating of it, we are sharing in his life, in his death, and in the resurrection.  By eating of it together as a community, we are acknowledging that we are all part of the Body of Christ here on earth, working together to continue His ministry and to make manifest the Kingdom of God that is already all around us, even though we may not yet see it in all of its glory and perfection.

Judas took his piece of that bread as he left the light and warmth of his companions, and his Lord, as he retreated into the night.

Why did John think it so important to preserve the memory of this strange offering to the Betrayer?  Judas is someone to be shunned, damned and forgotten for all time – why remember anything about him at all?  Was that gift just for Judas?  I doubt it.  No passage in the scriptures has just one lesson for us – or I’d be out of a job!

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Grief

… it is OK to feel that anger, it is OK to allow ourselves to experience it, just as it is OK to experience the grief and sadness. It is part of what being human is all about. Our emotions are a critical part of who and what we are. Without emotions, we could not love, without emotions we could not create, and we could not grieve; but also, without emotions, we would not destroy and we would not hate.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Don McLean’s rendition of “Waters of Babylon” – a beautiful, haunting, sad three part canon that mourns the loss of Zion and the captivity of the Jews following the Babylonian’s destruction of all they had known and loved, including the Temple and the City of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE.

The lyrics are taken from Psalm 137 in the Bible, which I quote in full here (using the New Revised Standard Version):

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!}
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

It is times such as the recent shootings in Newtown and this week’s bombing at the Boston Marathon that bring back this song into my mind in all its power and beauty – the events and the music working together to forcefully remind me of how frail and fragile our human existence is; that our time on earth, and the lives of us and all of our fellow human beings, are far too precious to waste.

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