Sep13SunSeptember 13, 2020
15th Sunday after Pentecost
The readings this morning focus on the theme of forgiveness.
What is forgiveness?
What is forgiveness not?
Martin Luther King Jr. said:
Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.
As people of faith, the thought of life without forgiveness is well, rather unthinkable.
It’s a vehicle of renewal and deepening love that helps us walk humbly into the matrix of human interactions.
What is forgiveness not?
It’s important to talk for a minute about what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness does not mean that you are a door mat for others to walk on
and take advantage of.
Forgiveness does not place undue expectations on the victim to forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean that you are oblivious to what is right and what is wrong.
Forgiveness is complex, for sure. It invites repentance and mercy into the necessary equation of reconciliation.
I am certainly no expert on forgiveness.
Yet, I know I've been forgiven. As a parent, even though I am a very good parent, sometimes I acknowledge that I need to do better. Same goes with being a spouse, or a pastor, or a daughter, sister, friend or colleague. Even though we do what we do, well, we fall short.
God offers hope through the abundant words of forgiveness. Like the servant, our debt has been forgiven. A gift of grace given to heal the world.
We hear in scripture,
I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Story of Forgiveness
One of the most striking stories of forgiveness is about an incredible human being named Maggie. She lived in Burundi, Africa. In the 90’s, violence was ravaging her country. Children were left without parents in the devastating violence between the Tutsi and Hutu. Maggie started an orphanage and took in all children, no matter the ethnic group. News spread and some people were unhappy of her inclusivity. But Maggie was committed to diffusing anger within hearts. As the war went on, violence increased. During the war, she saw family and friends killed right in front of her.
She approached the devastating circumstances with eyes of faith. Maggie says, Life always takes the last word, never death. Life always wins. The Love-always wins. She opened a place called Maison Shalom. Surprisingly, it was for the killers. She wanted to stop them from killing because they are also our brothers and sisters.
In an interview she asked, Does love go that far? Why was God on the cross? God came to show God is the winner. Life wins. Love wins.
The interview probes,
Not everybody is created in the image of God? She responds, YES. Everybody. Everybody is beautiful. Yes. Even the worst killer.
Each Sunday Maggie goes to the prison with a message.
She goes to say, We love you. The criminals cry. Nobody has told them that. The criminals ask, why are you visiting us? I killed your loved one.
She responds, criminal you are. But you are still loved by God.
Maggie explains, When we go to visit the criminal and give our love, we help to break the cycle of violence. Of course they must go to prison for what they did. They are criminals, but they are also loved by God. I give my love to the criminal in order to break the cycle of violence.
Maggie is an exceptional person. Most of us could not comprehend responding to such devastation in such a way. Through forgiveness, her heart was freed to respond to terrible life events in a way that she chose.
The thing is, we aren’t in control of other peoples actions. People can do what they want. Some make good choices, and others do not.
Yet, we are in control of how we respond to other people’s actions.
Even when other people’s actions can make us angry or much worse.
Centrality of the Message of Forgiveness Worship
The number of times forgiveness is spoken during worship indicates the centrality of this gift and our need to hear these words of grace.
The most obvious is when there is a confession and Forgiveness rite at the beginning of worship. Words of forgiveness echo in the Lord’s Prayer and in the Words of Institution during Communion. Look for all of the words of forgiveness found in our hymns.
Forgiveness is at the heart of God. It is at the heart of our lives together. It means we have eyes of faith to see beyond the trouble.
Lately, I’ve been wondering what it means to forgive Covid.
Can you even forgive a virus? Isn’t forgiveness reserved for humans?
If we forgive the virus for the havoc unleashed, perhaps this helps us to be less judgmental of our fellow humans and more forgiving of them as well.
As we move toward reopening the doors of St. Matthews for in-person worship, I want you to consider forgiving Covid. The power in situations that are challenging is that we still have the control over our response. How we respond to a situation is our decision. Is it helpful or is it hurting?
I want to help prepare you a little for the re-opening of church. As we get closer to re-opening our church doors, you will likely have many emotions. Some of you will remain at home to listen to the Golden Hour. This is a very good decision for you. You make the decision that best fits you. Weekly worship materials will still be provided for you.
Some of you will come back. Maybe once or rotating Sundays or every Sunday. You figure out the best decision for you.
Coming back to church will be different.
You might be excited about church being different.
You might also be disappointed. You might want to blame or be critical of the decisions made. Or you may exude peace and gratitude.
Whatever feelings arise in you, they are all okay. It is helpful to acknowledge your feelings about the current situation, accept them and then let them go. We might take a reflective stance and ask, Lord, what are you teaching us in this moment? What are the possibilities in the here and now.
What will be different, you may wonder?
You know your favourite seat that has your bum print worn into it? Likely, that won’t be your seat. You might sit on the other side or beside someone whose name you don’t know and it seems embarrassing to ask at this point. You might be closer to the front then usual and get a close up view of the pastors. We’ve likely added a few wrinkles, grey hairs and maybe even laugh lines during this pandemic. On a lighter note, I really hope you show up with your Covid hairstyles.
Here’s another difference. This is a big one for some of you.
Your voice will not sing along with your favourite hymns but your heart and mind, body and spirit/soul certainly can. Maybe you’ll experience blessing in a way you haven’t before. We Lutherans don’t move too much to the beat during worship. We sit rather rigid. God, forbid we move to the rhythm. Maybe this is an area of growth for us now. On a lighter note, you will see a glimmer in my eye if the music stirs you to move in your seats. Just don’t go into the aisle to dance just yet.
Another difference is:
The offering plate won’t be passed. For some this will be a relief. As you leave after worship you are free to place something in the plate if you wish. It could be money to support our ministry. It could be a word of gratitude, encouragement or prayer. Maybe we’ll add a QR code that links you to digital donations.
Although, some of our familiar favourites are in a state of being adapted for safety, one thing remains constant through this pandemic adventure.
And God forgives extravagantly.
Because of God’s forgiveness, we are freed to move forward.
To not get stuck or caught up in negativity, we can move forward with what is.
And so we continue on.
My friends in Christ, God is with you, God is with us, loving us through, calling us to be the church amidst this challenge. We’ve been learning how to do church remotely and farther apart from each other than before. Let us continue to adapt to this pandemic journey that sometimes changes week by week.
When we adapt to the next phase of a hybrid model of in-person and the Golden Hour, there will be blessing. I wonder what that will look like. How will God work in our midst?