- The Rev. Arianne Rice
Together We Teach Forgiveness
Good morning! It is so good to be with you this morning – worshipping as one congregation – worshipping together knowing that right after this service we are going out into a beautiful day to eat together – hang out together – hopefully meet some new people – maybe say hi to some old friends – listen to music – watch kids run around – see sheep! Is it good to be here?
Tell your neighbor – say hi – it is good to be here!
Church is typically so formal. We don’t tend to laugh too much when we hear the scripture readings – you know because its scripture – but didn’t you chuckle a little to yourself you heard what Paul said – welcome those who are weak in the faith – but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions – some believe in eating anything – while the weak eat only vegetables.
Full disclosure – that is not why we are serving BBQ at our picnic – but why is that in there? Why did he write that? Because food has a lot to do with welcome. Food tells you about a person and where they from – their culture, religion, what matters to their family. And Paul is saying practice the welcome of Christ always – especially when you eat with someone new. Don’t waste your energy judging or quarreling – instead – open up to a new possibility. Because you know it all comes from God – if you start with gratitude for being able to share a meal – that’s what matters, that’s what’s important. We can always choose to see the good.
When Paul wrote letters to his churches – his focus again and again – is what you practice as a community of faith is what lets the world know what you really believe. And practicing the ways of God in and through a community of faith – that is how you find the God who you are searching for. We are drawn to seek God and a sense of purpose and belonging – and that is found through each other.
You see that insert in your bulletin – the music? That first verse – let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live – a place where saints (that’s all of us) and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions – rock of faith and vault of grace – here the love of Christ shall end divisions – because all are welcome – all are welcome in this place. ("All Are Welcome" Marty Haugen)
That’s what we build a new every Sunday – and all the days inbetween – we practice love, we teach our hearts how to forgive.
I’m sure you picked up on the theme of forgiveness in our lessons and the gospel. This section from Genesis concludes an intense family drama – that would rival the season premiere of – This is Us. Jealousy, envy, favoritism – long story short – Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery – told their father he was dead – he was the father’s favorite – and – fade out fade in – Joseph is in a high position in the king’s in court in Egypt – he controls the food supply. And his brothers are scared – because they know if they were in his position – it would be payback time.
Picture a time in your life when you had to own up to something. You couldn’t backtrack anymore. Scary place to be – knowing you are at the mercy of someone else. I’m certain we’ve all been there.
So his brothers invoke the memory of their dad – our dying father’s last words were to tell you to forgive us for what we’ve done. You see what they’re doing there right?
It works – Joseph collapses under the weight of his sorrow. Can you picture a time in your life when you’ve been that person in the story? The pain of acknowledging how someone has hurt you is wrapped up with the love of who they are to you – and now its forever changed – and it’s all a tangled mess. Like a necklace that gets one of those knots you can never untangle. All meaningful relationships are messy.
When he pulls himself together – Joseph models something that is pretty profound – in essence he says, I’m not ready to forgive you all yet. He gives that work over to God – am I in the place of God, he asks? I know you intended to hurt me – I see that – but don’t be afraid – I am not going to hurt you. I’m going to do the opposite actually – I’m going to take care of you – and your families and your children. Joseph despite – or because of what he’s lived through – chooses to see the good – and to enact the good.
Do you hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people?
In the gospel – Peter asks Jesus a question I imagine all of us have – when am I done forgiving? Do you remember when the lawyer stands up to test Jesus in Luke’s gospel – when Jesus is saying love your neighbor as yourself – and the lawyer asks – but who is my neighbor? He asks that question because he wants to know - who can he keep out? Where can he draw the line?
And Jesus responds with the good Samaritan parable – where the priest, Levite and Samaritan pass by – but the Samaritan, who was not liked by Jesus’ audience (fill in with the ethnic group we disparage), is the only one to pick up and care for the wounded man on the road – you all know this – and Jesus answers the question by saying – who acted like a neighbor. Jesus’ response to the lawyer is – you aren’t asking the right question.
And he does the same with Peter. Peter wants to know when he can stop forgiving – and Jesus’s insanely high number means – stop counting. Stop trying to draw a line – when God never draws a line with us.
Could you assign a number to how many times you’ve asked God’s forgiveness? I don’t even want to think about that myself – I’m sure there were times I’m not even aware of where God knows I should’ve asked. It’s called Amazing Grace for a reason. So, let’s sympathize with this poor guy in Jesus’ follow-up parable. His boss just forgave a debt that would’ve taken him several lifetimes to pay back. He has been released from a debt that is insurmountable.
Can you think of a time when someone did something for you that can never be paid back?
The world doesn’t work that way, right. Our debts are owed – with interest – financially and otherwise. The world keeps count – we are taught to keep count. Eye for an eye. So of course this guy lapses right back into the ways of the world. He has pressures in his life – he has bills he still has to pay – maybe someone at home he needs to answer to. This guy experienced amazing grace – but if its going to take root in his life – he has to practice, practice, practice.
We are a people who are building a house that will never be finished – where we seek and find ways to respond to God with our lives – following in the footsteps of the one who responded to us with his life. The reason our foyer is filled with images of this body – of the people here and now – who we are and what we do - is that is how we remind ourselves and tell the story of who we are and what we believe.
The reason we build a home with sweat equity and financial equity in Govins or Sandtown – is because we have been forgiven. The reason we find ways to support families who flee from their homes looking for sanctuary – is because we have been forgiven. The reason we have given $25k in micro-loans to people who are trying to live into the good in their lives – and do good in their communities – is because we are practicing becoming a loving and forgiving people.
Children’s Chapel – Youth Group – Pilgrimage - yoga – and meditation – bible study – all of it are invitations to practice – so that God’s love will take root and we will find what we are looking for. Its why we don’t just say – all are welcome – but so many of you do the work of showing welcome – through a party for our neighborhood.
I don’t know all the individual areas of your life – all the places in your heart where you are asking God for help right now. But I know they’re there. I don’t know the position you take on the conflicts and debates in our world right now – but I know we’re not all in agreement about everything.
We are in agreement about one thing though – which is why we are here. Coming together to hear the stories of God never-giving up on us – coming together to open our hands and take bread – and hear that God accepts us, forgives us and loves us right as we are – coming together to put our hands and hearts to work at good things for the sake of ourselves, neighbors and strangers – fills us with gratitude and helps us become the people God intends us to be.
And that ongoing transformation is what gives us strength and hope despite the hurts in our hearts – and the divisions we create between us. In this house we are teaching our hearts forgiveness trusting God will lead us to healing and wholeness.
So when I listen for what the Spirit is saying to God’s people – I hear it through all of you and what we do together – and I hear the still small voice of God saying - just – practice, practice, practice. And be inspired and amazed by how that grace will abound and how we will make that grace tangible and real. Amen.