If you are hoping I will unpack the parable in our gospel this morning to make it more digestible, I am sorry to disappoint! It is just a hard parable plain and simple. It’s violent, isn’t it? We read he “grabbed him by the throat.” And all the while it’s a parable about forgiveness - what is up with that? How do we reconcile such violent language with an act of mercy?
Whatever the reason Matthew’s Jesus uses this imagery to tell a story that is focused on forgiveness and mercy, I have to believe there was a desire for a parable with shock value. Something that would WAKE US UP – when it comes to who God is calling us to be – who God is calling us to be in our individual lives – and in our corporate ones.
Yesterday, your fellow parishioners – Ed MacVaugh and Hillary Shaffer and I served as delegates for the 236th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland. Let me just own the truth, I’m not usually a fan of convention. The business of the church can feel laborious and worshipping in the ball room of an hotel it’s not my ideal.
But none of that this year. Just like our annual meeting was postponed from May, same with our Diocese. We moved it forward to September (where we voted it will remain by the way) and held it virtually. A limited number, a quorum, of in-person delegates (Ed included) met down at the Diocesan Offices and Cathedral of the Incarnation. And the Bishop led the Convention from that altar. Which in hindsight, I believe, turned out to be prescient.
First, let me tell you, this was the best Convention I have ever attended! Be it in New York – or North Carolina – or here. It was streamlined, no nonsense. We moved along! We had voted in advance on all the officers and appointments. No paper ballots held up in the air for collection and counting. Just polling on Zoom – and 1,2,3 – done!
I was able to participate while sitting at my kitchen table, while driving my daughter to not one but two different lessons in the morning and listening from my car with over 250 people.
Ease and efficiency, however, weren’t the reasons yesterday’s Convention was so memorable But before I talk about that let’s spend a few more moments with Jesus and Peter and the question that prompted that parable.
How many times do I have to forgive oh Lord – just how many times? We always want an accounting don’t we?
I wonder if in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) when the father is running towards his youngest, running to welcome him back, to throw his arms around him, hold him tight and throw the biggest party of all time, I wonder if he is counting how many times he has forgiven him?
I doubt it.
How many times do I have to forgive? That image of running towards something is a good one when it comes to forgiveness my friends.
Too often when we think of forgiveness and our responsibility to do so, like Peter, we think about the past. Forgiveness though is not about the past – it is turning towards the future. Forgiveness is grabbing hold of the hand of God – or letting God grab ahold of yours and running towards what is yet to be!
Forgiveness is literally giving forward. It’s letting go of something our ego wants to hold onto: resentment or anger or sense of entitlement. And, sometimes, hurt and pain. Jesus had to let go of all of that too. Forgiveness is digging deep to bring something out of ourselves to create our future.
Forgiveness is hopeful and active participation in what we cannot yet see. Whatever prompts us to forgive for the seventieth time helps us make known our trust in God in creating a new reality. Forgiveness moves us toward something new. In our own lives. In the life of our communities. Forgiveness is the compass that points towards resurrection.
Over two thousand years ago Jesus gave it forward so you and I could see. Could wake up every single day knowing we could try again. Could be born over and over again - From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1:16).
And we know that when we see things anew it leads to a new way of being. And I don’t know about you but when I find myself at one of those crossroads where I know I’ve messed up, it’s that grace, mercy and forgiveness of God as all I can grab hold of. It’s the only way I can let God in so I can forgive and be forgiven.
And I have done that 70x7x7 million times at least. And counting.
So, at yesterday’s convention we had before us a resolution that has come before us for decades. A resolution put together by our diocesan Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A resolution that has studied the history of this diocese and the ways in which the institution of slavery bettered the buildings and the endowments of our congregations. A history that mirrors the history of our country and directly connects with systemic issues in our present day.
It is a resolution that is a choice to give forward our gaze, our attention believing that our reckoning will move us towards reconciliation.
And if the church – which you’ll note is specifically what Peter is asking Jesus about this morning – if the body of Christ cannot reckon with our participation in an evil system – then how could we expect that the world ever could?
This resolution was the only one that caused two hours of debate. The arguments against were familiar, yes we agree on principle – but what about the money? The resolution called on our diocese to commit, to give forward $1M towards programs and ministries that better lives, that build communities, strengthen education, even build buildings, in communities of color.
Communities that we believe have borne the brunt of an evil system – economically – as well as socially and spiritually – and in all aspects of human thriving.
Communities like Franklin Square in west Baltimore. Churches like St. Luke’s – now closed. After-school programs like SLYC. Which as I know you know, we believe is the sign of new life and resurrection that communities like ours are called to run towards.
So finally, we passed the resolution – to repair the breach – which is what reparations are for, thanks be to God. And yes, that was good.
What was wonderful though was watching Bishop Sutton give his address which I highly encourage you to listen to our read whenever they post it.
He said – and I’m paraphrasing, “Our anger in the present comes from the past. The anger that is in our world – no matter which “side” of that anger you are on – it comes from the past. We can’t let go of the past entirely – some of it needs to be recognized and honored – and some of it needs to be seen and reckoned with and lamented and reconciled.
But we don’t live in the past we live in the present. And in the present moment the church is on the move – following Jesus – who is always out in front”
And then – he got choked up – I mean really choked up. Because I don’t think he anticipated this resolution every passing under his watch. That our diocese would be the one of the few in The Episcopal Church to lead the way – to give forward – that that would be a part of his legacy. Not to mention that it is unimaginable to me what it would mean as an African-American bishop to have this pass during his tenure and given our history.
His emotion one I resonate with regarding church, period. And the unexpected and incredible experience of being church in these months of not “going” to church. We have run towards technology, we have run towards connecting, towards creating a Body of Christ. It’s not wanting a “new normal” or wanting the past – it’s creating something new, together. See I am creating all things new – says Isaiah, says Paul. We are always giving forward towards new life.
We give forward when we give our eyes and ears. We give forward when we give our time and attention. We give forward when we trust in the steadfast love and abounding mercy of God as we prayed in our psalm that is forever and always giving forward to you and me and us. Amen.