Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Being Church

Living in the Spirit
September 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:15-20

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. –Matthew 18:15-17

The above scripture is tough. If sin is separation from God, how does that play out in relationships between humans? If sin is missing the mark? Who establishes what the mark is? If the way we treat one another classifies as a sin against God, what is our responsibility to the other member of the church involved whom we are called to love? Does this scripture indicate that the church is a closed, exclusive organization with no concerns about people beyond its walls? How does that mesh with Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbors? It probably is not fair to separate verses 15-17 from verses 18-20, but I fear that is what happens in the everyday functions of any church.

Christ calls us to be one, and that requires us to figure out how to get along and work productively with one another. Becoming one is a challenge when we cluster with people who are very much like ourselves. Becoming one with people of markedly different cultures is much harder even impossible without the abiding presence of God’s guiding our way.

I cannot imagine what it was like carving out a new religion in the first century bringing together peoples from various other faith experiences or none at all. We see snippets of frustration with melding diversity throughout the gospels and the writings of Paul. One of the most difficult parts surely was moving from a predominantly exclusive system honed by years of oppression by outside forces to a fully inclusive system opening the doors to former oppressors.

With these considerations aside, the advice in verse 15 is sound. When there is a problem between two church members, it is best to discuss it calmly and privately. The inability to resolve the problem amicably resulting in involving others opens a different can of worms. History tells us when such situations lead to positive or negative outcomes. For good or bad, our many denominations are the result of such disagreements. It is very important that our actions are not missing the mark with God.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of discernment that we may know how to deal with one another within the context of your rule of love. Help us to comprehend when we have sinned against another and guide us to seek forgiveness from the one we have harmed and you. When we feel someone has sinned against us grant us the wisdom we need to deal with the issue in a way that will bring you glory. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

 

I Was Wrong

Eastertide
May 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: Acts 7:54-60

Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. –Acts 7:58-60

One older deacon spoke out strongly against allowing women to serve as deacons in the church I attend in the early 1980’s. We had passed the threshold of a woman becoming and elder the year before. I was in the second class of women elected to serve as deacons. The man made a point of coming to me and asking for forgiveness for his strong stance against female deacons saying, “I was wrong.”

Fast forward 30 + years, a different man who had left a church because it chose to welcome persons who identified as LGBTQ became a part of the church I attend. I do not think he knew that the only basis for membership we recognize is belief in Jesus Christ. To my knowledge, we have always practiced an open table. He was a consummate student of the Bible; I imagine him reading and re-reading some scripture as a light shone brightly on ancient words that were there all along. I do not know the circumstances of his epiphany, but in a Bible study class, he said those same three words, “I was wrong.”

I wonder when and to whom, Saul, now Paul, who watched in support as Stephan was stoned, said, “I was wrong.” Surely, he said it to God. More importantly, he said it with his life dedicating every fiber of his being to throwing open the doors of the church to the whole world. I am certain we all can identify one or more moments in our lives when one of our absolutes crashed to the ground upon encountering the love of God through Jesus Christ. It is what we do from that point on that matters most.

Prayer: Lord, open our eyes to our bigotry of any kind, forgive us for not seeing you in each person we encounter, let our lives speak to the forgiveness we receive. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Observing Lent

Lent
March 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 32

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
   and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
   and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all who are faithful
   offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
   shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me;
   you preserve me from trouble;
   you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. –Psalm 32

Today marks the first day of Lent in 2017. Lent is one of the oldest holy days in the Christian faith. Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today*. It was formalized and extended to 40 days over the next few hundred years. My guess is some sort of preparation for observing the death and resurrection started the year after it occurred.  In the Jewish tradition 40 days was used to describe a substantial amount of time. While the term Lent may not be used, a large majority of Christians take time to prepare for the observation of the death and resurrection of Christ. Self-examination, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial are often part of the process of Lent.

Our scripture today deals with acknowledging sins and seeking forgiveness for them.  It is important that we routinely examine ourselves and not only seek God’s forgiveness but also seek God’s help in correcting whatever has caused us to become separated from God. That said, I found it interesting that the writer of Psalm 32 jumps from such self-examination to praying in times of distress. Isn’t that just like life today. One minute we have some time to reflect and pray, the next we are struggling to keep from drowning whether actually or figuratively. This week I have seen several news reports of people dealing with disasters. People who have climbed to the roofs of their vehicles after been swept away in flooding waters were rescued by fire fighters. Horses were quickly moved from their barns that were in the path of a fast-moving fire. In neither instance did the people involve wake up that morning knowing what they would soon be facing.

I believe God is present with us always. Our spending time with God routinely makes us better prepared to connect with God in times of distress.

Prayer: Lord as we enter this 40 days of closer communion with you, enable our quest for knowing your more nearly. Make us whole. Amen.

*http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/beginning-of-lent.html

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Reconciliation

Reconcilation 2Living in the Spirit
May 19, 2016

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. –Romans 5:1-2

It was a loud thundering storm that awakened me; it was dealing with how to handle a divisive issue that left me tossing and turning as the rain first came in torrents and then more gently tapping on the roof. I hate situations where decisions must be made that, in the final analysis, identifies someone as right and someone as wrong. Life events are rarely that black and white. I know how Jacob felt when he wrestled with God. He had to be purged of his vanity as well as his guilt. He had stolen his brother’s birthright, ran away to save his own skin, and met his match in a father-in-law who could be just as conniving as Jacob was. Finally besting that same father-in-law, Jacob was ready to go back and face his brother. The real battle was with God resulting in Jacob’s cleansing before reconciliation could occur. As he moved toward his brother not knowing what he would face, his brother met him with open arms. Perhaps Esau had wrestled with God, too.

The peace of God is necessary in our quest for justice for everyone. The peace of God starts first with our cleansing through the living water Jesus brought us, springing from an eternal source that will never go dry. It is the same water that can wash our souls clean while continually hydrating our wholeness. Certainly some cleansing may feel like we have been caught in a ferocious storm. As the storm abates we can experience the gentleness of God’s love like life restoring rain quenches the burnt earth.

In the early hours of the morning, I did finally drift back to sleep. When I awoke the rain had stop and a bird was singing joyously outside my window. A new day had dawned and the peace of God was with me.

Prayer: Lord, as you prepare us for reconciliation with others forgive us for our omissions and commissions that are a part of torn relationships and grant us wisdom that all involved may move forward in your truth together. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Forgiveness

redemption-is-reconnection-with-godEastertide
May 11, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 104:24-35b

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
   may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
   who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
   I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
   for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
   and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord! –Psalm 104:24-35

It struck me as I read our scripture for today that if we apply Paul’s view of sin, this Psalm is praying for eradicating all peoples on the earth: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23) where sin is defined as missing the mark or making a mistake perhaps impacting others. * The Hebrew word translated in this Psalm as sinner refers to one who offends. ** I assume that may mean primarily God, but it could imply that when we offend others we offend God also. I am probably out of my league here not being either a scholar in Hebrew or Greek.

In any case, this is not a prayer one should pray lightly. I must admit though that I do like the visceral nature of the prayers in the Psalms. They were written by real people who had real struggles in life with one another and with God. We must all deal with the outcomes of every one of our missing the mark, making a mistake.

The Hebrew people understood the need for forgiveness. They routinely presenting offerings to be sacrificed at the tabernacle in the wilderness and later at the temples. We who call ourselves Christian value highly the role of forgiveness in the life of Jesus and the subsequent journey he set forth for us. It is in fact because we all miss the mark and make mistakes that we are called to love one another and be redeemed together as we fulfill God’s call.

Prayer: Lord forgive us when we individually and collectively miss the mark and strengthen our ability to be your body in this world today through such redemptive love. Amen.

 

*Strong’s Concordance http://biblehub.com/greek/264.htm
**Strong’s Concordance http://biblehub.com/hebrew/2400.htm

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Finding Our Way

love45Eastertide
April 28, 2016

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. – Revelation 21:10, 22-27

So what do we do in the meantime? The recorder of John’s Revelation sketches out for us the City of God, where there is no need for a temple because God is among us. The is no need for light sources for God is our light. Its gates are always open and all are welcomed and all that enter will be cleansed for good. We are given a glimpse of the end result. It always helps when planning a journey to know where we are going. This City of God is our destination. The question for us to consider with answers put into action is what do we do now and until we get there?

Some hints of our interim activities are given in this scripture. We, too, are called to be light to the world. (Matthew 5:14-16) ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. We too have been instructed to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35b) I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

We too have been told to forgive (Matthew 18:22) ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

 Here are three good paths to follow on our journey to the City of God. Why then do we, who call ourselves Christians, invest so much time in doing the very opposite: casting shadows of hate, building walls of exclusion, and condemning others?

Prayer: Lord be our GPS to your way and your truth and strengthen our faith to follow your directions. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Forgetting by Letting Go

make-a-joyful-noise-into-the-lord-joy-quotesEastertide
April 6, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 30

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
   and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
   his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning. –Psalm 30

Does true forgiveness exist if not accompanied by forgetting? There is a difference between forgetting and learning. When we make mistakes, it is important that we learn from them. That we turn around, repent is the Biblical word for it, from the behavior that led to the mistake in the first place. At some point we most likely will forget the instance that occurred which led to our learning, perhaps not.

But what about when we are the ones doing the forgiving? God sets the example by seeming to suffer from both long term and short term memory loss of the behaviors or actions or even thoughts for which we have asked for forgiveness. God quickly lets anger go. It is not allowed to seethe and fester and grow until we are reacting in ways that require forgiveness for ourselves. This is not related to our mental memory. It is related to our soul memory. We must erase it from our very being, if we are to be freed from its chains.

I love to sing, love music. When I was in the seventh grade, the girls in my class were to sing at the eighth grade graduation. When we were rehearsing, my teacher said to me “Your voice doesn’t fit well with the others. You just mouth the words and don’t sing.” I followed her instructions for that performance, but I also never sang again in public, even in a choir, for almost ten years. That is a great example of not letting go when we have been wronged. I needed to have forgiven her even when she probably never realized she had inflicted harm on me. If there is anything you are carrying around with you from the past that is inhibiting your ability to be the person God created you to be, let it go.

Prayer: Lord, always help me learn from both my mistakes and other encounters but enable me to forgive anyone who has hurt me even if they never know I have forgiven them. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Our Journey with God

Perfect in WeaknessLent
February 27, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:1-9

Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’ –Luke 13:6-9

Most young fig trees do not produce fruit for four or five years. Yet once they begin to bear they will bring forth fruit for many, many years depending on the weather. Is this scripture a discourse on patience? Is it a suggestion that it is wise to listen to one with more experience? Does it serve to discourage us from jumping to soon to judgment? All seem plausible.

It is interestingly set between a parable that in my study bible is headed “Repent or Perish” and one headed “Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman”. Are these stories included with it meaningful, or does it just capture random parables of Jesus to save them for posterity? I suppose both are possible.

It may be a bit fanciful on my part, but I tried to think what message having the three together delivered. The best I could do was this: If we know what we are doing is wrong, we should stop doing it, although that is easier said than done. We need to be patient with ourselves and rely on our “gardener” the Holy Spirit to nurture us and bring us to fruition. And even if we totally mess up and end up with a crippled soul God can and will, if we let God, heal our souls.

Prayer: God of Might and Miracles, bless us this day to living our lives to your glory, forgive us when we fail, nourish us on our journey, and accept our imperfect love until it is made perfect through you. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Judgement and Forgiveness

taking-off-your-judges-robe1Epiphany
January 13, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
   your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
   your judgements are like the great deep;
   you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. –Psalm 36:5-6

Isn’t it interesting that the phrase from the scripture above: your judgements are like the great deep; is followed immediately by you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. This implies that the purpose of judgement is the opportunity to save. It seems to me we humans are more apt to apply judgement to condemn.

Many countries around the world work really hard at turning around those who have been convicted of crimes, reclaiming their worth for society at large. There goal is much more than the restorative justice for which many of us long in the USA.

I recently watched the news report of a man released from prison, who had been exonerated after serving 30 years on death row for a crime he did not comment. Middle-aged now, he learned about GPS devices in cars as he rode away from the prison when a woman’s voice came from the dashboard giving directions. I couldn’t help wondering why we would hold people in prison with no concept of what was going on about them in the world to which many of them should return someday.

In Matthew 25 Jesus is pretty clear that he will judge us by the good we do. He forgives us when we stray from our relationship with God and reclaims us for our worth to his Kingdom. He sets an example we all need to follow.

Prayer: God of Grace we thank you for your forgiveness and your guidance. Give us the courage to follow your example in our attempt to restore those who have committed crimes. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

The Sin of Greed

oil-well-with-a-side-flowing-gusher-everettEpiphany
January 6, 2016

Scripture Reading: Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
   ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
   worship the Lord in holy splendor.  

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
   the God of glory thunders,
   the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
   the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. Psalm 29:1-4

Swarms of earthquakes are occurring in Oklahoma over which we have no control even though human behavior most likely is the cause. We humans who claim rather regularly to have a corner on God do not accept that it is God who has shared God’s earth with us and not the other way around. Oklahomans are experienced at this. The Great Depression hosted by human greed was greeted here by a great drought just over eighty years ago. While the drought would have been devastating in its own right, aggressive farming practices had rendered the land vulnerable. The result was what has been labeled the Dust Bowl. We have been here before also in the oil patch. Eager to pull as much of the black gold out of the earth, we ravaged the land from the beginning of oil exploration. We still are working to recover acres of earth wasted for many years from its exploitation.

We are mimicking the lives of our ancestors in faith, the Israelites, whose relationship with God ebbed and flowed based on their fidelity to their covenants with God. They too were more self-righteous at times than righteous investing their religiosity in removing the speck from another’s eye rather than taking the plank from their own as Jesus described. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Unless and until we turn around from our epidemic sin of greed across Christendom, we will continue to pay the heavy toll associated with our failure to care for the earth.

Prayer: Lord, here we are again, standing before you asking for forgiveness for the same failures we have repeated, and our ancestors in faith repeated, over and over again. We acknowledge your power and majesty and pray once more for your grace. Cleanse us again from the greed that overwhelms us, help us learn from our mistakes, and open our hearts and minds to your ways of wholeness, oneness, and justice for everyone. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.