Tag Archives: Forgiveness

New Beginnings

dirty-dishes-stackedChristmas
December 31, 2015

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. –Ephesians 1-6

I think of myself as rather a rare bird seeing the world differently than others. I suppose as unique human beings we all do. In high school and college, I worked as a waitress part of the time in a family-type restaurant well stationed on an interstate highway. The staff had the opportunity to people-watch a vast variety of humans in their various sizes, shapes, colors, and primarily dispositions. Once when we were swamped, a trucker called out to me at the counter saying that he just really needed a cup of coffee and a ticket and he would not bother me again. I poured the cup of coffee and quickly gave him the ticket and returned to the melee of the tables and booths. He left me a tip larger than the cost of the coffee. On a Sunday after church a wealthy family from the surrounding area came for Sunday dinner and filled the booth for eight that I had been assigned. I made numerous trips getting and filling their order, refilling drinks, and serving dessert. They left me with a table only a family with children could provide and a quarter for a tip.

The funny thing about that job was I took great pleasure for some reason in seeing the table set for service. It was always left in a mess of dirty dishes and dropped food on the floor and seat, but then returned to the table set for service. I guess cleaning up the mess gave me a sense of purpose and some semblance of control over the outcomes of what I was doing.

New Years is a similar opportunity to clear out the messes of the previous year and reset our tables for service in the new year. I never meet the test of being holy and blameless before [Christ] in love, but I so appreciate his forgiving grace and the new beginnings it spawns toward another year of learning how to love like him.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us this day our sins and refuel us for the work you have called us to do. 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.

 

Forgive or Retain?

The MissionEastertide
April 11 2015

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ –John 20:19-23

What does Jesus mean by retaining the sins of any? First, I think it is important that we recognize that in the book of John “sin” is a theological failing, not a moral or behavioral transgression.* More importantly we must look at our role model, Jesus Christ, and note that in his walk on earth, I do not recall, an instance when he did not forgive. He even implored God to forgive those responsible for his death on the cross.

What results from the retention of sin within a community? Most often I would say, the answer to that question is broken relationships, discord, dysfunction, and lack of progress toward the community’s purpose. Could Jesus have been giving his followers a warning? He had become very well acquainted with humans being human. He knew from experience that evil came raise its ugly head and totally disrupt positive forward movement by the smallest of slights or disagreements. Could he be saying: Let it go? Retaining anyone’s sins, including our own after being forgiven, has no redeeming value.

The Mission* is my favorite all time movie. It is the story of the church being established in South America at the same time natives were being captured and sold into slavery. One of the slave traders has an encounter with one of the missionary priests who grants the slave trader forgiveness for his horrendous sins and instructs him to climb a very steep mountain with all his armor tied in a bag on his back. The slave trader makes it to the top totally exhausted and totally defenseless. The first person he encounters is a native youth with an axe in his hand. There is a moment in the movie where the slave trader clearly understands his plight when the youth briskly swings the axe down and cuts the rope holding the bag, which falls down the mountainside metal clanging against metal. His sins had been forgiven and now he knew it, too.

There is always a period of time after a disconnection or “sin”, even when fault is clear, which by the way is rare for fault is almost always shared, that wounds need to heal on all sides, but healing is faster when we can let the situation go and in many instances we can only do that by asking God to abide with us in the healing process.

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to let go of the retention of sin, heal all involved and abide with us as we heal. Amen.

*The New Interpreter’s Bible: A commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume IX Luke and John, Abingdon Press 1995, page 847.
**For more information about The Mission see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091530/
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.

Course Corrections

Course Correction Eastertide
April 10, 2015

Scripture Reading: 1 John 1-2:2

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2

Karl Menninger, M.D., founder of the prestigious Menninger Clinic (psychiatric) and the Menninger Foundation published his book Whatever Became of Sin? in the 1980’s but it still has relevance for us today. He suggests that unless we face our sins we will always be imprisoned by them. These are my words not his but that is the general idea. Sin is not about punishment; sin is about course correction. The power of forgiveness is infinite. Between and among people, between individuals and God, confession leads to forgiveness and forgiveness leads to wholeness.

Menninger also talks a lot about the things we carry forward from our childhoods and how they influence our adult lives. There have never been any perfect parents but even if there were, they cannot always shield their children from the impact of the world around them. I am described as a baby boomer with all its issues of kids born after the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Todays’ generation will forever be related back to the 9/11 bombing. Racism is taught more by attitudes and actions children have observed. Few parents set down and instruct children in bigotry. It is really, really hard to change from the way we have always done things. Turning away from some behaviors may feel deep inside like we are rejecting our parents or other role models of our childhood. We probably cannot pinpoint the moments in our lives when we took on the roles of men or women according to our society.

Society does change and what was once bad may become OK or even good and what was once considered OK no longer may be. God is our source of strength to change and to ride the tide of change, and grow in God’s understanding of ways to be and live. And when we have one of those Aha! moments that awaken us to something that seems engrained in our very being but is now just wrong, God is the source of our salvation and God will help us turn around and make the course correction we need to live an abundant life. Forgiveness begets freedom.

Prayer: Lord, help us to seek your guidance in all that we are and do and when you see a need for us to make a course correction help us to see it also. 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.

 

Grace, Love, Compassion

Create in me a clean heartLent
March 18, 2015

Scripture Reading: Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin. — Psalm 51:1-2

In many Bibles our scripture today is preceded by and introductory remark like this. To the Leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.* This introduction has been there for a long time but scholars really do not know if it were with the original or not. It certainly adds to the flavor of the Psalm when it is considered in the light of the infamous story of David, King of Israel, taking the wife of one of his soldiers and then ordering the soldier to be placed clearly in harm’s way so that he would be killed. Of course David got caught. I wonder if he would have ever repented had his sins not been called out by Nathan. It is no wonder David felt dirty.

While based on David’s sin, the Psalm is really about the nature of God’s love. In these two verses, God is described as one with steadfast love, for which we might use the words unconditional love today, and abundant mercy, which we might call compassion. Later in the Psalm we read of God’s gracious love. But most importantly the Psalm talks about recovery, a return to wholeness from brokenness, we call that restorative justice.

I think I am sometimes a very strange person, but for some reason when I worked as a waitress in high school and college, one of the things I enjoyed most was clearing the table of all the dirty dishes and dropped crumbs and then resetting it with clean flatware and table linens, making it ready for the next customer. When we mess up in life, life still goes on. We must learn from our mistakes and continue the work God called us to do. We can only do that when we shed ourselves of the sin that corrodes our souls changing us and causing us to turn away from God.

Prayer: Lord, convict me of my sins of omission and commission and forgive me of them turning me around so that I might once more know your grace, your unconditional love, and your compassion. Amen.

The New Interpreter’s Bible: A commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume IV Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1996, page 883
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.

Being Washed Clean

John the BaptistEpiphany
Celebration of God
Manifested in the World
January 10, 2015

 Scripture Reading: Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  — Mark 1:4

 A warm shower and a brisk toweling off feels especially good after completing a particularly dirty task. My dad did custom hay baling when I was a child. He would come home at noon for what we called dinner. He and my brother who helped him would be covered with dirt and the lint of dried mown grass. Dad would step down from the pickup, walk straight to the old hand pump that still stood in front of our house (still worked also), pump a bucket full of cold water and immediately pour it over its head. Watching it run down his clothing reminded me of Psalm 23: [God] anoints my head with oil.

John’s baptism was such a cleansing experience. It was an outward expression of an inward restitution of wholeness to a torn soul in need of forgiveness and receiving God’s forgiveness. We all still need that today. John knew there was more to come, but at that time in that place such cleansing was the best he could do and he answered that call.

We of course know the rest of the story as we live in a post Immanuel-with-us world. Because of that we have an even more compelling call to bring the hope of wholeness and restitution of souls to the brokenness in our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me whole, make me one with you and with the other members of the Body of Christ in the world today. So nourished, send us forth with the gift of hope for the oppressed and the oppressor, for the broken hearted and those who no longer feel anything positive, and for all the sin sick souls. 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.

 

Forgive us Our Debts

Income inequalityLiving in the Spirit
Light a Candle for Children
September 14, 2014

 Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:21-35

 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘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.

 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Matthew 18:21-22, 33-35

Our class structures have changed or are changing and we are not mentally ready to accept that. The middle class is slipping away and incomes of the working class are stagnant. The jobs that are available are largely in service industries that are under paid. If you have not had a chance to view or read about Robert Reich’s Inequality for All I would recommend that you do.* I think much of the anger and frustration that is being vented across our land is the loss we are all experiencing because of this trend. Decisions made from frustration can and do make matters worse.

Part of the problem is that this country is suffering from an epidemic of greed and if we do not get a handle on that we will never find solutions to our economic crisis. Greed is our idolatry. It results when we cross the line between a healthy desire for progress to an addiction for more and more. As we each strive to protect our own interests, we may do it at the expense of others. This is exactly what has happened in the parable in our scripture today. Someone has not been able to meet his or her obligations and when pressed, he or she takes it out on others.

Jesus instructs us to forgive and forgive and forgive again—to keep forgiving. First, we all ought to really appreciate this instruction for that is exactly what Jesus does for us every day, but I think he may be trying to get at another point. Our inability to forgive is what is keeping us from solving the problem at hand. The master of the slaves knew that and wisely forgave the slave. The slave could not follow his master’s example.

 Oklahoma Fact: in 2012, 30% of children were living in households with parents who lacked secure employment**

Prayer: Forgive us this day our debts as we forgive our debtors. Amen.

*http://robertreich.org/post/94260751620

 

** For children living in single-parent families, this means the resident parent did not work at least 35 hours per week, at least 50 weeks in the 12 months prior to the survey. For children living in married-couple families, this means neither parent worked at least 35 hours per week, at least 50 weeks in the 12 months prior to the survey. Children living with neither parent were listed as not having secure parental employment because those children are likely to be economically vulnerable. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/5043-children-whose-parents-lack-secure-employment?loc=38&loct=2#detailed/2/38/false/868,867,133,38,35/any/11452,11453

 

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

Living in the Spirit
June 17, 2014

 Scripture Reading: Genesis 21:8-21 

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.
 – Genesis 21:15-17

 Several years ago, I volunteered to answer a crisis intervention phone for parents. A young woman with three children called me late one evening sobbing in tears. She had gotten her first pay check that day and had come home with her children to celebrate the first check. It was barely enough money to pay her rent but it was a start. While the little family watched TV that evening an ad come on about a white water theme park, and all the children got excited together crying out, “Oh, Momma, now that we have money we can go to that park. Please, Momma, Please.” She told then not this time and eventually got them into bed. She didn’t have a phone but she had the hotline number and called from the pay phone across the street where she could still see the house.

The mother had left a dangerous domestic violence situation in a small town to start a new life with her children in the city. She received welfare, food stamps, and child care while she completed some training and finally got a job. She was doing the very best she could and it just did not seem good enough still. I am sorry to say this story has thousands of autobiographers.

Hagar had been haughty toward Sarah when Hagar became pregnant and Sarah could not. In their tit for tat world Sarah was reaping her revenge. The losers were Ismael and Isaac who apparently enjoyed each other’s company and the rest of us who have suffered the ramifications of this family problem ever since. The sad thing is that no two people in this situation knew the plight of the other better than Hagar and Sarah themselves.  Sometimes the hardest forgiveness comes when we are looking in a mirror or seeing ourselves in another.

Sarah’s and Hagar’s descendants and all the rest of us can still learn empathy, if we will only open their hearts and minds to the Creator who can make all things new.

Prayer: Creator God, heal our wounds, open our hearts and minds, and let our lives reflect your spirit of forgiveness. 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.