God's word is the hammer that shatters rocks in pieces, even or perhaps especially on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. This Sunday many of my colleagues may have been sucking their pencils and feeling blank, but some of them will preach the sermon of their lives. By “sheer coincidence” the Lectionary serves up readings today about forgiveness.
we will all stand before the judgment seat of God... then, each of us will be accountable to God. Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean...
This approach has not generally been taken by the top brass of the Anglican Communion in the last ten years. Their occasional eschewings of judgment have ministered grace, but their fondest strategies for dodging the embarrassment of sexuality issues, or devising an ingenious lawyer’s band aid, have simply backfired and compounded the hurt. Go figure. Romans 14 really is the only way. Sooner rather than later, I hope.
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.Jesus goes on to tell the story of the unforgiving servant, that exposes the complete idiocy of our wraths and sorrows. How do we love our enemies, though?
Here in Great Missenden, Rosie the Vicar explored with tremendous clarity what forgiveness is and isn’t. The thief hanging on the cross was unquestionably guilty, and Jesus unquestionably innocent. Their interaction is outrageously simple.
This made me reflect that if we try to forgive out of our own supposed resources of niceness, we will only compound the anger and hurt. All we can work out of, fruitfully, is our own receiving of forgiveness, love as strong as death, love with open eyes.
Her sermon went on to say true forgiveness is the hardest thing in the world. It is NOT
- Forgetting — it doesn't change the past, or choose to ignore it
- Reconciliation — it takes two to be reconciled, but only one to forgive
- Condoning — it is not about excusing bad behaviour
- Dismissing — saying it doesn’t matter when it does
- Pardoning — which is legal release from the penalty or other legal consequences of having done wrong
It is a personal transaction that releases the one offended against from the offence. That’s all.
She went on to quote the Roman Catholic psychiatrist Dr Jack Dominian, one of the Church’s greatest and wisest teachers about the reality of being human. He was talking here about marriage breakdown:
She went on to sayForgiveness is not enough. We need to go beyond forgiveness and do as Christ did, who knew what it was to be man. We must try to understand what lies behind the act of aggression. One set of reasons is that the aggressor himself is hurt, insecure, vulnerable, bored, tired, depressed, confused, under stress and is seeking help through aggression. If that is the case, it is not good enough to forgive. We have to do something about remedying the cause of the aggression.Even more important, the cause may be ourselves. There is nothing more hypocritical in Christian life than to forgive the aggressor with magnanimity when in fact we are responsible for his aggression.The woman who forgives her husband for having an affair when she denies him love and affection is no saint. The parent who forgives the errant child who is not allowed their independence and is constantly devalued and undermined is no saint. the friend who forgives while driving their companion to distraction is no saint.
You have to be pretty honest with yourself to recognise your own culpability when you have always thought of yourself as the victim — but being able to think in such a way can be the key to unlocking hurts that have rumbled on for yearsI wondered, leaving Church, whether the same skill of costly forgiveness that Jesus commanded his followers to exercise an infinite number of times when they fell out, the grace to let go, is not also necessary if we are to be released from idols, especially those we have inherited from the past, and so become what God is calling us to be as we embrace his future.