Sunday, September 14, 2008

What'chew Talkin' 'bout Jesus?

What'chew Talkin' 'bout Jesus? Matthew 18:21-35 Sept 14, 2008
During a church service, the Minister asked, "How many of you have forgiven your enemies?" 80% held up their hands. So, the Minister then repeated his question. All responded this time, except one small elderly Lady. "Mrs. Martinez? Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?"
"I don't have any," she replied, smiling sweetly.
"Mrs. Martinez, that is very unusual. How old are you?"
"Ninety-eight," she replied.
"Oh Mrs. Martinez, would you please come down in front & tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years & not have an enemy in the world?"
The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said: "I outlived the witches."

Jesus tells his disciples to forgive, but forgiveness isn’t easy.

Here’s my confession. Years ago, I spent a weekend visiting my old college roommate. He shared a room with three other guys who were away that evening, and I spent the night in one of the empty beds. The next morning the owner of the empty bed shows up and rips the pillow I’m sleeping on out from under my head while I’m sleeping: “Who said you could sleep in my bed?”
an argument ensued…; I’m still carrying that one around with me. Who does that?

It’s hard to forgive, but the idea of it is so very appealing….something just seems so right, so true about it. A child who was abused who grows up and forgives his abuser. A spouse who was cheated on who is able to forgive both his spouse and the other party involved. Leaders like Nelson Mandela, who radically forgave perpetrators of racial violence and discrimination. A holocaust survivor who forgives the Nazis.

Sure it’s awesome when we hear of others who are able to forgive. But this story that Jesus tells is about our own ability to forgive. After hearing this story read, Georgia Ortiz, said bluntly and with conviction: “This passage is awfully intrusive into my life.” Each of us has wounds. Each of us has been hurt; some of the things people have done to us are kind of small things, where we just end up telling ourselves, “you know, just get over it.” But then for a lot of us, we have big, deep and serious wounds, and the worst hurts come from those who are close to us.

In this chapter of Matthew, Jesus is really hitting home on what it means for the Christian community to be a reconciling community. A community that never gives up on one another, but endures with patience and love even in the most difficult relationships. And the huge part, the hardest part, is that when we’re the ones who have been hurt, it’s pretty much up to us to make things right again; that the broken relationship gets mended. It’s kind of like a double whammy.
If someone hurts us, maybe they’ll come and ask for forgiveness, “I’m so sorry.” But until we’re ready to forgive, the relationship can’t be repaired; not completely. And when we can’t forgive, it’s like we’re being tormented.
You caught that part in this passage where the king sends the unforgiving servant to the tormentor. That’s what happens when we hold it in…It’s like swallowing poison hoping that it will kill the one who did us wrong. We may even seek revenge…but we know it really doesn’t make us feel any better.

Jesus keeps feeding this message of forgiveness to his followers: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." "Love your enemies." "Pray even for those who persecute you." "Turn the other cheek." “How many times do we have to forgive,” Peter asks, seems a little dubious… he’s got that one person in mind…
and you know who I’m talking about; that person who just knows how to get to you, get under your skin, rub you the wrong way, no it’s more than that…that person you can’t trust because they have wronged you so many times, if you had a nickel for every time they’d sinned against you…What about that person?…
how many times do we forgive that brother or sister? “Seven times! Or “Seven Times? I’d have loved to have seen the look on Jesus’ face. What do you think his expression was? Rolling his eyes, “no, no, no, come on peter: “Not seven times but seventy seven times.” Actually, the greek could be translated 77 times or 70 x 7, which equals 490 times…as if it really matters. The point is that we take on the mind of Christ: forgiving, full of grace, always. Skeptical that Peter or the rest of them really understood how serious this lesson about forgiveness was, Jesus tells a story to bring the point home; and boy does he ever: I’ve already mentioned the part about the tormentor at the end.

So this guy comes before the king and owes him 10,000 talents...that’s only the equivalent of a billion dollars. But he begs forgiveness and the debt is forgiven.
He goes out, and grabs and starts choking another guy that owes him money. Owed him 100 denari… a denari was a typical days wages. So a hundred days worth of labor, a good bit, but nothing compared to what the other guy owed the king. So he’s on top of this guy choking him, Give me my money! Kind of like Dan Akroid and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places: “It was the Dukes! It was the Dukes!”

“Paciencia, have patience, I will pay you.” The exact same words the choker had said to the king, but he’s not even fazed. Throws the guy in jail until he could pay.

So my question when I was meditating on this passage: What happened from the time when the guy was forgiven his huge debt to the time he ran into the first guy who owed him money? What happened in that gap? Did he leave so happy that his debt had been forgiven that he was like, Alright, I’m debt free! Now I’m going to get money from everyone who owes me so I can be rich…choking. Or maybe he felt so guilty about what had happened, that he just couldn’t accept that kind of forgiveness. Instead of feeling free, he felt more uptight and worried about life and his future. So, he beats up this guy out of his own guilt. Or maybe he felt humiliated, his pride couldn’t handle that kind of gift from the king. So to make himself a bigger man he had to pick on the first person he could.

What happens to us in that gap?

We confess our sins weekly at church, maybe even daily we ask, praying down on our knees: “Forgive me, Please, Ten piedad!” Do we believe that God forgives us?
Can we trust it: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does God remove our transgressions from us." What happens after we’ve offered that prayer? Does it register…I forgive you…Maybe later that morning someone we hardly know says some off-handed comment, it may get under our skin but then we think, “Whatever.”

But what happens if it’s someone really close to you…someone you really loved or still love, who runs off and leaves you. Or a respected co-worker, who talks disrespectful to you in front of everyone. A relative who abused you; or a friend who turned on you, and now just ignores you. What happens if it’s someone at church, who betrays you. We may try not to think about it. But it just keeps coming back. Maybe everything is okay and then you see someone or something and it just triggers the memory. Or maybe you haven’t thought about it all day and then when you put our head down on the pillow, it comes, and it replays in your mind over and over and over in your head, and you can’t go to sleep.
Or maybe you eventually fall asleep but then you wake up thinking about it. You can’t go back to sleep and the day has started off terribly. You’re not free.
Your still carrying it around, and it’s almost a part of you. You’re being subjected to torture.

If society tells us anything…we’re supposed to seek revenge when someone does us harm. This past week was the anniversary of the destruction of our most powerful symbols of global commerce. After the fall of the Twin Towers we had the sympathy, the concern, the support of the entire world. Instead of reaching out to Muslim countries with understanding and charity, we now bear the consequences of retaliation:

And for the 3000 dead in the fall of the twin towers at the hands of 19 religious fanatics, we now have nearly 3000 US soldiers killed in military action, more than 26,000 wounded and more than 10,000 permanently disabled. We have thousands of widows and orphans, a constitution at risk, a president and a Congress that voted to allow torture, and national infrastructure in jeopardy because we’ve incurred tremendous debt to support the war. And how many tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis are dead?

And Jesus keeps saying over and over: forgive, Forgive, forgive…how many times? Always. And this is coming from the guy who on the cross said, “Father forgive them.” From the guy who was left out to dry by his disciples…Peter denied even knowing him; and what was one of the first things Jesus did after he was raised from the dead? He went to peter and had communion with him. I forgive you…

We are forgiven sinners…can we forgive others who sin against us? Can we free ourselves from the weight of that pain and bitterness we’re carrying? Could it ever become just instinctive, like a knee jerk reaction? Someone does us harm…and we forgive.

In 2006, in Lancaster County, PN, a milk truck driver, a husband and a father of 3 children, named Charles Roberts entered West Nickel Mines Amish School, a simple one-room, stucco building that sat along a country road in the farm fields, with a shotgun, a handgun, a rifle, 600 rounds of ammunition, two cans of gun powder, a stun gun, two knives, chains, wires and plastic flex ties, and nails and lumber for barricading doors and windows. Without going into devastating details of the account, the police couldn’t stop him before he had killed five girls and critically wounded five others, and then taken his own life.

The response of this community, mostly Amish people, was amazing. On the day of the killings, the families of the victims sent words of comfort to Robert’s wife and asked that she not consider leaving her home in that area. A resident said a few days later: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”

A neighbor, went to see Roberts’ father and “stood there for an hour, he held him in his arms, and he said, “We will forgive you.” Many Amish attended the funeral of Roberts, and Robert’s wife was invited to attend the funerals of the victims.

What is it about this “ability to forgive: that many found so moving? “It’s not a denial of evil, individual responsibility, or justice. Instead according to Amish belief, justice is God’s alone, not ours to question or force.”

In the gap between God’s forgiveness and this horrible act, it seems the people of Lancaster County didn’t even consider the possibilities of potential responses.
There was only one: forgive. “to make a conscious choice to be unbound by evil.”

A grandfather of two of the little girls who were killed was asked: “Is there anger towards the gunman’s family?”
NO, said the grandfather.
“Have you forgiven?”
“In my heart, yes.”
“How is that possible? “Through God’s help.”

Through God’s help.
We may not be able to stop the terrible things that happen to us,
but I believe Jesus teaches that through forgiveness we can imaginatively live in an alternative reality to a world that would tell us to just hold it in and swallow that bitter pill or to seek after the one who owes us and choke ’em. I forgive you.

I don’t know what experiences you’ve had. Maybe your at a point in which you simply cannot forgive, I’ve been there. All I could do was acknowledge my need to forgive and pray to God that the time would come when I could forgive. And finally it did come… months later, I was walking along, and suddenly, I had forgiven. This huge weight was lifted…it was almost as if the Holy spirit came into my being and took that terrible weight I had been carrying around and flew off with it. I wept, I shouted for joy. It was a miracle. I had been healed.

Maybe this morning, while we have the healing service, you have something you just can’t let go of. Someone has done you wrong…and it is eating you up. Please take the time to pray for this during this time. Come forward and have your brothers and sisters pray with you.

My prayer for all of us is when we find ourselves in that gap between receiving and accepting God’s love and mercy, and coming across someone who has done us harm, may God grant to each of us the grace to allow at least the seed of forgiveness to take root in our hearts. May God’s love, healing, and reconciling allow us to be the forgiving community that Jesus calls us to be. Amen.

2. Rob Bell, “Nooma 007 Luggage”
3. Psalm
4. Rob Bell, Nooma 007 Luggage.
5. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
6. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
7. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
8. Joanna Adams, Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35: podcast on Day 1.
9. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Confrontation for Reconciliation

Confrontation for Reconcilation! Matthew 18: 15-20 Sept. 7, 2008
Initiatal trouble with the passage:
SIN – whatever became of sin…we don’t like to talk about sin.
confrontation—and I’m not one for confrontation
conflict and disagreement, church discipline, potential excommunication…not very nice topics.
Remember the scarlet letter? Haven’t we moved passed this stuff?
Plus, there’s confusion of binding and loosing. Not to mention the overused and often misunderstood scripture: if two agree to anything two are gathered in my name; where two or three are gathered in my name. I tempted to find greener pastures in scripture.

Unless I wanted to take the opportunity to preach my first hellfire and brimstone sermon: See that folks start shaping up!!

Actually, as happens so often, you get into it scripture and you find I find that there is a living and relevant word! This passage is about forgiveness and restoration; reconciliation and right relationships! That’s something worth talking about.

A look at the passage in depth. This seems to be a practice used in the Matthew’s community in dealing with broken relationships.
A three step process:
1. if you’re the one whose been sinned against, you go talk to the one who has done the sinning;
2. if they don’t listen, grab a few who will serve as witnesses to what is happening;
3. and if that doesn’t work bring the one before the whole church, before he or she gets the boot.

The passages that follow are intriguing passages because they are so frequently sighted, but out of context. When I first came to this church, it was not uncommon at 10 til 11, for Libby, Margaret, Helen and I to be the only ones in the sanctuary! And every time, Libby said….Where 2 or 3 are gathered. I don’t want to dwell on them too long, just briefly. These passages about binding and loosing and two or three gathered in Jesus’ name have been used in so many different ways throughout the centuries, we don’t know exactly what their original meaning was for the early community, above all else they seem to provide a theological foundation for community decision making: God stands behind the community, and Jesus abides within the community gathered in his name. This is why in the Presbyterian system that we do things in community… Committee meetings!

Going back to the step by step process: how many churches—Christian communities—do you know that practice this kind of reconciliation? Are these passages relevant in our day and age? Where does technology fit into the reconcilation process? Can you email your grievance to the person who has sinned against you instead of to confronting them face to face. Alone.
My tendency when someone does something that hurts me is:
1. to either yell at them and get them back (this usually occurs on the soccer field), and this resolves nothing except make makes me look dumb
2. hold it in and just let it fester inside me and then prentend like nothing happened,
and this allows the relationship to deteriorate, where it can even be hard to be in the same room with the person, so you just avoid her.
3. or tell someone else what happened…...
and let the rumors begin..

But go, alone, face to face, point out what has happened. That would take courage and a lot of grace. But if the two parties are in Christian community with one another, and understand this to be the common practice and the basis of everything is to not get someone back or punish someone, or to humiliate them, but love.
And seek right relationship.

Matthew’s community is the one that knows: When you are offering your gift at the alter, if you rmember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (5:23-24)
IF your brother or sister sins against you… Yes, that’s right this isn’t an enemy, but a brother or sister.

Of course, there are different perspectives. Maybe the person that hurt the other didn’t think they had done anything wrong. Or maybe it wasn’t a big deal.
Or maybe the accuser is just being a little sensitive. There’s always potential for disagreement or misunderstanding…does the one offended go off and tell everyone how bad a person so and so is for doing such a thing? I tried to talk to him.. No, again this isn’t to defame, but to regain; this is hot pursuit of reconciliation. The person goes and gets others, of sound judgment hopefully to witness to the situation, hear both sides of the story, mediate, so as to achieve common ground.

4. .IF this doesn’t work.
A larger group is called upon to hear out the situation. The church. The community of believers. This seems the most intimidating and scary of scenarios.. (we now call ____ before the congregation..all rise. I’ve seen those court shows..why anyone would go on them is beyond me.) We are so quick to judge and seek punishment. But as I thought about it I remembered: Matthew’s community was one of reconciled sinners who are not seeking to punish, but to love. To have the situation come before the congregation isn’t to shame the person who has sinned against another, but maybe it is so that everyone can be aware of the situation, and hear it first hand, instead of second, third or fourth hand, and know what is going on. Maybe the community reminds everyone involved that there are more people who love and care for them, and it helps them to see beyond just themselves and their situation. The community takes broken relationships seriously, and seeks to restore them.

5. Finally, if the person is still unwilling to seek right relationship with the one he has hurt, treat him as a gentile or tax collector. I think too often people have a tendency to judge and want to punish…that’s why this passage has be used as grounds for excommunication over the course of history…but, maybe things were different back then in Matthew’s community.

It doesn’t say, kick them out or punish the offender. It says, treat him like a Gentile-someone who is outside the community; and a tax collector, someone who is unclean. Jesus hung out with gentiles, and Jesus ate with tax collectors. Is he suggesting that the person who sinned be outcast, or is he suggesting pursue that person like a lost sheep? Like someone who is outside the community, but has potential to be part of the community. It is like starting over with the relationship. The idea is to let the situation go, and begin again. Forgiveness 70 times 7.

IT wasn’t long after Trasie and I were dating that I would occasionally slip up and take our relationship for granted. Not treat her the way that I should, especially not the way that I did when we first met, and I was trying to really impress her: tell her how wonderful she was, pamper her, bring her flowers and always on my best behavior. She’s smart, and after a few of these instances when I didn’t treat her with the kindness and gentleness that I once had, maybe even when I hurt her feelings; she observed how friendly I was when I was meeting someone for the first time. And so she used this against me and when I was acting inappropriately she would say, hi, I’m Trasie, what’s your name? As if we were meeting for the first time…reminding me that I did have a gentler side.

Treat the one as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Here are our challenges: One I think this passage challenges us as a community to be better about reconciling our selves to one another, about forgiving one another and seeking right relationships.

And two, this challenges us to be in more intimate and trusting relationships with one another:
The point is, that the relationship with a brother or a sister is something more important than any issue or any mishap or misunderstanding or sin.
It’s certainly more important than arguing who is right and who is wrong.
It is about people being in loving relationship with one another. Just a God reconciled the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the son, so we are to be reconciled to one another. Especially to our Christian brothers and sisters, especially those brothers and sisters who sit in the pews right around us. What are some of the wounds you carry that were inflicted by others in this community? Maybe some are minor and are already healing, but are they completely healed? Maybe some are so deep that you can’t even bring it up…not now, not yet. But, I have confidence that in Christ Jesus there is no wound or hurt that is too deep for wholeness and healing and right relationship to take place. Maybe you can take the time to write down a hurt that you have, inflicted by someone in this community. Think about it…take it home and pray about it.

Can you confront that person?
And if you are confronted, (God forbid) would you have the humility and courage to recognized that you could have done something that offended someone that is very dear to you? It’s about being able to genuinely pass the peace and mean it. It’s about being able to laugh with someone freely, not holding a grudge inside.
It’s about swallowing our pride and loving in humility.

We know the lonely and dreadful road of hurt and broken relationships, the long and arduous road to reconciliation, but when reconciliation happens..what a gift.
And if we can practice reconciled relationships with brothers and sisters in the faith, here in this place, can we model this in other relationships in our lives?
In our schools: At work, In our families, with friends and neighbors.
Always the goal is to be united, not divided with others.

We experience this gift of reconciliation every time we come to this table. We come as forgiven sinners, whose lives are full of brokenness, and we come to be made whole. We are united as we share in a common bread and a common cup.
We are united as we recognized that none of us is perfect or better than anyone else, while at th same time recognizing the one who calls us his beloved.
And we are made whole again. What a gift! Thanks be to god that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

1. Harrington, Matthew.