Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“As Many Times As It Takes”
Collect: O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Peter came and said to Jesus, “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.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 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 would 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.”
Last week we talked about telling other folks, and sometimes ourselves, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Harsh words. Some situations call for harsh words. It is important for us to set clear and healthy boundaries for ourselves and for those in our care and keep. But then there is the other side of the clear and resolute, the harder one for me too often and maybe for you, too. The other side of clear boundaries is Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a cornerstone of the Christian witness. I would say that seeing forgiveness is probably where I see in folks being “Christian” first. And for those who cannot forgive, and I see lack of Christian maturity in their faith in people who profess to follow Jesus.
Every single one of us will disappoint, mess up, fumble, and just be plain ornery or obstinate at some point. Christmas Eve at the early service I told the story of how I had to go and ask forgiveness of someone I was horribly rude to, and how her forgiveness meant more to me than anything else I got for Christmas that year. I did not earn it. I offered my apology hoping it would be accepted, and I got that. And then I was offered Grace on top of that. That is what is the foundation of our faith, Grace. Unearned. Unexpected. Unbelievable. [LINK]
Forgiveness is a skill we all need to practice and grow in. I think a big part of growing up is learning to forgive, but not being a victim or punching bag. We have to forgive others, sure. Many times we have to forgive ourselves. Yikes, when we have really mucked things up that is SO hard. And sometimes we have to forgive God, too! Suffering, ours or others, is something I see so many hold against God. Listen to the Psalms. So many of them are people working out trying to forgive God when bad things happened.
Forgiveness is when we can be most like Jesus, our most godly. It is the moment when we can extend God’s Grace just like God gives us, making it “on earth as it is in heaven.” I think of the few sayings we have from Jesus on the cross. Think on the few recorded things he took the time to say. He had someone take care of his mother. Moms are important. He fulfilled prophecy by asking for a drink in his massive thirst. The body is important. He quoted Scripture with Psalm 22. Expressing faith in God is important. But the thing that is the most incomprehensible to those who do not get what Jesus was about was when he said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Was it the earthquake when he breathed his last, or looking the Centurion in the eye that forced the Roman officer to say, “Surely this was the Son of God!”?
Forgiveness is the heart of our faith. It puts flesh on the Love. Love is not a feeling. Love is a committed decision. Forgiveness is us doing the interior work to remove anything that hinders our ability to Love. Both are active. Both can hurt because they are hard, deep work.
There are so many examples I could give, but in the last 20 years the story that will stay with me forever is the school shootings in the small Amish community near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A mentally ill man entered a small one-room schoolhouse and killed 5 students, injured 5 others, before taking his own life. These tight, insulated communities work hard to live a life fully devoted to the teachings of Jesus. They build boundaries to limit temptations but they do interact with the outside world.
[From this point I quote extensively from a StoryCorps 10 year anniversary piece. You can listen to it HERE.]
Their non-Amish neighbors are usually highly respectful of the Amish faithful’s choices, and that is what hit the father of the gunman after he heard of the tragedy. He said, according to his wife, “I will never be able to face my Amsih neighbors again.”
That week, the Robertses had a private funeral for their son, but as they went to the gravesite, they saw as many as 40 Amish start coming out from around the side of the graveyard, surrounding them like a crescent.
"Love just emanated from them," Terri says. "I do recall the fathers saying, 'I believe that I have forgiven,' but there are some days when I question that."
Terri finds it especially hard to accept that forgiveness when she thinks of one of the survivors, Rosanna.
"Rosanna's the most injured of the survivors," she explains. "Her injuries were to her head. She is now 15, still tube-fed and in a wheelchair. And she does have seizures, and when it gets to be this time of year, as we get closer to the anniversary date, she seizes more. And it's certainly not the life that this little girl should have lived."
Terri asked if it would be possible for her to help with Rosanna once a week.
"I read to her, I bathe her, dry her hair," says Terri, who herself is battling cancer. And, while she can't say it with 100 percent certainty, Terri believes Rosanna knows who she is.
"I just sense that she does know," she says.
"I will never forget the devastation caused by my son," says Terri. "But one of the fathers the other night, he said, 'None of us would have ever chosen this. But the relationships that we have built through it, you can't put a price on that.' "
"And their choice to allow life to move forward was quite a healing balm for us," she says. "And I think it's a message the world needs."
Forgiveness is the heart of our faith. It puts flesh on the Love. Love is not a feeling. Love is a committed decision. Forgiveness is us doing the interior work to remove anything that hinders our ability to Love. Both are active. Both can hurt because they are hard, deep work. How many times should we forgive? 7 times 70 times as many times as it takes. It is a hard, but holy, and necessary road. Amen