THE GRACE THAT MAKES US WHOLE
September 14, 2014 by Ken Dale
I think, from my perspective, and from just about everyone I?ve heard from, worship last Sunday and the fellowship and food that followed was wonderful. A number of people commented on the outstanding job Mischa did with the drinks! The BikeMaine event on Wednesday saw us again working together with great joy in support of our out reach. With that in mind Barbara Brown Taylor?s words, in her sermon on this gospel text, leapt off the page at me when I read of Matthew?s gospel: Jesus talks at length about what relationships in the Christian community are like, ?he makes the same point over and over again: that the life of the community ? the family of God ? is the most important thing in the world, and that those who want to be members of it are called to do everything in their power to nourish and strengthen the bonds of their love.
She continues saying that nothing is to get in the way of that. Nothing ? not even quarrels with each other or rivalries or those tendencies to put each other down ? not even their blatant sins. And I thought WOW! Imagine churches if they took that seriously. Imagine this or any church if they took those relationships with each other as being most important. I have a wonderful time imagining what this church would be like if that happened here ? if everyone who called this ?my church? in any way not only came every Sunday because it was that important to be here ? but if our relationships with one another were so important as a family of God that we thought it was our call to do everything in our power to nourish and strengthen the bonds of our love for one another (and of course the community in which we live).
Our beloved friend Peter is before us once again this morning. He has been listening to Jesus talk about this over and over and I think becomes concerned, maybe even overwhelmed, by what Jesus is saying. He has a great question: how many times do we forgive? His Jewish tradition tells him ?3 strikes and you?re out.? Thinking he gets Jesus? point he says as many as 7 ? which is going more than double what?s expected. Jesus responds ? and it?s interesting, I?ve seen it translated ?as many as 77 times? and ?as many as 70 times 7.? Quite a difference where the word ?times? is placed ? could be 77 ? could be 490. Either way, Jesus makes the point that it?s not about math. And he tells that parable about the forgiven servant who won?t pay it forward and forgive. In fact he gets rather nasty but in the end the nasty comes back to get him.
Forgiveness! Not an easy thing to do ? even when we try ? and even in churches. How do we react when wronged in some way? You hear about someone making a negative statement about you ? note to self ? don?t forget it. Someone breaks a confidence ? note to self, no more confidence with that person. Someone expounds political views that you find distasteful ? note to self, don?t invite them over ? and maybe keep a distance. Someone in church has said something years ago or recently and since then you?ve been hoping they go somewhere else. Or maybe it?s the whole thing about different perspectives ? red grapes verses green grapes verses no grapes at all. Consciously or subconsciously we choose not to forgive and hold on to the past, hold on to our anger, quietly nurse our grudges.
In doing so we fail to see the price of not forgiving. Failing to forgive is choosing prison and locking ourselves up in our bitterness. The bridge we need to cross is destroyed by resentment. Our refusal to forgive only hurts us. Weekly we pray the Lord?s Prayer but do we see it? Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Forgive us as we forgive. There is direct connection between forgiving and being forgiven. If we don?t offer grace to others we won?t experience grace for ourselves. Point made in that parable. Lewis Smedes writes, if you forgive someone, you discover that you?ve set a prisoner free and soon you discover that prisoner is you.
The truth of it all I think is captured in one sermon I read on this text: none of us can make ourselves forgive ? it is not within our power – Letting go of that stranglehold of pride, relinquishing the assertion of rights, and living in the spirit of forgiveness is ultimately a gift only God can give. Forgiveness is the peculiar attribute of people who know they?ve been forgiven. It is as we recognize God?s forgiveness that we realize that we no longer need our grudges, self-pity, and resentment to define ourselves. We see ourselves by the grace that makes us whole instead of the by the hurts that break us apart. (Brett Younger in Unforgiven)
Forgiveness is an attitude, a way of life, a hope that is captured in a little cartoon that dealt with the prodigal son. The father was going down the road to meet his boy and the caption reads: ?I?ll be glad when this kid grows up; this is the sixth fatted calf I?ve had to kill!?
Since the very beginning that has been the nature of struggle in the church ? even those original 12 ? we know about Peter always the champion for Jesus and always coming up short, James and John were the type that wanted to be in charge all the time, and Judas ? well we know about Judas don?t we. Think over the years that followed and the splits and divisions and the hassles and struggles over doctrine and what is right and what is wrong and what is true and what is not, and heresies and holy wars and all those personalities. Remember ? this church came into being from some ?problems? in the First Congregational Church of Newcastle, and some of you sitting here this morning have seen some pretty hefty turmoil in the life of this church in recent decades ? and all those personalities. All in the name of God!?
Matthew writes this gospel seeking to help the church then (and just as certainly now from local level to denominational and beyond) — to help the church find a way through choppy and stormy waters and maintain a meaningful fellowship, maintain meaningful relationships. And what he says is the glue is here, is in Jesus? words about forgiveness. What is the glue that holds this thing we call church together? Is it not the grace of God!? What is it that can move us down the road without killing each other off? Forgiveness when we have differences.
Taylor hits the nail on the head when she writes: it is a matter of understanding that you have already been forgiven, that someone to whom you owe everything ? your life and breath, your blue eyes, your fondness for fresh tomatoes, your pleasure in the moon and stars, all the loves of your life ? someone who has given and given and given to you and who has gotten precious little in return, has examined your enormous debt in great detail and knows from your credit rating that the chances of repayment are nil. Someone who knows all of that has taken the stack of your IOUs and torn them in two, balancing your books in one fell swoop for one reason and one reason alone: because that someone wants to remain in relationship with you, and wants you to be free to respond ? Once you have let that sink in, once you have really taken that into your own heart, how can you ? how can any of us ? pass up a single chance to do the same?? (both quotes of B. B. Taylor are taken from Once More from the Heart)?????????? ??????????? Amen.