Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Force of Forgiveness

Rev.  Elizabeth Anderson
John 20: 19-31
“The Force of Forgiveness”
Guest Preaching- Dranesville UMC

Most of us when we hear today’s Gospel lesson think immediately of the story we hear. 

 We become refugees hiding with the disciples locked away in a room.  

We are amazed with them by the peace Jesus brings.  We either understand or judge Thomas and his desire to touch and see Christ risen, to soak into the wounds he suffered for us.  And yet, I cannot help but linger on verse 23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 
Here – after Jesus has died on the cross for our sins.
Here after Jesus has said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”[i] 
After Christ has forgiven us “while we were yet sinners”  -- we hear this.
Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” 
He breathes on the them the Holy Spirit—which fills them with power, ability,  and authority to live out this commission. 
And then Jesus charges them with the work of reconciliation: “If you forgive the sins of any- they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 
A few months ago, a dear friend and parishioner lay dying.  His wife asked us all to pray the Lord’s Prayer and just keep praying it.  She had no other words. She knew no other prayer in these moments. She just knew that is what she needed to pray and needed others to pray. 

We need no other words really- than these words Jesus gave us all-- when the disciples asked him how do we pray?
We did exactly as this wife of a dying husband asked.   
We prayed it morning, noon, and night.
I ran into another person and we were discussing these friends, she also was praying.   

“It is so hard,” she said.
I raised my eyes.
“You know- to pray it.
To really pray it and mean it and say those words.
TO say, “forgive us AS we forgive others.
I have to really forgive—really forgive.”

She’s right- no matter if you say sins, or trespasses or debt—that “AS” is always there.

““And forgive us our trespasses, AS we forgive those who trespass against us.
Forgive us- AS we forgive others—it is there.

In fact Jesus gets fairly explicit in Matthew’s Gospel saying “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”[ii]

 We are nearly forced- to forgive…
Jesus died on the cross for our sins—we are forgiven.
 It’s all done, right?
But Jesus said, “As the Father as sent me, so I send you.”
And Jesus said, ‘You must also take up your cross and follow me.”
And Jesus said, “If you forgive- they are forgiven- if you retain- it will be retained.”
Jesus doesn’t ONLY come and pay the price for our sins,                                    he invites us into participation in his life, death, and resurrection. 
He sends us, He commissions and commands us to also Carry the Cross- to make disciples, and to go and forgive as we have been forgiven. 

Forgiveness comes from Christ, but it does not end with Christ.
Once, Jesus healed a man and told him, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Some of the scribes saw this and were grumbling, questioning in their hearts- and Jesus knew this.  They thought, “Why does this fellow speak in this way!  It is blasphemy!  Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” [iii]
Jesus wanted them to see this forgiveness and know that he- the Son of Man had authority to forgive.  And not only did he have the authority- but he gave this authority to others—to share in the work of forgiveness. 
Can we do this work?
John Wesley said of the Lord’s Prayer that “uttered from the heart, and in its true and full meaning, [it] is indeed the badge of a real Christian.”[iv]
 While the beginning of the prayer notes our need for daily bread- for physical sustenance-- that need is quickly supplemented by the need for forgiveness—“not once, but continually.”[v]
IF you forgive the sins of any”  -and  this is going to need to happen a lot—
There is an IF here-  just like that “As” in the Lord’s Prayer- it tells us that this is going to be a continual thingand here as Jesus is breathing on the disciples (giving the gift of the Holy Spirit), giving them authority, sending them out- he gives them an IF—this is a condition--- a call to a radical way – an always do this way of being. 
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any; they are retained.”  -- There is no letting go if we don’t forgive.
 There is no healing – there is retaining all the pain—it is held on to if there is no forgiveness. 
All of that pain and fear is- still locked up if there is no forgiveness.   
Locked up – Like those disciples in the locked room and hiding- thinking Jesus is still dead. Not fully able to live in the forgiveness of the cross.
If we are not participating in the life of Christ               by forgiving as he has forgiven-                                       its as though we’re still locked up                                 with the disciples                                                                and Christ is still in the tomb. 
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “Truly I tell you , whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”[vi]
What are we retaining? What are we binding here and now and thus binding in heaven?
What is God holding onto because we are holding onto?
When we have accepted that Jesus has forgiven us from our sins, we are washed anew- we are freed!  This is indeed “the inner core of the holy experience”[vii] to soak into this well of forgiveness and let our Savior’s love wash over us.
  Can you imagine what it is to also extend this?
When we give and accept forgiveness from others, we extend this holiness!
We share in grace! Grace upon Grace! 
We carry out our “sent” authority that Christ has given us!
We see and know that essentially – “forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith.” [viii]  We live into our new our identity as Christ followers—
“Christ’s followers are called to
radical forgiveness,
unreasonable forgiveness,
reckless forgiveness,
endless forgiveness,
seemingly impossible forgiveness.” [ix]

It is not easy- in fact Peter once tried to find where the wiggle room in this forgiveness command lay?  Where was the “out”? 

“Lord, how often should I forgive?” As many as seven times?”  Jesus said, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy seven times.”  [x]
Jesus then told a story about a servant who experienced forgiveness, but did not carry it forward—it did not propel him into a life of forgiveness.  He did not forgive someone as he was forgiven

The servant was forgiven by his master and refused to forgive another- when his master found out he said, “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.”[xi]
This forgiveness is serious business
This is the force of forgiveness.
Now that may sound harsh…-Force…
But think of what “force’ really is—
Force-- is any influence that causes something to undergo a certain change, either concerning its movement or direction. 
Now, I’m not a physicist//
-----but I remember learning that force is that which can cause an object with mass to change its velocity.
Being in a relationship with Christ is a force in our lives that causes real change in us. 

The Christian life is a prayer of forgiveness:
“Forgive us as we forgive them.”
The Christian life is a suffering cry of forgiveness:
“Father, forgive them.”
The Christian life is a commission to forgive:
“If you forgive anyone, they are forgiven.” [xii]

Being a follower of Christ means that we are compelled- in fact we are sent out-by a powerful the powerful force of a life in Christ- sent with a velocity of love and grace fueled by the Holy Spirit

You are commissioned – don’t be locked up—Jesus breathes on you the gift of the Holy Spirit! 
Go and do as Christ has done for you! 

[i] Luke 23:34
[ii][ii] Matthew 6: 14
[iii] Mark 2:1-12 and Matthew 9:2-8
[iv] JW notes 11:1
[v] JW Notes11:4
[vi] Matthew 18:18
[vii] Wesley Study bible page 1200
[viii] Zahnd, Brian, 8 “Unconditional?”
[ix] Ibid, 35
[x] Matthew 18:21
[xi] Matthew 18:32-35
[xii] Zahnd, Brian, 11.

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