The 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
My friend, Eli and I were running an errand for church one day, I think we were out getting supplies for a big fish fry during Lent. But as we were driving, Eli told me, Pastor, I canít forgive Del. Now Eli and Del had been friends for many years and Eli had indeed over the years forgiven Del of much.
But their last encounter had been a bad one. Del had lied to Eli, had betrayed him and had made him feel like a fool. The damage to their relationship was significant, friendship ending, maybe even life changing. It was bad.
Now, Iím not quite sure what Eli was expecting me to say. He probably, I think, thought that I would tell him he had to forgive Del. That is what we Christians often tell one another because of course, forgiveness is kind of at the heart of what it is that we are all about.
Iíve been told many times Ö I canít forgive this person or that person. Sometimes it is said still in the heat of anger, but other times it is said with a great deal of sadness and even despair. Pastor, I canít forgive my abuser. I canít forgive the drunk driver who killed my loved one. I canít forgive the people who have done all of this evil in the world. I canít forgive that person who hurt me so deeply, that I am still wounded.
They are said, even despairing, because they fear that if they canít forgive, then they wonít be forgiven. They are sad, even despairing, because they know that our forgiveness is somehow related to our own forgiving.
Jesus came to set the world free. To set the world free from sin and death and the power of the devil. Jesus came to set the world free, to change the world, to transform the world, to recreate the world. Jesus came to forgive the world and through that forgiveness to change everything Ė to change our world, our communities, our families, through that forgiveness Jesus came to change us.
Last week we heard how much Jesus cares about relationships. He cares so much about them that he commands us not to give up on one another too easily, but to do all that we can, to forgive one another and to reconcile with one another, and in response to that command, to not cast one another aside too easily.
Peter responds, So, Jesus, how many times do I have to forgive my brother who sins against me? 7 times? Peter thought he was being generous and magnanimous. 7 times is a lot, after all, the rules of the day would say 2 or maybe 3 times Ö 7 Ö why thatís almost ridiculous, even foolish. But Jesus ups the ante, not 7 times, but 77 times or maybe the correct translation is 7 times 70 times Ö but the effect is the same.
How many times must we forgive? An infinite number of times, as many times as it takes. As many times, as it takes to what? you might ask. As many times, as it takes to change them. As many times, as it takes to make the world better Ė a different place.
Then Jesus tells a parable. The point is clearly that God has forgiven us so much, so we should and we must forgive one another. That perspective helps sometimes, doesnít it? Sometimes we can see how much God has done for us, and the things that other people have done to us seem small and trivial. But not always. Sometimes the things people have done to us are too big, bigger than anything we have done, sometimes they have hurt us too badly, broken us and broken our relationship so severely that even from that perspective it seems like forgiveness is impossible.
Pastor, I canít forgive Del.
But hereís the thing Ö if forgiveness is real, if Jesus really can forgive every bad and terrible thing that you and I have done, but more than that, if Jesus can really forgive all of the terrible things that humanity has done and if through that forgiveness Jesus is indeed transforming this world, making it righteous and making it holy, if Jesus really is reconciling this world to God, then, we can forgive, too.
Oh, maybe not today and maybe not even tomorrow. But if God is transforming this world, then he is transforming us as well. Transforming us into His likeness. Transforming us into people who forgive.
I canít forgive Del, Eli told me.
If I was talking to Eli today I would tell him. You know, one day I think you will, not because he deserves it, and not because you have to, but one day I think you will forgive him because thatís who you are, you are a forgiver, you are a child of God.
How many times must I forgive? 77 times. Nah, when God is done with us we wonít even recognize that question, we will just forgive, and we will just love, because that is what we do. Amen.
The 14th Sunday after Pentecost
September 10, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
The gospel lesson appears at least at first glance again to be good advice from Jesus. And indeed, it is rather timely advice. There is a lot of conflict going on in the world around us these days and Jesusí advises us that when we have a conflict with someone that we first go to them one-on-one, face-to-face, and deal with the conflict privately and to take care of it right away. We donít let it fester and get worse and bigger and bigger and bigger. Pretty good advice I would say.
And if that doesnít work that we not give up, but that we take two or three others with us and then try to work out the problem between us. If that doesnít work, at least within the world of the church, that we take the issue to the church and if that person doesnít even then listen to the church, that finally after all that we can possibly think to do, that then, and only then, do we let them leave our fellowship.
It is pretty good advice. And indeed, we know that wherever two or three human beings are gathered, eventually there is going to be disagreements and there is going to be conflict. And so, it is advice that we will need from time-to-time in our lives and in our lives together.
But, of course, even the very best advice when put into the hands of humans, even godly advice, sometimes doesnít work out like God would hope. For indeed, many folks have read this lesson and have made it a part of their church law.
While it is true that there may be times when we need to let someone go and let them be as Gentile, as tax collectors to us. It has been my observation that most congregations and churches who use shunning have actually done way more damage by shunning people than they have by anything else really that they do.
Still, it is good advice. But is that really what Jesus came to do? To give us good advice? Iím not so sure.
The lesson that directly proceeds todayís lesson Jesus tells how God is willing to incredible lengths to bring back the lost sheep. In the lesson that directly follows this, Jesus tells Peter that he must indeed forgive his brother who sins against him seven hundred and seventy-seven times, or an unlimited amount of times.
Whatís going on in this lesson? Clearly God cares about our relationships. Jesus truly believes that when two or three of us are gathered together in His name that He is there in the midst of us and if thatís true then how we relate to one another matters to God. Indeed, if we are to be the body of Christ then all of those things that Jesus does needs to happen in and amongst us.
This needs to be a place where people can come and share their hopes and their dreams, their hurts and their fears. This needs to be a place where people know that they can be forgiven, even when they sin against others. It needs to be a place where we can indeed forgive one another seven hundred and seventy-seven times. It is Godís will. It is Jesusí will that we not lose any of His sheep.
Whatís going here is Jesus is inviting us to value one another. To value our relationships as much as God values us and our relationships so that this truly can be the place where people come to be with God.
(Now I am going to try and change the names of people to protect the innocent, but if I use two or three names of people because I have forgotten and spoke their real names.)
Henrietta and Edith did not like each other. Forty years ago, something happened and they got mad at each other. And you would think after 40 years maybe no one remembered what that first thing was, but thatís not true, because when I first met Edith and Henrietta, Edith told me about all the terrible things that Henrietta did and what a terrible person she was.
The truth of the matter is that both Edith and Henrietta were wonderful people. They were very different, but they both loved God and loved their church and wanted to make a difference in the congregation and the community, but they could not do that together.
Pastors long before me tried to heal that rift between Henrietta and Edith. We tried all of those things that you read about in your psychology books. We took Jesusí advice and we tried to bring them together, bring people to them. Short to kicking them both out of the church, nothing worked.
And so, if we had an event at church, maybe a meal, Edith would be in one corner, and Henrietta would be in the farthest corner to the other side.
Forty years was a shame because they both did love the church and loved God and loved their community and had they been able to get along and work together, they would have done amazing things.
One day, Henrietta had a terrible stroke. She was hospitalized for many weeks and was immobile for months after that and very rarely, for many months was unable to communicate more than just one or two words that may or may not have been what she meant to say.
And so, of course, you might have guessed that lots of folks in the congregation thought, well, now Edith has won and she will get her way in all of these things.
A couple of days after Henriettaís stroke, when she was well enough to have visitors, Edith came to visit her. And they finally had the conversation that they should have had for 40 years. From then on Edith was Henriettaís biggest champion.
She was the one who called and harassed Henriettaís son to make sure that when Henrietta was able to go to church, that he got her there. And she was the one that made it sure from then on that we did everything Henriettaís way at church. Those times when they were both able to be at church together, they were together, not at opposite ends of the room, but sitting right in the middle together, with their forgiveness and their compassion for one another spoke volumes about how Christ was there with us.
Our relationships matter. They matter to God and matter to our ability to do the things that God has called us to do. Indeed, when we are gathered together Christ is here in our midst. We are the body of Christ. When we love and care and forgive one another, we can do all of those great and amazing things that God has called us to do in our midst. Amen.
The 13th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
2,000 years ago, something happened that changed everything. A man was executed and when this Jesus was killed and three days later rose again from the grave, everything, everything changed. From that moment on, power and violence no longer ruled the world. From that moment on it was no longer the wealthiest or the most powerful who were the most important, but from that moment on it was the lowly, the weakest.
2,000 years ago, a man died, was executed, and everything changed because he rose from the grave now we too have the promise that death is not the end for us, but death is the gateway to eternal life.
2,000 years ago, a man was executed and three days later rose from the grave and that changed everything. But, of course, for us to experience that we need to be able to believe that or maybe we should say we need to be able to imagine it.
I think in todayís lesson Peter was having a crisis of imagination. Last week Jesus asked the disciples, who do the people say that I am? And they answered, maybe you are John the Baptist come back from the dead, or Elijah or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, but Jesus said, who do you say that I am? And Peter said, why you are the messiah, the son of the living God.
And, of course, Peter thought he knew what he was saying, Peter expected the messiah to be a king, to be a mighty ruler, like all of the kings he knew, he expected Jesus to be a messiah, a king who would raise an army and with that army drive the Romans from their land and establish the kingdom of Israel, to rule over the earth.
Peter expected Jesus to be a king like every other king, stronger and maybe wiser and certainly blessed by God. But Peter never in his wildest dreams ever imagined that Jesus would a messiah who would be executed.
Of course, we canít really blame him, can we? I mean there was nothing in his world that showed that could possibly be the case. Everywhere around him, people held on to their position and their power with violence and force, with threats. Everywhere around him, he saw people using power and manipulation, threats of poverty or deprivation, prison, threat of death, to hold on to what they had, to make people do their will. How could he imagine that Jesusí death could do all of this?
Of course, we live on the other side of those events 2,000 years ago. We indeed call that day that Jesus died Good Friday and we celebrate on Easter that Jesusí resurrection has given us all new life, that indeed we now are living in a world that is shaped by his death and his resurrection. But can we imagine what that world really looks like?
Can we imagine a world where it isnít power and violence and threat that rule, but instead, can we imagine a world where kindness and sacrifice and forgiveness rule? Can we imagine a world where the weakest and the lowest of us are the most important of us? Can we imagine a world where power isnít use to hold on to oneís position? But instead power and wealth are used to share love and kindness with those around us.
Can we imagine a world where we would dare to take up our cross and follow Jesus? Can we imagine what it would mean if we truly believed that Jesus death and resurrection meant that we were safe in Godís care, that we could take risks, forgiving people who might not deserve to be forgiven. Sharing what we have with others who might misuse it. Can we imagine what life would be like if we forgave and love and gave ourselves like Christ has forgiven and love and given himself for us.
Indeed, can the church imagine what it would be like if we didnít measure what we thought we would get out of what we did, but instead just gave ourselves to the world, as Christ gave himself to the world.
Can we imagine what life would really be like if we lived in the shadow of that cross and in the light of that open tomb? Can we imagine what it means to take up our crosses and follow Jesus? Amen.