GENESIS 50:15-21, PSALM 103, ROMANS 14:1-12,
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REV. BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR
Yesterday The Brotherhood of St. Andrew and our good friend Frank Douglas had a work day. We stained the kids’ playground equipment. I think it looks great. As you leave today, take a look and see what you think.
If you see a spot we missed, let us know immediately. We’ll find a bucket of paint and a paint brush just for you!
We have some very skilled painters at St. Augustine’s. One in particular stands out. You should see Alton Miles with a paint brush in his hand. He’s a genius. As I watched him paint yesterday, I realized that Alton is the Michelangelo of St. Augustine’s.
And so, I hereby confer upon Alton a new nickname: Michelangelo. I guess you can call him Mikey for short. If he’ll let you. You better ask first.
We had a good time yesterday. We worked hard. We had some laughs. And there was serious conversation, too.
One of the Brothers mentioned an old country song I hadn’t though of in forty, maybe forty-five years. It was written by Stuart Hamblen and recorded by Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Mahalia Jackson and many others. Maybe you know it.
It is no secret what God can do.
What’s he done for others he’ll do for you.
With arms wide open he’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.
That line “With arms wide open he’ll pardon you” reminded me of today’s scripture lessons. You may have noticed that they all carry a common theme: forgiveness. We may as well call today Forgiveness Sunday. Today is all about forgiveness.
In today’s gospel Peter asks Jesus, “how often shall I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Jesus’ reply must have come as a shock to Peter. “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” That’s a tall order, don’t you think?
Jesus then told a parable about a generous and patient king who forgave the debt of a slave. In turn, that same slave refused to forgive the debt of a fellow slave. When the king heard about it he punished the wicked, ungrateful man. Jesus ended the parable with this summary statement: “So my heavenly father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Forgiveness is serious business.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Saint Paul picks up on a related theme: judgment. “Who are you to pass judgment?” Paul asked the Romans. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?” Judgment belongs to God alone.
Those who withhold forgiveness are, in effect, passing judgment. Like the wicked slave in Jesus’ parable, they do not forgive as they have been forgiven.
Today’s psalm could be called the Forgiveness Psalm. Psalm 103 describes a forgiving God, a God who forgives beyond human comprehension.
8 The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
13 As a father cares for his children, *
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
God forgives without condition. God removes our sins from us
“as far as the east is from the west”.
That’s a long, long way. When it comes to forgiveness, why is it so hard for many of us to give just one inch?
In today’s Old Testament lesson Joseph forgives his brothers. Years earlier these same brothers betrayed Joseph. They threw him into a pit and sold him to strangers. Now the tables have turned. Joseph is in a position of power, and his brothers are in a position of desperation. In fact, they are desperate for their lives. They ask each other, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” And they begged his forgiveness.
Then an amazing thing happened. Joseph wept. Seeing Joseph weep, his brothers also wept. Having humbled themselves before each other, reconciliation happened. After many years of distrust, they were family once again.
Sometimes, those we love most are the hardest to forgive, especially family. Sometimes, those we love most are most likely to withhold forgiveness.
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who writes a daily blog with a weekly theme. Two weeks ago his theme was forgiveness. He shared a personal experience of family forgiveness. He wrote:
“Among the most powerful of human experiences is to give or to receive forgiveness. I want to share with you a personal story of forgiveness that happened in my family near the time of my mother’s death.
“She was lingering on the threshold, and for several days she had been talking about ‘a mesh’ she couldn’t get through.
“I was sitting by her bed, telling her how much I would miss her. She said she wanted to hear that from my father, whom we always called ‘Daddy.’ Of course, Daddy had been telling her that for weeks.
“So Daddy came over and effusively told her, ‘Oh, I’m going to miss ya.’
“She replied, ‘I don’t believe it.’
“I couldn’t believe my ears! I said, ‘Mother, you’re a few hours from death. You can’t say that!’
“She persisted: ‘I don’t believe it.’
“Daddy redoubled his efforts: ‘I ask your forgiveness for all the times I’ve hurt you in our fifty-four years of marriage, and I forgive you for all the times you’ve hurt me.’
“I said, ‘Mother, isn’t that beautiful? Now say that back to Daddy.’ And suddenly she clammed up. She didn’t want to say it.
“I said, ‘Mother, you’re soon going to be before God. You don’t want to come before God without forgiving everybody.’
“She said, ‘I forgive everybody.’
“I said, ‘But do you forgive Daddy?’ and she became silent again.
“Then Daddy jumped in and said, ‘Honey, I never fooled around with any other woman.’
“We all knew that. She even said, ‘Well I know that, I know that.’
“My siblings and I still don’t know how Daddy had hurt Mother. But any married person knows there are many little ways a couple can hurt one another over fifty-four years.
“Then I said, ‘Mother, let’s try this. Put one hand on your heart, and I’m going to pray that your heart gets real soft.’ I placed one of my hands on hers, over her heart, and held her other hand and started kissing it.
“After about a minute she said, very faintly, ‘That melts me.’
“’When you kiss my hand like that, now I’ve got to do it.’ After a pause, she continued: ‘I’m a stubborn woman. All of my life I’ve been a stubborn woman.’
“’Well, Mother, we all knew that,’ I said. ‘Now look at Daddy and you tell him.’
“So she looked over and she didn’t call him ‘Daddy,’ as she usually did. She spoke to him by name: ‘Rich, I forgive you.’
“I prompted her again: ‘Mother, the other half—I ask for your forgiveness.’
“She started breathing heavily and rapidly. Then she summoned her energy and said, ‘Rich, I ask your forgiveness.’ A few more moments of labored breathing, and she said, ‘That’s it, that’s it. That’s what I had to do.’
“I said to her, ‘Mother, do you think that was the mesh?’
“She replied, ‘It’s gone! The mesh is gone! And, God, I pray that I mean this forgiveness from my heart.’
“Then she said, referring to my two sisters and my sister-in-law, ‘Tell the girls to do this early and not to wait ‘til now. They’ll understand a woman’s heart and the way a man can hurt a woman.’
“Mother was so happy then, and fully ready for death.
“That’s the power and the grace of forgiveness. But let’s do it now and not wait until later! Let’s ask for the grace to let go of those grudges and hurts we hold on to. How else will we ever be free? In forgiveness, we live up to our true and deepest dignity. We then operate by a power and a logic not our own. We live out of the True Self and not just the tiny self that is always offended and complaining. Without forgiveness nothing new happens, and we remain frozen in a small past.”
Are you frozen in a small past? Are you ready to forgive?
There’s a forgiveness hymn in our hymnal. It’s meant a lot to me for a very long time.
“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
you taught us Lord to pray;
but you alone can grant us grace
to live the words we say
How can your pardon reach and bless
the unforgiving heart
that broods on wrongs and will not let
old bitterness depart?
In blazing light your cross reveals
the truth we dimly knew,
how small the debts men owe to us,
how great our debt to you.
Lord cleanse the depths within our souls
and bid resentment cease;
then reconciled to God and man
our souls will spread your peace.
Do it now. Forgive now, before it’s too late.
If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org