Friday, October 13, 2017

Wedding Banquet


We all have wedding stories. Some stories are about our own weddings, or our children’s weddings, or our parents, other family members, friends. Many of the stories are happy stories; a few are sad, some are poignant. When Lucy and I go to weddings, and we get to go to a lot, we come home with a deeper appreciation of our marriage.

Jesus spent much of his last week of earthly ministry in controversy with the official leaders of his people, people who misused their authority and power to lie about Jesus to the Romans who misused their power and authority to hang Jesus on a cross to die. But God his father raised Jesus from the dead, and gives us the authority and power to share in Jesus’ resurrected new life.  

On Easter Day the church reads part of the passage from Isaiah we read today, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”

A favorite image of heaven is the wedding feast, when the church as bride is united with the Lord the bridegroom. James Boswell in 1781 quoted the English writer Samuel Johnson, “marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” It is always interesting to see at a wedding reception how two groups of extended families and friends begin by having in common only a relationship with one of the two people getting married and sometimes find groundsfor friendship and a continuing relationship.

In Jesus controversy story the invited guests refused their invitation to the wedding banquet. Those who heard Matthew’s gospel could see them as the leaders of the Jewish community; we might see them as leaders of our secular society. So the king’s servants brought in the street people, “both bad and good.” We know ourselves as both bad and good, but “street people” maybe not so much. Our churches tend appeal to middle class retired folks. But even middle class retired people need Jesus’ love and grace.

But in the parable one of the guests did not have a wedding garment, and the king ordered, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” That seems really unfair, doesn’t it?  But what does “wedding garment” mean? And how does that fit with bringing in the street people?

Martin Luther began the 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” 

When we go to a wedding we focus on the bride and the groom and wish them all the happiness of married life. We try to leave our bad feelings at the door. We plan to be as gracious as we can to our fellow guests. So at the wedding feast of the church and her Lord we focus on the Lord. Our wedding garment includes repentance and faith.

In the early 19th century John Keble, an English parish priest, wrote a hymn:

“New every morning is the love, our wakening and uprising prove, through sleep and darkness safely brought, restored to life and power and thought.”

“New mercies, each returning day, hover around us as we pray; new perils past, new sins forgiven, new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.”

“If on our daily course our mind be set to hallow all we find, new treasures still, of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.”

“The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we need to ask, room to deny ourselves, a rod to bring us daily nearer God.”

Only, dear Lord, in thy dear love fit us for perfect rest above, and help us this and every day, to live more nearly as we pray.”

Our wedding garments of repentance include sacrifice and self-denial, “the trivial round, the common task” and we ask God, “help us this and every day, to live more nearly as we pray.”

 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blessings: Anmals and Quilts


`At the Blessing of Animals October 8, 2017

Sovereign of the universe, your first covenant of mercy was with every living creature. When your beloved Son came among us, the waters of the river welcomed him, the heavens opened to greet his arrival, the animals of  the wilderness drew near as his companions. With all the world’s people, may we who are washed into new life through baptism seek the way of your new creation, the way of justice and care, mercy and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.  (From Evangelical Lutheran Worship p.152)  

Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and giver of all life, extend your blessing to all these animals. May our relationships with them mirror your love, and our care for them be an example of your bountiful mercy. Grant these animals health and peace. Strengthen us to love and care for them as we strive to extend the love of Jesus Christ our Lord as you demonstrated in the ministry of  your servant Francis. Amen.

The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. where there is hatred, let us sow love;  where there is injury, pardon;  where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;  to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

For the Blessing of Quilts

Gracious God, you have filled the world with beauty, the fields with summer flowers and the trees of the forest with the bright colors of the changing autumn leaves. In the psalm (90:17) we pray, “may the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us, prosper the works of our hands, prosper our handiwork.” 

We give you our thanks for all who have contributed to the making of these quilts. We especially thank for the gifts you have given those who made them. We thank you for their work together and for the fellowship and joy these women have received in making these. 

We now offer these quilts for your service. We ask you to make each of these quilts a sign of your love and blessing to each person who receives one. We trust that each quilt will be a source of comfort and hope in the midst of disaster and fear, a symbol of Christ’s love to those who suffer, a reminder that each recipient is a beloved child of God. We pray each quilt will bring warmth in the cold and joy in beauty. May it be a sign of your love and care, an offering by a friend whom the recipient may never meet.

Lord, we ask your blessing on these fruits of our labor, on these works of our hands, on this our handiwork. We ask you to continue to bless the group who make these quilts and to pour your continued blessing on all who will receive them, and we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

Vineyard & Cornerstone


Pentecost 18 Proper 22 October 8, 2017

We thank God who makes himself known to us in Jesus Christ, We thank God for Jesus’s life, and death, and resurrection, and for his gift of his Holy Spirit. We thank God for the witness of family and friends and fellow church members in whose lives we see the fruit of the Spirit of God. We thank God for the opportunities he gives us to love and serve him. We thank God for the vineyard, and we thank him for the cornerstone of right living. We thank God.

The last week of Jesus’ ministry before his Crucifixion and Resurrection was a time of controversy and conflict with the leaders of the people. Our bible readings for 3 weeks of October and 2 weeks of November tell of this controversy and conflict. Today we hear two parables, one about a vineyard and the other about a stone.

We read the first parable about the vineyard in three gospels – today in St. Matthew, in St. Mark 12, in St. Luke 20, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, and also in early Muslim writings. Roughly a century after this gospel was written, Irenaeus began the tradition of understanding the vineyard parable as an allegory. God planted and prepared the vineyard is God. The people of Israel, and particularly the leaders of the people, are the tenants.  The prophets came to collect the harvest and were beaten, killed, and stoned. Jesus is the son who was killed and cast out. The destruction of the Temple in 70 AD shows that the wicked tenants have been removed, and replaced by the Gentile church.

This understanding of the parable has some problems. First, parable says the owner of the vineyard, “leased it to tenants and went to another country.” But “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  (Psalm 24:1)  The Lord God has never gone “into another country.” That is the error of deism. No, God continues to be present, sustaining and maintaining the world he has created. On the 7th day God rested. He did not go away on vacation. Genesis tells us the Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening. He spoke to Adam and Eve. He continues to speak to us in Scripture and by the Holy Spirit. God continues active in our world and in our lives.

A second problem with the allegory is that the new tenants in the vineyard have only partly given the owner the “produce at the harvest time.” The produce of the vineyard is spelled out by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” We enjoy some of that spiritual fruit in our lives and in the life of the church.  We offer some fruit, by God’s grace. At the offertory this morning we will ask God’s blessing on the fruits of the labor of the quilt makers in our congregation.

But we also fail to give all the “produce at the harvest time.” Last Sunday’s murders in Las Vegas and the other offences we see against God’s love and peace show us that we do not at all times and all places respond as we should.  

A third problem with the allegory is the bad fruit it has produced.  The idea that the people of Israel are the wicked tenants, the wretches to be put to death, has been misinterpreted as a proof text for antisemitism, for hatred of Jews. Antisemitism is no longer respectable, but a century ago it was. Only after the Holocaust and World War II did the church recognize antisemitism as a sin. Only in 1948 did the U.S. Supreme Court rule that restrictive covenants forbidding sale of property to Jews, blacks, or Asians could not be enforced at law. God loves all his creation and offers his love to all people. As the song says, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The vineyard is a sign of God’s love, but not our judgment.    

In the second parable about the cornerstone Jesus quotes from Psalm 118 – the last of the psalms sung at the Passover celebration – the Passover for which the people were preparing in this last week of Jesus’ earthly life. We place a cornerstone in a building because its right angle is necessary for the building to be square and secure. Jesus’ hearers remembered Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation . . . and I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet.” When Peter and John were tried by the chief priest for preaching Jesus’ resurrection in the Temple, Peter said (Acts 4:11-12) This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

We thank God who makes himself known to us in Jesus Christ, We thank God for Jesus’s life, and death, and resurrection, and for his gift of his Holy Spirit. We thank God for the witness of family and friends and fellow church members in whose lives we see the fruit of the Spirit of God. We thank God for the opportunities he gives us to love and serve him. We thank God for the vineyard, and we thank him for the cornerstone of right living. We thank God. Amen.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Authority


Pentecost 17 Proper 21 October 1, 1017

The other day at dinner I heard about an event that happened over 60 years ago. A high school sophomore had been raised in a church. The church was central to the life of his family; uncles were ministers; he had been elected president of the youth group. This young man was interested in science, and one Sunday morning he asked his Sunday school teacher, the pastor’s wife, “Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian?” She didn’t answer the question, but got offended that it had been asked. Later in the week a girl at school, a fellow student, told the young man that the the pastor’s wife, his teacher had told her to tell him that, she, the pastor’s wife, had removed him as president of the church youth group and appointed the girl in his place. The young man never came back to Sunday school – or youth group. He did continue to go to church and do his church job recording the service for the shut-ins. He later found out that the teacher, pastor’s wife, had been telling parents that the young man, “had a filthy mouth.” The young man later became an eminent scientist, but the story of the reaction to his innocent question in Sunday school continued to rankle more than 60 years later.

My immediate reaction to him was that the teacher had grossly misused her authority in the church. In 50 years of ordained ministry I have seen other examples of such misuse of authority. About half the congregations I know of have suffered from some kind of serious misconduct by either clergy or important lay leaders. The usual problems we see are with sex, substances – alcohol or drugs, and stealing money, but more subtle that these, and I think more dangerous, is misuse of power and authority.

One of the spiritual dangers of faith is a misplaced sense of entitlement - the sin of pride. We serve a risen Savior; we are not the savior.  Yet again and again I see Christian people asking for special treatment, which is an example of using the Lord’s name in vain. At the end of his first epistle St. John exhorts us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We can make ourselves and the things we want little idols that turn our attention away from our Lord Jesus. 

We see that in today’s gospel reading. The setting is the beginning of Holy Week, the day after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When he entered the Temple Jesus drove out those who were selling and buying in the Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers; he cured the lame and blind, and accepted the cheers of the children, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” recognizing Jesus as Messiah.  

Jesus drove out the merchants and the moneychangers for God’s sake, to restore the Temple as a place of worship, to restore the people to God’s love and service.   

The Temple priests had a racket going. The four areas of the Temple were (1) at the center the building where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept and the Chief Priest worshipped once a year. (2) Surrounding the Temple building an open area -- the court of the priests - where animals were sacrificed. (3) Surrounding that the court of Israel, where Jewish men stood to worship and (4) Surrounding that the largest area, the court of Gentiles.

“For the convenience” of those who came to offer the animal sacrifices commanded by the Law, the priests had allowed authorized dealers of certified sacrificial animals to set up stalls in the court of the gentiles. The priests also required money contributions be made only in coins minted over 100 years before during the century of Jewish independence. So worshippers changed their Roman money into Jewish money at authorized money changers - and the priests controlled the rate of exchange. Two rackets – authorized animals and authorized money – and Jesus had broken up these rackets.

When Jesus came back to the Temple the temple authorities asked, By what authority are you doing these things; who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered that question with another question about John the Baptist. But the Jewish leaders for political reasons refused to answer.

Jesus in the controversies of Holy Week kept his mind and will focused on the will of God the Father.  God gives us his grace by his gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and of Power so that in our lives we can keep our minds and wills focused on the will of the Father shown us in Jesus. The correct answer to the question Jesus asked the Jewish leaders was “John the Baptist was of God, and we failed to believe him. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”  We who accept Jesus’ authority say the same, “We failed to believe. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”  But by the grace of God poured out on us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are again forgiven, and we are given yet another opportunity to love and serve.

Jesus calls to a life of repentance. The 95 Theses begins, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That is as true now as it was 500 years ago.  God allows us a small part of his authority in the world he has created. Our task is to live all our lives to his honor and glory, and when we sin and misuse God’s authority, when we make an idol of our desires, then to repent and confess. Amen.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Take up your cross


Proper 17A September 3, 2017

A Palm Sunday prayer sums up today’s Scripture lessons: “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He asks, “what will they give in return for their life?” St. Paul says in the Epistle, “1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Since the 16th century we have prayed, “here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee . . .”

The only way of true life and peace is the way of the cross, the way of self-offering in union with Jesus’ self-offering on the cross. Our final goal in life is God, and God’s way of life, his way of final peace is the way of the cross. God gives us life, and God makes it possible for us to give that life back to him. The more we give, the more we receive. We don’t have to fear that we will “give out.” God loves us and gives us the gift of love. God wants what is best for us. God is all-powerful and all wise, and God gives us what is best for us.

I remember a painted clay ash tray I made in 3rd grade and gave my mother. We were living in Philadelphia and on a school trip to the science museum I had been fascinated by the stegosaurus dinosaur – the one with the small head, big body, long tail, and the plates that stick up along the back. The ash tray was more or less shaped like a stegosaurus, painted red and blue, and so ugly only a mother could love it. But I remember how proud I was when I gave it to her, and I remember how she said she appreciated it. The ash tray was really ugly, but she received it in love.    We give God our lives, all our lives, ugly and misshapen as they may be. And God receives our gift in love, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable. We have all fallen short; we have all made a mess of least parts of the lives God gave us. But God receives our self-offering, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable.

God makes us worthy by the cross, by the complete self-offering Jesus made on the cross. Jesus died on the cross to defeat the power of sin and death and Jesus rose from the dead to offer new life to all who will receive him.

Try as we might, we can do nothing to make ourselves acceptable, holy, worthy to God. God has done it all in Jesus Christ. We receive the new life God in Jesus offers us, and offer ourselves in thanksgiving and service.  The cross we are called to carry is this gospel, the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life.

The cross and the gospel are not acceptable by the standards of this world. By the world’s standards, we are measured by the acceptability of the things we have. By the standards of the world, we don’t give; we buy and sell. The world is basically me-centered, not God-centered. When we conform to the standards of the world, we think of ourselves - first, and last.

But St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.” St. John learned in his exile on Patmos that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of the alphabet, the first and the last. When we are made new people in Christ Jesus, we think of God first, and last.

As new people in Christ we learn a new way of life. We learn to put God first, to live the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life. It takes regular practice. It takes daily self-offering in prayer and worship and thanksgiving. And God makes us worthy to bear that cross.

 “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Reconciliation and Forgiveness


Proper 18 Sept 10, 2017  Pentecost 14

Alleluia. In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. Alleluia. Reconciliation and forgiveness are possible only by the power of God working through the spirit of Christ is us. 

In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives his disciples God’s direction to deal with conflict. He gives three steps: First when we are offended, speak directly one on one. Second, if that doesn’t work, try again with one or two others. And third, only then, seek the help of the whole community.

I, and others generally don’t work that way. When I am offended I don’t tend to deal directly. I go not to the person who offended me but I go look for a sympathetic ear, for someone who will agree that I have a right to be offended, who will support and affirm me. I’ll tend to minimize or excuse. “He didn’t mean it; it’s not that important.” And I’ll nurse that grievance.  I’ll remember it in the middle of the night – and other times. Sometimes I’ll try to avoid dealing with the person, avoid contact, “unfriend them” on Facebook. Left to my own devices, I’ll try hard to avoid conflict and confrontation.   If I can’t avoid the person sometimes I’ll deflect my anger and try to hide what’s really bothering me, picking on something else. Frequently I’ll find myself doing this without noticing it.

But I’m a sinner saved by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. And sometimes God gives me both the insight to see more clearly what’s really bothering me and the  courage to do what Jesus tells us to do. In Christ I will find some way to speak one on one, andtry to speak directly, not in accusation, but simply reporting my feelings.  “When you did - whatever, I felt – what I felt – disrespect – or whatever I felt.”  That kind of language tends to reduce automatic defensive reactions. I’m not making a direct accusation; I’m simply reporting how I felt.  Generally the response I get is, “I’m sorry you felt that way,” followed either by an explanation of what the other person was trying to accomplish or by an offer of some action in mitigation. I’ve never had to go back with witnesses or take the matter to the church.

My witness is that the gospel pattern, when we use it, really does work better than the pattern we learn in the world. It works because God acts through Christ’s spirit to help us see our situation clearly and to give us the courage to do what Jesus tells us to do.   

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. Reconciliation and forgiveness are possible only by the power of God working through the spirit of Christ is us.

Since 1983 The Church of the Savior has been a witness to the power of the spirit of Christ Jesus to bring together Lutherans and Episcopalians in one congregation. When I served in Shelby in the 1980’s  Bishop William Weinhauer of this diocese was the Episcopal co-Chair of the national Lutheran Episcopal Dialogue.  

Let me briefly review some of that history. From 1969-72 in the United States the Lutheran Council – then including the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – and the Episcopal Church committees met in dialogue. Worldwide Anglican-Lutheran International Conversations from 1970 to 1972 led to a “Pullach Report” recommending mutual recognition.The American dialogue resumed in 1976 and agreed in 1982 to Interim Eucharistic Sharing.

In 1988 the ELCA was formed and continued dialogue leading in 1999 to the Called to Common Mission agreement for full communion and shared ministry. In Europe from 1994 to 2010 Anglicam and Lutheran national churches have come to share communion under a Porvoo Common Statement. And in 2001 the Waterloo Declaration established full communion between Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada.

The ELCA has been in full communion since 1997 with the Presbyterian Church, USA, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ, since 1999 with the Moravian Church and since 2009 with the United Methodist Church  I helped write the 2012 Moravian- Episcopal full communion agreement. Recently a United Methodist and Episcopal full communion proposal was published. It will take 6 to 8 years for that to pass the national conventions. Other Christian and interfaith dialogues continue. Issues of history and theology are complex.    

As a society and as individuals we all badly need the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation. Alleluia. In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. Alleluia. Reconciliation and forgiveness are possible only by the power of God working through the spirit of Christ is us.  Our good news is in Jesus we forgiven sinners have our part in his redeeming, forgiving, and reconciling ministry. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

 

77 or 70x7?


Proper 19A   Sept 17, 2017 Pentecost  15

 In the Great Thanksgiving today we say, “we give thanks to you, O Lord God Almighty, not as we ought, but as we are able.”  In our gospel reading Peter asks 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.”

Because Jesus died on the cross for us, God forgives us all our sins – all our sins – unconditionally and eternally. God forgives us many more than 77 times. The Greek text says ebdomekonta’kis epta, translated in the King James Version as 70 times 7 or 490 times.

Two passages of Hebrew Scripture relate to today‘s gospel. One is about 77 times and the other about how many times we should forgive. In Genesis 4:24 Cain’s 6th generation descendant Lamech says to his wives “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”  The Hebrew text has 77; the Greek version of the Hebrew bible, the Septuagint, has the same words as St. Matthew, ebdomekonta’kis epta, translated 70 times 7. 

The second passage is at the beginning of the prophet Amos, “For 3 transgressions of Damascus and for 4 I will not revoke the punishment.”  From that passage the rabbinic tradition drew the rule that one must forgive 3 or at most 4 times. So when Peter said forgive 7 times he was doubling the usual number.

And 7 is a biblical number of perfection. God created the world in 6 days and on the 7th rested. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and the 7th rest. Luther’s comment on this commandment is, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” (Page 1160 in the Worship book.)

God forgives us our sins against him, and as we are forgiven sinners, God gives us grace to forgive those who sin against us. We can pass only what we have received. Because we know God’s forgiveness we also know that God makes it possible for us to forgive others. We don’t have to hold on to grudges; we really can let them go. And when they come back to bother us in the middle of the night we can let them go, and let them go, and let them go again  And so the circle of God’s love in Christ Jesus expands wider and wider to include more and more lost sheep.

This is grace, free grace. It is not cheap grace. It costs. It cost Jesus his life on the cross. It costs us the effort and the shame of climbing down from our peak of moral superiority and letting go – taking the sting out of the memory. Forgiveness does not excuse evil. Forgiveness recognizes evil.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but Joseph forgave them and his forgiveness served to save the people of Israel.  Forgiveness recognizes that bad things have been done, recognizes that people have been hurt, and sometimes badly hurt. Forgiveness recognizes that we have done bad things, that we have hurt other people, and ourselves. Forgiveness recognizes that bad things have been done to us, that we are hurt, sometimes badly hurt. And forgiveness lets it go, and lets it go, and lets it go. Forgiveness lets us out of our debtor’s prison of mind and memory and soul.  

In Jesus Christ God makes it possible for us to break the cycle of evil and revenge for evil. Cain’s 5th great grandson Lamech could not do that. He said, (Genesis 4:23b) “I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”  Lamech’s way is the way of “don’t get mad, get even,” the way of reciprocal wrong-doing, tit for tat, eye for eye until all are blind.

God in Jesus offers us the gift to see how to break cycles of sin and revenge. Because we are forgiven, we can forgive. God in Jesus forgives eternally and unconditionally. God’s love is unconditional and eternal.

But we are not God. We have limits, reasonable limits. Scripture can be misinterpreted, and this teaching of Jesus has been misinterpreted to mean that we must set aside issues of reasonable safety and self-protection. We can forgive sins done to us, but we don’t have to put ourselves in situations where we are likely to be injured again. God has given us a precious self. We are to preserve it. On rare occasions some of us may be called to dangerous situations, but only with great care and for the sake of others. We forgive and we continue to forgive up to our limit. That limit is different in every person and every circumstance. We don’t judge one another.

So in Holy Communion “we give thanks . . . not as we ought, but as we are able and in life we forgive “not as we ought, but as we are able.” We forgive because we are forgiven, and we forgive as much, and as often, as we can, with no arbitrary limit, but because God in Christ forgives us eternally and unconditionally.