Today’s gospel ends, “Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”In both gospels, St. John and St. Luke, Jesus appears to offer “Peace” and the forgiveness of sins. We share the peace of Christ, and in Christ’s peace receive his grace and his power to be forgiven and to forgive. Our justification by grace through faith includes both receiving and offering forgiveness. We are forgiven sinners and because we are forgiven we receive the truth and power of the Holy Spirit to be repentant sinners.
In his lectures on the Epistle to the Galatians, Luther said, “Thus a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time (simul iustus et peccator), holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God.” Luther calls this a paradox. A paradox is a true statement that appears to be logically inconsistent. The Christian church affirms that Jesus is both fully and completely God and fully and completely human. We affirm that we worship one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.Spiritual paradoxes remind us that life includes more than one dimension of existence. Literal-minded people find life difficult; things are never quite what they seem. I talked last week about forgiveness, and I want to do that again.
The Biblical Hebrew and Greek words we translate forgive have the common meaning of “take off” or “let go.” For a children’s talk I used to put a backpack on a child and one by one fill it with bricks until the child could barely stand. Then I’d lift the back pack off and ask the child, “How does it feel?” One child obliged with, “I feel like I could fly!” That’s the feeling we hope for in being forgiven ourselves, and in forgiving others.Christian forgiveness is turning over to God. We give up feelings of condemnation, both self-condemnation when we are forgiven and condemning others when we forgive them.
Let’s not confuse forgiving with condoning. By God’s grace we can forgive bad behavior, our own bad behavior and others’ bad behavior, but by God’s justice bad behavior remains bad behavior, subject to divine and human righteous judgment. Because God is infinite, God offers us immediately a restored relationship of love and trust. But we are limited, limited by time and space. Restoring human relationships takes time and effort. Trust, once broken, is not easily or quickly restored. We have the obligation of prudence in restoring relationships. We do no one any good by confusing forgiving bad behavior and condoning bad behavior. We have done what we have done and we have to live with the natural consequences of our behavior – and the natural consequences of others’ behavior toward us.Repairing relationships requires repentance. Repentance is turning away from sin and turning to God and to God’s will for our lives. Repentance is the proper response to forgiveness. We are forgiven sinners and therefore we are repentant sinners. I close with a story.
In Jerusalem the Holocaust museum YadVaShem is surrounded by trees, “the Garden of the Righteous.” Each tree has a plaque with names of those who sought to save Jews. One so honored is a Dutch woman, Corrie Ten Boom. Her family hid Jews, were betrayed by a neighbor, and sent to Ravensbruck where Corrie’s sister Betsie died. After the war Corrie offered a home for former prisoners and wrote a book, The Hiding Place, from which I quote (pp 214-215).
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message Fräulein”, he said “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your Forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."