Sunday, June 13, 2010

Forgiven and Forgiving

A sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2010. The lectionary readings are 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15, Psalm 32, Galatians 2:15-21, and Luke 7:36-8:3.

Every Sunday, at every Mass, perhaps even more frequently, we say the words of the Lord’s Prayer. And within that prayer is a petition that has some difficulty built into it. “Forgive us our trespasses,” we pray, “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Presbyterians say “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” and the newer ecumenical version says simply, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

I hope that the phrase means that like I try to forgive other people, God would also forgive me. But what if the prayer really implies that God will forgive us insofar as we are able to forgive others? What if God’s forgiveness of me hinges upon, depends upon even, my ability to forgive others? If that’s the case, I might be in some trouble.

In both our first reading and our Gospel, we see that forgiveness often involves relationship. And for forgiveness to flow steadily, to be given or received, the relationships need to be in order, or at least the relationships need to be honest.

In our first reading we see King David, who has done just about everything he can do in order to move Uriah toward the front of the battle, so that David can have Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, for himself. Sure enough, Uriah is killed in battle, and David moves in for the woman he wants. But God sends Nathan the prophet to King David, and Nathan tells David this story about a man who had a perfect little lamb. But a stranger came into town and demanded the lamb. David hears the story and responds that this is unfair, unjust. The one who demands the lamb should be punished. And Nathan shows David that David, himself, is that man—the one whose greed and lust blinds him his own guilt. He needs to come clean before he can receive God’s forgiveness. He needs to come to a new place of honesty and clarity before God’s grace can flow.

In the Gospel, a woman approaches Jesus. She begins to bathe and anoint his feet with her tears and with an expensive ointment. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, are appalled at this. They ask Jesus, “Don’t you know who she is? Don’t you know what she’s done?

But Jesus DOES know her, and he knows all about her. He knows that God made her. He knows that God loves her, and he also knows (somehow) that she is sorry for her past and wants to move into the future – free, clean, and new. And so Jesus forgives her.

Forgiveness doesn’t happen in the abstract, it happens between two people, usually between two very human people. God helps the forgiveness, and there are times when I need God’s help to move me a little further one way, and sometimes I need God’s help to move the other person a little further. God desires forgiveness, a clearing of the air, so it’s not a difficult prayer to pray. But forgiveness is often very difficult to do.

And yet, a couple of weeks ago, the baseball world saw an amazing interchange of not only sportsmanship, but also of forgiveness, forgiveness of biblical proportion. I’m certainly not the first person to point to the unusual nature of the Detroit – Cleveland game.
Some of you know the story much better than I. It was a game that could have made history, with Armando Galarraga pitching a perfect game, 27 batters up, 27 batters down. Since 1880, there have only been 20 perfect games.

But there was a play that had Galarraga throwing the ball to first base. The ball got there before the runner, but the umpire, Jim Joyce, called the runner safe. The mistake in the call was almost immediately seen by the crowd, and instant reply showed it to be without question, the wrong call.

But then the most amazing thing happened. Galarraga simply smiled. As others have pointed out, Galarraga didn’t call his lawyer or the players union. He just went back to work.

When the umpire, Jim Joyce saw the video, he had tears in his eyes as he told reporters, “I just missed the [damn] call. I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his [ ] off all night.” After talking briefly with the reporters, Joyce went to the Tigers’ locker room to apologize to Galarraga. Galarraga said later, ‘Nobody’s perfect. I understand. I feel for the guy.”

Forgiveness, when it happens, involves that sense of one’s being fully centered in oneself, knowing who one is, and knowing what’s most important. Jesus seems to have been like this in his dealings with people—he was so deeply connected to God, that he could understand the depth of God’s love for all people, and could extend that love. I don’t know if either Galarraga or Joyce is a person of faith (though something tells me that somewhere there is a Venezuelan mother and an Irish mother who can take some credit for their boys’ good manners). But both men certainly exemplified what it means to forgive.

"Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."

I still don’t really know whether my sins are forgiven based upon my own capacity to forgive, or whether the Lord’s Prayer suggests that forgiveness is similar in both directions, but I pray that we, all of us, might be so filled with the spirit of forgiving and being forgiven that we would lose track of who makes the first step, we would forget who made the first wound, and we would forget the time when we were not at peace.

May God forgive us, bless us, and continue to show us how to love one another.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Corpus Christi 2010

The The Wedding Dance in a Barn by Peter Brueghel the Younger, c. 1616

A sermon for Corpus Christi Sunday, June 6, 2010. The readings are from the Book of Common Prayer "Of the Holy Eucharist," Deuteronomy 8:2-2, Psalm 116:10-17, Revelation 19:1-2a, 4-9, and John 6:47-58.

In her wonderful book about feasting, M.F.K. Fisher offers insight into what we celebrate today. She writes

“Food for the soul is a part of all religion.” “Food for the soul is a part of all religion, as . . . savages know when they roast a tiger’s heart for their god, as Christians know when they partake of the Body and Blood at the mystical feast of Holy Communion. That is why there can be an equal significance in a sumptuous banquet for five thousand heroes, with the king sitting on his iron throne and minstrels singing above the sound of gnawed bones and clinking cups, or in a piece of dry bread eaten alone by a man lifting his eyes unto the hills.” [Here Let us Feast: A Book of Banquets (San Franciso: North Point Press, 1986) xiv, reprinted from 1946 Viking Press.]

Fisher is pointing out that every meal, no matter what, when or how—has some trace, some slight flavor, some hint of the Holy within it. She suggests that there can be “equal significance” in all meals and from a food writer’s point of view that may be so. But from a Christian perspective, (at least from my perspective) I would want to qualify that. Though the food we share in many places can be special, can be memorable, can bring about sensations long forgotten, can make peace, heal difference, and encourage love…. most of the food we eat is earthly food. Foyer Dinners offer sacred fellowship and holy fun, the food we will share later today at the parish picnic offers some of the same; meals with family, with loved ones, and friends—in homes, or in restaurants-- all of these can stay with us as memories that warm and enrich and remind us of who we are--- but the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ shared in Communion is of a different order. Made of ordinary elements, by the Holy Spirit, it is “super-sized” beyond all imagination.

In the back of our Prayer Book is the Catechism, often helpful for reminding us of some of the basics of Christian faith through an Anglican lens. In the section on the Holy Eucharist, there’s a wonderful part that talks about the benefits of what we do, the benefits of partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It says simply, “The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our unions with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.”

When we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are forgiven. We are forgiven again. Our sins are washed away at Baptism, but the ongoing accumulation of sin in our life meets its match in Holy Communion. Ignatius of Antioch called it the “medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, … that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.” Medicine can taste bitter, sometimes, especially if our tastes are accustomed to other things. But the Holy Eucharist helps us. Like good medicine, it increases our resistance level. Like vitamins, it strengthens us.

The second benefit according to the Catechism has to do with strengthening our union with Christ and with one another. In a world that often suggests we live only for ourselves, that we protect at all costs what we think is ours; the unifying work of the Blessed Sacrament is counter-cultural. But it is live-giving. In Communion we are reminded that we need each other. The common cup and common bread underscore that we are not so different from one another, after all. Barriers of race and class and education, differences of national origin, or sexual orientation or marital status or income are all dissolved in the common chalice.
They are diluted by the cleansing water of the Holy Spirit. And the blood of Christ, which is to say the blood of God our Creator, restores us into once again being fully human even as it fills us with what is fully divine.

Finally, the Body and Blood of Christ, this holy Sacrament, gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Mindful of the present, grateful for the reality of here-and-now, we are made aware in the Eucharist that we are also living toward a great feast that has no ending. Today’s reading from the Revelation to John is filled with images of this feast of praise and joy and love. We live into the salvation and power and glory of God. The voices of the faithful from all times and all places blend together in a holy noise that sounds like water rapids, like the clapping for joy of great waves, like a thunderstorm of laughter. This vision of heaven reminds us of our destination.

And so we celebrate this mystery, we step into it, we are drawn into it by God.

Near the end of his great work on the Eucharist, Dom Gregory Dix points out that, of all the things Jesus said and taught, most have been ignored. Or, if remembered, his followers (his disciples and us) have usually failed at doing them. But there was that one command on that one night, the night before his betrayal and arrest and crucifixion, in the meal he celebrated with his friends, when Jesus took, blessed, broke, and shared in eating and drinking, he commands his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Keep on doing this, he commands. Dix wonders about this and ask, “Was ever another command so obeyed?”

He goes on to reflect, “For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it until extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.”

Dix doesn’t suggest “why” we continue to fulfill this command, but I think in part, one reason is because it’s something we can do. As Dix says,

[People] . . . have found no better thing than this to do
for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold;
for armies in triumph
or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat;
. . . .
or for a sick old woman afraid to die;
for a [student] sitting for an examination
. . . .
for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
in thankfulness because a father did not die of pneumonia;
for a village headman much tempted to return to his fetishes
because the yams had failed; [The Shape of the Liturgy, (London: Dacre Press, 1945) pp. 743, 744.]

… and on and on the list continues.

But we have our own lists, too, don’t we. When we can’t control the economy, when we can’t seem to help our fellow creatures in the Gulf, when we can’t heal the ones we love, when we can’t do so many things—we can, nonetheless turn our anger, our frustration, our hopes, our deepest desires into prayer. We can enact that prayer, embody it, and turn it into thanksgiving, into Eucharist, as Jesus did with his friends.

In the mystery of this meal, we are forgiven. We are brought together again into community, and we are pointed again toward God’s kingdom, God’s kingdom here and beyond.

And so, let us feast with Him who said, “They who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day ….They who eat this bread will live for ever.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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