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A Way Forward to Forgive

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September 13, 2020 The Rev. Mark Pendleton Christ Church, Exeter A Way Forward to Forgive Then Peter came and said to him, "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. "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart." Matthew 18:21-35 One of the more significant human emotions and fears is running out of something we need to survive. The basics: air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, a safe place to lay our heads at night, and enough money to pay for the essentials. I read this week that the largest migrant camp in Greece was destroyed by fire leaving some 13,000 left without shelter. Some local nearby villagers nearby reportedly attacked fleeing migrants as the fled the flames (from the BBC news) which only compounded the suffering. When one hears of these events far off the only response and prayer for me is: Lord, have mercy. What suffering and misery - beyond imagining. In this country, we are hearing more about the devastating fires out West and how many lives they are impacting. Imagine running out of room to flee as the flames get ever closer to your home. Around the country many renters are running out of time as evictions loom as the pandemic has caused many to fall behind. Anyone who has known or worked with someone who has lost their home knows that their path to homelessness can begin with a broken-down car, a lost job, or unpaid medical bill, or frankly, one bad decision too many of who to trust. Over the summer that Christ Church was awarded a $25,000 through the federal CARES Act, working through the United Way, to begin helping out some families in the poorer and more densely populated pasts of New Hampshire get some help in their rent. It is small grant, but one that I hope confirms our mission to care for our neighbors. It is a sign, I hope, that we care. Running out of what is essential cuts to the core of being a human being and triggers many of our primal buttons and instincts. Apply this measure then to our souls and spiritual lives. What must we never run out or run dry of if we are to be more whole, healed, joyful, and just? What must we have or do to receive what God most desires for us? We turn to the gospel story for today for one answer. We see how God's nature is more patient and forgiving than we might ever imagine. Even with the parable's harsh ending, it grabs our attention and the point is made. How many times, Peter asks Jesus he should forgive? As many as seven times?" "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times - a number too great to imagine. Consider the many faith concepts that we try to unpack in sermons and teaching, doctrines like the Incarnation, the Resurrection, Providence, Salvation, the End Times, theodicy. Theodicy being the very religious word for what we know simply as: why do bad things happen to good people and how we are to understand evil. In all honesty, it can seem challenging to comprehend those many concepts let alone incorporate into practice in our faith. But forgiveness? Forgiveness walks with us all throughout our lives, not as a concept, rather a pressing reality that shapes all human relationships. The main characters in today's gospel are a king and his slaves in another kingdom of heaven parable. This king is settling up his finances. One slave with a large debt was brought to him to pay up and slave could not. Debt in the ancient world was a reality like it is today, but the burden and the punishment for not being able to repay what was owed was much more severe. Imagine the powerlessness of a slave in this situation. In the parable to punishment was unimaginable: he, his wife and children would be sold to another owner. This scene is played out in practically every Martin Scorsese and Robert Dinero movie I have ever seen when the punishment is fast and violent for the poor soul who cannot pay back to the Kingpin, loan shark, bookie or Mafia family Don. As we can see, the slave begs for patience and the king has pity and the slave lives another day. But if we had hoped he would have shown the same mercy to those that owed him much less money, we would be disappointed. The slave seized the other by the throat: 'Pay what you owe.' Of course, word got back to the king about this outrageous behavior, and in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. A little reciprocal mercy could have gone a long way and saved this man from doom and pain. Last December the Washington Post published a series called, "Stories of forgiveness: Four people choose different paths in their search for renewal." The secular newspaper that is famous for breaking political stories, showed that it could speak to a wide audience. It introduced the series with this: To forgive is to reach beyond the storms of the moment. Jesus forgave unconditionally from the cross, but also in far less dire circumstances. Pope John Paul II went to see his would-be assassin and forgave him. Rep. John Lewis, a black man who was beaten and insulted in the civil rights movement, argued that George Wallace, the surly segregationist Alabama politician, deserved forgiveness. One story entitled "Forgiving each other - and themselves" centers on a couple in St. Paul, Minnesota who found themselves in the office of a marriage counselor after years of grievances. The wife resented being the family's breadwinner and spokesperson for 13 years while her introverted husband held back. The husband resented the wife's resentment. "We really had our pattern established: 'It's his fault now,' 'It's her fault.' And the fingers never pointed at ourselves," the wife said. What brought them to counselor was the wife's affair. She had told her husband about it while they were at their cabin earlier that year, and he was so distraught, he drove off in the middle of the night - but came back before their two kids woke up so they wouldn't suspect anything. A few miserable months later, they found someone who practices discernment counseling, a type of couples' therapy designed to help spouses decide - in five sessions or less - whether to divorce. The wife wanted the divorce but couldn't bear the havoc it would wreak on her family. The husband wanted to stay together but didn't know how to fix what was broken. "Would you be open to coming back and continuing to work through this?" the counselor asked. They both said yes. The chose to return to the sessions. They talked about how the husband was avoidant and how the wife had been wounded by her unstable childhood and her mother's four marriages. They talked about what divorce would do to their kids. They talked about how the husband, in his pain, aired their dirty laundry to the wife's business partner. Sometimes, they would drive separately because they couldn't bear to be in each other's presence afterward. They came back again, and again. After their fourth session, they weren't sure they would be able to find their way back to each other. If they made it through the fifth session without deciding to divorce, each would have to learn how to let go of their anger. "If we were going to try to work this out," the husband said, "I had to forgive her." He realized he had forgiveness to earn, too, for burying his feelings. To accept her husband's forgiveness, the wife knew, "I had to really forgive myself." She was plagued with shame: "I must be broken goods. I must be incapable of having a relationship because my mom didn't. I must be incapable of being a good enough person to be married." Maura Judkis, the writer of the Washington Post article, wrote that forgiveness never took the form of a big speech or heartfelt letter. It came gradually, in spurts, as the wife demonstrated her remorse and trustworthiness, and the husband became better at opening up. They would work with the counsellor for a year and a half, until they realized they didn't need her help anymore: They had pulled the marriage back from the brink. Twelve years later, it remains stronger, more honest than ever. The couple's relationship ties in with the lesson of today's gospel story: At the heart of forgiveness is being able to offer what we have been given. To try again, again and again. The patience of Job and God and then some. A very famous preacher from the 19th century wrote that to say "I can forgive, but I cannot forget" is only another way of saying "I cannot forgive." I am not the perfect practitioner of complete forgiveness. I hope that does not tarnish your image of me as a fellow Christian pilgrim. There are same things I have still not let go. And knowing this, I know where they still weigh me down and hold me back. "When we withhold forgiveness," as a member of our Bible study said this past week, "we create our own separation." As we examine our lives and look at what it is we truly believe, consider all the times we have been forgiven - for the things done and left undone. By God in the words we hear in the liturgy and worship. By those closest to us. God forgives. So, should we. Not always perfectly or quickly or quietly. God is patient. So, should we be. More patient with those with whom we disagree, do not understand or oppose. Take the first step to reach out and heal a broken relationship. Or lesson the distance between someone who might like to hear from you. We may learn that we are the ones who receive much more than we could ever expect. 3
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