The Surprising, Robust and Absolutely Unthinkable - Forgiveness!

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In our house, towards the end of summer, the warm, wonderful, and whimsical days of fun and sun seem to take an inevitable and drastic turn towards the chaotic and combative. 

In what seems to be the forgotten ring of Hell from Donte’s Inferno, this three-week window before school starts again, somehow transforms my sweet eight-year-old son and adorable five-year-old daughter into some strange, demonic shadows of themselves, ready and willing to start and finish any fight, over anything, at any time, and without any remorse.

It was during this period that, after yet another series of bad choices by both, I approached my son to have him initiate the process of forgiveness between them.  However, as this was not our first dance of the day, it was not his refusal that surprised me, but rather his reasoning, “I don’t have to forgive her because she’s just my sister, and she always annoys me.”

In our Gospel lesson for today, after what seems have been a their own “summer of fun,” a great run of preaching and teaching, miracles and transfigurations, Jesus begins to turn his talk toward the cross, toward suffering, death, and resurrection, and toward sin and forgiveness.  His disciples therefore, like my children, seeing the end coming, move from fun, fellowship, and an envisioned future together, to sadness, anxiety, and petty arguments over who would be the greatest among them (Mk 9:33–37; Lk 9:46–48).

It is here, that we find Peter, anxious and afraid, angry and resentful, confused and curious, and reaching out to Jesus for a word of assurance.  In what we might hear as Peter desperately reaching for some back up, for a limit to which he could point to the others, who were now just his brothers who always annoy him, he asks…“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:22) 

What follows, in both Jesus’ direct response, and his parable, is nothing Peter, the disciples, or anyone from that time or today could have imagined.  Jesus spoke of a radical forgiveness that was tantamount to breathing in the new Kingdom of God; you must do it, always, everywhere, and with everyone. 

We must forgive in the same radical and robust way as Jesus’ call to Peter to forgive “seventy-seven times” (that is, always, without regard to number) in a time, and for a people where “an eye for an eye” was the way.  We must forgive in the same unthinkable and incomprehensible way as the parable King’s unexpected and extravagant forgiveness of an unfathomable debt that went beyond the requested stay of repayment.  We must, as children of God, and recalling Jesus’ earlier words on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:43-44), initiate this forgiveness out of a place and call to love, love our friends, our enemies, and those persecute (and annoy) us.

So, whether you’re Joseph standing before the very brothers who sold you into slavery (Genesis 50:15-21), or my son, standing in seeming righteousness over his annoying sister, we are all called to leave the seat of judgement to our Lord (Romans 14:1-12) and forgive.  We are called to remember that we do not merely “live to ourselves,” but rather “we live to the Lord” who loves extravagantly.  Finally, we are called to live, breathe, and share in the same radical, robust, Kingdom of God life as God himself, who first loved, and gave his only Son, that all who believe in him should not die of sin, but rather have eternal life through forgiveness (John 3:16).

Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. Andy Johnson

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Proper 16

The Gospel passage for this week (Matt. 16:13-20) contains quite a few rabbit trails on which clergy can and have gone on numerous adventures. One could easily focus on Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the foundation of the church, the spiritual battle with against the gates of hell, or the ever-popular giving of the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter. Each of those items is worth time and discussion. However, if we lose the context in which they are found, we will likely miss something. Andin a tradition that doesn’t just read the Gospel lesson, this week’s lectionary provides yet another angle from which to consider Matthew’s gospel.

Each of the Synoptic Gospels locates Peter’s confession somewhere between one of Jesus’ feeding miracles and the Transfiguration. Up to this point, the disciples and others have seen Jesus perform miracles and heard him teach, but no one really knew who or what Jesus was. Although Jesus wasn’t exactly hiding, he did not fully reveal himself until Peter, James, and John are with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. That Peter makes the connection that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the long-awaited Christ is truly a gift of faith given to him by God. Jesus says as much in Matt. 16:17. Here is the turning point in Matthew’s gospel, just before the high point of God’s revelation to mankind on the Mount. It is this confession which provides the immediate context for the next few verses. But before we get there, what about those other lectionary passages?

Isaiah 51 begins with a call to all people who seek salvation, directing us to consider the God who founded and grew the nation of Israel from a single man named Abraham. But Isaiah wants us to not only remember what God has done, but what he promises to do. He will indeed provide the salvation we long for, but not through anything that is a part of creation or bound by it (v.6).  Similarly, Paul is also looking both backwards and forward in the end of Romans 11 when he considers salvation and the future of Israel, marveling at how God has imprisoned all of us in disobedience such that deliverance can only be through him. Ultimately, Paul mimics Isaiah and declares that everything has its source and its end in God.

Between Isaiah and Paul, Peter’s confession and the establishment of the church find their place. God gives Peter that the awareness of Christ as the source of the salvation and hope for the world. This confession and revelation, that Jesus is the Christ, is offered back Peter (and the church) as the foundation of a faith that cannot be overcome by any physical or spiritual forces. It is with this revelation that Christ entrusts Peter and shares with him the administration of binding and loosing (the “you” here is singular). Later, we see this administration in action in Acts 10 regarding what can be eaten and Acts 15 regarding the requirements for Gentile believers.

All of these readings have Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior as their primary connecting theme. Let us therefore join the Psalmist this week who gives thanks and praise to the God who loves us and glorifies his name and Word above all things.

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.