Showing items filed under “The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley”

Getting Ready For Sunday: Pentecost Sunday

John 20:19-23

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

Who are you struggling to forgive today?

Perhaps a friend has let you down – perhaps a spouse or a former spouse has been abusive. Maybe you – like me – are struggling to forgive others their biases and predispositions. One thing is certain: we have all been hurt and will be hurt again by someone for whom we care deeply.

Who are you struggling to forgive today?

Forgiveness is so hard.

It doesn’t have to be, though. I’ve taught often on the subject, and I include a “forgiveness formula” which is simple and effective. When we’ve hurt someone, we need only three sentences.

  • I’m sorry for ___ (fill in the blank with what you’ve done).
  • I won’t do it again.
  • Will you please forgive me?

When someone comes to me in humility, names her or his sin, earnestly repents, and requests forgiveness, it is difficult to refuse.

Here’s the trouble: most of us don’t know or use the forgiveness formula. If we get anything after being harmed, it’s just “Sorry.” Confronted with someone who’s unrepentant, what is a wounded Christian to do? 

Our Pentecost Gospel lesson speaks directly to this conundrum.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, … “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

This is the message of Pentecost: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” As Jesus says this, he breathes on the gathered disciples. This image of breathing on human beings should call to mind another time when God breathed upon a human being. In Genesis, God formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life.

Picture it: God, Adam and – soon after – Eve together in perfect communion in Eden. God had big dreams and plans for this creation – God had ideas about how we’d live in this new world. Until …

In one moment, Adam and Eve fell short of what God wanted them to be. And God so loved creation – including us humans who fell short of what God wanted us to be – that God sent Jesus to be incarnate among us, to take upon himself the sins of us all so we might again have union with God. Forgiveness is the heart of God’s love affair with us – it is the reason for the Church. God created Adam and breathed life into him at creation, and Jesus breathed new life into the disciples, recreating them as members of himself, at Pentecost. Then, he sent them into the world with one commission – at least in John’s telling of the story:

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

How are we to understand this commission? Maybe Jesus has given the disciples permission to choose between forgiving and retaining sins? Yet, in the anguish of our anger – buried at the base of our bitterness over past wrongs – we may be tempted to hear this permission in Jesus’ words, we must resist that temptation. In the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ most powerful teachings on Christian life, Jesus speaks extensively on forgiveness.

  • “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:22)
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:43-45)
  • “Pray then in this way:
Our Father who art in heaven …” We rarely focus on what Jesus says after the Lord’s Prayer: “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not … , neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (6:14-15)

We don’t have to confine ourselves to the Sermon on the Mount; Jesus’ teachings are consistent. When Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus says, “Not seven times, but … seventy times seven.” 

Don’t keep count, Jesus says. God doesn’t keep count. Forgive every single time.

Let me pause at this point, because it bears saying: this command to forgive every sin, every time is not a command to remain in a relationship that has become physically, emotionally, or otherwise abusive. Forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness. Sometimes, forgiveness takes place only when we’ve left a harmful relationship. But if we don’t forgive even after leaving, our anger, bitterness, and resentment become a poison we consume in the hope our enemy will perish.

This is what Jesus means when speaking with the disciples in our Gospel for Pentecost. When we cannot forgive a sin … we retain it. We retain it in the form of ongoing anger, bitterness, and resentment. “Don’t do that,” Jesus says. “Receive my peace and take it to the world.”

But how?

I have only one answer. To forgive as we’ve been forgiven, we must be recreated – indwelt by the Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus tells the disciples as he breathes upon them.

This Pentecost, throughout the Anglican Communion, we’ll baptize. We do this on Pentecost because we recognize that, in baptism, God equips us to forgive others through the power of the Spirit. Our job is to allow the Spirit to live in us, transform us, and move us into the life for which God created us. There’s a name for this life: we call it heaven.

Our job is to live in heaven with God right here and right now – to accept God’s Spirit so fully that we see the sin of our anger and wrath … so fully we understand Jesus died for all of us – even those who hurt us … so fully that we draw on the Spirit to give us God’s forgiveness when we can’t find our own. 

Who are you struggling to forgive today?

Getting Ready for Sunday: By the Rev. Rebecca Tankersley

Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,

for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,

for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,

for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,

for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” 

To be confirmed, I was required to memorize the Beatitudes. At 12 years old, I had only ever been asked to memorize a verse or two of Scripture at a time. I loved learning a longer passage – loved the way the words rolled off my tongue. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn.” I’d venture to say that many of us memorized the Beatitudes in our younger days. Of course, when we did so, we learned Matthew’s Beatitudes. This All Saints Day, we take on Luke’s version where blessings are alarmingly juxtaposed with woes and then followed by a seemingly-impossible list of disciplines.

Blessings. Luke’s Beatitudes are plain and literal. Jesus’ concern isn’t the poor in spirit but the actual poor. Jesus isn’t focused on those who hunger for righteousness but those who hunger for food. When Jesus blesses “those who weep” in Luke’s Gospel, he may have in mind a group like Matthew’s “those who mourn”, though the blessing (laughter) is stronger in Luke than in Matthew (comfort). The meek, merciful, pure, and peacemakers receive no mention here. Instead, Luke is focused on the poor, the hungry, the weepers, and the hated – the excluded. Luke wants to share with these, for whom God has a special heart, the good news that Jesus is bringing God’s kingdom in which God’s justice will prevail by turning their current suffering upside down. This is the heart of the good news for Luke: beginning its rhythm in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-55) and Zechariah’s prophesy (1:68-79) and pounding palpably in Jesus’ first public speech (4:18-19) and parables (see, e.g., 16:1-9, 19-31). God’s plan to turn suffering upside down beats boldly in the Beatitudes.

Woes. Suffering isn’t the only thing that is turned upside down in God’s kingdom. To the rich, full, laughing, and accepted, Jesus issues a warning. “You have received your consolation” (6:24). We cannot expect to share in Jesus ministry – in the promise of the good news – without sharing in his suffering, without carrying the cross and following him into places where poverty, hunger, sorrow, and hatred proliferate (14:27). We may squirm or quake at Jesus’ warning, but if we attend to the message, we can also hear good news in Jesus’ woes. Riches, full stomachs, laughing hearts, and acceptance from others make us feel good, but only for a while. They are temporary “solutions” to an emptiness that will never be filled by the things of this world – an emptiness that can only be filled by relationship with God. When we store up treasures, fill our bellies with fine foods, and distract ourselves with entertainment and jokes that lead us to laughter, we serve idols. We fall into the trap of self-sufficiency. We deny God as Lord of our lives. The good news for us in the woes is the permission to let go of this idolatrous pursuit and the invitation to cling to Jesus – to learn to rely completely on him.

Disciplines. How do we learn to rely completely on Jesus? Here at the conclusion of the Beatitudes in Luke, Jesus encourages us to practice. The verbs in the concluding paragraph of the text (love, do good, bless, pray, offer, give) are good starting points for our practice, though we are rightly cautioned that they can become empty platitudes without an abiding focus on the objects of our practice. Love must be directed to enemies, good to haters, blessing to those who curse. Jesus’ disciplines, much like the promises made by those who will be baptized this All Saints Day, will impossible for us to practice without God’s love and help. Follow the link below and pray St. Francis’ prayer with me, seeking just that: God’s love and help for the journey.



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