St. Mary Nanoose Bay
September 13, 2020
Romans 14:1-12 & Matthew 18:21-35
I did not come for the healthy, but for those who need a doctor. (Luke 5:31-32)
Until we can admit that we are sick and need a doctor, we are not going to be willing to ask for help. For me that was the big stumbling block in becoming a Christian - acknowledging my own limits and my own inability to heal myself. Until we can be open about where we are weak and not doing well, where we are suffering, God is not able to help us. Isn’t it interesting to note that Jesus always asked if a person wanted to be healed?
Yes, we were given free will. God does not impose. We have to ask, to knock, to cry out. Acknowledge our symptoms. In other words, we need to call the doctor.
Actually it’s pretty crazy that we think that we must hide our weaknesses and sins from God. We’re afraid we will not be loved if we admit our weakness and our failings. Yes, this is crazy thinking because
1) God know every thought in our head, and
2) God doesn’t judge. God loves. God heals
3) God’s love allows us to live more comfortably in our human skin. Which is to stumble and fall, to be blind, to create suffering. God, the doctor, helps us up, gives us sight, and has given us a heart for love and compassion. God helps us grow up into our created potential. We don’t have to, and actually are not able to, do it alone!
If God doesn’t like sin or if our sins make God unhappy, it’s because God desires nothing more than our healing and wholeness. I’ll say that again: If our sins make God unhappy, it’s because God desires nothing less than our healing and wholeness.
Think about it. It’s the same for you and I: it can be excruciatingly painful to see our loved ones suffer in ways that seem so unnecessary. We want to relieve their pain, but if we get involved without being asked, we stunt their growth, we create their dependency on us, instead of on God.
The best way through the pain of seeing a loved one stumble and fall, is to open ourselves to God’s love and healing. To ask to be relieved of our own pain. To let go of judging our loved one for their choices. To ask for trust – to trust that our loved one is walking with God in their own way. We are not responsible for them.
What’s best is for us is to soak in God’s love and forgiveness so that we become agents of the message of that love.
We often blame people for behaviours that they seem to have no power over. We expect them to have our level of awareness. But let’s face it, most of the time we have no idea what is going on in other people’s hearts, minds and lives.
God helps to take our confusion and hurt away. God helps us to see others the way God sees them. With love and compassion. And a yearning for their healing and wholeness. And in gaining that wisdom and insight, we are able to forgive others for their behaviours.
Paul writes his letter to the Romans, that we are each of us accountable to God. We all make our choices and only God knows our heart. Our lives are given and taken by God. And in the short time we are on earth, we learn about God, and love.
Forgiveness acknowledges that we are all learning, and in our learning, we make mistakes over and over again. That’s just how we learn. So when we judge others, we are not allowing them the space to make mistakes and grow and learn.
Paul asks, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?”
The author Gerald Jampolsky responds, “When I am able to resist the temptation to judge others, I can see them as teaches of forgiveness in my life, reminding me that I can only have peace of mind when I forgive rather than judge.”
In other words if we leave the judging up to God, we are free to forgive what we do not like and not take it personally.
I once officiated at a wedding where the bride and groom were not church goers. Probably most of their guests weren't either. I stood at the door welcoming the people. Less than 50% of the people even acknowledged me. It didn’t feel great but I knew that with my clergy attire on, people unfamiliar with the church, or who had been hurt in the past in some church related incident, were uncomfortable and avoided that feeling by pretending I wasn’t there.
Instead of judging them – I knew it had nothing to do with me personally - I found it easy to forgive the seemingly rude behaviour. As I have been forgiven, help me forgive others.
It doesn’t take long for me to recall situations from earlier in my life where I was uncomfortable with someone on the street, or someone who looked different from me, and that I judged and avoided that person. It still happens. Lord, forgive me, so often I have no idea what I’m doing!
And with that give and take of forgiveness, the realization that we’re not God, we’re not in control, we are sick and need healing, we enter the realm of love. Where everyone belongs, everyone is a sacred creation and all the stumblings and bumblings are forgiven.
Forgiveness is a practice.
Because it involves a heart that being used and exercised.
It involves a mind that stops itself from jumping to conclusions and making assumptions.
It involves building on experience.
And it involves calling down the protective love of God; putting on the armour of Christ.
Almost 30 years ago I felt badly hurt by someone very close to me. Forgiveness is still in the works because I am very careful around this person; keeping my heart protected. I wonder in my prayers, “Am I holding a grudge or being sensible?” And I’m still not clear. But I do work on the relationship and to focus on the things we share and enjoy.
Of course there are people that are better avoided, but we don’t need to bear a grudge, and we can pray for them, and for peace for both of us.
The whole dynamic of forgiveness is complex and yet very simple. It requires self honesty like that of Paul’s:
“I cannot understand my own behaviour. I fail to carry out the very things I want to do, and find myself doing the very things I hate…. For although the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not.” Romans 7:15, 18
In other words, “I need your guidance and healing, loving God, I cannot do this on my own!”
Forgiveness requires compassion like that of Jesus, “And when Jesus looked at the crowds, he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
When we see others stumbling on their own, resisting and rejecting the help of God, we can stop taking things personally to acknowledge the pain and struggle of the other, forgiving them for the pokes and slights they are making in their frustration and loneliness.
Forgiveness sets us free. We don’t harbour illusions or grudges. We simply live in the love and compassion that is God’s. We share what we are given every day. We stop the festering of petty and large complaints and set ourselves and the other free.
We let go of our “rightness” and their “wrongness” and hand the judging back to God.
As the poet Hafiz wrote, “Out beyond right and wrong doing is a field, I’ll meet you there.”
Beyond our puny view of the world and of each other, in which we have our likes and dislikes and all sorts of stories about how we are being hurt, there is a God who loves us each one of us and yearns for our well being.
Let us ask for help when we need it, and offer help when we can.
We can leave pettiness behind, acknowledge our own human nature, and walk into the light, love, forgiveness and healing power of God.
For that peace that passes all understanding, we can thank the doctor, the healer, our companion, our God. Amen.