Soul Rain ... Kelli Sorg

a little rain refreshes the soul

Tag: forgiveness (page 2 of 2)

To carry you through the weekend: forgiveness

Forgiveness is the ground in which we live. It is the only ground in which we can sustain living in a way that’s balanced and  whole.  living in a constant state of unforgiveness throws us off balance. Everything seems so off kilter for so long, we accept that skewed vision as the norm. Our word for ground, literally ‘dirt’ comes from the Latin humus, from whence we also get the words humans and humility. Humility and forgiveness are inextricably linked. This connection is not to keep the victim of wrongdoing forever the victim or the injured party. The connection between humility and forgiveness keeps us all on a level playing field. Humility and forgiveness in equal measure remind us of who we are, of the sorts of things of which we are capable and the consequences of these actions, both positive and negative.

An abundance of useful beneficial work in the field of forgiveness is been done by Dr. Virginia (Toddy) Holeman (Reconcilable Differences, 2004), Dr. Everett Worthington (Forgiveness and Reconciliation,2006) and Miroslav Volf (Exclusion and Embrace, 2010). Dr. Holeman’s work is in the area of interpersonal and family relationships and comes from a Christian counseling viewpoint. Dr. Worthington is one of the most valuable of writers-one who is actually living in the most difficult of situations calling for forgiveness and has the gift of articulating his personal journey in useful and meaningful ways. Miroslav Volf is a contextual theologian who grew up in the Serbian – Bosnian conflict. His work is known by his emphasis on humility – personal and political.

“How often do I have to forgive my brother?” Peter asked Jesus. “Seven times?”

“Seventy times seven.” Jesus replied. Jesus might as well of said Peter had to forgive one more time than had been wounded, in perpetuity, ad nauseaum.  Peter had to forgive past the point where it made him sick to his stomach. That’s true for all of us. Past the point of fear and nausea comes the place of acceptance in the Holy Love Jesus modeled. It is that unconditional no-matter-what kind of love that makes forgiveness possible.

Forgiveness means: I will not destroy or sabotage this relationship with you even if you are trying to. Forgiveness is a means of fidelity. We as humans cannot be faithful like this on our own. We as humans can’t live like this our own. One of the most terrifying moments of my life was when someone I cared for deeply, yes loved, try to convince me that there was no such thing as unconditional love. In the fragmented way of human communication, the only broken shard I grasped from that conversation is that he would never be able to love me unconditionally. I continued to bleed from the realization that our promises to each other were at best conditional and based on behavior, financial status. Perhaps our relationship was controlled by some other factor totally beyond my control like the weather or the phase of the moon. Even stronger was his protest that not even God could love us unconditionally. We, not the creation that God called good, could be loved.  We are just too broken. That kind of shame and guilt has been used for far too long to manipulate relationships – personal, social, and even religious. Literal fear of God, that we are spiders hanging by a thread over an immolating flame is not the heart of Jesus life and message. Those words were the beginning of the end of that personal relationship. Those of us who have relied on that travesty to scare people into some sort of religious decision need to look to our own glass houses before picking up another stone.

There IS love that is unconditional, the no-matter-what kind of love that we are capable of at our best moments. That’s because our best moments are empowered by Someone higher and bigger than you and I. The presence and power of Holy Love assures us of forgiveness and grace. Neither comes without sacrifice. Forgiveness and grace mean we still must live with the consequences of our actions and other people’s actions. Living simply with God and each other isn’t complicated, it’s just difficult.

Forgiveness in the places that we have been hurt and accepting forgiveness extended to us when we have hurt another cannot be accomplished by our own power. Human history-international, national, domestic and interpersonal-easily proves that point. We can only forgive and be forgiven, love and be loved, to the extent that we have accepted and live in the love and forgiveness offered to us by God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; Father, Son and Holy Spirit; I AM; the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end; God who spoke order out of chaos in Genesis to create the world and speaks the same order out of chaos over our lives every minute of every day.

So how do we practice forgiveness? In the words of Greg Jones in the title of his seminal book on the subject: we must embody it (Embodying Forgiveness, 1995). Forgiving love, Holy Love can become part of that which we are if we will give ourselves and our agenda over to God. We practice forgiveness when we give up our agenda for revenge and getting even. We practice forgiveness even when we give up our right to our own hurt when we are the victim. We practice forgiveness when we accept and inhabit the hurt we have perpetrated when we are the offenders.

 

 “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”― Miroslav Volf

Forgiveness is not saying that it’s okay. It’s not being a doormat when wrong is done to us. It is not allowing the perpetrator the leeway to say: “Just wait until I do it again so you can forgive me some more.”

Forgiveness is perpetrator and victim standing face-to-face, eye to eye and accepting life in the wounded-ness and fear of both parties and then walking away. Social justice and the morality demanded by life in community require restitution and consequences. That is for neither the victim nor the perpetrator to decide. Forgiveness is not about making excuses, sweeping the truth under the rug or slapping ax murderers on the wrist because they had horrible childhoods. There are social justice and moral problems of huge magnitude that must begin with the acceptance of burdens imposed and burdens carried.

In the end, the victim and the perpetrator must stand on level ground at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. Beyond all the courtrooms and legal chambers across our planet there is no higher or more eternal judge than the one who gave his life as the ultimate expression of forgiveness and Holy Love.

I offer no apologetic here. I offer no discussion of whether or not you believe that Jesus existed in historical sense or was resurrected in a bodily sense for whatever particular divine agenda might be on the table. To paraphrase the Psalmist: I was young and now I am old and I’ve never seen true reconciliation happen, with or without restored relationship, except by the expressed power of Holy Love working in the lives of ordinary people.

There is love. It is unconditional. There’s one tiny little caveat. We have to say yes. We have to accept that holy love. Then we can let it permeate our lives like the fragrance of frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are two of those old Biblical gifts that heal and make us whole and make us holy.

Not I, But God…

Covenant and Kingdom III

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September 8, 2013

On Friday, I went to the beach. It was a beautiful day . The waves were small and gentle. The tide was way out and the water was warm. But on the horizon, there were dark clouds. I’ve never been very adventurous in the ocean. In fact, at places like Ocracoke I have been tossed around and really never go in much past my knees. But Friday was a different day and the water was almost still. So I did more than wade out, I actually swam in the water, being gently lifted by the swells, enjoying it as if it were simply a very large swimming pool. Saltwater makes it much easier for us to float, and I found myself floating and treading water just enjoying the whole experience.

I stretched out to float on my back in the water. Looking up, I could see the dark rain cloud that was headed in our direction but there was a small break in the clouds. And inside and through that break, there were fluffy white clouds and then a window of incredibly blue sky. As I floated there in the gentle warm ocean water and looked up to the dark and the white cloud and into the blue window of heavenly sky, I heard God’s voice. “Do you trust Me? Do you trust Me?” That , I knew, was going to take some figuring out.

I knew that that question was more than I could process as I floated there in the water. I knew that I could put my feet down and stand up and not be tossed around by the movement of the ocean that would always be stronger than I am. I realized that floating there in the water was an analogy for life. Because sometimes life looks effortless and it’s as if we are just floating. Looking up through the darkness into the bright sky of heaven, gives us an element of trust. But is it the trust we have in ourselves, our ability to control every situation and know the difference between right and wrong? Or is it God’s question: “Do you trust Me?”

As we think about the third sermon in this Covenant and Kingdom series, trust is an important element in how we live out our Kingdom responsibilities.  Remember, the themes of Covenant and Kingdom are the DNA of the Bible, the double helix twist that runs through the Scripture. Covenant has to do with communication and relationships. The theme of Kingdom that we will begin to explore today has to do with the actions that rise up out of those relationships.  Like communication is the seedbed of relationships, humility and trust are the defining characteristics of how God’s Kingdom gets lived out in our world.  We can see that very simply in the life of Joseph.  His story begins in Genesis 22 and takes up the rest of Genesis, one of the foundational writings of the Torah and our Christian Bible.

The story of Joseph, in a nutshell, is that he was the youngest of Jacob’s 10 sons and his parent’s favorite.  He was so favored that his father gave him a beautiful multicolored, long sleeved coat at the tender age of 17.  That gift, his brother’s jealousy and Jacob’s immaturity led to him being sold off to a nomadic band of Ishmaelites and ending up as a slave in Egypt.  Joseph had dreams of his brothers and parents bowing down to him. The interpretation of those dreams was not something his older brothers wanted to hear.  In chapter 22, Joseph gives us a clue to his personality development: “I have had a dream, let me tell you and about it and what it means.”  Immature people often make this mistake when they have themselves at the center of their universe.  It may be a true vision or holy nudge but it gets interpreted through human pride instead of through God’s way and God’s timing.

Then we move forward a few years and Joseph is the manager of Potiphar’s household in Egypt. Young, handsome, intelligent and compassionate Joseph is on his way to fulfilling the dreams God has given him. But Potiphar’s wife schemes against Joseph and he ends up in an Egyptian prison.  Again, his intelligence and talents shine through and he is made the manager of the whole prison. For 10 years, he works in prison as a prisoner and manager. Until one day, two of Pharaoh’s servants have dreams they can’t interpret. And we get another clue about Joseph’s development as a Kingdom worker.  “Tell me your dreams. Don’t interpretations come from God?” (Genesis 40:8) The years in prison, the years away from his family are cultivating in Joseph two very important Kingdom traits. At least God is now in the equation, although Joseph still sees his gift of interpretation as the biggest necessity.

Joseph’s interpretations of the servant’s dreams are proved true. Pharaoh’s cupbearer goes back into service at Pharaoh’s elbow. And so, two or three years later, the cupbearer is at hand when Pharaoh begins to have disturbing dreams that neither he nor his court soothsayers can interpret. Enter Joseph from prison to the feet of Pharaoh. Here finally Joseph had come to the place where he can work side by side with God. In Genesis 41:16, in response to Pharaoh’s question about his dreams, Joseph says “Not I but God.  God will set Pharaoh’s mind at ease.”

Joseph’s view of his own capabilities, their uses and their source has changed 180 degrees. Instead of having himself at the center of his life, he has ceded that place to God.  “Only when God is at the center of our lives can he work through us in the way he intends. God wants to rule through us, with divine authority and power, but to do this; he must know he is on the throne of our hearts (C&K, Breen, 51)

Through suffering and brokenness, Joseph discovered that the gifts that God had given him could be used to save a nation or two (at least Israel and Egypt) but those gifts had to be wielded from a place of submission, humility and forgiveness.

The final chapters of Genesis outline Joseph’s journey to forgiving his brothers for selling him because the consequences of the famine that ravaged the near and middle east had been abated by Joseph’s planning and administration based on God’s leading.

“Abraham received the Covenant and surrendered to God, his covenant partner. Joseph submitted to God the King and received great authority and power to represent Him.” (ibid, 62)

These are stories about Covenant relationships and Kingdom work told in the Old Testament, at a distance of about 4000 years from us today.

Today, you have a unique set of skills and gifts that have been given by God to you alone to do Kingdom work during your lifetime. Fulfilling that call will give you more joy than you can ever imagine, a life worth living, a life worth imitating if you will move yourself from the center of your universe.

Give up your agenda, your demand for comfort, your need for security to the One who created you and all of those things in the first place.  “Who, when his child asks for an egg would give him a snake?  Don’t you know your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you even ask for it?” (Matthew 6)

we are not capable of what we are about to do but we are not doing it alone and we are not doing it without purpose. God is with us, holding us up so that the reign of God may be made plain in us and become hope to others. If we can become peacemakers, if we can control our need to control, if we can distinguish between our wants and our needs, then anybody can. – Sr. Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict, pg. 20

Humility, serenity, forgiveness, communication, relationships, and responsibilities – those things are the holy building blocks of our lives individually and together.  Who is at the center of your life cultivating all those things?

God the Father, Jesus the Son and God the Holy Spirit can be at the center of your life to guide, inspire, motivate, protect, empower, give wisdom and Sabbath rest.  But we must be intentional about making sure that our lives are in that holy hierarchy, that at the crossroads of our lives we stop and ask for divine directions. In the times when we feel trapped and imprisoned unfairly and it seems our gifts are being underutilized and yes, even wasted let us have the humility to realize that God knows better than we do and our peace lies in that trust.

Link to the recorded audio

Repentance – a misunderstood word

Repentance is a complex thing. It aims for one thing only: to restore us to the loving God in whose image we are made and from whom we have fallen so profoundly away. Christian repentance has nothing to do with punishment and nothing to do with shame. It has nothing to do with perpetuating the barriers of prejudice and ancient hatred human beings keep so stubbornly in place against one another. We repent in order that we might once again live in harmony with God and neighbor, for which we were created.

 

This fact leads to something odd: my repentance may not be a sin that I myself have committed. I may need to be in the state of repentance about something someone else has done to me. Not that I will take the blame for it, but that I will find the strength to set aside the hurt that it has cost. Perhaps the one who has heard the regrets his act; perhaps he does not. I can exercise little control over one or the other. My own actions are the only ones I control. I alone decide whether I will live with anger over my injuries or allow God to transform them into gracious pockets of compassion within my soul. For it is the one who has suffered who knows best what it is to suffer. Those who have known pain are best equipped to see it in others. And those are the ones God can use in the mighty work of reconciliation.

Bishop Edmond Lee Browning (italics mine)

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