The True Scope of Forgiveness

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ Matthew 18:21-35 and Genesis 42:1-16.

This Sunday Andrew and I will pulpit swap for our 11 o’clock worship services. I will lead our Morningsong Service at 8:30am and offer a message entitled “The True Scope of Forgiveness”. I will then travel to Azalea Park UMC to preach their 11 o’clock service. Andrew will join the TUMC family for our 11 o’clock service and continue our Joseph Saga series with a message entitled “More Brothers, More Problems.” He is very much looking forward to worshiping with you.

(I will return to Tuskawilla by 12:30pm…my sources tell me there is some kind of celebration happening…*wink*)

During my senior year at Florida Southern College I registered for a cross-listed philosophy and political science course entitled “The Politics of Terrorism and Insurgency.” Impressive, right? On the first day of class our professor – who also had my mother as a student – clarified the focus for the course. He said, “This semester we will study proposed methods and applications of conflict resolution from philosophers and political scientists through the ages beginning with the Ancient Greeks and culminating in the present day. The course has the name it does because I was doubtful anyone would register for a class dully named “Methods and Applications of Conflict Resolution.”

He was probably right.

The first topic on the syllabus was a review of Hammurabi’s Code – the ruling religious, political, and philosophical thought in the Ancient World (and, in some contexts. still today). “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” Sound familiar?

Hammurabi’s Code focuses on fairness. Its use created a “tit for tat” society and normalized “tit for tat” behavior as part of the human condition. Jesus’ intent was to normalize radical role reversals and counter-cultural behaviors into the human condition. This was his method for fulfilling both the Law and the prophets.

The Torah contains impressions of Hammurabi’s Code and Jesus quotes a number of those passages in his Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Mt 5:38-42).

Jesus does not promote retaliation in these verses – a significant counter-cultural and radical role reversal move! These words of Jesus become the foundation for our text for today.

While Hammurabi’s main focus was on fairness, Jesus’ main focus is on forgiveness.

The practice of forgiveness brings separated, estranged, and embattled community members back to one another – so that what once was broken may be fixed, may be healed. The act of repeated forgiveness – seventy-seven times – over and over – holds communities together.

Temptation can lead to sin. Sin leads to separation – from God and from one another. Like a shepherd that seeks out a sheep gone astray, so we are to seek out those we are separated from because of sin. Jesus affirms, “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14). Through forgiveness we are found. Through forgiveness we make our way home.

When did you last experience forgiveness – either giving or receiving? How did you find that experience? Needful? Extraneous? Powerful? Casual? What lessons has forgiveness taught you? How has forgiveness changed you into more of  a Kingdom resident than a resident of the world?

Prayer: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art – thou my best thought, by day or by night; waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.”* Amen. 

*”Be Thou My Vision,” The United Methodist Hymnal 451.

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From Wreck to Restoration: We Are Called

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family begins a new six-week sermon series – From Wreck to Restoration – as we study texts from the book of Jeremiah. We begin our study with the prophet’s call story.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to spend time with my sweet sister-in-law, Vivian and nephew, Jacob. Jacob is 11 months old and such a joyful little boy. And with his age comes a bit more suspicion about people he is not familiar. Upon seeing Andrew and me, Jacob was cautious and gave us the look of “I think I know you…but my mama better stay right close.”

We spent the afternoon playing with toys and swimming. Andrew took Jacob to the piano for a lesson and I watched as Jacob visibly eased into comfort with Andrew. It was not necessary for Vivian to be in Jacob’s line of sight; Jacob knew he was okay.

Me on the other hand – Jacob’s unfamiliarity lingered – and that was okay. I remained near. I spoke kindly. I smiled. And just before Andrew and I left to come home, while Jacob was playing on the floor and I sat nearby, he crawled into my lap and wrapped his arms around me in tHe best Jacob-size hug.

It won my greatest hug of the day award.

In that moment, Jacob knew me. I was (am) a safe place for him. I was (am) someone that loves him. With me – with Andrew and me – our nephew will always have a family and be at home.

The book of Jeremiah – like all our prophetic texts – tells the story of God’s people being anxious, suspicious, and hesitant in returning to God. They are in exile in Babylon. They hope God has not forgotten them. They wonder if God will forgive them. The prophets affirm that God is with them and that God knows them…but I can imagine the people of Israel and Judah looked suspiciously at the prophets just like Jacob looked at me early Monday afternoon.

The people’s suspicion was okay. And God remained. Through the prophets God spoke words of kindness and affirmation. Through the prophets God communicated a message of hope and salvation. The people would return. And no matter what, they were (we are) God’s children and God was (is) their (our) God.

God wants each of us to let down our guards, to suntended our hesitation, and to climb into God’s arms. God wants to and does hold us close – most especially in the moments when we experience exile. We are members of God’s family. With God we have our home and God is always welcoming us home.

I encourage you to draw near to God. In doing so we move from wreck to restoration.

Prayer: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. Born of the one light, Eden saw play. Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.”* Amen

*”Morning Has Broken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 145.

Prepare For Salve

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 40:1-11

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.

Tell the world I’m coming home.

Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.  

I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiving my mistakes.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.  Tell the world I’m coming.  

Hauntingly, but persistently, Skylar Grey sings these words.  In this video as one chorus ends another begins, almost as if Grey is marching as she sings.

Our Scripture for this week is famously captured in these recitatives of Handel’s Messiah: Comfort Ye, Every Valley Shall Be Extended, And the Glory of the Lord, And Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, and He Shall Feed His Flock.  This Scripture tells the story of a people estranged from their homes, estranged from their true selves, estranged from their God that is coming home.  They do not have to find their way through the wilderness unaccompanied.  No, the Lord is coming to pave a way through the desert.  All the people have to do is walk.

Making our way through the wilderness is a faithful pilgrimage and legacy of God’s people.  After their liberation from Egypt God’s people made their way through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  After the conclusion of the exile God’s people made their way through the wilderness back towards Jerusalem, the seat of the Lord, the home of the temple, the place where the Lord would be revealed and revealed in glory.

This passage calls us to prepare the way so that our Lord will make the way so that we will follow the way.  Who, other than our God, can lift valleys and make mountains low?  Who, other than our God, can level uneven ground and make smooth rough places?  God alone does these things, but God in us and through us prepares the way.

Andrew loves woodworking. When he moves into the finishing process he sands and stains, sands and stains, sands and stains.  The sanding opens up the pores of the wood to receive the stain…but why then would you sand the stain off!?  To open up the stain to receive more of the stain.  Together the layers of stain enhance and increase the vibrant color of the wood.  Together the layers of stain help any completed project stand the test of time.

We cannot lift a valley, but we can lift a stone.  We cannot make a mountain low, but we can clear away gravel.  We can plumb what is catawampus and perhaps even use sandpaper with a discerning mind.  Engaging in these acts opens us up to release those things that hold us back and receive our Lord who will move us forward.  Engaging in these acts will strengthen us as we stand the test of time, secure in the knowledge that our Lord is coming and we are coming home.

As we serve perhaps we will sing along with Grey.  Persistently yes – with each chorus representing another step forward along the way.  But not hauntingly.  Assuredly.  Yes, assuredly.  We are coming home.  And our Lord, like a shepherd, will lead us.

Prayer: “Mountains and valleys will have to be made plain; open new highways, new highways for the Lord.  He is now coming closer, so come all and see, and open the doorways as wide as can be.”* Amen.

*”All Earth Is Waiting,” The United Methodist Hymnal 210.