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Lessons in Forgiveness

Within the life of the church, we are in a season of healing the nations, the tribes, the peoples by the grace of God alone paired with learning and growing as disciples and church together.

Unfortunately, the centuries have proven and continue to prove that human creatures often fail to learn, especially the first 100+ times.

We have recently heard about the importance and challenges of community.

We have recently witnessed Jesus’ expanding of divine grace to the unexpected.

These join in our scriptures about the importance of forgiveness paired with a warning about judging.

We begin with Joseph, who was undeniably the favorite son of Jacob (Israel). Perhaps, Joseph enjoyed reminding his brothers of his status. His brothers did not properly address the conflict, but rather sold him into slavery.

Joseph become an important man in Egypt because of his integrity, dreams, and the ability to interpret dreams. One dream foretold of seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of drought. Egypt was able to prepare accordingly, however the neighboring nations did not benefit from the prophecy and suffered greatly. One neighboring nation was the 12 tribes of Israel, or essentially Joseph’s brothers and their families.

Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt with the intention of seeking, begging for merciful aid in their basic needs.

Can you envision their expressions, their despair that came over the brothers recognizing that Joseph was the person who controlled their fate?

Although Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers is not explicit, it is implicit.

Joseph teaches a truth that counters our human history, a truth with the power to end a toxic cycle. This truth is that those who have been oppressed/abused, do not necessarily become oppressors/abuser when able.

In recent years, a love one shared a confession with me.
It was the fear that when “minorities”, particularly our black siblings, become the majority within the United States of America, the “whites” will be subjected to the oppressions and abuses that they have and continue to subject our brown and black siblings.

As one raised in a more diverse community and time, I shared that my experience with black and brown siblings is a desire for equality and equity, but not revenge. Perhaps our brown and black siblings, at least those I know and love, have learned a lesson from Joseph that would benefit all.

A few centuries after Joseph, Peter asks Jesus how many times are we called to forgive a sibling who wrongs us. Peter suggests, perhaps prays, that the appropriate number is seven providing the opportunity for us to carry a notebook listing our relationships with space enough for seven tick marks each.

In fairness, I do have a Scot-Irish temper AND my immediate family would share:

  1. When I am done, I am DONE; and
  2. It is not always a challenge for me to reach said point of no return.

Jesus teaches that we are to forgive a sibling more than seven times.

  • In the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), it is translated as 77 times.
  • In other translations, it is translated as 70 x 7 (490 times).

Whether it is 77 or 490 times, Jesus teaches the disciples (and us) about the abundance of forgiveness we have received from God.

Jesus teaches that despite us (humans) experiencing the divine debt forgiveness beyond our ability to repay and our imaginations, we struggle to mirror this divine mercy, grace, and forgiveness to our human siblings.

Jesus teaches that the one who refuses mercy, grace, and forgiveness to a sibling with be tormented. Jesus, again, teaches a practical truth. It is with-holding forgiveness is similar to drinking a toxic poison and expecting it to harm the other person AND that our own healing is impossible without extending forgiveness to the one who wronged us.

The Apostle Paul expands that the opposition, the enemy, to forgiveness is judgment and intolerance. We are called to not pass judgment upon another because God is the ONLY righteous judge.

Unfortunately rooted in our sinful natures, we easily misjudge persons in regards to their race, ethnicity, and nationality; gender, gender identity, and sexuality; socioeconomics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and so forth. These judgments are not only often inaccurate but also harmful.

Martin Luther explained in the Small Catechism that we are to always and forever seek the most positive light to view our human siblings and their actions, thus to not rush into harmful assumptions and judgment. This is particularly difficult within toxic relationships whose history is marked with challenges, traumas, and abuses. These are relationships that forgiveness may have to be extended while maintaining distance.

We have wronged God a million times a DAY in thought, word, and deed, and yet God continues to extend mercy, grace, and forgiveness to us.

As I shared, I am not a prime example of embodying Jesus’ lessons and mirroring God’s divine forgiveness. Unfortunately, I have the knowledge and understanding but not always the wisdom to put it into practice.

May we learn from Jacob to extend forgiveness and not seek revenge.

May we learn from Jesus the extent of our debt that God has forgiven us.

May we learn from Jesus to mirror and
extend said forgiveness to our siblings, near and far.

May we learn from Paul that our judgment and
intolerance of another opposes forgiveness.

May we be granted the wisdom to extend forgiveness,
in order that we might heal.

Amen.

Scriptures were Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 14: 1-12; and Matthew 18: 21-35.
Originally preached on 13 Sept. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Conflict, Consequences, & Responsibility

Our scriptures provide practical life advice and a Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) for confronting conflict, accepting consequences, and embracing our responsibility in relationship. Conflict, consequences, and responsibility are neutral terms despite often painted in an unfavorable light.

The entire creation, including human creatures, are inter-weaved in an inter-dependent relationship; and thus, per family systems theory, what impacts one will impact all in a ripple effect of sorts.

Unfortunately, it is not breaking news that our world, nation, communities, and ourselves are troubled. The church universal, as expressed in denominations and their congregations, are not immune.

Jesus was not naïve about our humanness rooted in sin, or self-centeredness, and its resulting trouble. Jesus provided the Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) for conflict resolution and repentance as consequence for the disciples, the early church, and our modern church, while Paul expanded upon our responsibility to love our siblings (neighbors) as the fulfillment of the Torah, the teaching or law

So, shall we confront conflict?

Conflict is unpreventable within our shared, communal lives and relationships. However, said conflict does not necessarily result in either harm to or broken relationships among persons and/or institutions whether only once removed or a million times removed in our ever-connected, inter-dependent world. 

Conflict, if addressed well, can promote healthier relationships rooted in trust, informed through proper boundaries, and improved communication between the partners.

Conflict management styles are traditionally either Passive, Passive-Aggressive, or Aggressive. The culture of the Midwest, and further within congregations, is most often passive-aggressive. In comparison, the culture of the Southwest is most often aggressive.

Yet, it was recently suggested that I describe my conflict management as ‘direct’ because I do not actively seek conflict but I do not actively avoid it.  I would rather lay all the cards on the table, process the situation together, and then move forward together.

I envision that Jesus’ Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) is similar to the ‘direct’ approach.

Step one is to engage in direct communication with the individual rooted in love and seeking resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. The desired response of the approached individual is discernment and repentance as necessary.

Step two, if step one did not result in the desired change, is to be in direct communication with the individual again but with the accompaniment of one or two mutual persons. The intention is to limit unnecessary drama but include objective observers who can keep the conflicting parties honest. Again, it should be rooted in love and seek resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. Again, the desired result is further discernment and repentance as necessary.

Step three, if steps one and two did not result in the desired change, is to bring the concern before the community. The intention is to allow the community to hold the conflicting parties honest while rooted in love and seeking resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. Again, the desired result is further discernment and repentance as necessary.

Despite this process, the desired resolution, reconciliation, and restoration may not be possible for it depends upon discernment and repentance, that is a change in conduct. An apology without said repentance is simply manipulation, which neither promotes well-being nor a healthy relationship.

If the conflict is not addressed, it will fester into an infected wound.

If the repentance from inappropriate conduct is not lived, reconciliation and restoration is impossible.

If the relationship is toxic due to conflict or otherwise, it may need to end with persons parting ways.

Hopefully, you noted that the emphasis of the process is resolution, reconciliation, and restoration.

Hopefully, you also noted that the driving force of the process is love.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, expanded upon this love and its significance.

The Roman culture existed within an obligation economy; and thus, persons were indebted to one another such as honor and allegiance to the emperor and the empire, or honor and resources to your benefactor, or service and your life to your master, or submission to your husband, and so on.

Paul, however, writes that we are not obligated or indebted to another except to love ALL persons. This is an indebtedness of all humans to the Triune God, specifically through the life, passion, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This indebtedness is to be paid forward to our neighbors, or human siblings, in words and deeds of love. This indebtedness and the resistance to pay it forward is often rooted in our sin (self-centeredness) and results in conflicts, unstable or unhealthy relationships, and our far too often troubled existence.

Paul further encourages the Romans (and us) that said love is the fulfillment of the Torah, or law, for it does no wrong, does no harm to our neighbor and human sibling.

While serving the youth at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on internship, these teenagers almost literally jumped for joy at the announcement that there was only one rule: ‘Be Respectful’. Quickly, almost in the blink of an eye, these teenagers became disenchanted with the only one rule for it was far more encompassing than imagined. I would question their word choice or actions with the simple question ‘was that respectful’ and they were convicted in the moment.  

Similarly, we may rejoice that our only obligation is to love one another but become quickly disenchanted with its all-encompassing nature. Perhaps, we should continually question our thoughts, words, and actions with ‘is this loving’. We should allow for ourselves to be convicted in the moment.

It seems so simple, and yet it is not.

Love can be manifested in the most simplistic thoughts, words, and deeds of mercy and compassion.

Love can be manifested in honor and respect. 

Love can be manifested in practices, customs, and traditions that are seemingly ‘not of this world’.

The philosopher, lay theologian, and more named Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote: It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.

Brad Paisley, the country artist, is a Christian who is able to tease about the practices, customs, and traditions of Christian love in his song ‘Those Crazy Christians’. It is our offering video in a moment.

May we confront conflict directly.

May we accept repentance as a consequence.

May we embrace our responsibility in relationships, which is to love one another.

May we be able to reflect honestly and tease ourselves as need.  Amen.

Scriptures were Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20.

Originally preached 6 Sept. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).   

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Conflict Grounded in Love

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This week we have a common text for our gospel. It is one we all have heard and know. It gives a practical way for dealing with disagreement, conflict, or tension not simply within our church community but also within our own personal lives. Jesus is teaching his disciples this method.

First, the translation “member of the church” does not give the full understanding of it. It is adepheos, or “brother”, such as Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love”.

This text is about what to do when tension, conflict, or wrong-doing has happened between you and a brother or sister. We have all experienced the tension of conflict. It is not warm, fuzzy, or comforting to experience, and yet it is a part of our everyday, normal, ordinary life. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2017 in Sermons

 

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