The cost of forgiveness…

Forgiveness is the final form of love. ~Reinhold Niebuhr

Have you ever had to beg for forgiveness? Have you ever thrown yourself at the mercy of someone in power? Has forgiveness ever knocked you off your feet?

I wonder if begging hardens our hearts or cracks them open? I wonder what part power plays in our ability to seek and find forgiveness…IMG_0026

The Narrative Lectionary has gifted us with a series of challenging parables this lenten season. According to the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told these parables as a way of illuminating what the Kingdom of Heaven – that is God’s alternative world order – might look like. This week’s parable from Matthew 18: 15-35 is often called the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant but the reality is no one in this a parable is very forgiving… right before the parable Jesus tells the disciples that forgiveness has no limits… but the servant’s master takes back his supposed forgiveness in a heartbeat.

It seems such a challenge for us to imagine a God who’s love is not transactional. To imagine a being, a God, who holds such immense power, and yet, is willing to relinquish it, willing to let the very creation God so lovingly crafted to crack God’s heart open again and again.

Telling the Truth About Ourselves

So how do we forgive from the heart?

How do we seek forgiveness

and ask forgiveness

without belittling the pain?

How do we learn compassion

but never tolerate abuse?

It begins with telling the truth.

To unbind the wounded parts of our hearts,

and face the wounds we’ve inflicted on one another,

to face the grief of the world and take it in,

and take on our share of the responsibility and our share of the pain

is no small thing.

However,

if we can find the courage,

it will

set us free.

[silence is kept]

God Blesses & Forgive Us

Abandon your fear and leave your disappointment in the dust.

Believe in the abundant forgiveness found along this road

That leads to love.

Dig your feet into the earth and wait for the promise of spring.

Let your heart be broken open

like a seed that cracks open in order to absorb the nutrients that will bring it to life.

Get ready to lean in towards the rising sun

and open your eyes to it’s incandescent light.

This is the beginning of the journey home

to the one who piles grace upon grace.

 

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Rip into our world, O God…

Rip into our world once again, O God, and give us the good sense to be absolutely overwhelmed with joy at your proclamation,

 “This is my child, this is my beloved, this is my greatest pleasure.”

You know what I’m afraid of?

That in the midst of trying to name and attend to all the pain the Church has inflicted on folks over the centuries in the name of God, I’m afraid that sometimes I preach and paint an image of God that is so gentle, so simple, so easy on the eyes, and the ears, and the heart, that it is stripped of it’s power to comfort, let alone transform our starving souls.

On the day of Jesus’ baptism, nothing is simple. Nothing is easy. God rips into the world of human experience. God tears the sky and comes crashing through space and time to make an extraordinary claim.

Rather than a disembodied experience this baptismal moment is one of super-embodiment – it’s a sensory overloading, heart-stopping, genesis of life moment.

I wonder if Jesus’ whole life flashes through his mind’s eye as he is dunked beneath the surface of the Jordan. Not just his embodied life but his life that began at the beginning – when all of creation first burst forth. Beginning with that first infinite breath of God and on and on through his own life, death and resurrection. And ours.

I wonder, if just for a moment our physical reality, the one in which we rely because we can see it with our eyes, didn’t collapse in and expand back out as he came up out of the Jordan gasping for breath.

Here’s where we tell the truth about ourselves:

You call us to dive into your holy water with abandon O God,

To be caught up in the current of your love

And to be buoyed by your grace.

But your holy water scares us O God,

We worry it will overwhelm us,

We lose our footing and fall beneath the surface,

Pulled under by our fear and self-loathing.

We are lost. Any peace we might know is drowned out by

Anger

Hatred

Distrust

And Disbelief.

[silence is kept]

God Blesses & Forgive Us

Trouble the holy water in which we swim, O God.

Do not let its placidness lull us into complacency,

send your wild and holy spirit to agitate the quiet waters of our apathy.

Enliven the tide of justice,

stir our passion and nourish our resilience,

so that when we rise from your holy water

and step back onto the banks of our lives

we know our names our

Forgiven

Claimed

Beloved

and Sent.

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What’s Your Story?

Beloved community,

gather in and gather around,

incline your hearts and

listen closely for the story of who we are.

Add your own voices to

the story of what God has done.

Claim God for yourself

to worship

to love

to follow

to serve.

This week’s Narrative Lectionary Reading is taken from Joshua 24. In the unfolding story of the people making new lives in the “Promised Land” Joshua takes a moment to remind them who and whose they are. Whenever I read these “recaps” of the Ancient Israelites story I’m struck by two things.

The first is how rich and imaginative the oral tradition was in those ancient days. I long to recapture this practice in our lives and communities. Some might even say I’ve become a bit obsessed with the art, practice and privilege of storytelling. I love the digital age, the opportunity to learn and relate and be challenged in the context of the Global Community.

I love words and text and imagery but I want to balance these things with having a story, a story I’m connected to, that I’m implicated in whispered in my ear. I love the intimacy and the humanity of real-life storytelling. I can forget the person in a facebook feed is real and whole and has as complicated and complex a life as I do. But if you’re sitting across the table or standing in the middle of my circle speaking your truth into the open, you better believe I will see your humanness. Is it just me?

The second piece that strikes me is the piece about privilege. The storyteller (and later story recorders… and later story canonizers) have significant power don’t they? Who tells the story and how they tell it shapes the identity of the community, and the communities place in the world for generations. How do we decide what parts to tell? What to highlight and leave out? How do we paint our friends? How do we paint our enemies? Who’s side is God on in our stories? Do we ever enter communities where we are strangers or outsiders so we can hear the story from another perspective?

When you think about the stories of your lives and your communities how do you tell them? Whose version is ‘canonical’? Who has the privilege of the voice, the pen, the mic?

When I tell the story of my own life I love the version in which I’m a survivor, determined and independent. I love the version in which I am creative and interesting and interested. But there are pieces missing from that version aren’t there? There are moments I’ve failed badly, I’ve broken promises, I’ve been wrong, I’ve been self-centered or self-righteous (this might be my achilles heel), dependent or just plain ordinary (gasp!).

Is our faith community a place we bring our best selves and tell only our best stories? Is it a place we can hear the depths of one another stories without judgement or fixes?

Telling the Truth About Ourselves

We often think the easiest thing,

is to only share the good parts of our lives with one another and with God,

the career successes,

the sweet and easy parts of our relationships

the parenting wins,

that time we kept our cool,

stood up for justice

or had the best, right, funniest answer.

We are sure the world can’t handle our inner ugliness.

We are certain that we are the only ones who have failed,

that our relationships are the only ones to sustain cracks,

that we are the only parent who has let down a child, or a friend, or a stranger in need.

and so we keep the hard parts of ourselves hidden and our ugliness gets uglier.

We can’t imagine that God would embrace our trauma and turmoil,

we are afraid God won’t love our selfish, mean or broken hearts,

we don’t believe that God’s grace is so expansive that we can reveal our true selves

and so we don’t tell the truth about ourselves.

Blessing

But here’s the thing,

You are not alone and

healing happens in the light of day,

reconciliation is grounded in telling the truth,

and love isn’t love if it’s built on conditions.

God’s grace really is so expansive

it will hear and hold and transform

your WHOLE story.

Yes, we are broken,

but we are also beautiful children of God,

so take in this good news:

In all things,

you are seen,

you are loved

and you are forgiven.

Amen.

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Standing In the Mud

At Friendship Presbyterian Church where I am the pastor we are starting our second year on the Narrative Lectionary offered by the good people at workingpreacher.

flood waters

com. Eachweek I’m hoping to post notes, a bit of liturgy and, after it’s preached, my sermon (if it’s of the manuscript variety). This Sunday we kick off the fall season by going back to the beginning, to the genesis of our story…

We will hear two portions of the epic and ancient flood story (Genesis 6:16-22 & 9:8-15), it is a story about life and loss, about preservation and destruction, about a wild God and God’s wild creation. So come, come and stand in the mud with us and wrestle with this promise: “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 

How do we stand in the mud and live, hope, and believe this promise?

In the midst of beheadings and war zones, in the face of fear and hatred and with the ugliness of racism, and xenophobia on display all around how do we participate in this covenant? How do we recognize our own part the world’s destruction and human despair? Wouldn’t it be easier to blame the divine? Wouldn’t it be easier to hide our heads in the sand, than to put our hands in the muck and mud and plant seeds of a new creation?

 What is our part to play in making God’s promise a reality? 

For starters… We Tell The Truth About Ourselves                                                       (At Friendship this is how we describe our time of Confession.)

Fear rises like the floodwaters of ancient days,

We turn inward,

absorbed in our own pain,

groaning in our suffering,

groping in our anger,

the darkness of despair threatens to wash over us.

If we look outward the world seems to be going under with the tide,

The complexity of power goes unacknowledged,

it is brandished and misused,

We struggle to love well,

to resist deceit, hatred and violence.

Rising, rising waters of hopelessness threaten to engulf us.

 Make good on your promise O God; do not let these floodwaters consume us.

And this will be our Blessing:

You are made in God’s image,

you are beautiful creatures of wisdom and promise,

you are forgiven

and you are chosen.

But God’s promise isn’t for you alone; it is for all of creation.

Carry this blessing with you,

let this promise inspire hope in you,

and all whom you encounter,

make it a symbol of freedom,

flying in the face of indignity, pain and injustice,

make it a call to action, for justice and peace,

until all of creation can breathe the deep breath of God’s promise.

 

If you would like to use my words please feel free, 
but give me a shout out! 
Something akin to © Shawna Bowman 
at shawnabowman.com is perfect :)

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