“Create in me a clean heart O God...”
Oh, is it just me or do we seem to be talking about forgiveness a lot in church. Couple weeks ago, we had a text on forgiveness -- the text on the Lord’s Prayer -- and I talked about St. Tanisha Brown who forgave her son’s murderer in the courtroom just a month ago in Kearny Mesa.
Today, I see Jesus calling us to make forgiveness not just a one-time activity, something incredible and special like what Tanisha Brown did, but rather a whole life-style, a posture, a state of being in the world. Forgive not 7 times, but 77. In other words, strive to make it how you are. “How does living forgiving lighten your load, keep you from drowning?” I asked on Ash Wednesday. (This challenge is actually a liberating gift.)
And btw, we have to come at these difficult and yet life-giving Lenten disciplines/challenges/central themes highly conscious of that little bug in us that helps us think about who else this would best apply to. We do well to focus on our own selves, that’s how Jesus taught us to pray -- the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer about me.
Lent is is the church’s self-help section. Except it’s more like, self-work. (The help comes from God.) And today we have a complex book that isn’t about fixing someone else, but about you and about me going deeper, getting real. The truth is, we can’t fix ourselves. God’s already done that! What we can do is work on ourselves...
Are we meaning well? That’s the bottom line.
The only thing that’s unforgivable, Jesus teaches us today, is living unforgiving. [pause]
Blessed are the merciful. So the unmerciful are unblessed.
[slowl] The key to “living forgiving” has got to have something to do with meaning well. And that, I believe safe-guards us from this terribly difficult question that might be hovering:
So unless I forgive my abuser, I’m damned?
I mean, Jesus is “killing us” with this strong message that to not-forgive is inexcusable. Who can do that?!
There might be some things we never get over. Some sins that were committed against us that we just can’t find the strength to forgive; this is where we really lean into God’s help. But are we meaning well? Are we praying that most profound prayer that Jesus taught us “forgive us, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” That’s meaning well. Praying well. We’re human we can’t possibly forgive a go-zillion times, like God...
But as soon as we get cocky and too self-assured about that: “Well, I’m good because I’m not perfect. Only God’s perfect. So, I’m not worried.” Jesus has a strong word of warning for us...when we’re sittin’ pretty and pompous. That’s not meaning well. We are called to try...and then ask Jesus to walk with us in those spots where we really struggle.
Scholar Matthew Henry puts it like this: “the presumptuous may fear and the sincere may hope.”
It’s in that spirit -- a spirit of humility, sincerity and meaning well -- that we come at this first part of our reading...where we are called to confront one another (pause) -- not to confront, interestingly, those outside our family of faith, mind you, but a brother or sister within the fold, within the church. These are passages about us living as community, sharing life together...not how we judge others in our world. When -- not a stranger but -- a brother or sister falters, we must go to them, and go to them first. Instead, however, our temptation is to go to others and talk about that person. (btw, how ya’ doin’ with that bug that helps us so quickly think of who else could use this?) If we went directly to every person with whom we had an issue, just to “talk it out”, can you imagine?
[Bonhoeffer’s community rule -- story: great example of trying and letting Jesus walk with us for the rest...]
Christ calls this a sin -- not talking directly to the person is a sin! Not confronting directly those who are doing wrong is a sin. We are not meant to turn a blind eye on our brother or sister when we see them doing wrong, doing hurtful things.
We are meant to call one another out...in love, in sincerity and humility. Have you ever been called out by someone in love and sincerity and humility: “I love you, brother, but I have to say this to you...” “I love you and I struggle with this too, but I have be honest and say...” When our brother or sister is neglecting the least of these, tromping on the backs of the poor, squandering the gifts of God’s creation, hurting others, hurting themselves, straying from that narrow path of discipleship, it’s our duty to call them out, as their brother or sister in Christ. Too often I’m afraid, the attitude is: “As long as you’re not hurting me, I’ll turn a blind eye. As soon as I’m affected, well, then we have a problem.” And so the Christian community has gotten passive and permissive.
Go to the person. Call them out. And entrust reconciliation to God.
This, of course, is such a slippery slope, which is why it’s got to, got to, got to be in that spirit of meaning well. Prayer helps us with that -- the Holy Spirit leads us to meaning well. You go to someone with an arrogant spirit? a presumptive spirit? a non-humble spirit? -- And that conflict is only going to worsen. But Jesus calls us to confront wrong-doing, speak the truth in love.
[slow down] This isn’t easy stuff Jesus is holding before us. Forgiveness is not for the fainthearted; being humble and honest with the person that needs to hear a tough word is not for the fainthearted, it’s for the strong-hearted. Someone with a strong heart is someone with lots of love in their heart, humility in their heart, hope in their heart...
...This would be an appropriate time to think about someone else -- someone you’ve know who does possess this strong heart, this well-meaning spirit, this courage to call you out, when you’ve strayed off the path of righteousness. I think there’s a pretty good chance that the person who’s called you out...who’s spoken the truth in love to you...is a person you hold in high esteem. Some might this person a dear friend. “He’s the only one who said something to me. Nobody else cared.” “She’s the only one who had the guts to call me out. I needed that.”
Today and throughout these rich Lenten days, we ask God to “Create in us clean hearts and to renew a right spirit within us.” Will you pray with me; let’s pray for ourselves:
Help us O God to be more well-meaning and less mean-spirited. Create in us clean hearts. Help us to forgive, help us to be bold, help us to be honest, help us to be loving. Create in us clean hearts and renew a right spirit with us. Cast us not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from us. Restore to us the joy or your salvation. Thank you for blessing us with that joy of your salvation, even now, even today. AMEN.