I Don’t Know What Forgiveness Is: Matthew 18.15–22

Delivered at Ames UCC on March 10, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

2019.3.10 metanoiaFORGIVENESS
As many of you know, I’m enrolled in a two-year program of spiritual formation called Prairie Fire. When it is over I will do a third year to become a certified spiritual director. In my small group a couple of months ago, our leader read a piece about forgiveness. My response was something like, “I don’t buy this. I don’t know what forgiveness is, but I don’t buy it.”

I don’t know what forgiveness is, but I don’t buy it. A contradiction, of course, because how can I refuse to buy something if I say I don’t know what it is. What I think I meant is that I do not know what forgiveness is but I do not buy what the church universal tends to sell as forgiveness: the justification for Jesus’s death on a cross.

ATONEMENT
What to do with Jesus’s death on the cross has been a problem since that death. How could someone infused with, or someone of divinity be killed? Why would God “allow” that? And what if God not only allowed it, but wanted it? What do our answers say about God and what do they say God thinks of us?

There have been many answers, and still are. The orthodox position, orthodox meaning “right belief,” has been that humanity is so horrid that God needed a blood sacrifice to atone for our horridness. God needed the death of one who was welcoming, loving, and gracious in order to forgive us for our failure to be all of those things.

Such theology makes humanity inherently deficient and God universally bloodthirsty. I reject both.

I know that we can be rotten, but not thoroughly depraved. And, as we read in Psalm 51 at both Ash Wednesday services last week, God has “no delight in sacrifice” (verse 16). God’s intervention at Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac affirms the Psalmist: God is over sacrificial atonement, if God even was into it in the first place. So the forgiveness that I do not buy is the one that most Christian churches claim to have exclusive control of through their interpretation of these old stories.

But speaking of old stories, in today’s passage it isn’t divine forgiveness of human deficiency through capital punishment that Jesus teaches.

JESUS
As with so many in Matthew, this is a private teaching just for the disciples. After many parables and the work needed to glimpse their many potential meanings, Jesus offers this straightforward lesson in community life:

If someone in your community harms you, go talk to them in private. If they apologize, you are all good. If not, go back to them with a witness or two. If that does not work, if you are still not heard, then tell the whole community. If still there is no admittance of injury and effort at reparation, your work is done.

But this recipe for returning to right relationship is not enough for Simon Peter. He asks Jesus, “If I am hurt, how often should I forgive? Seven times?” Nope, Jesus replies, “77 times.” Much has been made of these particular numbers, but let’s today simply hear it as an intensification. There is no limit to the number of times we are to forgive one who harms us.
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Forgiveness Begins in Holy Community: 2 Corinthians 2.1–10

forgivenessDelivered at Ames UCC
on May 29, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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FORGIVENESS STORIES
When Adam and Eve were in God’s garden, they broke God’s one rule. God could not forgive them and so they were banished. Later, Adam’s and Eve’s sons presented offerings to God. God preferred that of Abel over that of Cain. Cain could not forgive the slight, but rather than rejecting God, he killed Abel.

After studying the Bible with pastors and congregants of Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC, a young man murdered nine of them in an effort to start a race war. On his first appearance in court, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance said

I forgive you…You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.

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Priesthood of All Believers

priesthood of allPublished March 9, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Some of the most powerful theological thinking in my church happens at our League of Youth (LOY).

Middle schooler:  “I don’t think Jesus is the king in the parable of the wedding banquet. I think Jesus is the stranger who wasn’t wearing a wedding outfit and got kicked out. It was before Easter so they didn’t recognize him yet.”

Last night I joined our middle and high school kids (and a handful adults) for dinner and a conversation about worship. Our youth have a fair amount of involvement in worship: Once each month they are greeters and ushers and once a month they read the prayers and scripture.

But for this gathering I wanted to talk about how worship is where we practice being Christians, specifically practice being table followers and baptized seekers.

Our conversation about Holy Communion centered on Maundy Thursday and Jesus’ welcome of all, including his betrayer, Judas.

Teenagers know a lot about betrayal: a sense of betrayal by their bodies, by their parents and guardians, by their peers, by their nation. Continue reading

Practicing Forgiveness: Matthew 18.15–35

forgive in chainsDelivered at Claremont UCC on February 22, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and follow in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

We may begin our worship with welcome and song but we quickly move to a prayer of confession. The one I just read is very old, appearing in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in the mid-1500s. Those we pray each week are similar: Here is how we are broken, here is how we have fallen short. We yearn to do better so please do not abandon us.
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