Sermon for Epiphany 7, Year C February 24, 2019

Luke 6:27-38

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” This is what Jesus says in our lesson from Luke.  On October 2nd in 2006, a delivery truck driver entered the Amish school in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shoot eight girls, killing five of them.  The response from the Amish community was not one of anger, outrage, and blame, but of forgiveness.  Members of the Amish community went to the homes of the shooter’s parents and family to forgive them and offer support.  A book, Amish Grace, tells the story of how this close-knit community responded and why forgiveness was offered immediately. 

The gunman was dead, but they went to his family to say, “we forgive you.”  Why forgive his family?  They were not responsible for the shooter’s actions.  But offering forgiveness meant for the Amish, “we do not hold this against you and know that you, too, are hurting.”  Forgiveness for the Amish is an essential part of their faith, they read what the Lord’s Prayer says about forgiveness literally. 

Amish Grace explains their faith by quoting the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us as we forgive others.” To be forgiven, we must forgive.  It is a reading of the Lord’s Prayer that I had never heard before, but worthy of reflection.  My faith is shaped by St. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth in which he says “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  I agree whole heartily with what the speaker at this year’s Diocesan Convention, Jerusalem Greer, said, “the good news is that we are God’s beloved.  Nothing we do or do not do, can make God love us more or less.” 

Still, Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, and, in today’s gospel he says: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  Jesus does clearly say “forgive, and you will be forgiven,” suggesting we cannot be forgiven if we do not forgive.  It does not say, however, that God’s love is withheld from us when we make mistakes, when we sin, or when we carry a grudge against someone who we believe has wronged us. 

          Forgiveness of others is not required to earn God’s love, but it is important, maybe even necessary for us to experience God’s love.  In the Episcopal Church we teach sin is that which separates us from the love of God.  Sin hurts us by diverting our attention away from what is good and right and life-giving.  Our sins are whatever turns our attention inward making us self-centered, full of self-pity, doubt, or rage.  I know because I have had a lot of practice. 

          It is just too easy to respond to being hurt with anger –  at the one who hurt us, the dog, or even ourselves.  Anger is a natural human emotion and turned inward it becomes depression.  Rabbi Harold Kushner, writing about forgiveness, talks about forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. 

          He spoke of a woman whose husband had left her for another women.  Years later she was still angry and resentful.  He told her that he wanted her to forgive him, not because her ex-husband deserved forgiveness, but because he should not being controlling her life today.  She deserved to experience joy in your life.  He had moved on, but she had not.  Her was unhappy because she had not forgiven him.  Forgiveness frees us to move on.  It is not, however the same as forgetting.  It is not the same as pardon. For as Kushner says, we need to remember and protect ourselves and we need to separate ourselves for what has been done and allow the justice system to hold people accountable.  Not be consumed with a need for retribution.

Forgiveness is key to our healing.  Can we forgive?  If not, we cannot find the peace that we seek.  A father of one of the girls killed in the school shooting said forgiveness is something he had to do over and over and over again.  The pain of losing his daughter was not something he could simply let go of, it evoked anger, justifiable anger, but he needed to forgive so he could continue to live his life.

The parents of the girls were not the ones who went to support the shooter’s family.  It was members of their community that did it for them and for their community.  Being a part of a loving community is as important to the Amish as a person’s individual faith.  Our society promotes individual responsibility, so much so that focusing just on ourselves is what comes naturally for many of us.  We were not, however, created to be alone, we were created to live together, to support and love one another.  As a faith community we can support spiritual practices, such as forgiveness, or we can participate in vilifying others or we can turn a blind eye to the evil that is being done, sometimes even in the name of God. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of more than the need to forgive, he speaks of the need to love.  He says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  He teaches us to turn the other cheek, which, like, forgiveness, does not come naturally.  He teaches us to pray for those who willingly inflict harm upon us or upon those we love. 

          Loving our enemies, like forgiving others, is a spiritual disciple which requires us to pray for them.  I once heard a comment that some of the members of the church I was attending did not like praying for the president in the prayers of the people.  They had no respect for him, and just hearing his name upset them.  What Jesus teaches us in today’s lesson is that we especially need to pray for the people we don’t respect, the people we disagree with, and the people we don’t like to be around us.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” 

          If we are to love our enemies and “those people,” I have found praying for them is the best place to start.  By praying for my enemies and people I don’t like, I begin to see them as people who, like me, make mistakes, get off track, and who may be hurting inside.  The divide that separates us begins to fall as I see them as people in need of the good news.  What separates us from the love of God?  Nothing.  But we can separate ourselves from experiencing God’s love when we allow hurt and anger to fill our hearts. 

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.”  Many may read teaching with fear, for we are quick to judge and condemn others – it is so easy to do.  What hope, then, is there for us?   And, forgiveness, it is not easily given.  Reading this passage as a pass/fail test is frightening.

It is not frightening, but a challenge when we understand this passages a lesson on the spiritual practices that we need to incorporate into our lives in order to experience God’s love and peace in our hearts.   

Let us pray.

          Loving God, teach us, we pray to forgive, fill our hearts with love that our love might be the light that drives out the darkness and brings others to your way of peace.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.