Tag: forgiveness

Podcast: I am your brother, Joseph

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Today I preached from Genesis 45:1-15. It’s the story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers who do not recognize him. Of course, there’s a lot to this story, and it’s one of the great stories of the Hebrew Bible.

It is also a timely story for the circumstances we in the United States are facing today. Where Joseph could have demanded retribution and revenge because his brothers sold him to passing merchants, he instead offers grace, mercy, and peace. Joseph is able to do this because he realized that God was at work in the life of his family and the nation. By offering forgiveness and reconciliation Joseph turns the brothers’ guilt and his father’s grief into joy and unity. I also ran across a great story that I think you’ll enjoy. Here’s the audio podcast:

 

Sermon: How The Mighty Have Fallen

800px-USSupremeCourtWestFacadeWhat a week this has been for our nation! I’m preaching this sermon tomorrow in light of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the debates over the Confederate flag, and The Supreme Court ruling that marriage is a right open to all couples, including those of the same sex. If there ever has been a time in the life of our nation and community to address these concerns, this week has provided that opportunity.

How The Mighty Have Fallen

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 NIV

After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

19 “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel.

How the mighty have fallen!

20 “Tell it not in Gath,

proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,

lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,

lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

21 “Mountains of Gilboa,

may you have neither dew nor rain,

may no showers fall on your terraced fields.

For there the shield of the mighty was despised,

the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.

22 “From the blood of the slain,

from the flesh of the mighty,

the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,

the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.

23 Saul and Jonathan—

in life they were loved and admired,

and in death they were not parted.

They were swifter than eagles,

they were stronger than lions.

24 “Daughters of Israel,

weep for Saul,

who clothed you in scarlet and finery,

who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle!

Jonathan lies slain on your heights.

26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;

you were very dear to me.

Your love for me was wonderful,

more wonderful than that of women.

27 “How the mighty have fallen!

The weapons of war have perished.”

A Week of Extraordinary Change

To say this has been an extraordinary week is an understatement. And, I hope you will bear with me as I read this manuscript today because I want to be very precise in choosing what I say and how I say it.

When we gathered this time last week our hearts were broken for our brothers and sisters in the Emanuel AME Church congregation. Nine of their members, including their pastor, had been gunned down during a Bible study in their church on the Wednesday night before last Sunday.

In the midst of that tragedy, we were astonished at the grace and forgiveness offered to the hate-filled assassin by those who had lost loved ones. We marvelled at the courage, dignity, and resilience with which Charleston and the Mother Emanuel community faced this tragedy.

In keeping with their response, many of us gathered in front of the Pittsylvania County courthouse this past Monday. Black and white together we prayed for those who had been killed, the martyrs of Mother Emanuel. We prayed for our own community, asking God to spare us a similar tragedy. Most importantly, we held hands — black and white — to say to this community, “We are one!”

I am very proud of you because many of you came out last Monday and stood and prayed with us. Others called to say that previous commitments kept them from coming, but they were with us in spirit.

I sense we passed a milestone in our community last Monday. My prayer is that we will make the most of this opportunity to continue to get to know each other, to talk about our community, and to work together to make it truly united.

Along with the tragedy, came an opportunity for those of us in the South to rethink an historic social symbol, the Confederate flag. While 150 years of post-Civil War argument failed to achieve consensus on the appropriate display of the Confederate flag, one photograph of a hateful young white man brandishing a pistol in one hand and the Confederate flag in the other accomplished. That one photograph moved political and business leaders to action.

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina took the extraordinary position that the Confederate flag that flew on the grounds of the state capitol should be removed. She was joined in that position by United States Senator Lindsey Graham, and by the grandson of the late Senator Strom Thurmond. No matter what decision the South Carolina legislature makes, the public stand of these political leaders was extraordinary. Not long after that, Alabama removed the Confederate flag from its capitol grounds.

Here in Virginia, Governor McAuliffe ordered that the emblem of the Confederate flag on the Sons of Confederacy license plates be deleted. Governor McAuliffe was aided in that decision by a recent Supreme Court ruling. The Court held that the state of Texas could prohibit the use of the Confederate flag on license plates because license plates are a type of “state speech,” and the state could not be compelled to “speak” for special interests.

But, the big ruling came on Friday. The Supreme Court, divided 5-4 as it often is, ruled that the right to marry is a constitutionally-protected right which extends to all couples including those of the same sex.

I can’t recall a more extraordinary week in the course of our nation in my lifetime, with the exception of the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. The Board of Education in 1954 which ended school segregation.

I will return to how we address all of these topics in just a moment, but first let’s look at the Scripture reading for today.

The Deaths of Saul and Jonathan

In the passage we read this morning, Saul and his son, Jonathan have been killed in battle against the Philistines. Saul has ruled Israel for 42 years (1 Samuel 13:1).  But, his kingship has been under a cloud since Saul disobeyed God early in his reign. Saul did two things that God did not like. First, he offered a sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel, the prophet-priest, to offer it. Secondly, Saul did not carry out God’s command to do battle with the Amalekites, and to completely annihilate them.

Whatever we think today of the instruction to Saul to kill all the Amalekites, including men, women, children, and all their flocks and herds, the point for us today is that Saul disobeyed God. That disobedience caused Samuel again to rebuke Saul and to prophesy that God has torn the kingdom from Saul, just as Saul had torn Samuel’s cloak when Saul grabbed him.

In his final battle with the Philistines, Saul and his three sons, including Jonathan, are killed. Jonathan and David have become close friends over the decades of Saul’s rule. They are such good friends that Jonathan warns David that his father, Saul, is trying to kill David.

Ironically, the nation of Israel wanted a king to lead them to victory of the Philistines, but at the end of Saul’s reign the Philistines controlled more territory than they controlled at the beginning.

Nevertheless, when news of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths reaches David, he is grief-stricken. David had passed on several chances to kill Saul because each time he had decided that he could not kill the Lord’s anointed.

So, Saul and Jonathan’s deaths become an occasion for mourning for David and the nation. David instructs that the men of Judah to learn the Song of the Bow contained in the Book of Jashar.

We no longer have the Book of Jashar, but the writer of Samuel includes the Song of the Bow in this passage. The song is a lament for a fallen leader, much as David is lamenting the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

The Song of the Bow recalls the heroics and nobility of the fallen leader. It recounts his valor in battle, and inserts the names of Saul and Jonathan as heroes of the nation’s wars.

But three times, the Song of the Bow laments “How the mighty have fallen.” (2 Samuel 1:19, 25, and 27).  And, that is my point today. Just as the mighty Saul and Jonathan could be brought down in battle, the mighty are always susceptible to defeat and loss.

Saul’s failing, among others, was his own arrogance and pride. He assumed positions he was not entitled to assume, and he replaced God’s command with his own judgment.

The Bible states, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 NIV.

That brings us back to the events of this past week. How can we learn from Saul’s failures, so that it is not said of us, “How the mighty have fallen.”

How Do We Respond?

What is our response as a community of faith to the events of this past week? To the shootings in a Charleston church? To the debate about the Confederate flag? To the ruling of the Supreme Court on same sex marriage?

First, let me set the stage for my answers to each of those questions. I am a pastor. I am your pastor. The word pastor means one who is a shepherd, one who cares for the flock. I perform my pastoral duties faithfully by caring for you. At times that means comforting you when you have mourned. Or rejoicing with you when you have good news to share. Or challenging you when we need to make a decision for the good of the congregation.

But always, foremost in my mind is my responsibility as your pastor. You are my flock. I pray for you. I check on you when you’re sick. I visit you when you need pastoral care or guidance. I counsel you when you have questions or concerns. My first priority is your spiritual health and wholeness.

That means that while I may have opinions about all of these issues, just like you do,  my opinions are less important than my relationship with you. I am your pastor. That means I do not have the luxury of saying anything I want to on social media like Facebook or Twitter because what I say reflects on this congregation. I am aware of that responsibility.

Whenever we face decisions or challenges, I have a responsibility to pastor this church consistent with the views and values of this congregation. On those rare occasions when I have had a question about a pastoral function, I have sought counsel from the Deacons and they have guided me wisely.

I am not an itinerant prophet who stands apart from you with harsh words and then moves on to the next audience. I am not a bishop who oversees you and commands your ecclesiastical loyalty. I am your pastor, and I want you to know today that I take my role and responsibility as your pastor very seriously.

On these issues, and others we will face, I believe that we as a church must have a conversation and reach consensus on what we believe, whether we make that position known publicly or not.

Having said that, let’s return to the manner in which I believe we should respond to these issues.

First, we should respond in love. Whether we are discussing racial reconciliation or same-sex marriage, we have to be loving. Christians often damage their witness with hasty, ill-conceived responses to the latest blog post or newspaper headline. The church is to be the light of the world, not just an additional source of heat.

Whether we agree with others or not, our responses must be loving because that is what Jesus would do. It was only in response to the self-assured, arrogant religious leaders that Jesus was himself sharp and prophetic. With others like the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus the dishonest tax collector, the outcast Mary Magdalene, and other seekers Jesus was redemptive and loving.

We also must be loving because there are people we know personally who are affected by these issues. Most people today know someone who is gay. We respect these people because they are our neighbors or coworkers, or because we’re related to them. Whatever our relationship with them, we want the best for them, just as we do for ourselves.

Secondly, we should respond humbly. If Saul’s sin was arrogance and pride, we face the danger of falling into the same pit. These issues are neither simple, nor do they have simple solutions. I have studied the issues of race, racism, and reconciliation extensively.  The more I read and study, the more I realize how complex all of these social issues are. So, we approach all of these issues with humility. We neither know all the answers, nor do we understand the full scope of the problems.

In my book, The Reconciling Community, I suggested that there are five criteria for a church ministry of reconciliation:

  1. Remember our past and build on what is best about our history and heritage.
  2. Acknowledge that our past also contained prejudice and discrimination.
  3. Engage in mutual conversation and confession with those with whom our church is seeking reconciliation.
  4. Act with humility, in our words, our attitudes, and our actions particularly in how we as the majority race relate to minorities.
  5. Demonstrate a shared commitment to work together with others to transform community institutions including churches, schools, civic clubs, criminal justice agencies, local businesses, and other institutions where needed. (The Reconciling Community, pg. 98-100)

In other words, in the area of racial reconciliation for example, we have to get on the same side as our black brothers and sisters. Their goals of equality and opportunity have to become important to us, too. We approach that work humbly because no white person has any idea of what it is like to be black.

That is exactly what happened here in Chatham on Monday. Black and white citizens gathered at the courthouse because our black brothers and sisters were grieving. We prayed with them, we grieved together the loss of nine lives, we stood together to say that in this community when one of us is assaulted, we are all injured.

As our community reconciliation group continues to dialogue, we as members of this church have to conduct ourselves with humility. And humility means we don’t have all the answers. Jesus reminded us that we don’t point out the mote in someone else’s eye until we have acknowledged the beam in our own. (Matthew 7:1-6)

Thirdly, we should respond honestly. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t understand this issue.” Or, “knowing what I know now, I don’t agree with you on this issue.” Frankly, there are aspects of the issues involving human sexuality I do not know nearly enough about. I look forward to learning and to understanding these issues more fully.

However, our honesty is not an excuse for insensitivity or rudeness. Nor is honesty an excuse for refusing to hear those who hold other positions. Until we can honestly acknowledge our own limitations, we cannot begin to understand others.

Fourth, we should stay engaged in the conversation. The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, and much dramatic change has come in the last 10 years. Some of that change we have embraced, some of it puzzles us, and some of it offends us. But the only way forward is to continue to talk, continue to try to understand, continue to look at how our own theology shapes our thoughts and actions.

Our church is facing its own challenges, challenges that did not exist in previous years. At the height of our influence, probably in the first six or seven decades of the twentieth century, this congregation did some extraordinary things. We helped found Hargrave Military Academy. We planted Samuel Harris Memorial Baptist Church, and we wielded influence in community and denominational life.

Thankfully our contributions did not end there. In the past 11 years, we have reached back to our past, building on the best of our heritage. We helped start the Boys and Girls Club, we helped build a community center, and we host a community music school. In addition, our ministry to seniors through our Adult Fellowship and bus trips has enriched the lives of many in this community.

Finally, we will continue to follow Jesus Christ as Lord of all. While that sounds like a simple and obvious idea, following Christ historically has meant service and sacrifice. When Christ called his first disciples, he called them from the certainty of the fishing life to the uncertainty of life in the Kingdom of God. We are reminded that God’s Kingdom begins here on this earth because Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our responsibility is to do God’s will here, even as it is being done in heaven.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll have the opportunity to talk together about some of these issues. We need to work out our own theology in each of these areas. And, our community needs our leadership and our engagement.

If we learn to avoid the arrogant mistakes of people like King Saul, it will not be said of us, “How the mighty have fallen.”

Rather, our prayer is that others will say, “Chatham Baptist Church has been a humble and loving beacon of hope in this community for generations.” May it ever be so. Amen.

Sermon: The Implications of Being Sent By Jesus

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching for the second Sunday of Eastertide. I trust your Sunday will be a wonderful day filled with hope that the resurrection brings, just as it brought hope and possibility to the first disciples. 

The Implications of Being Sent By Jesus

John 20:19-31 NIV

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said,“Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Going for the Big Finish

Our granddaughters, Vivian and Maggie, are like other 12 and 9 year old girls. They are involved in a number of extra-curricular activities. Vivian took dance for several years, and the highlight of the dance year was the annual recital. But this wasn’t just any recital. The dance studio has dozens of students, which means lots of moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and so on who will want to see their daughter, or granddaughter, or niece perform.

To accommodate the large crowds, the dance instructor rented the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina, for, not one, but two days of dance recitals. But for the little girls — Vivian was a preschooler then — the highlight of the dance recital was getting to wear the costume, or costumes, depending upon how many numbers they were in.

So, this is a big deal. And, like dutiful grandparents, we made 4-and-a-half hour trip one way to see Vivian on stage for all of about 3 minutes. That’s what grandparents do, and we did it a couple of times.

Well, by about the third or fourth year of dance lessons, Vivian’s interest in dance classes was waning. So before signing up for dance lessons for another year, Laurie, our daughter, and Vivian had a little chat.

Laurie asked Vivian if she wanted to take dance for another year. Vivian said, “Yes.” Then, Laurie said, “But that means you’ll have to go to dance lessons every week.”

Vivian replied, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the lessons. I just want to be in the recital.” Laurie informed Vivian that the only way to get to be in the recital (and wear the sparkly costumes) was to take dance lessons each week. Thereupon, Vivian’s dance career came to an end.

The Disciples Face a New Challenge

All of us have had those moments where we want the big finish without all the prerequisites that go before it. And followers of Jesus are no different. Let’s look for a few moments at the implications of being sent by Jesus.

First, of all, we have to realize that the disciples had not thought about their future without Jesus present to lead them. However they had imagined their lives turning out as Jesus followers, a life without him was not one of the scenarios they entertained.

So attached were they to Jesus that when they thought about his leaving them, as they do in John’s Gospel the 14th chapter, Jesus has to reassure them that where he is going, they are going to, and that there are rooms prepared for them in his Father’s house. (John 14:1-6 NIV)

But that doesn’t seem to satisfy at least one of them. Thomas  complains, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

So, when Jesus is crucified and buried, their world collapses. Now, on the first day of the week, the disciples have had time to see the empty tomb, and to discuss the implications of that for themselves. Of course in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene claims to have seen the Lord herself, but in John’s telling of the story, the disciples have gathered together behind locked doors because they are afraid of what the Jewish authorities will do to them next.

They must be imagining that the authorities, with the consent of Pilate, have raided the tomb of Jesus, and concealed his body so that his grave will not become a martyr’s site for Jesus’ followers. Or, they might be afraid that the authorities have stolen the body of Jesus in order to blame them, his followers, of doing the same thing and thereby trying to perpetrate a hoax that Jesus rose from the dead.

Whatever they are thinking, they are dealing with the implications of having been Jesus’ followers. And, I imagine that not a few of them are wondering how they got in the mess they found themselves in.

But suddenly, without announcement or warning, on the evening of that day that had seemed to go on forever, John simply says, “Jesus came and stood among them…”

He greets them with the words, “Peace be with you!” which was the standard greeting among Jews, the greeting that God’s peace would rest on the person or family to whom one was speaking.

Immediately he shows them his hands and side. This is no apparition, no ghost, no fog-machine scene where they can barely see Jesus. No, as proof that he is who they think he is, he shows them the nail wounds in his hands and the gaping spear wound in his side. Now, you and I can only speculate on what this looks like. Apparently these wounds were meant to verify that this really was Jesus, rather than further disturb the disciples, so the visible wounds had a reassuring, rather than revolting, role.

Then, Jesus says to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And there we have it. This is what they are going to be doing in their future which does not include the physical presence of Jesus. They are going to be sent into the world by Jesus, just as the Father had sent Jesus into the world.

We read these words so casually now, as if we are thinking, “Well, of course that’s what Jesus is doing, sending the disciples into the world. We all know that.”

But for the disciples this is a new revelation. Of course, Jesus has hinted at their mission. He’s even sent them out on trial runs of the sort capture in Luke 10, where 72 of Jesus’ followers go on a mission of ministry to do what Jesus did. They heal the sick, they cast out demons, they seek the person of peace — meaning one who is a conduit of God’s shalom — and when they return Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18 NIV).

But now, rather than going immediately where Jesus is going, Jesus is sending them on a mission to the world, in the same manner in which God the Father has sent him. In other words, just like Vivian learned, before you get to the big finish, there are some things that have to be done first.

So, what are the implications of being sent into the world by Jesus?

Equipped by the Spirit

The first implication of being sent my Jesus into the world is that Jesus isn’t sending them, or us, alone. No, as he promised he is sending the Holy Spirit to be his presence in our life.

Jesus promised the disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16 NIV)

This Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit. Now this is not the first time we see the Holy Spirit. From creation onward, the Spirit of God has been present and at work. But this is the first time that the Spirit is promised to someone other than a king, or a priest, or a prophet. This time the Spirit is promised to be the ever-present companion of every follower of Jesus, just as Jesus was with the disciples in his earthly life.

Then, Jesus doesn’t just promise the Spirit, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Wow. That was unexpected by the disciples. While they’re still trying to digest the idea that the resurrected Jesus is standing before them, and that he is sending them, he does something he has never done before — he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Somehow in our misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit, we have thought that the Holy Spirit is optional, at least in our worship and doctrinal expression. So, when the charismatic movement came along, you were either in or out. You either decided that you wanted those expressions of the Holy Spirit or you didn’t. The same is true today. Pentecostals represent those who are led by the Spirit in worship, while the rest of us are led by our understanding of Scripture, or tradition, or doctrine.

But if we think that about the Holy Spirit we miss His presence and power. The Holy Spirit is our promised companion regardless of worship style or basis of authority. You might find it interesting that early in our founding years, Baptists were viewed as wild-eyed spiritual fanatics who neither respected tradition or reason, but held an unseemly commitment to letting the Spirit of God speak to them. Interesting how we’ve gotten tamer over the past 400 years!

But the point is, one of the implications of being sent by Jesus is that we’re not sent alone — the Holy Spirit is our ever-present companion.

An Unthinkable Ministry

But if you think the idea of having the Holy Spirit present as our companion is unsettling, just wait. Jesus also gave the disciples a ministry previously reserved for God alone. The act of forgiving sins. You remember the famous encounter Jesus had with the religious authorities of his day in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus is teaching in a house, and the crowd is so great that no one can press through. So, four friends who have brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing, quickly climb up on the flat roof, remove the roof tiles in the spot above where Jesus is teaching, and lower their friend down right in front of Jesus.

Mark says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:5 NIV)

Religious authorities are present in the crowd, and they are appalled. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they ask. Then Jesus says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take up your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:10-11 NIV)

The disciples must have recalled that incident as Jesus gave them authority to forgive sins. But, what does that mean for us today? Is that our ministry, or did it just belong to the disciples? Well, if the Holy Spirit is ours, then this ministry is ours also.

But, this ministry of forgiving sins is a mystery to us. We do not know exactly what it means. What it does not mean is that we are now to pass judgment on others who are not like us.

What I think it means is that we act like Jesus acted toward those who are sinful. While that would include all of us, in Jesus day there were the righteous Jews, like the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and other religious figures, and then there were the sinners like the tax collectors, women of the street, and so on. Jesus ate with these sinners. Jesus went into their homes. Jesus pronounced as Zachaeus came to faith, “Today salvation is come to this house.”

Our ministry, with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, is to be Jesus to those for whom access to God has been denied, or discouraged. We open the way for them to find forgiveness by showing them the kindness of Jesus himself, the kindness wrapped in redemption and hope.

When I was in the hospital, a lady came in to clean our room every day. I’ll call her Pauline, which was not her name, but I want to protect her privacy. It was obvious Pauline had had a difficult life. You could see it in the stoop of her shoulders, and the shuffle of her feet. And it was written on her weary face.

At first, Pauline went about her business of emptying the trash, and then mopping the room with little to say. She would say to Debbie, “Come out so I can mop.”

For many people, Pauline was the anonymous housekeeper, one of the many faceless, nameless people to do menial labor that others do not want to do.

Debbie and I decided to make a friend of Pauline. We had heard one of the nurses calling her name, so each day when she came in, we were greeted her with the same friendliness and warmth of a welcomed guest. And each day, Pauline opened up a little more of herself to us. Pauline was there everyday except Sunday. When she returned on Monday, we told her we missed her the day before.

She asked if anyone had mopped our room, and we said no, they had only picked up the trash. With a sense of pride, she said, “They’re supposed to mop, but all they do is pick up trash.” We assured her that we had missed her careful attention to our room. By the time I was discharged, Pauline was actually laughing with us.

Okay, you say, “But where’s the forgiveness of sin in that?” I believe as we forgive each other the little moments of sullenness, the times of testiness, the words that wound, and the looks that kill, we free that person to be what God intended for them to be — His child, filled with his Spirit and joy.

Conclusion

Of course, there are other implications of being sent by Jesus than the presence of the Spirit and the ministry of forgiveness. But those are two that are important. Sometimes we skip over those two implications and rush right on to preaching and teaching and all of the ways in which people hear the Gospel. Because after all, Jesus told Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

But in this Easter season, let’s not forget that the presence of the Spirit and the ministry of forgiveness are where Jesus started with the disciples.

Podcast: The Days Are Coming

On the final Sunday of Lent we are looking at Jeremiah 31:31-34, where God says that “the days are coming” when those in captivity in Babylon will have a new covenant with God. That new covenant was unimaginable to the people of Jeremiah’s day because the Temple had been destroyed, Jerusalem lay in ruins, and the nation of Judah has seen its king led away in chains.

But Jeremiah prophesies a new day where God will again be their God; when God’s law will be in their minds and on their hearts; and, when God will forgive their sins. This new day begins in the sixth century BC, but finds its fulfillment in the incarnation of Christ. But God is still at work today, and during this Lenten season our task is to imagine the new work that God continues to do in all of creation. Here’s the link to the podcast — http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/02_The_Days_Are_Coming.mp3

(The story about Dick Drew, 3M, and imagination comes from Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.)

Why Rush Limbaugh’s Apology Fails

Rush Limbaugh continues to hemorrhage sponsors and at least two radio stations as the controversy over his personal attack on Sandra Fluke continues. Whether you like Rush Limbaugh or not — and frankly I don’t – this is an interesting case study in offense and apology. When Limbaugh’s apology is measured by the benchmarks of moral apology, it fails abjectly. Let’s take a look at why, and what could have been different.

In her book, Taking Wrongs Seriously: Acknowledgment, Reconciliation, and the Politics of Sustainable Peace, Trudy Govier, a professor of philosophy, says that moral apology differs from defense of one’s actions, or excuse or explanation of one’s actions. Most of us have both received and offered an excusing or explanatory apology: “Sorry I’m late, the traffic was terrible” is a common example.

But moral apology is required when someone has been harmed or injured either physically, emotionally, or socially. Limbaugh obviously crossed the line of cultural decency in his personal attack on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. Name-calling as an ad hominem attack is not new, but it does move the discussion of any topic away from the issue and on to a personal level. Limbaugh clearly did that, which even he acknowledged.

But acknowledgment in moral apology is not the only step in the process. Govier identifies eight steps in moral apology:

  1. Acknowledges wrongful acts. The offender admits to committing wrongful acts. Limbaugh did admit to calling Sandra Fluke outrageous names in a personal assault on her character.
  2. Expresses remorse for those acts. The offender expresses genuine remorse for the offending acts. Saying “I’m sorry” sincerely is important for both the offender and the offended. Limbaugh said his apology was “heartfelt” but others did not share that assessment.
  3. Accepts moral responsibility. “I did it and I take full responsibility” is a succinct statement accepting moral responsibility.
  4. Avoids justification or excuse. When Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer, apologized for being photographed using drugs, he blamed his behavior on his immaturity saying, “I’m 23 years old….” Unfortunately, four years before when he was caught he used the same excuse, “I’m just 19.” Limbaugh excused his behavior by saying it was an attempt at humor. Few found it funny.
  5. Invites forgiveness. Limbaugh’s apology is not addressed to Sandra Fluke and does not invite her forgiveness or other reconciling response. “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me…” is a typical phrase used to open the door to forgiveness from the offended person, and restoration of the relationship.
  6. Implies the offended deserved better treatment. “I should not have spoken about you that way, you deserve my respect.” Limbaugh could have used a phrase similar to that, but he did not. His apology centered on himself, not the person he offended.
  7. Commits to not repeating the offense in the future. If he was sincerely interested in making things right, Limbaugh might have been expected to repent as well. Remorse is sorrow for one’s action; repentance involves changing one’s behavior. There is no indication Limbaugh promised never to attack anyone personally again. Quite the contrary, his continued explanations involved attacks on others.
  8. Offers amends. Newspapers offer amends for inaccurate reporting by printing retractions. Courts are filled each day with people seeking amends through court settlements. Limbaugh’s apology made no move to offer amends. Even Don Imus offered to meet personally with the young college women he offended as a way to make amends personally.

Rush Limbaugh’s apology should be seen for what it is – an insincere attempt to limit the damage to his brand, and to stem the flight of his advertisers. As such, his mea culpa fails the test of moral apology, not to mention common decency.

Podcast: After 9/11, Forgiveness Cancels A Debt

This is the podcast of the sermon I preached on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  I titled this sermon After 9/11 Forgiveness Cancels A Debt.  Appropriately the revised common lectionary Gospel reading for that day came from Matthew 18:21-35 which presents Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.  I hope you find this helpful as you reflect on the ongoing tragedies that occurred on and after that sad day in the life of our nation and the world.

Podcast: The Reconciling Community

This is the podcast of the sermon I preached on September 4, 2011, titled The Reconciling Community.  The podcast is also on iTunes (search for Chuck Warnock under iTunes Podcasts at the iTunes Store).

This sermon is based on Matthew 18:15-20, and explores the idea of reconciliation within the community of the followers of Jesus.  I hope you find it helpful.