Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sacramental Forgiveness

Some of you may remember that I wrote extensively back in 2014 and 2015 about the importance and difficulties of practicing sabbath in modern culture.

I compared our practice of Sunday worship to the call to rest at the heart of any good sabbath observance and found the disconnect.  Sunday was "up."  Sabbath was supposed to be "down."

Recalling the places in scripture alone where sabbath principles are expressed shows how central to a life of faith in God a good sabbath practice can be.

We need sabbath, God made sabbath by being the first to take that rest.  Moses minions yearned for a sabbath and found out how important a sabbath discipline could be.

There's a presumption of forgiveness in the sabbath practice that we learn from our covenanted ancestors.  By scripting in "time out" to the regular week of night and day, of work and play, of eating and sleeping our tradition is admitting that not everything we do brings the benefits we expect.

Sabbath says "stop."  Isn't that what we say to the tireless type "A" the insistent toddler, the descending addict, the extra punch bullie?  Stop!

Not everything that humans do makes the world a better place, perhaps especially those things we do to leave a mark for ourselves in the script we hope our descendents will recall.

The other informing piece toward forgiveness embedded in the sabbath tradition is at least a version of the truism that time heals wounds.  In terms of Israel's exodus to and taking possession of the promised land sabbath meant creation could take care of itself given a chance.

The earth -- with just one day of rest in seven days of cultivation, harvesting, construction -- could find healing and wholeness all on its own.

That principle can still inform our shared lives as members of the Church of the Advent.  Findings ways to stop our relentless marching to notoriety, success, righteousness is its own hard work.

But the sabbath principle is principal.  Let's stop.  There's forgiveness and healing "down" there.

Every Sunday even in the rush to accomplish a liturgical feat/feast, to orchestrate and perform an intricate process of presentation, offertory surrender, uplifting consecration, and purposeful dismissal what matters most is that we just stop.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Forgiving God

One aspect of our learning about forgiveness as an expansive function of God’s presence that I have not yet addressed is perhaps the toughest one: our forgiving of God.

So let’s start by telling the truth: every single one of us has had moments in our lives of hurt, disappointment, failure, loss for which we only know to blame God.  True or not we've all felt that way, especially in those moments when we were doing what we thought was our best.  We don’t always blame God but when all other causes are excusable who is left?

It seems like much of this condition has to do our preconceptions about God.  It's interesting that most of our preconceptions box God into roles in many ways unlike what we see in Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the boxes we use for the “blamed God” is puppeteer.  We need help and we pray to God and we expect God to pull some strings for things to get better.  We need to be cautious here because we risk defining away the very freedom that makes love possible and I’m pretty sure love is a thing God wants for us.

Popular culture has dealt with this question especially well in the film “Bruce Almighty,” where Bruce, played by comedian Jim Carey can move the moon but can’t compel his crush, played by Jennifer Anniston to love him.

Another box is that one I characterize as “Santa Claus having a bad day.”  God is portrayed as always watching and keeping accounts of those who are “naughty or nice” and ordering just enough toys or sticks and coal for the Christmas giveaway or judgment day.  The best corrective for this limited view of God is the entire book of Job, ‘nuff said.

Another box is one many use to make sense of those particularly puzzling times when we say things like “only God knows” or “everything happens for a reason.”  Here it is worth it to dig a little and let stand the truth that the only trustworthy picture of God is the one revealed in Jesus and not in some hidden esoterica or Hellenized philosophy.

There are plenty of other boxes but the ones I've listed clearly indicate our struggle to live in a world of hurt and loss even while believing in God.  Each of them, in an attempt to express one aspect of God’s character misses another.  And each makes our forgiving God that much harder.

Letting Jesus be our best picture of God is a game changer for me.  Born humbly to become a compassionate healer, faithful leader and courageous teacher, who died obediently so that our lives could have new meaning and purpose, kind of makes all the extra-biblical descriptions of God seem “clunky” at best and well off the mark.

In Jesus we see the God who saves us first by being with us and who clearly chooses love over control, forgiveness over revenge, presence over power, mercy over punishment.  What’s to forgive? We should be sorry for thinking otherwise.

Admittedly, the hurt and loss of this life don't disappear.  God is still with us, knows everything we know about disappointment, failure and loss then still forgives us and all our bad pictures of him.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Covering of Love

Last week I connected the power of "binding and loosing" that Jesus bestows on Peter and the others of the twelve to an agency that is now ours as ones aroused by the proximity and approach of God's reign.

Binding is more than pronouncing judgement or laying blame.  It is that important first part of truth-telling and recognition.  Loosing is the concluding phase that ultimately works through to saying "you are forgiven."

Operating throughout is an expectation that the binding has adequately identified what matters and has done so in accordance with God's spirit.  Remember how important it is to acknowledge that we can never talk "behind God's back." Remember also Paul's caution to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

This love presumes a God fearing respect and I think also promotes a depth and clarity in our truth telling.  It's not just to soften the blow.  Love can do more and actually helps to create conditions that avoid trivia and pettiness.

Empathy begins the binding as we first listen to the victim's truth to fully understand the who, what, where, when and why of how we have wronged someone.  God is in on this and so both the listener and petitioner can risk the vulnerability necessary to speak the truth love.

The pattern is not just a simple two step of "heart felt" apology and resolute absolution.  It is much more like that three-fold dynamic of regularity, validity and efficacy in all our sacramental practices.

Binding/Regularity sets the stage and follows some rules in order to be reliable, comprehensive and repeatable.  Loosing/Efficacy happens into the future and acknowledges a new/renewed status of both penitent and victim.

Rising out of and covering beyond the overlap of "binding and loosing" is love.  Love encourages depth and clarity in our calling out and naming the wrong.  Love allows for real contrition and a change in behavior.  Love helps sustain reconciliation and moderates our holding each other accountable.

Without love our agency accomplishes little more than changes in the pecking order and entrenchments of power.  With love forgiveness sets us all free.

The sequencing of "binding and loosing" or of "regularity, validity, efficacy" is ours to "suffer" because we are creatures of time and space, yet to inhabit fully that future from whence God approaches us.

Because of who God is, he does not have to suffer such restriction.  God can do whatever God wants. Indeed part of our arousal to the kingdom's nearness is that from it God provides forgiveness before we've even acknowledged our sin.

The order is less important than the acknowledgement and expression of love -- God's love --  that empowers, validates and sustains forgiveness.  Without love it's just not forgiveness.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Love is the key to forgiveness

Before last week's wonder of a total eclipse I was focusing on forgiveness.  More than anything else I wanted us to understand the value of forgiveness as a participation with God in the very thing that excited Jesus.  

I wanted us to understand that God is with us both as the incarnate one and as a transcendent expectation to which we add our "yes!" or "alleluia!" and join the song of love that is first God's speaking us and all creation into being.  

That's why we must understand forgiveness as more than transactional.  When we forgive, especially when it is for the sake of the unrepentant, we claim and share a portion of that approaching territory that is God's gracious gift to us.  

When we read in last Sunday's gospel Jesus saying to Peter "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” what we're being told is that we are agents of God's reign.  

Binding and loosing means we are participants in a renewal of creation furthered by our faithful judgement and reconciliation.

Forgiveness matters.  Judgement matters, too.  Not that we would assume to be final arbiters of any matter pertaining to human sin but we are to "speak the truth in love" so that real forgiveness can be sought and supplied.  

Sadly, it is the addiction of our age that we accept something less than truth and reconciliation.  We satisfy ourselves with shortened or misdirected apologies like "I regret you misheard me" and brush-offs like "whatever" or "it's no big deal."

But God's reign shines a brighter light than the ones our weak hearts substitute.  That's why Peter's keys open both to the binding of judgement AND the loosing of reconciliation.  You really can't have one without the other.  And so we owe each other the truth spoken in love.

Without love our attempts at confession will lack the humility and trust that help us to fully name and own our wrongs as such.  Without love our absolutions and releases will stop short and leave conditional remainders and grudges.  

Love is that light!  God loved us first.  The light of God's loving reign extends through us and our participation in "binding and loosing." Love is the key to forgiveness. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eternal Totality For Now

"Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name." Amos 5:8 cited in our Book of Common Prayer, page 115
For a long, long time maybe since the first humans looked up at night, there has been this sense, this awe that the world, the cosmos is an incredible thing best understood as "in service" to an even greater belief.

That there are stars so marvelously constellated, sun and moon in such a concerted dance, rivers and oceans all around us is understood to be so marvelous as to trigger a kind of hope-filled casting into possibility, and "The Lord is his name."

Centuries of human discourse, some biblical, some of other religious persuasions, some not "religious" at all have heard us as humans -- dolphins? whales? bonobos? tortoises? elephants? -- ask and wonder simply and majestically: how?

Yesterday's eclipse has me asking my version of this ancient wondering: how is it that our moon travels as it does and is sized just so that it slips sometimes exactly in between us and the sun to eclipse the very light that makes life possible?

Yes there are astronomical calculations that try to explain by recounting the believed origins of our solar system and its orbiting bodies.  Earlier wonder-ers listened for the music of the spheres for their explanations.  Most physical explanations just restate the evidence but leave the question still lingering.

I think that's OK.  Other explanations, even those directed by the psalmist bump into trouble, too. What are now Christian thinkers have continued an ancient consideration that is almost too anthropomorphic.  We've been warned to avoid a description of God that is humanity "writ large" but it's difficult to find an answer that doesn't sound like egotistical human projection.  Think William Paley's watchmaker.

I am not taken by my 2 and half minutes of totality while northeast of Anderson, SC yesterday because it leads me to "seek him."  At least not yet.  I'm still marveling, still amazed, still laughing at the event itself.  Yes I came to my viewing with my faith already in hand but I'm not ready to move beyond my experience for any meaning other than wow!

Can we venture to say that the wonder and the questions may be the best of our responses?  Not the science, not the theology, not the "mansplaining."  At least for a little longer can we just be totally amazed?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

God's Reign = Action

I have been focusing on forgiveness these last few installments.  This is not only because I have learned about forgiveness within the larger framing of the approaching nearness of God's reign -- thank you Martin Smith -- but also because I have also learned how we need to continually practice forgiveness on lots of levels within the web of relationships of our day-to-day lives.  

The biggest piece of my learning has been to understand the limitations of a transactional approach to forgiving.  When Jesus talks about loving our enemies he criticizes an easy tit-for-tat balancing within safe circles.  He says "Even the gentiles do that." (Matthew 5:47) and by that clearly intends for us to do more.  

Loving one's enemies is "kingdom work."  It relies on an authority larger than our enclosed circles and requires much more than a "settled accounts" stasis.  

Just as important as the scope in this reading is our recognizing that forgiveness -- principle among those actions that could be construed as loving one's enemies -- must be something done.  It requires action.  

Because it is an action involving another it will have all the appearance of being only transactional.  It will have the initiating approach of the petitioner necessarily coupled with the returning and confirming response of the one being petitioned.  Like any transaction "I'm sorry/I forgive you" it risks being understood as finished too soon and portrayed as discrete and specific to the shared interests of the two parties.  Done!

Action is required and because we are creatures of time and space action it is required again, and again, and again.

This reminds me of a conversation I had at seminary about the word torah/תּוֹרָה.  Our contemporary use is to understand the word as a noun depicting the collection of texts in the first five books of the Bible and to summarize them as largely of or about a set of rules or laws.  

This is understandable because a centerpiece story in that collection is the handing of the ten commandments to Moses.  What was interesting to learn then was that the word Torah/תּוֹרָה is built on a verb ירה which means to teach. 

The characteristics I am applying to forgiveness are at work here.  Faithful living whether determined by ancient Hebrew standards or a more contemporary Christian practice calls us to continual action.

Whether it is one discrete transaction after another, cascading or expanding into an ever widening circle or it is an aroused response of love for others begun and made near to us in God's ever approaching love of us "kingdom work" requires action!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Forgiven-ness begets forgiving-ness

There is a way to talk about the reign of God that helps to name forgiveness as of God from the beginning but even now continuously begging our practice.  The phrase is "already and not yet."

First let's not get stymied by a typical “both/and” of “Anglican comprehensiveness" in allowing two seemingly contradictory categories to coexist.  It is not a cop-out.

The possibility of human forgiveness is grounded in God and we must admit that priority. Knowing human tendencies, we are wise to be cautious about this truth to avoid presumption or taking this gift for granted.

This priority is not like an abstract argument waiting to be articulated but more like a reality entirely caught up in who God is as the "ground of our being."

You can say that we are born into forgiven-ness.  Still cautious but infinitely graced.

That's the already-ness of forgiveness as a priority from the reign of God.

But there is also a "not yet" to the reign of God because God honors our world of time and space and ". . . the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

So we revel and celebrate the life of Jesus with all the questions that come in making sense of the fullness of his divinity and his humanity; what did he know and when did he know it?

Another marvel is in imagining the timing and activity of his forgiving.  No matter what you say about it's already-ness Jesus dispensed forgiveness early and often like advertising for what was to come. 

He never withheld it but his forgiving also did not presume or rush ahead.  It waited on the moments it was given to be beckoned by creatures like us and with his pronouncements then he made the world a better place.

Forgiving-ness does not presume but waits on us as well, not only for our confessions but just as much on our pronouncements.

As much as we must stay cautious so as not to take God's on-the-ground gift for granted we must also not avoid our own part in incarnating God's gift.  Jesus showed us how. He remembered from where the gift came and he gave it away.  "As the Father has loved me so I have loved you, abide in my love." John 15:9

When we forget or presume we slip into that "transactional" version of forgiveness I wrote about last week.  We become imposters who misunderstand from where all this grace comes and measure out deals, keep accounts, punish and seldom if ever forget, "only forgiv[ing] as much as our broken human frames can hold and release.

Now instead of ledgers and grudges, shame and offenses we can do even more out of gratitude for what God has already done and there's one less "not-yet" moment in God's reign.

God's reign is "already" and we are forgiven.  God's reign is "not yet" and so we can do the forgiving.