Posts Tagged 'forgiveness'

For July 28, 2013: Proper 12, Year C

The Reading            Hosea 1:2-10

The prophet Amos over the last two weeks condemned Israel in terrifying terms for defrauding the poor. The book of Hosea is even more shocking and graphic: at God’s command, Hosea tells us, he marries a woman who will cheat on him flagrantly, to symbolize Israel’s faithlessness—and, eventually God’s capacity for forgiveness.

The Response            Psalm 85

“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

The Epistle            Colossians 2:6-19

The church at Galatia, with its mix of Gentiles and converted Jews, seems to have experienced a good deal of friction about how to eat and drink and celebrate rightly as a Christian. Paul reminds the Galatians and us that what matters is that we are made right with God through the sacrifice of Jesus: the rest is human thinking.

The Gospel            Luke 11:1-13

“‘How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’”

 

 

Further thoughts

The story of Hosea and his bride is difficult to read. The command by God Almighty to find a whore, or at least a woman who will certainly both sleep around on Hosea and make sure he knows all about it, and marry her surely contravenes both Talmudic law and the considerable weight of what custom has to say about the purity of the woman one marries. The language is incredibly alienating: the wife is depicted as not merely unfaithful but repugnant, and the children are given abusive names that signify brutality (Jezreel was the site of Naboth’s house that King Ahaz coveted and it was where Ahaz and Jezebel were killed), callousness, and unwantedness. It has been suggested that verse 10, which reverses the second and third children’s names, was added by a later hand; this verse takes some of the sting out of what precedes, but we’re still left with a blameless man holding his nose while condescending to marry someone that no sane man should want.

The epistle and gospel make a much bigger shift. The reading from Colossians depicts the sacrifice of Jesus as the product not of God’s contempt but of God’s love; the benefits of whatever Jesus underwent in this world are extended to us if we simply believe in his Name—including a key ritual, circumcision, for which the female body has no good analogue—and everything else is just window dressing prescribed by humans. In the reading from Luke, Jesus’ disciples probably expect an arcane and stately ritual when they ask to be taught to pray; they want something that marks them off from others as insiders. Instead, Jesus gives a format that a two-year-old could master in which God Almighty is “Daddy” and the “we” includes the whole of God’s beloved world.

For April 7, 2013: 2 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 5:27-32

During and after Jesus’ execution, the disciples had cringed and cowered as the authorities took steps to ensure no further trouble from Jesus’ followers. The book of Acts, however, recounts the astonishing lengths to which, with Jesus risen, the faithful would go to proclaim the Good News.

The Response            Psalm 118:14-29

The Second Reading            Revelation 1:4-8

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first word in it—the Greek word apokalypsis, which means ‘an uncovering or revealing’. In these opening verses, John greets us in the name of Jesus Christ, witness, liberator, ruler of kings, priest of priests, beginning and end.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

“‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”

 

Further thoughts

In the evening of the day that Jesus arose, Thomas expressed doubt. Feeling whipsawed after the exhilaration of following Jesus in the flesh followed by the fearsome and horrible events of the crucifixion, Thomas is understandably reluctant to entrust his heart again, until Jesus reveals himself, wounds and all. Notice that the believing disciples are nevertheless still hiding in the upper room in fear of the authorities: there may be less distance between them and “doubting Thomas”—and between them and us—than is apparent in our popular myths about who the disciples are that we are not.

The reading from Acts is set weeks, after Pentecost, after the coming of fire and wind and speaking in languages one had not known before. The once-timorous disciples are now publicly preaching and teaching the risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins. The authorities are distinctly unhappy with this: what is being said runs against their ideas of what is true worship, but it also puts them in a difficult position with respect to their Roman overlords, who disapprove of the sort of public unrest that the disciples’ statements are bound to foment. It seems, though, that no threat that the authorities can unleash is enough to shut these men up about Jesus and his love and forgiveness. Is there more distance between them and us than exists in our beliefs about ourselves as Christians?

The difference between us is not, I suspect, that the original disciples became sinless. That would make them other than human. But equally clearly they’re not shackled by what they do or have done wrong, and Acts is permeated with their support for and love of each other. Might this mean that forgiveness—the getting of it and the giving of it—by releasing each of us from the shackles of self, is among the most important ministries in which we can participate?

For Feb. 26, 2012: First Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Reading            Genesis 9:8-17

As Lent begins, we think about human sin and God’s mercy. Today’s reading comes after the great Flood. We hear God’s promise to all creatures never again to destroy the world, no matter how much our sinfulness grieves God, and the sign of this is the rainbow.

The Epistle            1 Peter 3:18-22

The first letter of Peter, written by a church elder in Rome, makes an explicit link between the great Flood about which we heard in the first reading and baptism. The Flood destroyed disobedient humans. It is sobering to think of baptism as a means through which God moves to drown our disobedience.

 

Further notes

One thinks of baptism as a gentle process: tip a little water from a scallop shell onto a baby’s tender scalp, or at most dip a youth or grownup in the Baptists’ full immersion, whether in a specially built pool or in the wilder water of a river. In either case the person baptized is literally supported. The priest cradles the infant; I for one love to watch a priest whose own family is complete gazing at the child in her arms and getting herself a “baby fix” in the course of administering this delightful sacrament. The Baptist baptism is almost a liturgical dance, and it takes a certain amount of practice to do gracefully: as the pastor and the baptizand stand thigh deep in water, it is the baptizand’s part to relax at the knees and not struggle while the pastor—who may be holding the baptizand’s nostrils shut for him—quickly lays him down into the water and brings him back upright again.

The first letter of Peter tells us that baptism, whatever form it takes, is prefigured by the epic Flood of Noah. Now the reading from Genesis today gives us the end of the process, with God promising never, ever again to destroy the whole world by flood. This promise is the first great covenant between God and humanity. The Flood that gets us this covenant, however, is a violent process.

Did the Flood prefigure baptism by washing away the human propensity to do wrong? I think we know the answer to that. The verses after today’s selection from Genesis tell us that, as soon as the world dried out enough, upright Noah discovered wine, got blind drunk and exposed himself. And things have only gone down the drain since then.

We could instead look at baptism as a kind of epic flood. A huge flood changes the landscape permanently. It sweeps away familiar landmarks, creates new ones and makes new growth possible. It overruns the banks we assign it and astonishes us with its power. Baptism does these things. In baptism is God’s self-binding promise never to destroy the human soul, even when our sin deserves it. Through it is God’s declaration that no other power has the right to condemn us—not a government, not Satan, not the church nor even our own deep shame and guilt—because Jesus is our claim on righteousness. We don’t always recall this as we ought, but let us look to the rainbow and remember.


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