Proper 19a 2014: Forgiveness?

Matthew 18:21-35
The voice came from behind me, the voice coming out of a crowd enjoying music and fireworks along the river. That one voice became, suddenly, quite clear: “Look Bobby, that’s the man who sang at Grandpa’s funeral.” And an unimaginable loss became real and personal. “Grandpa” was a NYC policeman who died on 9/11/2001. “That man” is Daniel Rodriguez, the “singing policeman” of New York City, whose life’s work changed on that day. Daniel’s music became a call on his life, a gift to be used for God’s purpose, for healing. Daniel Rodriguez sang at many funerals after that; before then, he sang on officer’s birthdays, celebrating life. In singing after tragedy, his songs became prayer to a reeling nation, a song of new life in broken hearts.

We live in a world that needs no less healing than it did on that day in New York, in Washington, in Pennsylvania, in Rochester, in our own hearts. Our community, too, has lost police officers and first responders. The tragedies of September 11 – and too many other days since – are beyond our comprehension. None of us is a stranger to loss. We are all in need of healing. We each have a call on our lives to bring healing, the best healing that there is, to the world.

When huge and horrible things happen, every time that something bad happens: a murder, a suicide, violence, illness, an argument, a slight that we barely realize, there is something or someone who needs to be forgiven.

Forgiveness? Forgiveness, Jesus said, is something that we must do not 7 but 70 or 770 times. We are supposed to forgive more times that we can count…more times than we can tally or remember.

Who do we forgive for acts of terror? I don’t know. Well, I know who, but from deep within myself, I don’t know how. Forgiveness is often not found in our hearts. Remember a few weeks ago how we were talking about faith being a verb? Forgiveness is a verb, too. We like to think of forgiveness as a feeling, as something that comes to us in an emotional way. No, Jesus did not tell us to think about something. He told us to DO something: forgive.

Forgiveness might take a change of heart, but the truth is probably closer to the idea that it is in the action of forgiving that changes our heart. (Can we hear the difference?) Jesus will ask us: “Can you not have mercy, as I have had mercy on you?” And we might notice that no, we cannot have that kind of mercy without Jesus. Forgiveness is not something that we can do alone.

Who is there to forgive:
• In an argument? One another, sure. We forgive one another, for our action, for being wrong, for taking out an emotion on the convenient person rather than on the one to whom it belongs. (example: dishwasher, directions, bad day at work)
• In an illness? We might have to forgive God for allowing the world to go along its way, not to intercede, but to call us to action in the form of doctors and caregivers and science that will bring us to answers that better align with God’s will. We might have to forgive our bodies for their humanity, their weakness, for our abuse or neglect of them, or simply for failing with age or illness or … life.
• In a murder or a suicide? Forgiveness is acted toward the perpetrator, who will one day stand before God and answer for him or herself. We can act in forgiveness the best that our humanity allows. We might need to forgive ourselves for being human, for being somewhere else, for surviving, for not seeing, for being truly helpless in saving someone else’s life. Even here, forgiveness is very hard. We’ll have to try it out, to work on it, to ask for help along the way. Whether or not we can forgive, we are forgiven.
• And 9/11 kind of forgiveness? Sandy Hook? Events in Rochester, NY? That kind of forgiveness is like a massive structure that we cannot begin to understand. Alone, we can do nothing with it.

What we can do and are called to do is to find our ministry to the Lord and to exercise it. We are called upon to use our ministry in all sorts of times and places. Maybe we get to sing “happy birthday” to one other person, or we sing a prayer to a grieving nation.

Our own song (ministry) to the Lord might be in helping a child remember Grandpa. Or in being the best Mom or Dad we know how to be. Or cooking, feeding, sewing, tending a garden, spreading mulch, reading to those who cannot. Maybe our song, the thing that transforms our life in service to the Lord is a gift we have not yet discovered.

What else can we do? We can listen for that voice of God that becomes clear in our own lives: this is what I am called to do. Maybe it comes out of a crowd. I sure wish that it came with a very prominent cloud and pillar of fire, don’t you? But it may not. God’s voice may come in a whisper, through an everyday experience, from the question of a child, from a service that you provide to your faith, your family, or your community.

We use an act of will called forgiveness until maybe one day we will understand. Perhaps what we will understand is the tremendous breadth and depth not of our tragedy but of God with us, of God’s countless forgiveness of our humanity and of our most horrific sins. It is in that sort of forgiveness that healing takes place.

Many people prayed on 9/11. We are called to pray today. We are called to find our ministries and to sing them to the Lord, to proclaim and to do them and to allow the Lord to transform us into people in whom Christ is evident. It is then that we might feel forgiveness, know that we are forgiven, and that we are healed.

Come, Lord Jesus!

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