March 10, 2013
Fourth Sunday in Lent
2 Corinthian 5:16-21
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Last week we worked with the stories of Pilate mixing the blood of some Galileans with the sacrifices, the tower of Siloam which fell on 18 people. And the question arose whether these people must have been more sinful than others to have suffered so.
In the Gospel of John, there is the man born blind. When the disciples ask whether it was his sin or his parents’ sin that caused this, Jesus tells them they are asking the wrong question. His blindness will be the very way that the glory of God will manifest.
The church has often shared the disciples’ question, one way or another. They are suffering, what must they have done wrong? They are afflicted, what must they have done to anger God? We are hurting, so someone among us must be less than pure, less than holy, and if we weed them out we will be just fine.
The best counter to this idea that suffering means we must have sinned comes from Job. Suffering is not always a measure of our moral state.
Along with this, there is a longstanding Christian idea that we are not punished for our sins, but rather, we are punished by our sins. This idea may not get as much air time as TV preachers blaming marginalized people for everything from hurricanes to stock market crashes. But it has a deep history in Christian thought.
The simplest way to understand this is to do something you know you should not do, and then keep it a secret. Rather than looking for God to gaze down upon the earth and look for those who need to be smited and then to do some smiting, we need only look to the pain of the secret-keeper. Secrets kill.
Or grudges, when we are secretly (or not-so-secretly) angry with someone else. This has been described so many ways – such anger is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies, it is like an acid which burns its container far more than the one for whom it is meant.
Or when we hurt someone: how much do we carry the hurt ourselves, or get defensive and justify how they deserved it, or are eaten up by the guilt? This is what it means to be punished by our sins, not for our sins. In this light, confession is not about telling God some secret that God does not already know. It is about unburdening ourselves so that we can get back to living rightly with God and one another.
The psalmist says it well enough. When I held it all in, it was like I was dying, like I had walked a long way under a hot sun, like I carried the weight of the hand of God. (Do we know about such burdens and such weight?)
But when I confessed it, when I let it out, when I spoke those words of which my heart was afraid, the weight lifted, my body gained strength, my life was restored.
According to Paul, we are reconciled to God in Christ.
Forget the sins that kept us apart. Forget the ways in which our humanity and God’s holiness mixed like oil and water. In Jesus, we are reconciled. And if we are reconciled to God in Jesus, then we ought to live that way. We too are called to this ministry of reconciliation. We are called to be ambassadors of forgiveness.
What do you think an ambassador of forgiveness might need?
To realize that we are forgiven! To know that God’s love is not lessened by our humanity, by our mistakes, by our pain, by our sins. This is a big step for many of us. How many of our earthly examples of love come with strings attached, with conditions, with weights and measures and balances, with demerits. God’s love doesn’t work that way. God’s love is. And God loves us.
What else does an ambassador of forgiveness need?
To share it with others! It does me no good to say, “Jesus loves me and forgives my sin,” and then turn around and look down on someone else. To this Jesus plainly said, “Knock it off!”
I think what really sets ambassadors of forgiveness apart is the willingness to live the kingdom of God here and now in the midst of the messiness of this world. I witnessed an example of such living this past week.
In the waiting room of the surgical floor at Children’s Hospital, a group came in and set down three large party trays like you would get at a deli. One had bagels and cream cheese. One had fruit, apples and grapes and oranges. One had veggies and dip. And they brought in a large travel pitcher of coffee.
They were from a church, and I do not know which one, and they were there to be with a woman whose kid was having multiple surgeries. The first was where they went in and re-broke bones in the head, and the second was where they reconstructed the forehead part of the skull. I don’t know if it was one of the surgeries or both of them that was scheduled for eight hours. It suddenly put tonsils and adenoids into perspective.
I asked for the child’s name so that we could pray for her. Kaylynn. (I do not know the results of her surgery or recovery.)
This church group surrounded the young mom, talking, listening, just being with her in silence if that was what she wanted.
The food? They brought that for the whole waiting room. There was enough for a picnic, and that’s what they provided. In the midst of a waiting room where every family was desperately waiting to hear good news about a child’s surgery, they were living out hospitality.
Maybe they had read Isaiah, “come and eat and drink. Don’t bother paying. It’s covered.” Maybe they had read Paul’s accounts of being in prison and singing and praying and praising like it was church instead. Maybe they figured it was what they would have wanted in they had been in a surgical waiting room.
But in those moments of generosity, of hospitality, of sharing, a surgical waiting room was transformed into something else. Perhaps a glimpse of that kingdom that Jesus preached.
Thanks be to God.