4th Sunday in Lent – Yr C (3/10/2013)

9 Mar

Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

 

 

Psalm 32

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

 

Opening Questions

  1. Why is forgiveness such an important element of our Christian Faith?
  2. If being able to forgive is a good thing, how do we get better at it?

Appointed Passages[1]

Joshua 5:9-12

9The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

10 While the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

{From the Montreal Commentary:  Perhaps “disgrace of Egypt” refers to the abject social status the Israelites had there: they were slaves. Perhaps God is saying: my rescue of you is complete.}

  • Have you ever made an error so significant or had someone deal with you so unfairly that the event might be called a “disgrace”?  If so, what did you do to move forward from it – and how did it reshape your self image?
  • What should God’s role be to help you deal with such issues?

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

{The definition of reconcile includes – to restore to friendship or harmony, to make consistent or congruous, to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant}

  • How does faith impact a person’s ability to grow character?  Does it inspire creative thought….unburden our guilt…or act as a catalyst for change….or perhaps all of these things?
  • How are forgiveness and reconciliation related?  If they are part of the same process, should they be pursued sequentially, or simultaneously?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

15 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable:

11 Then Jesus* said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

  • We can all certainly empathize with the elder son.  What was he missing?
  • How do we know when someone is truly contrite – and thus deserving of our forgiveness?
  • What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?  Can one be achieved without the other?

Comment

In 1995, I led a series of weekly Lenten study group sessions that focused on forgiveness and reconciliation.  They were life changing for me.  I read extensively on the subject of forgiveness by people who had both extensive experience and deep dive research on point.  I came away convinced that this particular aspect of our Christian faith is perhaps the most fundamental and meaningful element of our religion.  The following are a summary of the key points from those sessions.

{Note:  several good references for forgiveness used in the development of the study series were – Reconciliation of a Penitant, One of the Pastoral Offices of The Book of Common Prayer, The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Doubleday, 1992, Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson, by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., Warner Books, 1990, Forgiveness, by Dr. Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon, Warner Books, 1990, Forgive & Forget: Healing the hurts we don’t deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes, HarperOne, 1996}

Forgiveness is –

  • A by product of an ongoing (internal) healing process
  • A sign of positive self esteem
  • Recognizing that we no longer need our grudges and resentments, our hatred and self pity
  • No longer wanting to punish the people who hurt us
  • Accepting that nothing we do to punish them will heal us
  • Freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds
  • Moving on…..

Forgiveness is Not

  • Forgetting

“Believe in forgiveness only if justice is maintained and guilt is confirmed.”  Quote by Paul Tillich

  • Condoning
  • Absolution
  • A form of self-sacrifice
  • A clear-cut one-time decision

Forgiveness vs Reconciliation

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing…

Forgiveness is unilateral

It is something we can do all by ourselves, something we make happen by our own decision

Reconciliation requires participation by another person

We cannot individually “make it happen” no matter how hard we try

Forgiveness and reconciliation are independent processes.  We can have one without the other

Working through the process of forgiving is essential to our personal well-being and should always be pursued

Reconciliation is immensely valuable and should be pursued whenever possible, but it isn’t always possible

I pray that this Lenten season, we recognize the value of forgiveness and seek God’s active participation in helping us recognize when it is needed and support when we embrace it.

 

Quotes for Today:

Blaming other people for our problems doesn’t solve our problems, even if we’re right.

Dr. David Stoop

 

That which we can excuse, we need not forgive; only that which we cannot excuse is in need of forgiveness.

Dan Hamilton

 

If only there were vile people…committing evil deeds, and it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

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