Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Pentecost 10 – Year C

In our gospel for today Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. It is probably the most famous prayer in the entire Bible. If you’ve been a practitioner of the Christian faith for any length of time then you know the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it during literally every service in the Prayer Book from baptisms to burials. It is a fundamental part of our worship. But how often do you pay attention to what it says? How often do you pay attention to what it requires? For me the part of the Lord’s Prayer that is most challenging, the part that always brings me up short is the connection Jesus makes between God’s forgiveness and our need to forgive others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Jesus says. He is teaching his disciples that if we really want God to forgive us for the things we have done wrong in this life then we must be willing to forgive others. Indeed, God’s forgives us to the same extent that we are willing to forgive others. The prayer doesn’t say, “forgive us our trespasses and we will try to forgive those who trespass against us.” It doesn’t say, “forgive us our trespasses and we will forgive those who apologize.” Not it says forgive us our trespasses as we (to the extent we) forgive others who have trespassed against us. It is conditional language that makes a clear demand on us.
Not long ago I was out working in my yard one afternoon mowing, watering, and generally cleaning up. When I finished my work I forgot to put the hose away. I put away all the other tools, but for some reason I forgot about the hose and I left it in a pig pile on a patch of grass at the side of my yard. It was close to a week before I discovered my mistake and when I picked up the hose the grass beneath it was bent and yellow, dead or dying. You could see the hose outlined in the yellow grass, the coils resembling some large long snake. I was furious with myself. The weight of the hose, the way it absorbed heat and blocked the sunlight killed the grass, burning it, smothering it. It took weeks for that patch of the yard to recover.
When we hold onto grudges, when we hold onto resentments, injuries and slights done to us by another, when we refuse to forgive others, our souls become like that patch of grass in my yard. Our resentments, our anger coil around us like that hose, weighing us down, smothering us, blocking out the love of God and slowly killing us spiritually. To thrive we have to forgive; to be forgiven we have to forgive – we have to forgive others and ourselves.
There’s a legend from the Middle Ages about a nun who claimed to have seen Jesus. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of skepticism about her claim. The local bishop in charge of the nunnery set up an examination to check the authenticity of her story. He asked the nun if in her vision she was able to speak with Jesus. Did they have a conversation? “Yes,” she said, they did. The Bishop thought if he could come up with a question that no one would know the answer to and have her ask Jesus, he could test her claim. So he said to the nun: “Next time our Lord comes to you, ask him – what is the greatest sin I have committed.” Three months later the nun made an appointment to see the bishop and said she had again seen Jesus in a vision. “Did you ask him about my sin?” the Bishop asked. “Yes,” the nun replied, “I did.” “What did he say it was?” The nun responded: “He said he can’t remember it anymore . . .”
Someone once said that to preach the greatest sermon on forgiveness all you had to do was point to the cross. Jesus was born, lived and taught in order to love us, in order to bring us closer to God. We rejected that love and nailed Jesus to the cross. But God in Christ forgave us for that terrible crime. Moreover, God not only forgave us, God took the cross and turned it from an instrument of death into a symbol of resurrection and new life. The joy of Easter Sunday always follows the tragedy of Good Friday. We are promised that there is nothing we can do or have done for which God cannot forgive us, if we only ask. And once forgiven, our souls are wiped clean; our sin is forgotten, forever.
Sometimes the person we most need to forgive is not someone else but ourselves. We can forgive others, and we can even believe that God forgives us, but we cannot or will not forgive ourselves. The author Ellen Edwards Kennedy once wrote: “When I became a Christian, I began to look at a particular young woman with scorn. I felt little but contempt for her as I thought of her quick temper, her selfishness, her spiteful gossiping, and the way she took her loving family for granted. Any time she was mentioned, I could think of very little good to say. But one day as I was leafing through an old picture album filled with photos of her, Jesus spoke to my spirit and told me, “I have always loved her, despite her sins, and I have forgiven her. I want you to forgive and love her too. As I gazed at the young face in the pictures, my heart was filled with compassion for the girl. Along the way, in searching for life’s meaning, she had made many mistakes. God gave me a gentle love for her and the ability to forgive her. That moment of healing when I decided to forgive and love her also gave me a new strength and a new freedom to love others as never before…because the woman in the pictures was me.”
Forgiveness is something we need from God, from one another and from ourselves. But those around us also need to be touched by our forgiving love. Someone who hurt us may very well not deserve our love but needs it. Someone who irritates us by his/her obnoxious personality may not deserve our love but he or she may need it. Someone who has shunned our every effort of kindness does not deserve another effort but might need it. “But it’s sooo hard to love some people,” we protest. Who said it would be easy? Pick up your cross and follow me, Jesus said. Being a Christian is not easy and if it seems like it is, then you aren’t doing it right.
In our relationships with one another, our families and our selves, we must bury the hatchet. When we do, we can’t leave the handle above the ground. God knows we need forgiveness. I need it. You need it. We all need it. Forgiveness brings healing … with God … with others … and within ourselves. Look at the cross again and see the greatest sermon on forgiveness ever preached, and remember – you are loved. Then look around, and before too long you’ll find someone who really needs your forgiving love. Now there is but one thing left to do … give it!