Lord Jesus Christ forgive us and enable us to forgive others. That as your children we might follow your example and be so empowered to live lives of grace, mercy and peace. Amen.
What had she done? The Scriptures are silent on this account. Who was she? We do not know. Some traditions say that she was Mary Magdalene and a harlot desperately in need of God’s forgiveness. But there is no Biblical basis for believing that she was Mary Magdalene or that Mary was a woman of the night. This woman is in fact anonymous in every way. We do not know her name and we do not know her story. Luke only tells us that she was from the city and that she was a sinner. And I think this woman’s anonymity is actually a gift to you and me. Because in the place of her untold story, we are given the opportunity to place our stories. She is in fact every one of us and none of us. Her sins are our sins. Her guilt is our guilt. Her tears can be our tears if we have in us the same desire for healing and forgiveness … If we have in us the same desire for healing and forgiveness.
There is a story told about a man who suffered a serious heart attack and needed to have open heart surgery. He awakened following the surgery to find himself in the care of nuns in a Christian hospital. As he was recovering, a nun asked him questions regarding how he was going to pay for his medical services. He was asked if he had health insurance. In a raspy voice he replied, “No health insurance.” The nun asked if he had any money in the bank with which he could pay. He answered, “No money in the bank.” The nun then asked, “Do you have a relative who might help you?” He said, “I only have a spinster sister who is a nun.” Offended, the nun stepped back and said loudly, “Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are married to God.” Smiling slightly the man replied, “Well then good, send the bill to my brother-in-law.”
Now that’s a corny joke but it is true nonetheless. A central tenet of our faith is that in his life and especially in his death on the cross Jesus bore our sins, paid our debts and reconciled us with God. In fact, Jesus was all about forgiveness. If we look at the gospels we can see that two-thirds of Jesus’ teachings have something to do with forgiveness. A good third of Jesus’ parables are about forgiveness, directly or indirectly. He knew that it was our failure to own up to our wrongdoings, to confess our sins that separated us from ourselves, our God and our neighbor. He knew it was our failure to forgive others that separated us from ourselves, our God and our neighbor. He knew it was our failure to accept forgiveness that separated us from ourselves, our God and our neighbor. And so Jesus tried to teach us, he tried to show us what it means to confess, to forgive and to accept forgiveness.
In my fourteen plus years of ordained ministry I have counseled scores of people whose one central issue tearing apart their lives centered around some issue of forgiveness. I have seen two brothers refuse to speak to one another for over fifty years because of some disagreement in their youth. They would have nothing to do with one another and they made sure that their children and grandchildren had nothing to do with one another and so their inability to forgive and seek forgiveness literally tore apart three generations. I have seen grown men and women destroy their marriages because they were unable or unwilling to see the truth about themselves, unwilling or unable to own up to the parts they played in the failure of their relationships. And I have tried to help pick up the pieces of several people who attempted to end their lives, some of them successfully, because they could not forgive themselves for things they had done or failed to do years in the past. I think an issue of forgiveness lies at the heart of many of our problems whether we know it or not.
On Friday I watched along with much of the nation the moving service for Ronald Reagan held at the Washington National Cathedral. I thought it was a great day for our Church. We performed well and showed what is best about worshipping God as an Episcopalian. And it was a powerful day for our nation. A great day in an era of such political divisiveness, to see Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals all gathered together paying tribute to the life of a grand American. Even for this old Democrat, you didn’t have to agree with the man or his policies to honor his contributions to our country. And they were many including, it seems to me, his efforts to help us heal following the tragedy of Vietnam . Reagan helped to mend this country from the psychological ravages of that war. He helped us to let go of its pains while learning its lessons. He helped us to forgive ourselves and move on – and that indeed was a gift.
In his second letter to the Corinthians St. Paul wrote: “17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, …”
That’s right, you and I and all of us who call ourselves Christians are ambassadors for Christ with the assignment to be ministers of reconciliation, to be ministers of forgiveness. That means we have to forgive ourselves in the knowledge that what God wants is not our guilt but our change our heart, a change that leads to healing and wholeness. That means we have to forgive others not because it is easy but because God forgives and therefore we must also forgive.
I imagine that the woman of the city who wept at the feet of our Lord cried tears of remorse for the sins of her life. But more importantly I believe she also cried tears of gratitude and tears of joy because she knew that in forgiving and being forgiven there is a freedom and a lightness that overflows the heart. It is that same freedom that all of us need, that all of us crave. May God have mercy upon us all and by His grace set us free. Amen.