Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that the truth hurts. It is messy and painful. During his time as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he heard many stories of pain. Pain from the victims and the perpetrators of apartheid in South Africa. Since then, Desmond Tutu has talked and written quiet extensively on the process of forgiveness and healing. He says that naming the hurt is one of the steps in the process of forgiveness. And when we name that hurt, we name the truth. And that the mere naming of that hurt is painful. It is painful to name and it is painful to hear.
He says this: “Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing” (Desmond Tutu, “The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World”).
And it is that awfulness, abuse, hurt, truth, it is what we carry around with us.
For a moment, let us all open our non-dominant hand. Imagine that there is a small stone in your hand. Now close your hand, making a fist around the stone. What would it be like to carry that stone around in your hand for six hours? You can’t release it. You can’t let go of it. You carry it with you all the time. (Exercise from “The Book of Forgiving, page 29).
That stone represents our hurts. It represents the unforgiveness in our lives. It becomes a burden. It becomes what we continuously focus on and give our energy too. And it slows us down. It can even make us physically, mentally or emotional ill.
In our lives we all make mistakes. All of us. We say something. Email or text something to someone with the best of intentions and then it blows up in our face. Most of the time it is not being mean-spirited. Most of the time we are trying to express our own emotions, fears, or uncertainty. Sometimes, we are trying to be helpful. And sometimes, the truth of what we say hurts. It just does.
And we so badly want the other person who is now holding that stone of hurt and unforgiveness to release it. To release us.
And there are some of us that need to name the hurt and release the stone.
If you are still holding onto your stone in your fist. Release it now.
It is here that we have a choose. We can either choose to release the relationship or we can try to restore it or reconcile it. No matter what we choose, the relationship will not be the same as it was before. For it has to be created a new in some form for the healing to begin and to thrive.
I once was told that forgiveness is the foundation of Christianity.
Jesus himself showed us what it means to forgive. From the Cross as he was crucified, he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And moments later he forgives the thief on the cross next to him (luke 23:39-43). And after he was raised from the dead, he forgave Peter for denying him and gave Peter the calling to love and look after people (John 21:15-19). To show compassion on others and to show others what that means. And what about Paul? Paul persecuted followers of Jesus, only to have Jesus come to him and to reconcile Paul to himself (Acts 9).
Forgiveness is the foundation of Christianity. It is God’s greatest form of generosity. It is God’s love in action in the world.
In today’s reading of the scripture we read from the first chapter of Genesis. The very first chapter of the Bible. And we interspersed that scripture from the last chapter of Revelation. The very last chapter of the Bible. In both readings, God is continuously at work. Creating, shaping, providing for us, and for all plants and animals. God provides and provides abundantly. God provides for humanity’s daily needs in the Garden of Eden.
And even in the Book of Revelation, God provides fruit and the water of life. And, the most important thing, is that God is continuously providing. It doesn’t just stop. God’s provision, abundant provision is ongoing.
And somewhere in the middle of it all, Jesus, the Son of God, comes and dwells with humanity to share in our pain. To share in our rawness and hurt. And to show us forgiveness and healing. To help us to release the stone and be free from the burdens we carry. To forgive us of our mistakes even when the other person is unable to.
It is why he gave himself for us that day on the cross. It is only through Jesus that we are able to be once again reconciled to God and each other. Even when the relationships we have with others are unrepairable, Jesus still restores us back to God and back to all of creation. He calls us back into community. Jesus creates all things new. He restores us and forgives us when we are unable to receive it for ourselves or from another person.
I am not sure how it all works. But I do know this. Forgiveness, generosity, true compassion and empathy are the hardest and most difficult spiritual practices. They are just not easy. But forgiveness, generosity, compassion and empathy go hand-in-hand. They are inseparable as Jesus demonstrates to the thief on the cross, to Peter and to Paul, and to us. It’s what he means when he tells Peter after the resurrection to “go and love his sheep.” It is what he shows to the Samaritan woman that he meets at the well. And it is what we are told in Revelation, that “Nothing accursed will be found there any more” (Revelation 22:3).
In creation, in the Garden of Eden, God made us co-creators with God. And through his death and resurrection, Jesus gave us the ministry of reconciliation. And through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been given the gifts of generosity, compassion and empathy. We have been called by the Trinity to make all things new again with them. To continue this renewing, restoring, and releasing process. We are called to show God’s love in action in this world and to celebrate with others God’s abundant generosity that comes with the forgiveness of sins.
It is the most difficult calling we have…to forgive, be generous, and to be compassionate. For these things are inseparable from each other. Maybe that’s why it is so difficult for us. We want to separate them from each other. We want to receive forgiveness without having to show compassion. We want to receive compassion for ourselves without the difficult task of being generous.
I want to leave you with two thoughts to ponder. Maybe it will help you and me reflect on God’s abundant generosity of forgiveness and compassion.
Desmond Tutu says:
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
And from the Book of Revelation (21:3a-5):
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Amen!
This is from a sermon on Sunday, September 10, 2017. You can find audio versions of the week’s message at https://princeofpeace-er.org/worship/sermons/.