Sermon - 18th March 2012
Lent 4 - Forgiveness
Scripture - Luke 23:26-49
Rev Andy Braunston
We have heard two different takes on forgiveness so far in the service. Alma and Mitch’s sketch wondered how we’d react if a group of fundamentalists came and took over the service and the character Alma played was struggling to forgive the invaders. In contrast we had the story of Jesus’ death and his prayer of forgiveness for the soldiers who crucified him. These are the two tensions – the example of the One who forgave his own murder and the person who, through a sense of woundedness and outrage thought that some things are beyond forgiveness.
I guess that we are all somewhere between these two extremes in our own ability to forgive and where we are on this spectrum will differ depending on who, or what, has upset us. Some things are easy to forgive; other things can eat away at us and cause disquiet, pain and upset to us.
Last night Ian and I saw the film In Darkness. It’s on at the Cornerhouse and I’d highly recommend it. The film is in German, Yiddish and Polish – it has English subtitles – and is set in Lvov during the War. The Nazis have put the Jews of Lvov into the Ghetto but some of them, realising that worse was to follow, have dug down into the sewers as an escape route. When the Nazis start to kill the Jews in the ghetto, many escape down into the sewers. They are helped, for money, by a Polish sewer worker who gradually becomes more and more friendly to them. His wife points out that the Jews were “just like us” and that “Jesus, Our Lady and the apostles” were all Jewish – something that had escaped her husband. Gradually his anti-semitism changes and he ends up helping them by getting food and provisions for no money. After the war he and his wife were named as “Righteous Amongst the Nations” for helping these Jews.
The film was excellent in showing the complexity of human life. There were no wholly good characters and very few wholly bad ones. People found both love and lust in the sewers, heroism and cowardice, hope and despair, betrayal and forgiveness. The film didn’t deal with the feelings of the Jews to the Nazis and the possibility of forgiveness, but it did follow a group of 12 Jews and their relationships which demanded grace, love, humour, bravery and, yes, forgiveness as they lived for 14 months in the cold, dark and dank sewers.
Forgiveness and Us
As Christians we believe in forgiveness, as mature people we know that forgiveness needs to be part of any of the groups, networks, organisations, families and relationships that we are in. If forgiveness isn’t part of our culture our lives will become ever more bitter and sad. If forgiveness isn’t part of our church culture then we are not being true to the Gospel.
Yet forgiveness can be very hard. Sometimes it’s used as a weapon. In my first pastorate in East London I was privileged to journey with people who had been sexually abused. One of these people, Janet, had been told by her evangelical church that the reason she was mentally unwell was because she’d never forgiven her father who had abused her from her earliest years until she was 18. I had an incredibly strong reaction to this and felt that her church was perpetuating the abuse she’d suffered. Over the years Janet and I explored what forgiveness might mean in her context. She decided, in the end, that it meant that she tried to live her life without reference to her father; she no longer let her father have power over her – even if that power was about bitterness and anger.
And the Sketch…
In the sketch Alma amusingly made us think about how we’d react if a group of fundamentalists came in and took over the church service. Hopefully that scenario is extremely unlikely. But the debate about whether marriage could be opened up to same sex couples has generated a lot of heat over the last two weeks. I’ve been amused to see both Catholic and Anglican bishops who hated the idea of Civil Partnerships back in 2005 now come out, as it were, in favour of them – they say they are so wonderful that we don’t need marriage! I’ve seen bishops and priests refer to their “gay friends” who say they don’t need marriage. Suddenly, it’s important for the Church to pay better attention to how it’s perceived on these issues. Yet, at the same time, there is a nasty undercurrent to some parts of the debate, there is a homophobia lurking there. What does it mean for us, then to preach and practice forgiveness in this climate?
I think it involves a number of things:
· It’s a refusal to be bitter. Bitterness doesn’t help us and poisons our souls.
· It’s not about stopping being angry. Anger can be an incredible energy of change – we should be angry when we see some of those pictures we put into Alma and Mitch’s sketch. We should be angry when we see poverty and injustice.
· It’s about acting in love towards those who have made us angry and have wounded us. Acting in love doesn’t always mean being nice (we’ll think more about this next week) but it does always mean wanting the best for the other. Janet came to see that “the best” for her father was justice.
· It’s about telling the truth. British people are very good at saying “oh that doesn’t matter” when, in fact, the wounds which we bear do matter. We can tell the truth in a loving, yet strong, way but in telling the truth we start to do justice.
· And it’s about moving on. We can’t live well if we are always living in the pain of the past. It’s hard to move on if the person who, or institution which, has wounded us isn’t sorry, hasn’t tried to put it right or is unaware of what they’ve done. But they are not changed by our living in pain. They are not brought to justice or repentance by our living in the past.
Each week we together pray the Our Father where we ask for God’s forgiveness and remind ourselves that this forgiveness is intimately linked to how we, ourselves, forgive others. As we continue to journey through Lent let’s work hard to forgive:
· to refuse to be bitter,
· to use our anger wisely,
· to act in love even to those who wound us,
· to tell the truth and to move on.
And so unite ourselves to Jesus who, at the end, chose to not to curse but to forgive.