I awoke the other morning to thoughts about seeking affirmation. I was thinking about social media and how we want others to affirm what we post there. We want others to like our political ideas and our recipes. There is something almost intoxicating about having our post “liked” by a number of other people. It reminds us that we are not alone – that others think like us. The problem is that constantly seeking affirmation from others just leads us to the fear of humanity. We do not want to disappoint them – we do not want to do things that they would not do or affirm. BUT, Seeking affirmation from God sets us on a whole new trajectory.
The 40+ days of Lent have given us time to return to God – to focus on his work in our lives. “We seek to unlearn the destructiveness of the world and of our own lives as we learn the ways of God.” P.173 Embodying Forgiveness L. Gregory Jones
I have been thinking a lot about our disconnectedness and how this disconnect is the very thing that makes it so easy for us to commit violent acts against each other. It is this disconnection that makes it possible for crime to flourish. It is this disconnect that allows us to gossip, judge and fear each other.
On Sundays we have been listening to the stories of Jesus in the gospel of John. We heard the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, then we heard about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. We heard the story of the man born blind and his healing. Last week we heard the story of Lazarus. Each of these stories involves a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
Each of these stories also involves a community – in Nicodemus’ case the community is one in which he holds a prominent position and significant status – perhaps he comes to Jesus at night because he is not sure if others will affirm his decision to talk with Jesus.
The Samaritan woman comes to Jesus in the middle of the day because she is not so welcome in the community – she keeps herself removed from the gossip and judgment that surrounds her life.
The man born blind is recognized by the community as long as he is blind and maintains the status quo. Once he is healed the community has many questions for him and they’re not sure where he will fit. Even his own parents do not want to answer on his behalf for fear that their response will exclude them from the community.
Lazarus is surrounded by community, even in death. As he is raised to new life, it is the community that Jesus calls upon to return him and welcome him back to the community of the living. We hear “Unbind him and let him go.”
It takes a community to include Lazarus back into life. Jesus brought him out of the tomb but he calls on those around to unbind him. We need each other – we need a community to welcome us back, to encourage us in new life – to speak encouragement and love and peace to us.
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ shows us that God is not a disconnected God – HE is not a far off God – He does not dabble in the plans of humanity from his safety in heaven. God comes into our time and space through His very Son Jesus Christ – He takes our sin and pain upon Himself – He acts for the welfare of you and I. Not by a wave of his hand or by royal decree but with the very flesh and blood of His only Son. God shows us what it means to be connected – to love and to forgive at great cost.
He doesn’t rain money down on a problem, He sends a human being to interact with the one who is having the problem – to love and show compassion – to speak, to cherish and to hold the one who has the problem so that connected together they can receive God’s solution to the problem.
When we are disconnected from each other, we can be easily deceived into thinking that the other person is against us. If we have a good connection with the other then we are in a better position to believe the good about the other and resist the enemy’s lie (eg. That they do not like us, that they want to harm us, that they are only thinking about themselves).
What does it really mean to live in community?
What does it really mean to live a cruciform cross-shaped life?
Think about the cross – a vertical and a horizontal member – the vertical as a symbol of God’s love for us and our love in response to him. The Horizontal as a symbol of God’s arms outstretched in love for all of humanity and our calling to love those whom Jesus loves.
Jesus himself says the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself?
And this week on Maundy Thursday we will hear him take this commandment and make it new = not just to love our neighbor as we love ourselves but to love one another as He has loved us!
We need each other.
“The deepest truth about ourselves is neither that we are self-sufficient nor that we are weak, needy and fallible; The deepest truth (it) is that we are created for communion with God, with one other, and with the whole of Creation. We need God and others both to discover who and whose we are and also because it is only through our life together that we can fulfill our destiny for communion in God’s kingdom.” P.61 Embodying Forgiveness
Last Sunday during the service I began to think about forgiveness. I have thought about it on many occasions but, for the first time it made sense to me. In forgiving my neighbor, I am not acting on God’s behalf – I do not as an individual forgive someone for God – I am acting on my own behalf – I am choosing to unlearn the destructive ways of this world – the destructive ways of my human nature and choosing to learn the new ways of God and His kingdom. That person is still dependent on making things right with God for themselves. I am releasing the thing that keeps me bound. I am choosing to let God restore me to community and asking the other person to unbind me from those grave clothes.
We heard last week the passage from Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones. God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones and command those bodies to come back together. And once they were back together God breathed his life into them and restored them to life. What if we began to speak to the bones of those around us? What if we began to call back to life those who have been pushed out of the church? Those who were written off by society? Those who are blind and can’t find their own way to Jesus? What if we remembered them. What if we forgave them for whatever has come between us and in doing so we welcomed them back to the community.
Re-member – the opposite of dismember – to reattach to the body.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12
“Let us be watchful for the ways in which we can embody the forgiving, transforming and reconciling power of Easter in a world that all too often seems bent on finding new ways to crucify.” P. 301 Embodying Forgiveness
One of the options in the “What Color is your Lent?” activity was to pray the Prayer of St. Francis daily. This prayer was written on a battlefield during the First World War. IT was written on a card that bore the image of St. Francis and that is why it is known as the Prayer of St. Francis.
Prayer of St. Francis
The Peace Prayer of St. Francis
by an anonymous Norman c. 1915 A.D. Peace Prayer
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.
O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood,as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
If someone facing the horrors of the world war could write such a beautiful thing – challenging themselves and others to bring love, pardon, truth, faith, hope, light, joy, understanding and consolation to the darkest places then, surely we can begin to let go and forgive those things that have been done to us.
“Let us be watchful for the ways in which we can embody the forgiving, transforming and reconciling power of Easter in a world that all too often seems bent on finding new ways to crucify.” Embodying Forgiveness
As the song says, Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.