2-24-13 Forgiveness in a Unforgiving World: Stages of Brokenness

Last week we talked about brokenness and the difficulty of being forgiving people. I suggested that the stages of forgiveness are similar to the stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler Ross posited that people go through in cases of loss and death. I want to suggest today that the apostle Paul understood how easy it is for us to be lost in denial and anger in our journey toward healing and resurrection.

Philippians 3:17-4:1Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.  For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.  Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.  March 8, 1998 ‘How Do You Keep the Faith?’

February 24, 2013

 Forgiveness in a Unforgiving World: Stages of Brokenness

Have you ever heard an apology that is not an apology?  You’ve probably made one yourself at some point in your life.  We hear it from politicians all the time – the apology that’s not an apology. “I’m sorry if you took what I said the wrong way.” “If you feel bad about what I did, I’m sorry about that.” “I’m sorry you took it that way.” That’s no apology at all, right?
What’s missing from the apology is the recognition that the person did something wrong. Some people seem to think this is really an apology. If you are the person wronged, you know it does not come close; in fact, it may be worse than saying nothing.
One reason we are concentrating on brokenness in our Lenten season in which we are talking about forgiveness, is that we first have to acknowledge our brokenness in order to accept forgiveness. In the stages of grief, which I am adapting to talk about stage of forgiveness, the first stage is denial and the second is anger. When we are caught doing something wrong, our first instinct is denial; our first instinct is to defend ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we did something wrong. We don’t want to acknowledge our brokenness, our fault. It can take a long time to be able to accept that we really did wrong someone and need to apologize. It can take a long time.
Politicians are particularly nervous about apologizing because they represent a number of people, many of whom do not want to be held accountable, many of whom are in denial about having wronged someone or a group of people. Apologies that mean something can be very hard to come by.
Similarly in relationships, an apology implies that in future the person who apologizes will act differently. So the apology can come out more like, “I’m sorry, this is just the way I am.”

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is one of the very earliest Christian documents we have – written before any of the gospels, and one of the first letters from Paul. Paul’s advice to the Philippians may also be helpful to us in our work on forgiveness.
We sometimes think Paul is kind of full of himself when he speaks as he does in this letter, saying things like “Imitate me.” That was the way leaders wrote at that time. They lived as models for people and called on people to live like they did. Obviously, Paul felt that he was living in imitation of Jesus and so his disciples in following his example will also follow Jesus.
Paul says that “many live as enemies of the cross.” By enemy of the cross, Paul is talking about people who deny the violence that is all around them. He says enemies of the cross are people whose god is their belly, who live with their mind set on earthly things. Enemies of the cross to Paul are people who deny the mess of their lives and refuse to look at it. Instead of noticing their brokenness and the brokenness of the world, they want to go to the mall. Our society encourages us to go shopping to distract us and keep us in denial.
I don’t mean to be glib about it. In Paul’s time the brokenness and violence of the world was all around them.  We tend to think of crucifixion as though it only happened to Jesus. In fact, many many people were targeted with crucifixion as in this scene at the end of the movie Spartacus. You see the crosses lining the highway as dozens of people are executed.
For us today wearing a cross around our neck – or as a tattoo, can be a kind of trendy thing, a sign of identity, maybe even commitment to being a Christian. In Paul’s time to identify with the cross was like wearing a symbol of an electric chair around your neck. It was a symbol of brokenness and humiliation. When Christians claimed that Jesus is alive they claimed Christ’s victory over all the oppression and wrongdoing of the state. Being a citizen of heaven was to claim the victory of the cross over all the humiliation of the empire, the slavery, the crucifixion, the oppression.
We are enemies of the cross when we do anything we can to avoid pain, to avoid acknowledging pain we have caused others, or to deny “humiliation” – which happens to so many people in our world. We deny the pain and humiliation through walling out the pain of other people, keeping strict lines between communities of privilege and communities of poverty. We deny the humiliation through making ourselves comfortable by what we buy, what we eat and what we drink. We deny the humiliation of the cross by trying to make our children’s lives as protected and comfortable as possible and shielding them from harsh realities in the world.
Paul insists that Christ knows the humiliation of the people represented by the cross. Christ knows our brokenness and the struggles of our lives, all the messes we have made, all the ways in which we fall short. Paul says our citizenship is in heaven when we claim Christ who knows our brokenness and lived our brokenness. Our citizenship is in heaven when we do not deny our brokenness and our difficulties. God loves us as we are in our brokenness and trials, so we don’t have to deny them or cover them over.
That makes it a lot easier to look at those difficulties and be able to give apologies, when necessary, that are real apologies, apologies that can garner real forgiveness, apologies that admit what we did wrong and what we intend to do about it. The first stage of forgiveness is getting past our denial, denial of wrongdoing, pretending that everything is just fine. Everything is not just fine.
During Lent we can have the courage to admit it and look at it.  We live in a Good Friday world, but we headed toward Easter. We are a busted up people, but God is claiming our lives, and God will make us whole.
This is God’s good news.
Amen.