Covenant: Forgiveness & Faithfulness 1-22-17

This is the fourth in our series of sermons on Covenant and commitment. Today we look at how forgiveness and faithfulness are essential to our connection and our work together. Usually when we think about forgiveness, we think about things that are hard to forgive, things that we have trouble forgiving or we imagine God struggling to forgive. Today I want to talk about everyday, ordinary forgiveness, and our call to faithful living. Listen for the word of God for you today, from the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew 4:12-23 When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he went back to Galilee.He left Nazareth & settled to Capernaum, a lakeside town near the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled. “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, the way to the sea on the far side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who live in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on, Jesus began proclaiming the message, “Change your hearts and minds, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” As Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he watched two brothers—Simon, who was called Peter, and Andrew—casting a net into the sea. They fished by trade. Jesus said to them, “Come follow me, & I will make you fishers of humankind.” They immediately abandoned their nets & began to follow Jesus. Jesus walked along further and caught sight of a second pair of brothers—James and John, ben-Zebedee. They too were in their boat, mending their nets with their father. Jesus called them, & immediately they abandoned both boat and father to follow him. Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of heaven & healing all kinds of diseases & sicknesses among the people

January 22, 2017

Covenant: Forgiveness and Faithfulness

Forgiveness, as we have been noticing for the last few weeks, is something that we all desire. I have noticed that marriage, for instance, doesn’t work without constant almost habitual forgiveness. I expect my wife to forgive me all the time – instantly. Sometimes it seems to take me a little longer for me to forgive her – and I’m not telling you any specifics about what we have to forgive each other for!

I’m just saying that over the years, I notice that we learn to count on the fact that we will get over some of the dumb things we have said to each other. It’s much easier of course if we learn not to be mean to each other in the first place- much easier – but we do know that we can get past some rough spots.

Forgiveness keeps me going as a pastor too. I don’t think I could have survived 30 years as a pastor without a lot of people being very forgiving, forgetting from week to week the mistakes I have made. (At least I hope you have been forgiving and not holding unspoken grudges for months and years(!) I have done my share of forgiving too – letting go of annoyances, overlooking small failures, and starting over often in ministry. This process of forgiving and renewing faithfulness seems to me to be essential to the operation of any human institution – marriage, congregation, whatever.

 

Reading the gospels, I certainly get the sense that Jesus was able to be forgiving with disciples, followers and non-followers on a consistent basis. Even in this passage at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he calls Andrew and Simon Peter by first thing asking them to “change their hearts and minds … and follow.. to become fishers of humankind…”

On a bigger level, I find it helpful to notice what was going on when Matthew and Mark were writing the gospels. Mark’s gospel was right after the Temple was destroyed, the nation of Israel had lost its center. The people were reeling and looking for renewed hope. Matthew was written later, as this Christian Jewish movement following Jesus was gaining some traction.

Mark was reactive and immediate – interested in exorcism and, discouraged about their losses, grasping for hope in the risen Christ. Matthew, a generation later has a little more breathing room, and focuses more on healing than on exorcism, emphasizes the fulfillment of Hebrew scripture as a base for who they are, and creating community and an alternative reality to the destruction that has become a reality for them.

Some people today seem to feel like they’re in a kind of Mark moment, shocked at the destruction going on around them. Some of us are more in a Matthew moment – working to build community and working for healing. Either way, we can learn from these first century folks who knew that they were not in charge of the big picture. They had to re-organize their lives, not counting on a national center – the temple, and orient themselves more toward their local faith community. Bottom line, though, they affirmed that they still could live in faithfulness to God’s call.

They knew that they fell short constantly and they needed forgiveness to get back to faithfulness, but they counted on that word of forgiveness and they held each other accountable for that faithfulness.

Now as I’ve been saying during this sermon series each week, in each category we’ve spoken about, we get things backwards. We imagine we have to be faithful to earn God’s forgiveness. Sometimes we think we couldn’t possibly deserve forgiveness because we have so often made a mess of things. We have not forgiven each other, we have not forgiven ourselves. We have not been faithful to what God calls us to do. The gospel makes it clear that God’s forgiveness comes first. God’s forgiveness is available to each of us. And that forgiveness is what makes possible our return to faithfulness, our return to accountability, our return to community.

God forgive me, I am discouraged right now at the level of fractured discourse and direction in our society right now. The immaturity on all sides is rather stunning. I long for leaders in the church and in society who have integrity and vision, who can begin to unify folks. How it will happen is a mystery right now, and in the meantime, I am glad for the word from God coming through these passages this morning – to start local, to work on forgiveness and faithfulness in our local communities, to build up people of integrity and grit in our congregation and in our region, through POWER and through the church, or wherever we can.

I don’t think God is sitting around somewhere deciding whether to forgive, saying “Oh that was a bad one. Don’t know if we can forgive that one. He’s going to have to grovel a while before I forgive this time.” No. For God, all forgiveness is ordinary, everyday forgiveness. I might be wrong. Maybe there’s something that even God can’t forgive, but I think that’s our own confusion and even self-righteousness. To think that our sins are forgivable and other people’s aren’t – or that ours are unforgivable and others are. Either way, we’re thinking too much of ourselves.

We are all called. We all lose track, quite consistently. This ordinary, everyday forgiveness is not nothing, not easy. God’s forgiveness is always there, like in a marriage or on a job. It is an ordinary occurrence. It allows us to return to our call. Sometimes it requires quite a change in our life, to renew that call, to get back to faithful living, accepting God’s reconnecting love. That grace, that forgiveness, that offer of a way back into community and relationship – it is always there.

 

Responsive hymn 561 – Jesus, United by Thy Grace ∫∫