Sermon: Forgive us our Trespasses

For those of you who have raised children you know that they grow up.  You might wish that they remain as babies for as long as possible but eventually you come to the realization that your babies are growing up.  Growth requires us to move on if you will; we cannot stay in the same place forever.  We learn to walk, and we learn to talk.  We go off to school, we fall in love for the first time, we fall, a lot, but we get back up and keep moving.  Growth requires advancement from here to there.  Our spiritual life is the same, we cannot just come here week after week, sing the hymns, listen to the sermon and leave the same way we came in, we have to grow, or we just end up in the same place.  We are the greatest obstacles to our won growth.

All of us here today are different yet in some way we are the same.  For many of us, the common bond is family and possibly friendship, but all of us here share the common bond of our faith in Jesus Christ.  There is no such thing as a Christian in solitary; we have to be Christians in solidarity.  We need each other for it is in community that we work out our salvation.  One of the greatest spiritual writers of the 20th century was the Benedictine Monk Thomas Merton.  Merton wrote books based on his own spiritual journey and the years he spent not only in community but as hermit living in a little hut all by himself.  However, he was required, once a day, to join the rest of the community for the Eucharistic Celebration.  He had to come together for communion!  We need each other.

But we come with a lot of baggage that sometimes interferes with that communion, communion not only with each other but with God.  We all have inner clutter in our lives that we need to rid ourselves with.  I have told you before about the room I have where I store all the stuff I cannot get rid of for one reason or another.  We do the same with our inner lives.  We have hidden clutter in our lives, in our hearts, and in our souls.  Most of it revolves around resentments.

In the innermost parts of our lives, the place we do not let people see, we find remembrance of wrongs, we find self-justifications, we find all of these things in our lives because of pride.  Pride is what makes us hold on to our justifications for our continued anger against other people.  And it is hurt pride, or vainglory that feeds our envy and jealousy.  Envy and jealousy lead to resentment.  The more we resent the more we are consumed by our passions which lead us deeper into sinful behavior.

So how do we deal with all of this clutter that we have been carrying around for many years?  I have heard stories, and I have my own stories as well, about how this one or that one hurt you or your family years ago.  If you are still talking about it, then you still resent the people involved, and that will keep us from actual communion with God, the communion that He desires for each one of us.

How do we deal with all of this?  We deal with it through forgiveness.

Today we commemorate one of the most misunderstood people in Church history, Mary Magdalene.  Our Orthodox Church tradition tells us that Jesus cast 7 demons out of her, and she became one of his followers.  We know that she was present at the Crucifixion, and she was one of the Myrrhbearers that brought the spices to the tomb of Jesus.  We know that she was the first one that Christ revealed his resurrection to and in fact we know that she was the first Evangelist as she raced back to tell the Apostles that had happened.  But there is also the tradition that she was a prostitute.  Either way what we know is that Mary Magdalene was a broken person, broken by her sin, whatever that was, and she needed the healing power of Jesus and she found it.  That healing power in available to all of us if we just ask.

We need to seek forgiveness of, and for all that clutter we carry around with us.  Forgiveness does not mean excusing or justifying the actions of someone.  If someone has abused you that was a sin against you, but when we hold resentments because of that action we hold anger and bitterness within ourselves, and against those who have hurt us, we take that abuse, and we continue it on ourselves.  We need to break the cycle.  The person may be long gone, but for the sake of our own soul and for the sake of our own peace, we need to forgive.  We should not justify their actions, but we need to overlook the action and see that there is a person there who is also struggling with sin.  We should not be lying in the tall grass waiting to get them.  Getting them back is resentment and we need to forgive for the healing to begin.  As long as we carry that resentment we will never be healed.

Resentment is an impassioned reaction, based on a judgment of a person where our passions are ignited.  Resentment is a reaction which we hold within ourselves, and allow ourselves to nurture.  It comes from and feeds off of our passions, for the judgment of others.  Resentment is judgment and objectification of a person according to their actions which have offended us.  The key to resolving resentment is to realize that it is not the other person who is causing it, but that it is our own reaction.  The other persons actions or words may have precipitated the reaction, but how we react to those sins, words, or deeds is purely our own.  Blame and resentment lead nowhere, except to bitterness and unhappiness.  They make us into helpless victims which in turn rob us of the power we need to take responsibility for ourselves.

It would be easier in all of this if the person who has harmed us in some would ask us to forgive.  But we cannot wait for that to happen because it may never happen.  Some of us have been waiting a lifetime, how much longer are we going to carry this clutter around with us.

Many years ago, when the social media was just starting out, I was contacted by someone I went to Jr High School with.  I have to admit I honestly did not remember this person, as she, unlike me, looked remarkably different than she did in Jr. High School.  She contacted me to ask forgiveness for kicking me in the knee all those years ago.  I did not even remember that event, but when she asked I had a vivid memory of what happened, and I granted her request and forgave her.  As it turned out she had been diagnosed with cancer, and she was preparing herself for whatever was going to happen.  She died last year of that cancer, and when I heard the news I was glad I was able to help her die a little more at peace with herself.  I guess in my own mind since I actually did not remember that incident, I forgave her years ago, but my telling her I forgave her put her soul at peace.

We say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  If we don’t forgive, we cannot even pray this prayer that Jesus taught us without condemning ourselves.  We condemn ourselves for refusing to forgive.  We will never have peace if we do not forgive; all we will have is bitterness and resentment.  We must always forgive not only because God forgives us but because by our refusing to forgive we hurt ourselves

The world we live in does not understand how we can forgive.  The world wants us to carry around the bitterness and hatred that we have for that person.  The world wants us to lie in the tall grass and wait, just for the moment when we can get them back.  Sure we may get a pleasant feeling for a short period of time, but the pain does not go away, we have done more damage to ourselves by that action than the person did to us originally.  Like I said, we need to break the cycle.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things that we are asked to do.  Forgiveness calls us to look at the person, face to face or in our minds eye, and to love them despite how they may have sinned against us.  Their sin is their sin, and they have to deal with those themselves.  But we sin in our reaction against their sin.

Over the next few weeks we will continue this discussion but for now think of people who have harmed you and you have not forgiven, including yourself.  Pray that God will give you the strength you need to be able to truly forgive that person.  If you need help, ask me I am here to help you on this journey.  We all need help in our spiritual life whether we are bishop, priest, or parishioner we all need someone to show us the way.  I do not have all the answers, but we can look for them together.  Know that you are not in this alone.

The time has come for real growth to occur.  The time has come for us to open the door of that room where we keep all of that clutter, and the time has come to ask for some help to help make sense of it all.  Hasn’t it been long enough?  Time to let go.

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