March 22, 2015: Jeremiah 34:31-34 & Psalm 119:9-16

March 23, 2015

Becoming Lighter

Year B, Lent 5                                                                  
            After my husband was first ordained to the priesthood, he thought it would be funny to absolve me after I sinned.  In our ordination service, the Bishop says that as priests, we are tasked with proclaiming God’s forgiveness after confession.  That is absolution. Really, all Christians are encouraged to forgive others.  The difference is that priests are specifically tasked with proclaiming forgiveness and we have a special hand motions that go along with it. My husband thought this was one of the perks of being a married couple who are both priests.  The problem is, I didn’t confess to him.  I might have said, “Oh I should not have done this or I should have done that.”  But I was not asking for absolution from my husband.  It was really problematic when we did not agree that I sinned.  That was the day when my husband stopped absolving me unless asked…which very rarely happens.   
            Lent is a season when we talk a lot about sin and forgiveness.  That is reflected in the readings, the prayers, the music and at St. John’s, the use of Rite 1. The readings and the opening prayer for today are no exception to this theme. Today’s opening prayer starts with a typical Lenten language. It reads, “Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners” (that’s us).  But it goes on to say, “[Grant] that our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found.”  This is a perfect prayer for us today.  It reminds us that we need God to forgive one another and ourselves.  We cannot do it on our own. In addition, it notes that our hearts are to be focused not on sin, but on God.
            The Bible provides many wonderful examples of forgiveness.  But it is God in the Old Testament and God embodied in Jesus in the New Testament that provides us with the best examples.  If there is anyone who doesn’t need to forgive, it’s God.  We have fewer than 100 years of sins that might need to be forgiven.  God has an eternity of sins that have been committed against him.  Can you imagine?  If God was like us, he would never sleep; not because God doesn’t need to sleep but because he would be stressing out all night thinking about all the ways people had sinned against him.  And not only does he have an eternity of sins, he has all the people in all of the world who are sinning against him.
            It makes me wonder how he does it. God has an interesting technique that Jeremiah talks about.  He says, “I will forgive their [sin], and remember their sin no more.”  He doesn’t just forgive.  He chooses to forget their sin.  When I read this in Jeremiah, I was surprised.  God is supposed to be all knowing.  How can he just forget stuff?  It’s intentional.  He chooses to forget.  In doing so, he creates the ultimate blank slate.  He doesn’t just wipe the sins away, the slate is demolished.  Those sins are never going to come back.  God is never going to say, “Hey remember when you did such and such… That was messed up!  I hope you don’t do that again.”  That new slate isn’t really a slate at all.  It is a new heart.  Jeremiah says, “…I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God will engrave his love on our hearts, souls and our and our mind.  It is not a fickle love that comes and goes.  It is there forever.  God asks us to try to love him and others in the same way.  That requires certain openness on our behalf, a willingness to risk.
            We have all heard the phrase: “forgive and forget.”  That is what God is doing.   I am envious of that gift.  I am grateful for the times when I have been forgiven, but I think I would prefer it if it was also forgotten.  I would also prefer not be able to remember certain things.  Then I would not have to forgive because I didn’t remember.  Then again, that would not be forgiveness would it?  It would be selective amnesia.  Alas, God never takes the easy way out and neither can we.  He allowed himself to be crucified.  In doing so he bore the weight of our sins so that we would not have t. It doesn’t get much harder than that. 
            I wish that when I read the absolution after the confession and made the sign of the cross… I wish that we could really believe that– that you would feel that a weight has been lifted from you.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel like that.  It’s hard to just read the words and here the response, without getting any meaning out of it. Instead, we are going to try a little visualization.  Consider for a moment a difficult memory (not your most difficult or something traumatic), something  you wish God would forget (like an unkind word or deed that you carry that keeps you from fully experiencing the love of God).  Hold it in one hand.  Then consider a betrayal or unkind word or deed that someone did to you.  It might be serious or not, but it haunts you for some reason.  Put that in your other hand.  Hold each in your hand and hear the word of God: “I will forgive their inequity, and remember their sin no more.”   Let go of the sin that you committed, that you wish God would forget.  God already has.  The other one is harder because you were hurt.[1]  You have to forgive that person who hurt you and probably never apologized. Take the next 2 weeks work on letting go of the wrong that had been committed against you remembering that God already has.  Then when you come on Easter, come with the knowledge that not only are you here to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, but to discover the new life that is within you.  I know it sounds easier than it is.  Remember that God never took the easy way out and neither can we. It might help to think of Psalm 119.  One line says,  “With my whole heart I seek you…”  If we were to use our whole heart to seek the Lord, we would not have any room in our heart for painful memories or things we have done.
            The last verse of Psalm 119[2]says “I will not forget your word.”  There are some things that we can let go of and some things or words that we must never forget.  The more we forgive, the more room we will have in our heart for the life giving words of Jesus Christ and his unconditional love.  Life is far too short to live in the ruins of sins we have done and ones that have been done against us.  Instead, let us choose life, a life free from burdens that weigh us down.  At least let us be lighter, so that there is more room for joy and love.

[1]Commentary by David Lose: exercise was his suggestion.
[2]Psalm 119 has 176 verses. I am referring to the last line of portion of the Psalm that we read today.