30 October 2022

In the work of justice, forgiveness can feel like weakness, giving up the high ground, or letting “perpetrators” off the hook. But, until we can admit our own faults, and reach out to those we may disagree with or oppose, we have not learned the way of Christ. And if we truly believe that God’s reign is the way to healing and liberation for our world, then we must also embrace forgiveness – both received and given – as an integral part of God’s work among us and in us

May we find the grace to receive and share forgiveness as we worship this week.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4: Habakkuk complains to God that justice is perverted and God’s help does not come, but then, as he waits for God’s answer, God’s word comes to him offering him a vision of the downfall of the proud and the vibrant life of the righteous.
OR Isaiah 1:10-18: God expresses displeasure at the feasts and sacrifices of God’s people, because these acts of worship are not accompanied by justice and compassion. But, God also assures the people of forgivenss and restoration if they repent and change their ways.

Psalm 119:137-144: The psalmist celebrates God’s regulations, affirming their value and goodness for all time, and giving thanks for the strength they offer even in times of hardship.
OR Psalm 32:1-7: There is blessing and liberation in confessing our sins to God and receiving God’s forgiveness.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12: Paul celebrates the faith, love and endurance of the Thessalonian Christians in the face of persecution and hardship, and prays for God’s strength to sustain and inspire them, so that they may glorify God.

Luke 19:1-10: In Jericho Jesus invites himself to be a guest at the house of a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, in spite of the criticisms of people. As a result, Zacchaeus is transformed into a man of generosity and compassion.

Once again the question of repentance and forgiveness is highlighted in the Lectionary. This time, there are two complimentary emphases in the readings. The first is the need to face our own darkness, greed, fear and empty worship, confess it and receive God’s forgiveness for ourselves. Both Habakkuk and Isaiah reflect God’s displeasure at lovelessness and faithlessness, and call for repentance. The psalms celebrate the goodness of God’s law and the liberation that comes through repentance and forgiveness. The Gospel tells the story of someone who experiences this reality and is deeply changed and healed. The second emphasis this week is that of the need to offer grace, welcome and forgiveness to others, especially those we would usually be tempted to reject. Within all the readings, God’s offer of forgiveness is extended to all. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he encourages the church to remain faithful and loving even as they endure hardship and persecution. In the Gospel, Jesus reaches out to Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector, and enjoys fellowship with him, which is what ultimately transforms him.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: It may seem that simplifying and clarifying issues necessitates a certain polarising of opinions and camps, but I’m not sure that the work of building a world of equity, peace and compassion is helped by this approach. I wonder what would happen if, instead of separating ourselves into groups who are “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, for example, we rather worked together to reduce unwanted pregnancies and make alternatives more available and attractive to young mothers, while also ensuring that when abortion is required (for serious health or other legitimate reasons) it is done with reverence, reluctance and care. What if, instead of creating opposing forces with regard to issues of poverty, trade, climate change, immigration and health issues, we listened to one another’s concerns and worked together to find solutions? This may seem like an impossible ideal, but one simple and powerful practice can help to facilitate this process: forgiveness. If we can recognise that our methods and attitudes aren’t always helpful, and may in fact contribute to the injustice and pain of our world, we can confess, repent and receive the transforming forgiveness of God that leads us to behave in more compassionate, gracious and humble ways. Also, if we can approach those with whom we disagree with grace and forgiveness for the hurts they may have inflicted on us, or on those we defend, we open the door to creative and compassionate dialogue that can lead to new ways of being and doing for all. Ultimately, the underlying truth that opens us to forgiveness is that we are all part of the pain and brokenness of our world, even as we can all be part of the healing and restoration of it – and God’s grace really is sufficient for us, individually and collectively.

LOCAL APPLICATION: In too many communities the work of justice and compassion is hindered by the way we separate ourselves along lines of organisation, denomination and religion. In our fear of one another and in our arrogance, we end up duplicating work, squandering resources that could be pooled and maximised, and even rejecting and offending those who need our love and ministry through our exclusivity, rigidity and close-mindedness. The impact of a forgiving attitude on these realities is not hard to discern. As we grow more ready to confess our own fear and sectarianism, we open ourselves to God’s forgiveness and healing and we change, little by little, into the Christ-like, welcoming people we long to be. As we grow more ready to forgive and understand those with whom we differ, and to focus on our commonalities and shared values, we are able to offer forgiveness for perceived or actual hurts and to open doors to true collaboration. And as we become more practiced at giving and receiving forgiveness, so our communities begin to experience the grace and love that flows from followers of Christ to all people, and the benefit that can result from focussed, collaborative efforts. In addition, the common perceptions of Christians as judgemental, aloof, self-righteous and uninvolved can be gently and slowly changed. This same truth can be applied, of course, on the level of inter-personal relationships and ministries, as much as to inter-organisational ones.

Unlikely Companions
Grace and Forgiveness

Hymn Suggestions:
Amazing Grace
And Can It Be
Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace (Link to YouTube video)
Amazing Love (Link to YouTube video)
Freely, Freely (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Breaking of Bread

Video Suggestions
Beyond Mercy
Kids Talk Forgiveness 1