16 June 2013

In conversations around justice and the Church, or justice and worship, the idea of forgiveness, it seems to me, is often absent. Perhaps in reaction to hyper-evangelical, “pray the prayer and you’re saved” theologies, we have moved into a place where we prefer to speak of actions that bring justice and wholeness, rather than attitudes. Perhaps we struggle with forgiveness because it could lead to letting perpetrators “off the hook”, or because those who regularly speak about forgiveness seem to use it as a way to avoid engagement with social justice issues, preferring to speak about the transformation of the heart alone.

However, the Gospel message of forgiveness cannot be avoided, and when we embrace it, we discover that it is central to any real work of justice and peace-making. May our ability to receive and give forgiveness be strengthened and expanded as we worship this week.

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
: Jezebel and Ahab conspire to lay claim to Naboth’s vineyard. After Naboth has been falsely accused and executed, Elijah confronts Ahab with his sin and prophesies his death.
OR 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15: The prophet Nathan confronts David after he arranges for Uriah to die so that he can marry Bathsheba.

Psalm 5:1-8: A cry for help and guidance, and a recognition that God takes no delight in wickedness.
OR Psalm 32: David’s song of joy and thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness.

Galatians 2:15-21: It is not the law that can make us right with God, but only God’s grace which comes to us through Christ. We can only believe, die to the law, and live our lives in Christ.

Luke 7:36-8:3: Jesus is anointed in the home of Simon the Pharisee by an immoral woman. He confronts Simon’s hypocrisy and forgives her.

There is no way to avoid it. This week, the readings are all about forgiveness – especially forgiveness that is undeserved, and that comes through confession, brokenness and repentance.The difference between Ahab and David is this broken repentance. The psalmists cry is of confession and a plea for forgiveness. Paul makes it clear that we are made right not by our own efforts and obeying the law, but through the grace of Christ. Jesus confronts the religious elite who make the law a gatekeeper to God, and offers forgiveness and restoration to a broken and penitent woman. The power of this undeserved forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian experience and allows us to live “in Christ” – or live as those in whom Christ lives, as Paul puts it.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: Let’s dream a little: what might a world look like in which forgiveness was our culture rather than retribution and retaliation? In what ways is the prophetic ministry of Elijah and Nathan an example to us of how to confront those who abuse their power, while still offering grace and forgiveness? In what ways can we work to make forgiveness a serious consideration in our policies (especially with regard to corrections, law enforcement, social services, immigration, health care, education and foreign policy)? Is all this just a bit too idealistic for the real world? Or is there truth in the idea that a world without forgiveness must ultimately destroy itself? If the Gospel has anything to say to the big issues of our time, the gift of forgiveness must have a place in this conversation. Perhaps it’s time for the Church to call both oppressed and oppressor to forgiveness, both perpetrator and victim to forgiveness, both aggressor and defender to forgiveness. Perhaps, if the Church’s public discourse was more biased toward repentance for our own failings, and forgiveness toward those who have hurt or opposed us, people would be more interested in listening to us. And perhaps, we would have the kind of gracious, Christ-reflecting influence on the world that we hope to have.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Often when conversations about forgiveness come up, it is common to speak about repentance as the requirement for forgiveness. And so, as Church, we have rejected and judged others on the basis of their perceived lack of repentance. However, for Jesus, it seems, repentance is a response to forgiveness, not a pre-requisite for it. On the cross Jesus says “It is finished” without waiting for the world to queue up to repent. In his dealings with this woman, she comes to him in love and brokenness, but Jesus indicates that her love flows from her being forgiven much, not that her love is the requirement which “earns” her forgiveness. For Jesus, it appears, forgiveness is contingent on nothing. He chooses to forgive whether the other person repents/changes or not. Forgiveness is the mark of those who follow Christ, and it is in the reckless freedom in which this forgiveness is offered that part of the scandal of the Gospel lies. Forgiveness which is based upon a legalistic need for evidence of repentance first is what both Jesus and Paul reject. Both appear to believe implictly in the power of the experience of being forgiven to change people. Perhaps part of our struggle to reach the world in Christ’s name, and to really influence the culture of our world, lies in our determined clinging to “repentance first, forgiveness second”. How many hurting and broken people might find healing, justice and an ability to contribute to others if they were just assured of God’s forgiveness up front, and if we trusted God’s grace to be strong enough to really make a difference? Is this not a significant work of justice in itself?

The Tyranny Of Vengeance
Grace And Forgiveness

Hymn Suggestions:
And Can It Be
Amazing Grace
Let Us Plead For Faith Alone
There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Jesus Messiah
Shout To The North And The South
Hallelujah, What A Saviour
Freely, Freely (God Forgave My Sin)

A Liturgy For The Agape

Video Suggestions:
Anointed By A Sinner