15th Sunday After Pentecost
When Samantha was small and I was about 4 months pregnant with Greer, my brother-in-law got married. He married this beautiful, brilliant, compassionate, Korean-American woman. We occasionally got together for dinner, they kept Sam overnight for our Anniversary, we were invited to her family events.
Then, after one family gathering, Howie’s brother called and shared a number of things about which his new wife was unhappy concerning my behavior. It was devastating. I had no idea that I had been so offensive. They were matters that were out of my control having to do with the needs of a toddler and the realities of being pregnant – and with a toddler; as well as food allergies, and whatnot. Still, they were perceived as disrespectful and selfish.
Every time I thought about it, I’d get this ache in my stomach and my breath would go shallow, and the thought of doing Thanksgiving with Howie’s family that year made me physically ill. And I had no idea how to fix the relationship.
Then 2 things happened: my sister-in-law got pregnant… and, a friend of hers, after being told about her complaints against me, said, ‘ya know, those are very Korean ideals, very cultural.’ Not long after these events, she called me up and apologized, explained she had no idea how pregnancy can affect you, and explained this bit about Korean culture. We cried and I resolved to learn more about the culture and also be mindful of those traditions and characteristics.
And it was as if my body was filled with helium, such was the lightness of breath and spirit that materialized.
When we’ve been harmed, or something occurs to injure a relationship… something physical happens… At a reminder of it or hearing of the name…
It begins in the middle and wraps around from behind and spreads out, hooking the edges and clenches down. The breath goes out and you cannot quite fill the lungs to capacity again. Shoulders hunch, reach for your ears….
We embody shame, we make solid a hurtful word or unthinking remark or slight, someone overlooking our humanity, divinity – we solidify that pain in our gut and muscles and around the lungs, constrict the blood vessels, cutting off oxygen to the heart… The pain is real. And it does real damage.
Jesus tells us a parable about a landowner who forgives a slave who turns around and withholds forgiveness for someone else.
(Matt18.32) Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” …
Forgive. From your heart. And not just once. Not 7. But, 70 X 7 times. The contested literal translation matters little – it just means, choose to forgive, and choose it again, and again, and again… From your heart.
Because, at the end of that parable, the master, in his anger, handed him over to be tortured. Jesus, saying, ‘so will God do to all of you if you don’t forgive from your heart.’
It’s not that God does this directly. It is that God created us to be in right relationship with each other, and when we aren’t, we torture ourselves. We are left drowning in guilt. Drowning in judgment (judging, being judged).
And Unforgiveness limits God, limits our life. Torturing ourselves as we step away from God’s mirror, forgetting who we are.
How do we “ think about our own “wrongdoings.”…not just say, “I’m sorry” or have a “time-out.” … but make the relationship right, reconcile.
Howard Zehr talks about it this way,
“Underlying this understanding of wrongdoing is an assumption about society: we are all interconnected. In the Hebrew scriptures, this is embedded in the concept of shalom, the vision of living in a sense of “all-rightness” with each other, with the creator, and with the environment. Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. . .
Interrelationships imply mutual obligations and responsibilities. It … emphasizes the importance of making amends or of “putting right.” … [it’s] an obligation. While [we might first emphasize] the obligations owed by those who have caused harm, the focus on interconnectedness opens the possibility that others—especially the larger community—may have obligations as well.”
Even more fundamentally, this view … [makes a priority of the] healing of those involved—those directly harmed, those who cause harm, and their communities.”Making Amends, Richard Rohr and Howard Zehr, Daily Meditations.
Why do we hold on to our judgements, resentments, perceived hurts, when it is causing physical deterioration, when it is literally breaking our hearts? And breaking the heart of community? Breaking the heart of God?
When God rescued Israel from Egypt, God threw the Egyptian army into a frenzy as the people of Israel crossed the sea. A cloud of darkness separated them from each other so that Israel had time to cross.
The cloud of darkness that feels like a heavy pall, might just be God’s provision, holding back the real danger – our own frenzy of unforgiveness and shame – and giving us space to see God for who God is, and for me to see myself as I am.
Putting right, making things right, justice and righteousness (when you hear about justice for someone), all-rightness, these are all ways to describe who God is, God’s Creative intent.
Everything about who God is, IS relationship: relationship among the Persons of the Trinity (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer), relationship among all who bear God’s image and likeness, relationship between Creation and God. We are created for the sole purpose to be in right relationship with God and with each other.
Is it any wonder, then, that our very bodies suffer when we do not love each other? Paul said to the Romans, “don’t quarrel over the details that seem so important but really, they aren’t. Don’t judge each other, or whether one holds to the rules that seemed so important but, they’re really not. This is why Jesus lived and died, went to hell and back, lives again in a body that can move through doors! So that we can live in the Body of Christ that can move mountains and through a virus – and can do this no matter how much money we have… or don’t have.
And maybe, if we are living this way, forgiving each other, loving each other without judgement, we might do something different with our own money….
It always begins with me. Because more often than not, the first person I need to forgive is myself.
“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”Anne Lamott
This means, the harms done to you, the harms you have done, all that you have left undone. Acknowledge these things. Sit with them. Welcome them as houseguests in your soul, as Rilke eloquently describes, until they are ready to leave. And cast them on the waters…
When God rescued the people of Israel, God wasn’t only rescuing them from a narcissistic Pharaoh. They stayed longer than they ought – first lulled by the lavishness of the place that Joseph’s intervention brought about. They were comfortable. They forgot that they were a called people, and to a prepared space.
And God rescued them from themselves.
And God rescues us from ourselves.
Next weekend is Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year; it’s a time of right-making. Of making apologies, letting go, and making intentions to live into the image and likeness we are created to be—together.
So I’m giving you one of these tags, too. This week, invite God to provide a cloud of darkness to give you the time to cross over, sit with an unforgiveness or judgement. Listen. Notice. Give it up. Allow God to rescue you from yourself. And make your intention to make things right.