Nova’s Values.2 – Forgiveness

by admin on May 6, 2013

Matthew 18:21-35
Reflections for 5 May 2013

As we launched off on this series on Nova’s Grounding Values I shared how formative for me was that question John Ortberg raised with Dallas Willard: Am I myself living the life to which I am inviting others to live?

We began speaking about values, guiding principles, bedrock launch pad. We shared about value one: Compassion:–it was a very meaty conversation. Compassion means to share another’s pain so that it hurts. I had to laugh—as people were leaving Jay said to me: “I’m not coming back, this is too hard.” This week is forgiveness. Does anyone want to leave now?

Norman MacLean’s River Runs through It ends with this sentence I am haunted by waters. I am haunted, too. Hanunted by recurring themes in life from which new wisdom or old resentments can grow. Forgiveness.

Most of my adult life has been a struggle with this. I’ve talked more about this than any other topic/idea/doctrine. Some people have wondered if I have a problem.

How can Forgiveness be understood?
—Giving up all hope for a better past.
—Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. (Paul Boese)
—Dominic Maruca SJ The memory of things past in indeed a worm that does not die. Whether it continues to grow by gnawing away at our hearts or is metamorphosed into a brightly colored winged creature depends…on whether we find a forgiveness we cannot bestow on ourselves.

I love this Gospel story. Largely because of the surprising ending upturning all expectations and breaking all decorum and rules.

1st scene: CEO calls the VPs to the annual summit meeting. Board room, table, overhead, PowerPoint. Discovery is made that one of them has embezzled the accounts receivable. He’s taken out a personal loan with the only collateral this guy’s premise: “hey I deserve this.” (He did get a raise so he took a bonus instead.)

The loan is a myriad of money; largest sum imaginable. A degrading and protracted punishment is served up. The press loves public spectacles.

There’s a legal plea and a desperate illusory proposal. The boss “filled with compassion” wipes out the whole thing and forgets it altogether. The guy doesn’t have to pay it back.

2nd scene: filled with irony. The debtor becomes the creditor and goes for his buddy who owes him $100 from the football pool. He goes for the jugular. The hundred buck debtor makes a plea (sounds familiar). It’s a credible and possible promise to repay. He is refused. This VP stands on his rights and doesn’t tolerate any breach of contract. He sues him.

3rd scene: like the first. Day of reckoning in the boardroom. Not only is this cruel guy fired but forever banned from executive privilege. He’s called “evil”—envious, grudging, miserly.

What’s up?
1. Forgiveness closely related to money. Beaux coup bucks. Debt. Precious, costly. Something we want to hang onto. Invest in. Get dividends and interest from. It’s got something to do with people, organizations. Life owing us big time. Myriad of money.

2. Forgiveness is closely related to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Debtors’ prison. In for a long time. Locked up. Reality of hard heartedness runs deep and runs permanent.
When we stand on our rights to bear a grudge, or plan revenge, or quit talking to someone we are building an identity that will last a lifetime. It’s that identity that gives us the permission to act the way we do.

I had a friend once was constantly behind the eight ball financially. Both he and his wife liked to life high on the hog and spend their way to happiness. They filed for bankruptcy twice and were still able to build a nice addition onto their already nice house and to even install a below ground swimming pool. How can you pull that off?

He tells me all this with an air of “smarter than the average bear.” He continues—once again finances get tough. What to do? He decides to make money the good old fashioned Amercian way—sue somebody. So one nice spring day, right after a warm radi he heads out into the street in his big classy, four door GMC truck and looks for a possibility. He spots an old lady who driving wasn’t the best, maneuvers his truck to pass her then squeezed in front of her. He slams on the brakes and POW—she hits him from behind. Now all of a sudden his neck hurts and his shoulder is bruised from the seat belt. Next thing you know–$250,000 demanded; but he settled for $25,000 which is what ne needed anyway.

Without names I related this incident to our younger daughter who was in high school at the time. Her insightful reply– “What’s with that guy’s soul?” Soul—that’s the inner fabric of life, our identity. It is something also that has to do with God.

3. the third point. Peter asks a practical question about people. Jesus makes it an issue about God.

Central line: “As I had mercy on you, so it’s necessary for you to do the same. Necessary.

Jesus said that the action in this story is life in the kingdom of the heavens. God. This is how God works in our lives right now. While Peter is asking for information to stay on the up and up, Jesus presents a plan for transformation.

That transformation begins here: What do we think about when we think of God?

Generosity. Graciousness. Expansive acceptance. Extravagant love. When pushed to the limits…it’s all downright unfair.

Without God in our lives—the kind of God Jesus proclaimed, reveled and embodied—our attention span only bridges over two letters: M/E.

“Forgive from your heart”—that means our being so saturated with the reckless love of God, the grace of God, that there is a behavioral and psychological difference in being a Christian. Last week compassion was about gut pain; this week it is about heart burn.

The things I have held onto in painful memory have kept me locked in jail for a long time. Do you want to act out the rest of your life like that? Now that kind of power is mighty strong. It’ll take another power greater to break it.

Fundamentally Gospel today is about Jesus. Can he be trusted to affect this kind of behavior in us? Stephen Neill: To be a Christian is to be like Jesus Christ. St. Paul is even more specific: for me to live is Christ [in me].

Last Thursday on Bill Moyers and Company he interviewed David and Francine Wheeler of Newtown, CT. Their youngest son, Ben, was one of the 20 children killed at the Sandy Hook elementary school there. They are moved through their grief by turning tragedy into transformation. Together with some friends they are seeking to find new ways to talk about and campaign against the scourge of gun violence. They are determined to talk about guns and safety in a way that includes diverse viewpoints and bypasses the partisan brinksmanship that so epitomizes our chicken hearted congress. How can they do that? Well, that determination can only come from “a forgiveness that we cannot bestow upon ourselves.”

How to do this? The crafting of a soul. Meghan is right. So instead of thinking about corporate values, guiding principles, launch pads….how about the crafting of my soul?

This takes time. But it takes directed time through the practice of 1. Depending on the work of Christ within us. 2. Trying out the releasing of bile, resentment, hatred….actually invite the worm inside to spin a cocoon to emerge a butterfly. 3. Repeat 1 and 2 as often as necessary.

Not a one sermon and get it all approach.

But if you never come back, get this one thing: God is the ground of life. And Jesus Christ is able to fill us with an invisible, yet profound power above all others…..the forgiving grace of God.

[PS. The conversation among those in attendance was rich, inspiring and down-to-earth. We talk about real life experience and how Jesus Christ makes the qualitative difference for us.]

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