March 22, 2015
Many of us at Good Shepherd have been reading
Desmond Tutu’s book on forgiveness during Lent.
Well, actually it’s not a book on forgiveness,
but rather a book on forgiving.
It’s full title is “The Book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world.”
Desmond Tutu was of course the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in S. Africa
after apartheid…so he knows something about forgiveness!
He shares horrendous stories of the atrocities in S. Africa
as well as his own personal story of growing up in a home where there was abuse,
all with the hopes of convincing us, the reader
to share his belief that no one is beyond forgiveness….no one…
not the rapist, not the liar, not the terrorist…
no one is beyond forgiveness.[i]
If we can’t forgive on the basis of the humanity of the other person,
Tutu says, forgive because it is a gift to yourself!
One of the exercises in the book is to find a stone,
about palm-sized, that has some meaning to us…
maybe it’s the shape, or the texture, or the place we found it.
When we find our stone,
we are encouraged to carry it in our non-dominant hand for the space of a morning – about six hours,
not setting it down for any reason during that time.
I don’t think anyone in any of our study groups
managed to hang onto the stone for a full six hours…
Here we’ve had it only 20 minutes or so…
Was it hard to hang onto?
What did you find most difficult doing with the stone in your hand?
Take a good look at the stone
you picked up this morning.
Hold it in your hand,
move it around,
is it heavy or light?
are there sharp edges on it?
what color is it?
is it smooth or rough? round or flat?
As you look at the stone,
think of someone who needs your forgiveness.
Maybe it’s a friend or a relative or an ex;
maybe it’s a colleague or a boss;
maybe it’s a corporation or a government;
maybe it’s God.
After you receive holy communion,
before you go back to your seat,
consider dropping your stone…dropping your grudge…and maybe it’s just for today…
but for a moment, let it go into the baptismal font.
Hear it splash; watch it drop to the bottom;
and then feel something different –
feel a new freedom!
Stretch out your fingers and feel what it’s like
not to carry something you really don’t need.
Three of our 2nd graders are receiving their first holy communion today.
Jack, Lillie and Ben have learned that one of the promises
we receive in this meal is the promise of forgiveness.
The good news of today is the absolute promise of forgiveness…
We hear this good news in God’s words from Jeremiah.
We taste and touch this good news in the bread and wine of his meal.
Frankly, this is one of the few parts from the book of Jeremiah
which brings good news!
Jeremiah is called the ‘weeping prophet,’
and he’s often weeping because of the destruction God
is bringing down upon a sinful people.
Jeremiah writes during the time of the exile..
The people of Israel have been defeated and taken off into captivity into Babylon (modern day Iraq).
After 29 straight chapters of doom from Jeremiah,
the part of the book we read from today is called the “book of consolation.”
Finally Jeremiah stops wailing…
and he says that God has a message of comfort and hope.
He says that God has compassion on them.
God’s heart has been touched by their suffering.
…And God forgives them.
Even though the people have turned from God
again and again.
They’ve been ungrateful.
They’ve gone after other gods.
They built that golden calf
and made alliances with pagan nations.
God is still grieved…
(Jeremiah says that God is as grieved as one whose spouse has been unfaithful
“though I was their husband” God says)
God says, nevertheless, despite what they’ve done,
“I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
The people may have given up on God,
but God has not given up on God’s people.
Look at that last verse in Jeremiah in your bulletins once more…
God says “I will forgive their iniquity
and remember their sin no more.”
God chooses to forget.
God chooses to erase the memory of how the people have wronged God.
You know, there are some things…some slights I’ve had in my life… I wish I could forget.
Jamie Wood stole my pencil box in 2nd grade…
Now why in the world do I still remember that?
It certainly is not helpful – to me or to him!
And then there the painful words I’ve heard
that I just can’t seem to erase from my mind.
The phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,”
just isn’t true!
John Gottman, a relationship expert,
says that we human beings need to have five positive interactions
to balance a single negative interaction.[ii]
If we say something in anger that is hurtful to our partner,
if we criticize or give him or her negative feedback,
our partner will only remember the negative things,
unless the positives far outweigh the negatives by a ratio of 5 to 1!
We human beings just don’t forget!
Ironic isn’t it?
One of our greatest fears is that we might lose some of our memory as we get older,
but memory is not helpful in all things.
When what we remember are the hurts in a relationship,
too much memory is actually a burden!
Out of love, God chooses to forget.
Out of a desire to hang on to a relationship, God chooses to forget.
Look at that stone another time.
Is it worth holding onto?
[i] Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, p 58, 126.