Archives: Proper 15

Charlottesville: When Forgiveness Is a Trap

Today we’re going to talk about forgiveness. We’re going to talk about what it is and what it’s not.

We’re going to talk about when forgiveness is the combination of hard-won humility and the grace of the Holy Spirit, and when it’s abused as a pacifying and dominating tool to cover up legitimate grievance and sweep conflict under the rug.

We’re going to talk about it in scripture, in our own hearts and lives, and we’re going to talk about it in terms of what happened in Charlottesville.

In the gospels, Jesus talks about forgiveness constantly—on 41 separate occasions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke alone.

The word “forgiveness” appears 46 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and 18 times from Acts through Revelation.

It’s a really important topic in the Bible, and in fact, the very first mention of it in the scriptures is at the end of our incident in Genesis today, when Joseph forgives his brothers.

Joseph’s brothers had plotted to murder him, and only at the last minute were talked into selling him into slavery. They tried to ruin his life, and would have succeeded without God’s intervention.

There are some important parallels here in the historical relationship of White Americans to Black Americans.

So what enabled Joseph to forgive his brothers?

How do we untangle our complicated emotions around justice and peace, reform and reconciliation, when forgiveness is holy and life-giving and when it is a cop-out from conflict?

A big part of the problem is that the Church has told us our whole lives to forgive, but has really never explained how to do it.

“Just forgive,” we’re told. Well, how? Continue reading

Fear Is The Beginning

We’re going to talk about two themes this morning: fear and wisdom.

They move throughout our scriptures this morning, and are connected in one controversial Bible verse in our psalm: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

It’s controversial for good reason.

For centuries many Christians were trapped in a concept of an angry, vengeful God, a God who demanded restitution for their sins, a God who seemed almost to hate them.

It was a tragically narrow view of God that kept people afraid and made them judgmental because they were so sure they themselves were being judged and found wanting.

The more you feel you don’t measure up, the more likely you are to find fault in others.

It was a desperately insecure Christianity, and it felt the fear of the Lord in a visceral, literal, unhealthy way.

I do not think we should fear the Lord in that way.

But I don’t think we should just get rid of the concept altogether. Continue reading

How We Fear God’s Love

God has been trying to get one message through to us for our entire lives, L-O-V-E in great big skywriting with the bass pumped up and the speakers on full blast, and we’re so off in our own worlds we never hear this glorious music made of God’s love that forms the very substance of every breath we breathe.

Joseph was in this very situation in our lesson from Genesis today.

He has been through a lot with his brothers.

They were his heroes when he was a little boy running around the sheepfolds.

Then he started to dream.

In his innocence he couldn’t understand why they became angry when he told them his visions of sheaves of grain and the sun, moon, and stars.

His childhood ended the day they left him to die in a pit in the desert and then sold him into slavery with the Ishmaelites.

He started to build a life for himself in Potiphar’s household but then it all came crashing down through no fault of his own and he found himself locked away in jail for two years.

This time he wasn’t the one dreaming. Continue reading