Posts Tagged ‘Forgiveness’

'shadows of a forgotten savior' photo (c) 2007, hillary h - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Here is a sermon from my archives as we begin Holy Week.

Father, Forgive Them
A Sermon on Luke 23:34

How could the soldiers pound spikes through the human hand and consider it all in a day’s work?   But that’s just what it was to them: a day’s work.  And why not have a little fun while they were at it.  They played dice, and the prizes were Jesus’ clothes.  They had a good time at his expense: “Since you’re the king of the Jews,” they laughed, “save yourself.”

How can people do such things to each other?  Recently our family watched a program about the allied agents who worked during World War II to track down German physicists and rocket scientists like Werner von Braun, and their work.  Twenty years later Von Braun was a big shot in the American space program, and newscasters were interviewing him about the Apollo moon launches.  But during the war, the physical work of the weapons programs Von Braun and his cohorts developed was done by slave labor on starvation rations from a nearby concentration camp.  How could the scientists not know?  And if they did know, how could they not care?

How can unspeakable acts get to be commonplace, so “all in a day’s work?”  How can human life be treated with such contempt?  This kind of behavior isn’t surprising when the people involved hate each other.  But how can people who claim to love God and love one another in marriages, families, churches and communities disrespect, demean and wound each other so grievously?

Some of the leaders of God’s people were also enjoying the proceedings.  They scoffed, “He saved others; let’s see him save himself if he really is the Messiah, the chosen of God.”  Even one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus got into the act: “So you’re the Messiah, eh?  Prove it by saving yourself, and us, too, while you’re at it!”  And he kept on taking digs at Jesus.

Saving himself was just what Jesus could not do and still accomplish his mission.  Yet it would be very understandable if his own pain was all he could see and all he could think and all he could feel.  How he had shuddered in the garden at the very thought of it!

Unlike the defiant criminal, Jesus uttered no protest.  But neither did he offer these cheap words that so often pass for forgiveness:  “It’s okay.  It’s no big deal.”  Or even, “I brought it on myself.”  Matthew and Mark make it clear that Jesus did cry out in pain.  But what’s the first thing out of Jesus’ mouth in Luke?

The first word out of Jesus’ mouth in Luke is “Father,” the One he counts on for everything.  The first sentence out of Jesus’ mouth is prayer.  The first concern out of Jesus’ mouth is for others.  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing!”

Who is this “them” he’s referring to?  Right there at his feet were the soldiers, who certainly thought they knew what they were doing: doing their job.  Ridding the world of vermin.  Father, forgive them.

Nearby also were religious leaders, who certainly thought they knew what they were doing: protecting God’s interests and the national interests, and incidentally their own.  Father, forgive them.

And then there were the criminals who had preyed on others who were weaker than they in some way, one a mocker, and the other seeing a chance of some kind of future with Jesus.  Father, forgive them.

And only blocks away were Pilate and Herod, who didn’t pretend to be doing anything other than protecting their own interests.  Father, forgive them.

And somewhere out there was Peter, who used to be sure he knew what he was doing, but not anymore.  Not since he hadn’t been able to keep his pledge to follow Jesus even to death.  Father, forgive him.  And Judas the schemer.  Where was he?  Luke leaves that question unanswered until the Book of Acts.  Father, forgive him.  Somewhere out there were the rest of the disciples who only hours before had been arguing in the upper room about which of them was the greatest. Father, forgive them.  And what about the helpless onlookers who didn’t know what to do, or didn’t want to do anything—just gawk?  Father, forgive them.

Before Jesus placed himself in God’s hands one last time, he placed everyone else in God’s hands.  On the cross Jesus brought the world to the God who speaks the word that can heal the unspeakable; to the God with the power to forgive the unforgivable; to the God who refuses to let sin and death have the final word.

“Father, forgive them.”  No, that does not mean that this sin or any other is acceptable.  No, that does not mean Jesus’ wounds or any other wounds are trivial.  No, that does not mean the hurt will, must, or even can be forgotten.  Even after the resurrection Jesus still bore the marks of the wounds. What it does mean is that there is forgiveness in the heart of God.  God creates it.  God holds the power of it.  God’s forgiveness is the road to healing.  God’s forgiveness is the road to life.  “Father, forgive them” is not a surrender to evil.  It is a surrender to God. (more…)


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Judas' regret

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If you don’t plan to preach on John 13 for Maundy Thursday, here is an alternative from Matthew 26 and 27 on the haunting story of Judas.

Hand Over the Rope
A Sermon for Maundy Thursday
Based on Matthew 26:14-32 and Matthew 27:3-10

Suddenly it all came clear.  Judas’ plan had gone horribly awry!  He had only intended to push Jesus to act.  A confrontation with the authorities, reasoned Judas, would prompt Jesus to quit waiting around and launch the new kingdom of Israel.  But now Jesus was condemned to die for sins he never committed, and the blood was all over Judas’ hands.

The guilt was crushing.  Judas could scarcely breathe.  “Hurry…must hurry!  Must stop this thing,” he said to himself over and over.  He clutched a small pouch.  The thirty pieces of silver inside burned his hand.

When Judas reached the chief priests and elders, he pushed his way in.  “Jesus is innocent!” he cried.  “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

“What do we care about that?” they answered.  “That’s your business.”

Jesus had never had a chance!  The authorities had never been interested in conferring with Jesus.  They had no intention of giving serious consideration to anything he had to say.  The priests and elders only wanted to destroy Jesus, and Judas had played right into their hands.

Judas couldn’t get rid of the blood money fast enough. He hurled the coins into the temple and hurried away.  Would someone find them and perhaps use them for good?

No hope!  No hope!  The words pounded in his head.  No way to turn back the clock.  There was no way to make it right, no way to make up for his sin even partially.  Judas’ sin condemned him.  Guilty.  Guilty forever!  Sick with despair, Judas found a piece of rope, secured one end, looped the other around his neck, and jumped.

I once read of a congregation that built a small prayer chapel and placed twelve chairs in it, one for each of the apostles.  The chair marked “Judas” became well worn because it was the most often used.  Through the ages many Christians have recognized themselves in Judas for their own betrayals of Christ.  And many have responded to their guilt in the same way, punishing themselves, condemning themselves.

A few have done so quite literally.  In the Middle Ages, for example, it was common to see groups of people whipping themselves and each other, hoping that this punishment would make God take away the Black Death plague.

Most now, though, punish themselves with emotional ropes and whips.  Endlessly rehearsing regrets for wrongs, real, and some just imagined.  Picking at the scabs on the sore places in their memories.  Confessing again and again.  Piling good work upon good work, hoping God will relent.

None of these self-imposed remedies offers more than temporary relief.  The guilt always comes back.  We have sinned, we have betrayed the innocent blood of Christ, and we can’t do a thing to fix it.

If only Judas hadn’t found that piece of rope.  If only he had paused long enough to think, to reflect on three years spent with Jesus, to pray.  That might have made the difference.

If only Judas had paused to remember what just happened at that Last Supper.  Jesus had obviously been aware of Judas’ scheme.  But instead of turning Judas away from the table, Jesus still welcomed him.  Jesus had given all the disciples the bread, with the words, “This is my body.”  He had offered them all—even Judas—the cup, with the words, “This cup is my blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin.”  What was about to happen to Jesus was for their forgiveness—all of them!  “All of you drink this,” Jesus insisted.

Then he pointed out that they would all, every last one, betray him.  Every last one of those disciples would soon be in great need of the cup of forgiveness.  Guilty, one and all!

Eleven disciples waited, turned back to Jesus, and did eventually drink the cup of forgiveness.  But not Judas.  He hurried to the gallows.  He missed the point of Jesus’ life.  He missed the meaning of the cross.  He ignored the invitation to the table, the invitation that still stands.

“Come, everybody, drink the cup of forgiveness,” Jesus insists.  “Take this cup of my blood in your hands, drink, and you will be clean!”

Come, people of God!  Come, all who see yourself in Judas’s chair.  Hand over your ropes and whips.  Stop the punishment.  Stop the condemnation.  Hand over your regrets to Jesus, and if you find yourself pulling them back, hand them over to him again.  Don’t go to the gallows!  Come to the table!

Take Jesus’ cup of forgiveness into your hands and drink it.  Take the cup of salvation into your hands and drink it.  Hold it.  Cherish it.  Drink it.  All of you!

“Do this in remembrance of me!”

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