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The Last Word on Reconciliation

. 6 min read

10-11
Feb 2018, Christ Mountain Top, The Lord’s Table
Call
to Worship, Psalm 32.1-5
Children,
Mark 2.1-12
Message,
Luke 23.26-37
Everyone
wants to know how things are going with the puppy. Sleep – but then I lay there
awake, praying for many of you and wondering how I might reflect on Jesus seven
last words. I am so excited about this message series because I am convinced
that these words are so powerful and because I know that I am going to learn
and study. My excitement comes with a bit of fear. This is, in one sense,
Jesus’ last will and testament. It is so important for us to get right, and to
get life right. So, I’m reflecting on the text all the time, asleep and awake.
      Reading theology at the kitchen table.
Zoe, eating the wooden stand for our Amish-made kitchen nook instead of the
chew toys that are right next to her.
      Forgive her, for she knows not what she
does
      Jacquie Fine, Puppies get a pass
Accident
forgiveness commercial, AllState

We
know forgiveness is a simple idea but terribly complicated in real life. Do we
forgive someone who doesn’t ask to be forgiven? Does forgiving someone who has
victimized us mean that we need to allow ourselves to be victimized again?
(No.) What is the relationship between being forgiving (of others) and being
forgiven (by God)? Can I forgive someone and still be mad at them? If I forgive
someone do I have to trust them? If I don’t know I did anything wrong, how can
I be held responsible? What about people I just can’t forgive? (Personally, I
have a list.)
Good
questions, only tangentially addressed by the text today. One of the issues
with the questions I have offered is that they are all focused on ourselves,
and that in a narrow way – as the ones who do the forgiving.
      There is another set of self-focused issues
around forgiveness, all around the ways we need to be forgiven. We tend to
either deny its necessity – I don’t need to ask God for forgiveness because I
haven’t done anything wrong. Or, more often, it is not remotely possible for
God to forgive me for what I have done. As if our sin, obviously too much for
us to handle, is also too much for God to handle.
      Lady MacBeth, “out damn’d spot” (eternally
condemned)
Scout
Law:
•           Trustworthy
•           Loyal
•           Helpful
•           Friendly
•           Courteous
•           Kind
•           Obedient
•           Cheerful
•           Thrift
•           Brave
•           Clean
•           Reverent
BUT
– Has another Scout ever broken your trust? Has another Scout ever not been friendly to you? Did you find a
way to reconcile, to forgive and restore your relationship?
      Have you ever failed to be helpful? Have
you ever not been obedient or thrifty
or clean? Really? Can you get through an entire week of Scout camp on one pair
of underwear? I’ve heard that it has been done – just sayin’. Is there a hard
conversation with a friend that you have not been brave enough to have?
      I know. You’re Scouts and you’re almost as
cute as puppies. So, you get a pass.
Again,
most of our thinking about forgiveness refers in some way to ourselves. Like
most of what we say about Jesus and the cross:
      Jesus died for me and for you
      Jesus died so we could be forgiven
All
of this is true, so far as it goes, but as Stanley Hauerwas points out, this is
true only because we are talking about the death of the unique Son of God
(27-29). Today’s song lyric: “Rid me of myself, I belong to you.”
Yet,
we struggle to go there. We struggle to make it about something more than me. We struggle to focus on death,
without finding some way to make a death exceptional, redemptive … something
other than death itself. My dad says that when he was a young Marine, he
thought he was bulletproof. We do all kinds of things to deny death (Hauerwas,
26). We prefer positive thinking -and, for the record, positive thinking is a
good thing, as long as we don’t use it to deny reality. Jürgen Moltmann asks
this question: What does it mean to recall the God who was crucified in a
society whose official creed is optimism, and which is knee-deep in blood? (4).
We struggle with the cross. We live in denial of death as optimists and in
denial of death as those blissfully unaware of our complicity in genocide,
ethnic cleansing, human slavery, war, racism. If I don’t know I did anything
wrong, how can I be held responsible? We object that we aren’t involved in such
things. Perhaps, then, Jesus was not praying for us when he asked the Father to
forgive. “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2.17).
In
this first word – first in the traditional order – Jesus, the unique Son of
God, asks his Father to forgive “them,” those who are killing him. No one but
Jesus can make this request, and no one but the Father can choose to honor it
(see Hauerwas, 33). Who are those whom Jesus forgives? The Roman soldiers, the
religious and political powers that conspire against him, the crowd that
rejects him, AND you and me. Blaise Pascal writes, “I left him; I fled him,
renounced, crucified [him].” The Scriptures declare that it was “while we were
yet sinners” and “while we were enemies” (Romans 5.8, 10) that Christ made
reconciliation for us. How so? The first word, the last word on reconciliation:
“Father, forgive them.” No one but Jesus can make this request, and no one but
the Father can choose to honor it.
      Jesus says, “They know not what they do.” I
hardly know what to say to that. They knew they were shouting for Jesus to be
crucified. They knew they were plotting his death. They knew they were nailing
him to a piece of wood. They knew they were mocking him. They knew they were
gambling for his clothes. They knew they were killing him! They didn’t know
they were killing the Son of God. We didn’t know we were killing the Son of
God. And yet he prays for our forgiveness. He makes reconciliation, something
that is only made with enemies, with people we just can’t forgive.
Stanley
Hauerwas shares the story of Christian de Cherge, a monk in Algeria who was
beheaded by Muslim radicals, along with others, in 1996. He wrote his last
testament, and I read excerpts:
At
last, I will be able – if God pleases – to see the children of Islam as He sees
them, illuminated in the glory of Christ, sharing in the gift of God’s Passion
and of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common
humanity amidst our differences.
      And to you, too, my friend of the last
moment [the one who will kill me], who will not know what you are doing. Yes,
for you, too I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also,
that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common
Father (32).

Well,
that seems a little too much like taking up the cross and following Jesus. For
most folks I know, the close-to-heart reconciliation questions are not
life-or-death, at least not as vividly so. They are in families or workplaces.
“My brother won’t talk with the rest of us anymore.” “When I see my old boss at
Wal-Mart, I go the other way.” The questions show up in stark relief at our
times of death. Will the circle be unbroken? Or will the old tensions, the
unspoken jealousies, the carefully cultivated bitterness keep us apart? 

Resources:
Stanley
Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ
Jürgen
Moltmann, The Crucified God
Blaise
Pascal’s “Memorial”,
http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/pascal.html
Brooke
Ligertwood, “Lead Me to the Cross,” Copyright ©2006 Hillsong Music Publishing