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Forgiveness Produces Peace (Advent #2)

Advent #2 - Forgiveness Produces Peace
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Dec 6, 2015 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

Preamble

Good morning and welcome to the Vineyard!

 

We’re so glad you are here with us this mor ning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.

 

Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for your presence.

 

Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience peace, welcome, and acceptance. We also pray that you would find space to encounter the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

 

Introduction

This morning I’m continuing in our four-part Advent sermon series on Forgiveness.

 

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. Advent is a part of the liturgical calendar where Christians around the world set aside the four Sundays and weeks leading up to Christmas Eve to prepare themselves to receive new hope, peace, joy, and love come to us–Immanuel–God with us. As we journey together in Advent, we want to create space for inspection, reflection, and repentance. We want to create space for new habits and practices to cultivate new awareness of God’s loving, reconciling, restoring presence and actions–past, present, and future–in our lives. Finally, Advent invites us to reflect on a God who became human and calls us to follow him into life through the narrow gate, leaving behind everything that hinders us.

 

Last week, Anna Hillaker, our pastoral associate for formation and care encouraged us to activate hope through our vulnerability. As we continue our Advent journey together, today I want to invite us to consider the peace that is experienced as we move towards forgiveness.

 

Live at Peace with Everyone

Saint Paul, the reformed new testament church planter writing to the church in Rome calls us to try to live in peace with each other.

 

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:14-19)

 

In all of this, there is an implicit recognition that we don’t already live in peace with each other. This is tragic. Theologians, seminarians, and pastors all have answers for this reality. For many, the simple answer is sin. We are all sinners and that’s why we don’t live in peace with each other. Of course they are correct in their assessment, but I think it’s an incomplete assessment of the problem.

 

When we just attribute our active peace-breaking to sin, we can excuse our participation and responsibility in breaking the peace. We might turn to the first humans who took what didn’t belong to them in the garden, forever condemning the rest of us to a live of sin and rebellion. This gives way to us saying that since we have been born into sin, we aren’t responsible for our actions.

 

We can justify our peace-breaking by saying, well, it’s just human nature, “I’m a sinner.” But I want to push in here for a moment because this feels like a cop out. We aren’t totally depraved and wicked that’s not who we are. We are the image bearers of the Good and Beautiful God. When we harm and wound each other, we do so in violation of our good nature. We are called to reflect the image of our Creator. But when we participate in the rebellion, it distorts our ability to see clearly just who we are. This gives way to our active participation in peace-breaking,. Every time we break-peace, we declare that we don’t trust God. We don’t believe that God is fair or that we will be treated fairly. There is an active part of us that says, with our acts of rebelling, that I reject God’s care, provision, and love for me. That’s the part of us that says, “We know better.”

 

Blessed are the Peacemakers

In  Matthew 5:9, Jesus says,

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. (Matt 5:9)

 

This passage is plucked from the Beatitudes–the preamble to the Sermon on the Mount. that gives us insight into the kingdom that Jesus was inaugurating. The Beatitudes announce that the creator God meets you, redeems you, saves you, and invites you to join him in his kingdom. A kingdom where He is in charge, and we, his followers, live as citizens of a new world order in which anger, lust, and violence are abandoned.

We are invited to live in a kingdom where enemies are loved, not hated. Where the Royal Law, “Love your neighbor as yourself” reigns supreme.

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be recognized as the children of God. (Matt 5:9)

 

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus doesn’t explicitly command his followers to be peacemakers. It’s almost exactly how Jesus doesn’t teach his disciples to pray until they ask him to. It’s almost like Jesus is trying to signal or alert us to something. We won’t pray or make peace until we recognize and understand exactly who we are and who we belong to. This is why I like the Weymouth translation of this passage, it uses “recognized” instead of “called.”

 

Forgiveness sits at the boundary of our healing and ultimately our peace. When we are hurt, wounded, or abused, we are faced with a choice: seek peace and create a new story. Or seek retribution and continue telling the old same story.

 

Seems easy, right? It isn’t.

 

Forgiveness isn’t the easy path. Retribution and revenge is. Evolutionary biologists lend credibility to this idea by suggesting that we are hardwired to seek revenge and retaliate when we are harmed and wounded. They posit that this is how we survived when confronted by a threat. You slap me, I slap you harder. You rob me, I burn down your village.

 

But what is missed here is that the sting of the slap I received from you isn’t removed when I slap you harder in retaliation. The loss of what was taken when you robbed me it isn’t restored when I burn down your village.

 

We engage in what the Desmond and Mpho Tutu in “The Book of Forgiving” call the “Revenge Cycle.” The cycle goes a little something like this, we are harmed, so we seek to inflect an equal or greater harm in retaliation. In so doing we refuse to acknowledge our shared humanity. Unfortunately, this cycle can escalate with violence or cruelty fueling and endless running of the cycle of revenge.

 

Into this cycle of revenge, Jesus offers another way... “You have heard it said, but I say to you...” Not necessarily a new law, but one that changes the way we see the other. In our last sermon series, The God of Second Chances, I offered that the book of Jonah teaches us something important, but is often overlooked. We have the capacity to be both the oppressed and the oppressor. When Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh, he who was oppressed becomes an oppressor. This happens when Jonah flees to Tarshish withholding the words of life from the Creator God for Nineveh. Jonah misses the point that God is trying to offer him, there is no “Us vs. Them,” there’s only “Us.”

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be recognized as the children of God. (Matt 5:9)

 

We don’t become peacemakers to become the children of God. When we discover that we all are children of God, it makes it possible for us to seek the path of peace. This happens because in the midst of the hurt, pain, suffering, and brokenness we all experience, we are able to see our shared humanity in “the other”.

 

It’s way easier to see “the other” as something else, a monster, maybe. When we label someone as a monster or a demon, we deny their ability to change and take away their accountability for their actions. This actually excuses “the other” because monsters and demons have no shared moral sense of right and wrong. Therefore they cannot be held morally responsible for their actions because they are no longer human. This makes it easy for us to dismiss them and deny them their participation in our shared humanity.

 

Maybe this is why Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount tells us not to resist an evil person.

 

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

 

On the surface it looks like Jesus is inviting us to be a doormat. He isn’t.

 

Watch this...

 

In his book, “Engaging the Powers,” Walter Wink offers this explanation.

 

You can only be struck on the right cheek by an overhand blow with the left hand, or with a backhand blow from the right hand.

 

In the ancient world, social customs prevented folks from using their left hand to strike others. The left hand was used for personal uses–let the hearer understand.

 

So to be struck on the right cheek meant that one had been backhanded with the right hand. Given the social customs of the day, a backhand blow was the way that a superior hit an inferior.

 

So, when Jesus instructs us to offer the other cheek, he’s deconstructing the social customs of his day. He’s saying that the only way forward for the aggressor is to continue the beating with an overhand blow, likely with their fist, which would mean treating the inferior as an equal. In a culture built on social standing and strict customs, this was unimaginable. No person of standing would treat an inferior as an equal. Jesus flips the script by telling us to be assertive, not doormats, not aggressive, but assertive. The aggressor can only continue the beating by treating the inferior as a social peer. As Wink puts it, the inferior was in effect saying, "I am your equal. I refuse to be humiliated anymore."

 

Forgiveness is a Choice We Make for Ourselves

Jesus invites us to join him in his reshaping and reordering of the world by reminding us that the way of peace starts with our forgiveness.

 

Jesus closes the Lord’s Prayer with this little nugget of joy!

 

14For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

 

Here’s the truth of forgiveness.. Forgiveness isn’t so much about the other, as it is about us and how we will live.

 

If I slap you after you slap me, it does not lessen the sting I feel on my own face, nor does it diminish my sadness because you have harmed me. If I choose to retaliate I choose to enter into violence. I choose to become a violator as well. The only way to experience healing and peace is to forgive.

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be recognized as the children of God. (Matt 5:9)

Peace Making: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World

When we talk about peace, we tend to think about it in terms of war or fighting. Biblical peace includes the cessation of fighting, but it also includes loving relationships between individuals, families, communities, and nations. Peace is not the absence of anxiety or trouble.  Peace is about reconciliation. Peace is about restoration. Peace is about fullness.

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27 NIV)

 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NIV)

 

Peace making in our world starts with us, right here and now, in our relationships with each other. We will never see a world of peace until we are willing to practice making peace by forgiving those who harm and hurt us.

 

I want to use the fourfold path to forgiveness as outlined in our Advent book, “The Book of Forgiving” as an encouragement for us to consider making, instead of breaking, peace.

 

The first step is “Telling the Story.”

We get our dignity back as we tell our stories of how we have been harmed. Telling our stories is how we begin to reclaim what was taken from us and how we start to make sense of and meaning from our pain and suffering.

 

The second step is “Naming the Hurt.”

We have to acknowledge that the hurt has happened and that it harmed and affected us. Living as we do in a culture that wants us to get over things quickly, we may need time to reflect on our experiences, especially when we have been harmed by another. The temptation we face is to try to compartmentalize, minimize, or just dismiss the hurt. We tell ourselves that we really shouldn’t feel the way we do, pretend it didn’t happen or rationalize it away. But a hurt is a hurt. A loss is a loss, Pain is pain. I’ve personally learned that a harm felt or experienced, but denied, will find a way to express itself. When we try to bury our hurt in shame or silence, the hurt begins to fester within us from the inside until it forces it way out. When we name the hurt, we break the cycle, j and  this activity allows us to reclaim our dignity and construct a new story from the wreckage of the pain and sorrow of what was lost.

 

The third step is “Granting Forgiveness.”

We choose forgiveness because it is at the center of our peace-making. It is how we find freedom from the bondage of our past hurt and pain. Forgiveness breaks the revenge cycle, allowing us to tell a new story. Forgiveness is real. Forgiveness doesn’t erase the pain and reality of an injury. We don’t pretend that a harm or hurt hasn’t happen when we forgive. Behavior that is hurtful, shameful, abusive, or demeaning must be brought into the light of truth. If we are unwilling to forgive, we remain locked in our pain and suffering, locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom and peace. . Forgiveness liberates us. “We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves.”

 

Forgiveness is real. We choose forgiveness because it is at the center of our peace-making. Forgiveness breaks the revenge cycle, allowing us to tell a new story.

 

Forgiveness is not easy

Forgiveness is not weakness

Forgiveness does not subvert justice

Forgiveness is not forgetting

Forgiveness is not quick

Forgiveness liberates us.

 

“We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves.”

 

The final step is deciding whether to “Renewing or Releasing the Relationship”

The last step is deciding what to do with the relationship. The authors encourage us to consider either renewing or releasing the relationship. This can be a difficult decision to make. Some relationship must be released for well-being and safety.  This is not a failure of forgiveness, this is a necessary step in our wholeness and peace-making.

 

They Will Be Called the Children of God

What is meant by “for they will be recognized/called children of God?” Where else does this phrase appear? Jesus uses the phrase a bit later in the Sermon on the Mount in verse 43:

 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:43-45)

 

Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘take sides,’ but I tell you, ‘love your enemies’” -- move toward the other. If someone has established a line in the sand, move towards them. Why? Because every act of love establishes the kingdom of God in our midst. The old way encouraged us to take sides, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” “I’m good, you’re bad.” “I’m in, you’re out.” Taking sides only produces one outcome, the desire to see our enemies destroyed.

 

Remember, we were once God’s enemies:

 

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)

 

We become the children of God because we learn to see the other as God does, there is no “Us vs. Them” there is only “Us.”

 

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s fear.

 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:18-21)

 

When Jesus is serious about something, it’s clear. John, understands the reality of what Jesus is teaching us, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s fear.” When we have experienced God coming to us, forgiving us, redeeming us, loving us, it empowers us to do the same. We become peacemakers because we have experienced love from the Father, which frees us to trust him. When we trust God’s love for us, it frees us to love the other. It gives us what we need to seek reconciliation in ourselves and our families. It frees us to seek reconciliation on our jobs, in our communities, and in our nation.

 

Practical Tip

I want to invite us to consider how we have been harmed and hurt and to enter into the vulnerability that Anna invited last week as a starting place for our healing and peace.

 

Forgiving is a process of letting go.

It starts with us considering what we must give up or release in order to forgive. If we thought of this as a list, it might include things like the right to revenge, retribution, or retaliation, or more simply, the expectation of an apology. What are you waiting for in order to move towards the other and grant forgiveness? Does it require that the person who hurt you understand the full extent of the pain they have caused? What are you waiting for? What are you hoping for? What are you expecting? Sit with that in your mind for a moment. As you come forward for communion, I want to invite you release whatever it is you are holding onto, whatever you are expecting, and as you drink this cup and eat this bread, offer whatever it is to Jesus. Tell him the story of your hurt. Trust him with it. We are going to start and attempt to work through the steps of forgiveness together as a community.

 
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