Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Forgiveness, Love and the Surprise of Hope

Last Sunday October 9th, I preached a message on the last chapter of Jonah called The Expansive Concern of Elohim (to find, go to Grace Chapel Sermons). As we finished our Jonah series on Sunday, we also looked at the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, that of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 and also that of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18. The main topic of conversation was loving our neighbor and even our enemies, also we covered the weighty subject matter of forgiveness. Finishing N.T. Wright's book, he closes his final chapter describing how forgiveness is a large part of experiencing resurrection life, indeed Wright says "forgiveness is a way to life." I appreciated the connection with last Sunday's message:

… love is not our duty; it is our destiny. It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire the taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton. It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us to begin living it with him and for him right now. Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope: people who truly hope as the resurrection encourages us to hope will be people enabled to love in a new way. Conversely, people who are living by this rule of love will be people who are learning more deeply how to love.

This is the message that underlies the gospel command to forgiveness- which is also, of course, the command to remit debts, about which I spoke earlier. But forgiveness is not a moral rule that comes with sanctions attached. God doesn’t deal with us on the basis of abstract codes and rules like that. Forgiveness is a way of life, God’s way of life, God’s way to life; and if you close your heart to forgiveness, why, then you close your heart to forgiveness. That is the point of the terrifying parable in Matthew 18, about the slave who had been forgiven millions but then dragged a colleague into court to settle a debt of a few pence. If you lock up the piano because you don’t want to play to somebody else, how can God play to you?

That is why we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That isn’t a bargain we make with God. It’s a fact of human life. Not to forgive is to shut down a faculty that can receive God’s forgiveness. It also happens to be the same faculty that can experience real joy and real grief. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Surprised by Hope, pp. 288-89

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