"Faith and Forgiveness"
Allow me to begin today with some self-disclosure: I do not understand exactly what faith is, or how it works. But I have a couple of ideas from the lesson that might be helpful. More on that in a moment, but first I’ve got to share some humor.
Have you ever heard a story that had to be true because it was just too good to be a lie? It just so happens that I have one of those funny stories too good to be true… but it is true…
Have you ever noticed that when you ask someone if they’ve been drinking, the universal answer is always and every time, “I’ve had a couple.”?
A woman from Fort Walton Beach understood what it meant to be “slightly inebriated” far too well. We don’t know how many this lady had, but my guess is one more than a couple.
This is where the story gets interesting. The report said the woman knew our gospel text. She knew that Jesus’s words about moving trees and mountains were literal… and she had a tree… it was actually a wall… that she needed God to move.
When she ran a stop sign and found herself across the road, in the ditch, heading for a brick house. So, instead of hitting the breaks, she told the police, “I closed my eyes, and I said, ‘Oh Lord help me.’” That’s when she ran right into the side of the brick house.
Apparently, that prayer didn't work because Jesus didn't… "take the wheel."
Thankfully, there were no injuries. But the story illustrates a point: She had faith in God, but she still ran into a brick wall. It begs a question, what should we do when we pray, and we still hit a brick wall?
Believing in God’s help is confusing when we pray and nothing happens. It’s hard to grasp what Jesus meant when he said, “If you only had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could cast a tree into the ocean with your words.”
I’m not sure what that means, but I can make a good guess what it doesn’t mean:
Faith is not denial.
Faith will not move a brick house.
I know people, very good people, who deny facts in hope it makes God intervein. I heard a priest respond to that reasoning with, “If you trust Jesus to do something that you’re supposed to be doing, whether it’s seeking medical care or helping your neighbor, the outcome similar to that of neglect.”
Faith isn’t a simpleminded rejection of physics. It’s much more complex and multilayered than a denial of facts. Thankfully the Anglican tradition tells us to consider scripture, tradition, and reason when dealing with matters of faith. That keeps us grounded in the life of Jesus, and not simply what God can do for us personally.
When Jesus said, "If you had faith, you could move a gigantic tree," he didn't mean to use the force to send the tree into the sea. It's much deeper than that.
Faith is not for blind denial of difficulties in life. But the text does help us see that:
Faith is for forgiveness.
I wish this lectionary started two verses before our reading begins. The verse before Jesus told the disciples, “If someone sins against you seven times in a day and asks for forgiveness, you must forgive him.”
No wonder the disciples said, “Lord, increase our faith.” It takes faith to admit we need help to forgive the people who wronged us. It’s easier to use their sins against them than to mercifully offer forgiveness. Forgiveness is for the courageous, vengeance is for the fearful.
The world-renown spiritual teacher, hermit, philanthropist and philosopher, Master Yoda, said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Why was Jesus so adamant about forgiveness? Maybe he knew that gripping bitterness harms us and thus affects those closest to us. We can’t treat our kids, parents, friends, colleagues, or significant other with the love we want to give them when we are still angry and bitter.
Love knows no impossibilities. Jesus said, “If you can find the faith to forgive, nothing is impossible to you.”
I've experienced the impossible through forgiveness. One of the hardest things in my life was to forgive the ones whose lies led to my arrest and public shaming. But when I finally listened to the Holy Spirit, I realized, "It's time to let it go."
That’s when God healed the fear and the anger. You, Saint Matthew’s, were instrumental in that healing. You showed me that Christians forgive those who make mistakes because of their war wounds, are sorry, then get therapeutic help.
Forgiveness gives us faith. Because when we live it as a lifestyle, we see gigantic and deep-rooted obstacles that have been in our lives for years thrown into the sea.
Paul said, “Brothers and sisters, This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
Faith is for forgiveness, and forgiveness proves that love wins.
Faith is about trusting God's voice.
We understand the evil of slavery, but in the 1st century, it was typical for wealthy landowners and government officials to have slaves. Jesus used a metaphor he knew would connect with his disciples.
He told them that a slave doesn’t expect to be rewarded for doing the right thing. They do it because it’s the right thing to do. In essence, he said, “I told you that God wants you to forgive. Now I’m telling you that the Kingdom of God expects forgiveness.” That’s a gut punch.
One of the most influential theologians of the last century was Paul Tillich. He knew that faith was multifaceted. But when someone asked him to define faith, he defined faith as courage. If I can add my idea with Tillich’s, I’d say, “Faith is defined by the courage to hear God.”
The word “courage” comes from Middle English. It means “heart,” the seat – the center – of the feelings.
If it’s the center, allow me the liberty to paraphrase, “If you have the courage to listen and act when your heart says, ‘forgive,’ you can speak to all kinds of brokenness and dysfunction and command it to be made whole.”
If we can find the faith forgive, we can find the hope to love. Forgiveness and love bring restorations…
So, faith is not a denial of facts. Faith is about forgiveness and trusting God.
God often speaks to my soul through words and poetry. My secret is poems—like my sermons—are written for me, and if anyone else enjoys them, that's a bonus.
I preach to myself.
May forgiveness be your addiction
Watch the angels bake bread
From ancient stories of courage
Taste the sweetness of hope
Savor the freedom of euphoria
Eat the life that puts to death a bitter soul
Stretch your wings of faith, and
Ruffle your feathers of forgiveness
For they lift you high above anger