The Healing Power of Forgiveness -- Pastor April's Sermon -- 12/20/15

The Healing Power of Forgiveness Luke 1:5-13, 57-80

Given by Rev. April S. Blaine on Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Couple of weeks ago, my boys and I spent the afternoon finishing up the last of the Christmas decorations.  The tree and stockings were already up, so this afternoon we were putting up the Christmas Village on top of the piano, complete with the Mickey and Minnie figurines and fake snow all around.  Which I promised my husband I would take down before next July.  The final thing was to place our two nativity scenes in the kitchen and the family room.  Like most of us, my boys love Christmas and the ritual of putting up these decorations is a wonderful reminder of the joys to come.  As we were finishing, Eugene excitedly declared…  Now, EVERYONE will know that we are REALLY READY for Christmas.

Now, EVERYONE will know that we are REALLY READY for Christmas.

I took a few minutes to think about that phrase later that week.  Because it’s a phrase we use an awful lot.  Ready for Christmas.  We ask each other – are you ready for Christmas – and we usually mean – are you ready as in have you done all your shopping, have you made all your travel arrangements, have you put up your tree, have you purchased the Christmas ham – hung your stockings, baked your cookies – are you READY?

But this year – I began to think about that question a little more deeply – am I Ready for Christmas?  Am I ready for the coming of Jesus again – in my midst?  Am I ready to receive Jesus in my life and my heart anew this year?  Am I ready?

And what would it look like for me to be able to say YES to that question?

Today’s Scripture gives us some insight into that question.

Because ahead of Jesus’ arrival, God sent a prophet – John the Baptist.

And his sole mission was to make sure that the people of God were ready.

Ready for Jesus.

Ready for God coming into the world in a new way.

And this was pretty important, because the people were ready for a Savior, but not one like Jesus.

since the people had been waiting for a very long time for a sign that God’s salvation was coming for them.  They had been ruled by various regimes, had a brief period of reprieve where they governed themselves, but were now under the tight reign of the Roman Empire.  Where they were taxed and taxed and taxed.  Times were very difficult.  The Romans were the enemies and more than anything the Israelites wanted release.

And the prophets of old had told them that a savior would come.  That when this savior would come that there would be a great rescue.  Redemption and salvation for all people.

Where things would be made right and justice would be restored.

The people were waiting.  They longed for the chance to be a nation again and they longed for their enemies to get what was coming to them.  The years of struggle and suffering had left them with an anger and a bitterness and a heaviness in their hearts.  And so they began to imagine this savior and how he would make everything the way that they imagined it should be.  To charge in on a white horse, to lead them into battle, to take down the Romans and to restore order again.  They were waiting for God’s savior to come.

They were not ready for a Savior like Jesus.

So John’s job, according to the words of our scripture today, spoken by his father just after John’s birth was to lead the people, not into battle, but to the path way of peace.

No talk of taking up arms, preparing for battle.  No white horse.

The way that John would help the people to GET READY for the coming of Jesus – for their savior who has come to rescue them –

in v. 76 –

is through the knowledge that they have been FORGIVEN.

What John actually does in his ministry – is to go out into the desert and to tell people to repent and to turn toward God.

To receive forgiveness and to be baptized.

GET READY.

GOD IS COMING.

And the way that you can get ready

Is to receive forgiveness.

I think it is difficult to fully articulate how different this is from what the people both wanted and thought they needed at this time.

The Israelites were certain – that the problem was OUT THERE.  It was with the Roman Empire - the last thing they thought they needed from God was FORGIVENESS.   After all, they were the victims here – they were the ones who had been wronged.

But John’s call was to help them turn inward.

Toward their deepest struggles, bitter, angerness – and receive the gift that God has for them.

For only then – could the hurt that they carried within them.

Be transformed into the real freedom they so longed for.

THEY HAD TO START WITH FORGIVENESS.

I find this scripture to be particularly convicting because like the Israelites,

I used to believe that I didn’t really struggle with forgiveness.

It’s true – I really didn’t think I had a problem with it.

Which – in the twelve step programs is always the first step – right?

Step 1 – Admit you have a problem.

If you think you don’t have a problem with forgiveness – you probably aren’t being honest with yourself.

So, I suppose, the Israelites and I would find ourselves in good company.

It’s difficult to fully articulate how pervasive this human struggle with forgiveness really is.  The more time I spend with each of you – and unfortunately, the more I am able to be honest with myself - the more I know about our complicated struggles and the suffering that you have endured, the more I hear the undercurrent of the need to forgive.  The need to forgive those who have hurt us, those who have wounded and abandoned us, the need to forgive God for not preventing something hurtful from happening on our behalf, and the hardest of all – the ability to forgive ourselves.

But I also don’t think I’m alone in sometimes failing to recognize how much our failure to be able to receive and give forgiveness is tied up with all the complicated emotions we experience on a daily basis.

This year, as I was working through some of my own stuff – some strong emotions of anger and a season of really being hard on myself.  I knew I needed healing, but I was stuck.

And so,  I was reading a book on healing and the author was talking about the things that sometimes get in the way of that process.  And she used this really extraordinary analogy to a snake bite

And she said – that anger – that self-loathing – that constant sense of never allowing ourselves to let ourselves or others receive grace - It becomes like venom in us – and unless we address it – unless we find a way for the venom to stop coursing through our veins – we cannot find the kind of healing and freedom that we really need.

The more I thought about the analogy, the more I realized that she was right.  A few weeks later, I was talking about the analogy with Gina Ruffner who has worked in the medical field for years – and she brought some additional insights to this that added another layer of insight -

Snake Bite Analogy – GINA

So, April has a snake bite.  The venom is coursing through her veins and she has just realized it. 

What does she need to do to get the venom OUT?

Well, there’s a few things we don’t want to do:

-       Become overly panicked

-       Elevate the place of the bite – that just makes it go to the heart and spread quicker

-       Suck out the venom – just spreads it to another 

The counter-intuitive solution

-       She must ask for help.  The solution for this is not something she can produce on her own

-       The anti-venom – she just has to receive it.  Made from the same snake

After my conversation with Gina, I recognized all of the ways that I had been trying to remove this anger in ways that weren’t really helpful.  Becoming even more anxious about things – Elevating the wound itself in ways that just made the anger spread.  And worse of all – spreading it to those who wanted to love and help me.

And it became clear that the only way out, the only way to find healing – was to let God continue to offer me forgiveness and to actually RECEIVE IT.

And so for these past few months – that’s what I’ve been doing.  Trying hard every day to let God remind me – that I’m loved and that I’m forgiven.  And trying hard each day to slowly but surely ACCEPT IT.

And my experience in all of this is that John the Baptist was RIGHT.

The anti-venom to all that we carry really is the realization and acceptance that we have been forgiven.

And this regular practice of acceptance begins to open us up – heal our wounded hearts and spirits in ways that make us READY.  That clear the space in our hearts to be

REALLY READY for all that God is bringing into the world.

The inward change – the inward healing – the inward letting go – prepares us to be the kind of people who can make some significant outward changes in the world – on the revolutionary scale that Jesus calls us to.

So, I wonder where the Spirit of the Living God is calling you this year to get READY.

REALLY READY.

For the coming of Jesus into the world in new and extraordinary ways.

And where you need to RECEIVE.  The gift that is yours this holiday – and every day.

The gift of forgiveness.

Let’s pray.