By Bill Hattendorf
Happy Mothers Day! Happy Mothers Day to all of you who are mothers. I’m very grateful to my mother (for having me – so I could be here today). I’m most grateful to my wife, Sheila, who is mother to our three children. And to our daughter, Kelsey, who is mother to our first grandkid, Harvey (2-1/2).
Are there fishermen/fisherwomen … are there fishers of fish here this morning? When I was a kid, I can remember fishing with my dad, and asking about the different kinds of fish. After talking about rainbow trout and pike and whatever, he also explained that fish came in two sizes:  There were the little ones that were too small to keep, that we’d throw back in; better to let them grow bigger and catch them when they’d grown up. And  then there were the “keepers” – the ones that were big enough to hang on to and bring home. The keepers. Over the years, of course, I learned that there was really a third size: the ginormous ones … that somehow always got away.
Now a segue between fish and motherhood – I have to share that today’s lesson brought me back to the time shortly after our youngest was born. Sheila had been in labor for about 36 hours, starting on a Thursday night. We’d tried all the tricks people had suggested to us, taking long walks, eating Chinese food, etc., etc.
When the baby, eventually named Spencer, decided he was ready to come out on Saturday morning, he weighed 11 pounds. When viewed in the bassinet in the nursery, he looked like a 3 or 4 month old compared to the other babies.
When talking with a friend of mine a day or so later, he wanted to know all the vital statistics, and when I told him 11 pounds, he kind of whistled and said, “Well, … he’s a keeper.” Sometimes spouses or parents use that expression as another way of speaking about love. “She’s a keeper; I like having here around.”
One of the ways that Jesus communicates His love for us is by keeping us. Jesus says, “You’re a keeper, not because of anything you’ve done but simply because I love you.” Jesus keeps you and me through His life, death, resurrection, and intercession. The old adage, “Finders keepers” is really true when it comes to Jesus. He finds us and He keeps us. This is why we can say that Jesus is “The Keeper.” In today’s lesson, Jesus prays to the Father that He will keep the disciples safe in a hostile world and guard them.
Today’s lesson from John’s Gospel comes from the prayer Jesus prayed for his disciples on the last evening before his death, “the hour was approaching.” In John's arrangement of things, it is virtually the last thing Jesus does before his arrest in Gethsemane. It’s plainly a prayer for those who had become followers of Jesus during his ministry, but equally clearly, I think, it extends to all who would become followers of Jesus in the future. So all of us are included in this prayer of Jesus. We are (in the words of the prayer) those whom God the Father has given to Jesus, who belong to God and to Jesus, whom Jesus asks his Father to protect and to consecrate. These prayers of Jesus are for us, and, what's more, I think we can depend on it that Jesus has never stopped praying these prayers for us. In the presence of God, to which Jesus has gone, Jesus continues to intercede for us. Our whole life as Christians is upheld by the prayer that Jesus prays for us always.
Prayer was incredibly important to Jesus and should be to us as well.
In today’s verses, Jesus makes three requests to God for His followers:
• In verse 11, He prays for security,
• In verse 15, He prays for protection. and
• In verse 17, He prays for sanctification.
In chapters 13-17 of John, purportedly set just prior to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death on the cross, Jesus encourages his disciples (including us) as a sort of resurrection promise. We are encouraged not to dwell in feelings of abandonment or despair after the crucifiction, but to hope in the assurance of Jesus' continuing presence.
Yoday’s reading is the central section of Jesus’ prayer, which actually covers all of chapter 17. I think the most significant of the themes is that of “giving.” Both the Father and the Son are “givers” and their mutual giving creates the grace which those of us who belong to Jesus have inherited and in which we are now seen to live. The action of “giving” joins the Father and Son as one. As the Father does, so does the Son. That gives a special significance, then, to those things that are given.
The first of these things is that followers of Jesus know themselves as belonging to Jesus. To know oneself as belonging to Jesus is to know this as integral to the Father's and the Son's essential nature and purpose.
The second thing that has been given, Jesus says, is the knowledge of God's “name.” If these ones whom the Father has given to Jesus now belong to Jesus, then what these believers have been given is to “know the name,” the character of the One who is the source of the eternal life which they have come to know in Jesus.
God's “name” stands for all that God is and has done, most importantly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. To know that name is to have one's life sustained in the power of that name -- to be protected and guarded in that name.
Thirdly, these followers have been given the “word.” They are protected in the “name” precisely because they have been given and have guarded the “word.” Of course in the context of John's witness to the “Word become flesh” (which is a theme in chapter 1) we’re supposed to understand that “word” is used in its double sense. As the “word” has been given to us in Jesus, we know ourselves in the intimate bonds of belonging to him.
In Romans (8:36), Paul asserted that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, so the glory of Jesus in his cross and resurrection is focused in his believers who now belong to him. Jesus' prayer claims an intimate oneness in the sharing of the Father and Son: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them” (17:10).
It is not enough to just hear Jesus’ prayer. His words ask that we live, act, and work with God in answering his prayer. We are to actively participate in Jesus’ prayer by shaping our lines to be increasingly like his. So while we might give an “amen” to Jesus’ prayer, we must also examine our own hearts and ask ourselves some hard questions.
The real issue is not about what’s out there in the world but about what’s in here, in our hearts. What is our hearts’ orientation?
However unintentional, how do we benefit from or participate in the systems of the world that oppose God’s way?
Are we willing to change?
Do we operate out of our wounds and brokenness?
Are we motivated by resentments or the need to win?
Do we live with an attitude of prejudice, self-loathing or hatred?
To the degree that we do, I think we deny God our lives and contribute to the darkness of the world.
That is not God’s hope for our lives or for the world.
You, and I, and all humanity are worth so much more than that.
Jesus’ own life and prayer declare that.
We are the gift that he and his Father share.
Jesus entrusts us to his Father’s protection even as he entrusted himself to the Father. To do anything less denies us God’s sanctification and our protection.
“Holy Father, protect them,” Jesus prays.
In large part the answer to Jesus’ prayer rests in our hands, our
hearts, and our “amen,” – not just a spoken amen, but a lived amen.
If we can just live the amen,
Then we offer forgiveness rather than retribution,
mercy instead of condemnation,
and compassion rather than indifference.
If we lay down our lives in love for another,
Then we see life through the lens of beauty and not cynicism.
then we choose unity over individualism and
God’s ways over personal agendas.
In those moments we are the amen to Jesus’ prayer,
our hearts are healed, and the world is different.
The great evangelist D.L. Moody (who just happened to start the Northfield and Mount Hermon schools up the road) stopped a stranger one day on the street and asked him,
“Are you a Christian?”
The man was put off by the question, so he said,
“Mind your own business!”
“This is my business!”
The man looked to him, cocked his head a little and said with a bit of a chuckle,
“Then you must be Moody.”
Wouldn’t it be great to be known as “the person whose business is witnessing?” Of course, this is our business too.
Are we accomplishing God’s mission for our lives?
Are we looking forward or looking back in our lives?
Are we focusing on our potential good or our past failures?
As Heather and Molly remind us every Sunday:
“God is more concerned with the hope for our future
than the sins of our past.”
Let us let go of the past and look ahead!
Jesus says, “Finders keepers.”
I’d say He has found us and will keep us.
Thanks be to God!
Bill Hattendorf, Lay Preacher
May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord Amen.
“How many times should I forgive, Lord? As many as seven times?” Peter asks how wide our forgiveness should be, how many times must we be slighted before we say “enough?” How long before our reservoir of grace can be exhausted? It’s a natural question. We know too well both the small and large ways that others can tread upon us, the way others can take advantage
of our generosity, the sting of consistent slights and affronts. At what point can we say, “Enough?”
Jewish tradition limited forgiveness to three times. Why did Peter suggest seven? Did he think “Oh let’s double it and add one to grow on?” I don’t think so.
We know back in the First Century, the # 7 indicated perfection. Seven is a holy number to Jewish people, symbolizing perfection or completion. It has overtones of infinity – (O) – as in the seven days of the week constitute an endless cycle – so Peter’s proposal may be even more generous that it seems at first blush.
Jesus answered Peter, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times – or depending on the translation – seventy times seven times.” Either way, we’re talking about a a big number times infinity. Yes, OK, think Buzz Lightyear and “To infinity and beyond!”
Today’s lesson follows the story in Matthew about the lost sheep. If a man has 100 sheep and loses one, won’t he leave the other 99 to go out and look until he finds that lost one? One thing these two lessons have in
common is a call to throw away the calculator when dealing with relationships.
Forgiveness, for Jesus, I think, is not a quantifiable event. It is a quality, a way of being, a way of living,
a way of loving, a way of relating, a way of thinking and seeing. It is nothing less than the way of Christ.
If we are to follow Christ then it must become our
way as well. “Not seven times, but, 70 times infinity.”
Does that mean forgiving the drunk driver? Yes.
The cheating spouse? Yes. The abusive parent? Yes. The rapist? Yes. The bully? Yes.
The greedy corporation? Yes. The racist? Yes.
The terrorists of 9/11? Yes.
Some days it feels like we’re in a very difficult, maybe impossible, time and place, at a very uncomfortable
intersection. This past week was another anniversary
of the September 11th tragedies and we saw all those images again in glorious technocolor on our screens. (I knew four people who died that day, two in the towers, one in the Pentagon, and one on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.) For many of us every year the 9/11 anniversary coverage keeps those images so fresh in our minds that they live there for weeks on end.
Those memories, images, anger, fear, pain and losses
all intersect with today’s gospel, Jesus’s teaching on
forgiveness. Both are real. Both are true. And even
without 9/11, many of us remember the JFK assassination, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the genocides in Bosnia, wars and torture in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Even in our own lives we can find broken promises,
hurt feelings, emotional wounds. We’ve all been hurt or victimized by another. Beneath all the pain, wounds, losses, and memories, lies the question of forgiveness.
Everyone in the room, I suspect, is in favor of forgiveness, at least in principle. C.S. Lewis, author of Narnia, and so many others, writes in his book Mere Christianity: “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive.” What do we do then? What do we do when there is something to forgive?
Some will strike back seeking revenge. Some will run away from life and relationships. Some will let the
darkness paralyze them. I don’t say that out of criticism or judgment. I’ve done them all. I know how hard
forgiveness can be. I certainly struggle with it.
Forgiveness, though, is the only way forward. That does not mean we forget, condone, or approve of what was done. It doesn’t mean we ignore or excuse cruelty or
injustice. It just means we are released from them. We let go of the thoughts and fantasies of revenge. We look to the future rather than the past. We try to see and love as God sees and loves. Forgiveness is a way in which we align our life with God’s life. I think that to withhold forgiveness is to put ourselves in the place of God, the ultimate judge to whom all are accountable.
God’s forgiveness and human forgiveness are very
related. That’s certainly apparent in today’s parable. The king forgives his slave an extraordinary amount. Ten thousand talents is 3000 years of work at the
ordinary daily wage. It seems there is no debt too large to be forgiven. This man was forgiven. Maybe that’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. This slave, however, refused to forgive his fellow slave 100 denarii, about three months of work at the ordinary daily wage. Too often, perhaps, that’s what our world is like. Frequently, it is how we are. In that refusal the forgiven slave lost his own forgiveness.
None of today’s lesson is news to us. We know it well. We acknowledge it at least every Sunday. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The words are familiar and easy, but do we live our prayer? Do our actions support our request?
So how do we begin to forgive? There is no easy way. Simple answers only demean those who suffer and pick at the wound. Sometimes it takes outside help.
When I came home from my 14 months in Vietnam with the 75th Rangers and another unit, I thought I could jump right back into society, into my former life, and continue as I had been. Maybe my friends had
become a bit older and seemed a little distant, but I was surely the same, I hadn’t changed, and it all smoothed out. And I thought I was doing a pretty good job of being who I used to be; to most people I think I was “passing as normal.” It took me more than 35 years to understand that I had some issues, and I came to understand that forgiveness was one of them.
One of the programs that I got involved with finally was an organization called the Warrior Connection and its week-long retreat to help combat veterans dealing with PTSD. After considerable talk about forgiveness, we made lists of those whom we wanted to forgive, and those from whom we wanted forgiveness. It works both ways. We ceremoniously burned the lists in a firepit, our pleas for forgiveness lifting heavenward in the smoke.
It made enough of an an impression on me that I
followed up later with people in my life where forgiveness needed to play a role.
Forgiving others takes time and work, something we need to practice every day. It begins with recognition and thanksgiving that we have been forgiven. We are the beneficiaries of “the crucified one.” Hanging
between two thieves Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” That is the cry of infinite forgiveness, a cry we need to echo in our own lives, in our families, our work places, our parishes, our day to day life.
Forgiveness, of course, does not originate in us. It begins with God. That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand. It wasn’t about him. It’s about God. We do not choose to forgive. We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received.
How many times must we choose to forgive?
How many times have we been hurt and suffered by the actions or words of another? How many times has anger or fear controlled us? How many times has the thought of revenge filled us? How many times have we shuddered at the sight, the name, or the memory of
another? How many times have we replayed in our heads the argument with another?
That’s how many times we must choose to forgive.
With each choosing we move a step closer to forgiveness. And to quote the French martyr Dom Christian du Chergé, “Then one day, God willing, we will meet again, [victims and perpetrators,] as happy thieves in the Paradise of God.
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