Numbers 23:9a for from the top of the mountains I see him, from the hills I behold him;
On this beautiful Tuesday I ask only that you take a moment of silence. Hold in your hearts, the pain, suffering and loss from the deaths in Charleston North Carolina, Chattanooga TN. To remember the loss of so many who have needlessly died from Sandy Hook, to Marysville. As we lift up our eyes to the mountains open our hearts to those who suffer; the victims, the families. Hold the perpetrators in your heart as well, pray that light will enter the dark well they live in and bring them out of the darkness of their own making. Amen
Matthew 18:21-22: 21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
This week’s prayer practice comes from the lectionary readings. In Matthew, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone and Jesus’ response is an astronomical number. So how many times should we forgive? An infinite number of times.
I have often wondered what brought up that topic for Peter. Did he have someone he needed to forgive, did one of the other disciples do something that irritated him, or might one of his family been causing him trouble? I know those are some of the reasons I often need to offer forgiveness and to receive forgiveness.
Hurting someone’s feelings is simply part of being human and living in relationships. We are not always pleasant to be around anymore than anyone else is and so unless we forgive each other of those hurt feelings we would be carrying a terrible burden that would eventually eat away at our souls.
Several years ago a man entered an Amish school house and killed all of the children before he shot himself. It would have been understandable for the families of those children to be angry and want revenge on the shooters family, but that is not what happened. Instead they surrounded the widow and her children in love and cared for her and her children in her grief the way they cared for their own grief. A spokesperson for the Amish community said the best way to remember the lives of the children lost was to offer forgiveness and compassion to the shooters wife and child and if the shooter had survived they would have told him they forgave him. I have known Amish families and I wasn’t surprised by their actions but still it must have been very hard to offer that kind of loving forgiveness. You see I have carried around some anger for a long time for something someone did to my mother and I need to let forgive the person. It is time to simply release that anger and offer my forgiveness. In his book Spiritual Gems of Islam Imam Jamal Rahman offers a meditation practice that guides us in releasing our anger and offering forgiveness even when the person is no longer with us by reaching out to the soul of the person to be forgiven. Briefly here are the steps to follow:
Begin in a state of meditation or stillness, let yourself feel safe and loved When you are ready call to the soul the person you wish to address
Give yourself permission to experience your feelings this person evokes in you. Notice in your body where those feelings are located. Feel compassion and mercy for yourself and slowly embrace those feelings
When you are ready allow the feelings of mercy and compassion as a bridge to the persons soul and tell why you are forgiving them.
Offer a prayer in the presence of the person’s soul that expresses your needs in relation to the person. State your heartfelt desire in prayer. End the prayer with whatever is in your highest interest, is manifesting for you now.
As you continue to meditate tell the person’s soul that they have been part of your life but that it is now time to let them go, with love and forgiveness. Jamal recommends a ritual of cutting cords to release your attachment to the person.
Listen for the soul of the other person expressing gratitude for this work of healing. Offer to release the person’s soul and envision his/her soul being embraced by the Holy Spirit.
As you end of your meditation, give yourself permission to be loved by the Spirit and slowly return to awareness.
The above is a brief introduction to the prayer practice but it follows all of the steps. However, if you are interested in furthering your understanding of this beautiful Sufi meditation I strongly recommend reading Imam Rahman’s book.
Peace to you all, and May your heart open like a flower in forgiving love for the unlovable and the lovable alike.
Roman 6:1-11 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 10:24-39 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.* 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
For 10 years I was an environmental consultant performing Human Health and Ecological risk assessments for the military and private concerns. One of the uses of my reports was to define what would be the cost of a cleanup of a contaminated site both as risk of exposure and monetary cost of cleanup. The EPA has a basic cleanup target of 1 in 10000 chances of illness or death from exposure to contaminated soil, water, or air. Of course all is negotiable but that is what is desired. The EPA doesn’t really care about cost but companies do and so does the military. Cleanup is not popular with those who own the property. There is a balancing act that goes on at the negotiation table between the EPA and the owners of the property. The property owners want to remove as little as possible to keep cost down and the EPA wants as much removed as possible to keep risk down. When you add in resident and ecological groups to the mix you probably get some idea of how complicated such negotiations can be. But the key word is negotiable.
Matthew writes in this passage what the cost of discipleship will be for those who follow in the path of Jesus. He tells his community what the risks are when you commit to following Jesus’ teaching and he doesn’t mince any words and the cost is not negotiable. For those who are faithful to God and Christ will face criticism, be misunderstood, run out town, and face death at the hands of the Romans just as Jesus did. How is that for a recruiting statement? I can hear the thought of a potential follower now. “Ok, my family will disown me, I will most likely be run out of town on rail, I will have my words twisted around to mean something other than what I said, and the Romans are going to kill me, tell me again why I should sign up for this.” If a follower of the WAY ever thought about the risks they wouldn’t sign up. I mean would you give up everything to go out and teach others about the WAY of Jesus. Would you give up the king-size bed, the running water, the clean clothes, or 3 meals a day? What is amazing to me is that anyone actually did and I am grateful to those who had, and have, the courage to walk that difficult path.
Matthew wanted his community to understand those risks while having the courage to choose a way of life that would be difficult but result in a life lived within God as found in the life of Jesus. Matthew’s words challenge us to stand up for injustice just as Jesus did. To use our voice to speak for those who are silenced. To live a life of compassion and peace towards everyone no matter how different they may be from us; from a different culture or socio-economic class, differently abled, or differently gendered, or (and this is the hard part) even if they have done harm to us or someone we love. Matthew says we are called to right injustice even at the expense of our own comfort, reputation, relationships, financial security, or even our lives. That is a hard decision to make and I know I (as a risk assessor and a seminary student) that discernment before that decision to be baptized and commit to that life is often very difficult. And let’s face it the reasons to proceed are not all that well laid out. So where do we find some answers.
Well before Matthew wrote his Gospel Paul wrote a letter of introduction to the Roman community and in that letter we have this short passage that summarizes reasons for following the WAY and those reasons are just as valid today as they were in the 1st century. Following the WAY was dangerous and even Paul doesn’t deny that but the benefit is a life lived into love.
Paul tells the Romans, and us, that when we commit ourselves to being baptized we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Christ died to sin and lives to God we are to recognize our baptism as dying to sin and living into God. Notice I didn’t say Christ died FOR our sins, Paul did not believe Jesus died because God wanted a sacrifice for our sins. No, Jesus death on the cross saves us because God overcame and said No to sin through his resurrection of Christ. God’s message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to reconcile those who are separated from God back into those loving arms. Called Atonement, or better still “at-one-ment,” reconciliation is the means of re-membering those who have spent their lives lost in a wilderness far from God back into the body of God through Christ.
When Paul writes “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” he is talking about saying no to sin and moving toward God as experienced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book Meeting Paul open the verse 6:3-4 to a new insight
“all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
We are graced with newness of life that includes a transformed way we see our world. A commitment leading to the ritual sacrament of Baptism results in a “renewing of [our] minds.” We being to see the world differently, living our lives into a richer and fuller life in love. We no longer see the world as other and different from ourselves but rather we see ourselves and the world as part of the body of God and Christ.
For Matthew, for Paul and for us these changes and commitments have political implications. It means we as followers of the WAY are to stand against the “wisdom of this world” as it is known today. We are to refuse to follow a path that results in harm, injustice, or death for anyone, whether we agree with them or not.
That is hard to do, I know it is hard for me. I too have watched the news and read the papers about mass shootings, people who demonize the poor and needy and I get angry. Sometimes I say things I might regret because I want them punished; you see I also forget they are part of God’s body. As a consultant I tried to tell the truth as I calculated it and saw it but I dealt with people who had very different agendas from mine. I grew frustrated and angry at people who only looked at the “bottom line” or a single unachievable number instead of considering how what they had done, and will do, affects those who live in the area, human and ecological. I wanted things to change and it wasn’t until I realized that the change must begin with me that I knew what I would do. I had to stop seeing the world with a “bottom line” perspective because all of creation, human and non-human are simply too important..
In Matthew Jesus says “Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The life I lost is the one that holds tight to the world I see in the news reports while the life I gain is a life lived in relationship with God. While I often forget that I try to remember, what all of us need to remember are these words of Jesus’ “Do not be afraid … I am with you always, to the end of the age.”