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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“PETER said unto Jesus, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

1A       St. Peter poses the question to Jesus, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”  Other Jewish sources suggest that you should forgive those who offend you up to three times.  St. Peter showed his progress in the way of Christ by suggesting seven times.  But Jesus leaves them both far behind.

We think of seventy times seven and think that we can calculate it in our minds, but we should really calculate it in our hearts.  A literal translation of this would be absurd.  Jesus is not telling us to forgive our brethren 490 times.  We are to forgive our brethren an unlimited number of times.  The parable which follows fleshes out his teaching.

The parable tells of a servant of a king, a powerful servant, like Joseph in Exodus, who was the right hand of Pharoah and ruled for him.  The king audits his accounts and finds that his servant owes him ten thousand talents.  Since his servant could not pay it, the king ordered sold everything he had, including his own person and his wife and his children, to pay the huge debt.  We think of selling a person for a debt to be absurd, but Oglethorpe planned the Colony of Georgia to be a haven for debtors.  Back then, if a debt was unpaid, they would imprison the debtor.  This parable would have been easily understood by our ancestors.

When faced with such a complete and total loss, the servant begs and pleads for mercy.  And his king relents!  The king forgives the servant his mammoth debt.  So what does this powerful servant do?  He meets a lesser servant who owes him far, far less than he himself owed the king and threatens the man.  When the poorer man begs for mercy, the haughty servant throws him into prison.

The king hears of this from the other servants.  The king grabs the unforgiving man and says, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.”

The wicked man learned nothing from the goodness bestowed upon him by the king.  Jesus tells this parable after St. Peter asked how many times we should forgive our brethren.  It shows that those who are forgiven by God for their punishment but who do not show mercy to others will be punished.

1B       I read of the case where a church treasurer transferred the entirety of his parish’s building fund, $182,000, from an account requiring two signatures to an account that only required one signature.  He then withdrew the entire sum to play the market on a “sure thing” to win his church a big payoff for an upcoming expansion.  He lost everything.  Their banker contacted the pastor when the treasurer tried to take out a personal loan to cover the loss.  The pastor called the board, the banker told them the whole story, and everybody was devastated.

His parish then had to figure out what to do with their treasurer who had embezzled $182,000 from them.  The pastor studied and prayed.  Then he asked the faithful if they would forgive the man if he had stolen $100.  The answer of the faithful was, “of course.”  The pastor then pointed out that the principle was exactly the same, only the amount was different.  The church agreed.  While never putting him into a position of authority again, that church slowly and painfully but eventually overcame their financial difficulties.  However, their forgiveness of their fallen treasurer changed the value they placed on the Gospel understanding of forgiveness, and it transformed the congregation.

1C       To live a pretty good but simple life, a rural family of five would need about $100 a day, the equivalent of two denarii, making each denarius $50 in our money.  The powerful servant threatened the poorer servant with imprisonment for a debt of one hundred denarii, or $5,000.

Between six and ten thousand denarii equaled one talent.  With a denarius at $50, each talent would be at least $300,000.  But the amount that the unforgiving servant was forgiven by the king was ten thousand talents.  Ten thousand times three hundred thousand would be three billion dollars.  Billion.

Kind of gets your attention, doesn’t it?

When I mentioned the church that forgave their brother the treasurer for embezzling $182,000, that number is far less than the $300,000 of one talent.  Jesus is talking of forgiving a vast debt.  Not even Nathan and Nikki, the governors of our two modern states here, could pull off something like that.  Even Ted Turner would miss three billion dollars.

The differences forgiven or not forgiven by the two servants are as different as night and day:  $3 billion versus $5 thousand.  The difference between those two numbers pretty well sums up how different God and we are in terms of forgiveness.  God thinks we can forgive everything.  We think we can forgive only a manageable sum.  Maybe like $5,000.

2A       Those of us who pray according to the Book of Common Prayer pray the Lord’s Prayer an awful lot.  I hope as your priest that you say the Lord’s Prayer on your own at various occasions during your day, such as when you rise, during your daily devotions, or when you retire at night.

We say the Lord’s Prayer often without particularly thinking about it.  One of the phrases we say is, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

If we meant even a portion of what we pray, then we have repeatedly asked God to forgive us as we forgive.  That is very bold on our part, considering how often we forgive compared to how much God wants us to forgive.  Yet there it is:  “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  We already know that this principle is part of the religion of Jesus Christ as taught us in his Scriptures through his Church.

2B       God has clearly and unequivocally placed no limits upon forgiveness.  Faithful men and women who follow after the commandments of God and seek to walk henceforth in his holy ways cannot place limits on forgiveness.

We each commit sin every single day.  Each sin is an offence against God.  Do not be deceived, God is most unimpressed with our offerings.  The most we can ever hope for is to be told, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant … enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”  Therefore, since Jesus teaches forgiveness without limits, this is most happy news for us considering how often we offend our Lord.

Christ makes clear to us that we neither deserve nor can count on this forgiveness by him.  We must forgive others without limit in order to receive forgiveness without limit.  God will put us away from him if we fail to forgive our brother without limit.

This means that we must forgive those who have not asked for mercy.  Sometimes repentance only comes when the person offended forgives the offender.  Think of the ultimate in holding grudges:  the clan feuds of Scotland and Appalachia.  Until someone steps up to follow Christ amidst the mess, the cycle of retribution continues swirling around unabated.  The fact that grudges can be carried for generations should give us pause.  This teaching of Christ to forgive without limit breaks through and brings redemption to our worldly sickness of vengeance and death.  Christ brings life eternal to us; this is one of the ways in which He does so.

Not only does Christ bring life to us; we are to bring life to the world.  Our forgiveness heals the world and the web of relations between people so that, now whole, they no longer suffer the brokenness from each other which cries out and needs a savior.  By our loving like Christ loved us, they have the redeeming and powerful work of God pointed out to them.

Forgiveness without limits means that we must absolutely reject the control we seek to exert over our brethren.  Forgiveness without limits means that we do not serenely wait until another repents before we issue him an appropriate dollop of compassion.  Forgiveness without limits means that we forgive not because it will change things; we forgive that we might be changed into a holy image or icon of Jesus Christ amidst this fallen and foul world of hate, disease, disorder, and death.  Forgiveness without limits is not about changing the world, it is about changing our own heart.  Peace, freedom, and restored relationships will follow, but for Christ’s sake, not for the sake of our misguided and thwarted desires.

2C       Jesus’ most fundamental teachings include forgiveness without limits.  That God the Father sent His Son, the very Word of God begotten eternally before the creation of the world, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live a life as a man amongst men yet without sin, to suffer and die without any guilt whatsoever, to be hung up on a tree condemned by God’s chosen people and that mighty power of the world, the Empire of Rome, to die as one of us for us and because of nothing that we earned, this gift of God’s own self is forgiveness without limits.

All of the major themes of Christianity as taught by Holy Mother Church from the Holy Scriptures point to, are encapsulated within, and bear the marks of forgiveness without limit:  Interposition, the putting of self between harm and another; Agape love, loving another for goodness sake and not for one’s own needs; Humility, valuing self rightly in the sight of God; Obedience, serving one another without counting the cost.

If we are not growing more forgiving each year, then we are not growing spiritually.  This is not some sweet and sentimental idea.  Forgiveness without limits propels Christ’s atonement for our sins to be ongoing and efficacious no matter how much we sin.  Forgiveness without limits changed the early believers in Christ and spread the Gospel far and near.  How could Jesus forgive St. Peter after all his mistakes and denying Him three times during His Passion?  Forgiveness without limits.

3A       Forgiveness requires surrendering the claim to pursue punishment.  Forgiveness requires giving up resentment over an offense.  If we still resent the person and offense, then we have not forgiven him.  If we still retain the right to punish the person who committed the offense, then we have not forgiven him.

If we truly forgave each other without limits, surrendering resentment over the offenses of others, and refusing the right to punish others, then visitors, friends, family members, estranged brethren, and neighbors would see what love we had for each other and would earnestly yearn to be amongst us.  And we would love them without counting the cost, without resenting their past offenses, and without reserving the right to punish them later on.  As Jesus says in the Fourth Gospel, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

3B       This parable teaches how each one of us, in the secret chambers of our hearts, will choose to behave and love with the unbounded grace and forgiveness offered to us by God.  Having had our larger debt revoked mercifully, will we then hold others to account for their piddling sums to us?  All sums owed to us by men are piddling compared to the sums which we owe God.  We simply have no business judging others when our own sins stink to the highest heaven and cry out for justice before the Judge of All the World at that Last Great Day.  How can we idly gossip about our neighbor’s foibles when we ourselves are so close to perdition?  Even thinking of comparing our sin against God to our neighbor’s sin against us is silly and worthy of being laughed to scorn.

Separation from God is the cost of not forgiving and closing the breach with those who have hurt us.  Separation from God is death, pain, suffering, and Hell.  We who do not forgive others will face a God who will not forgive us.  When we hold grudges or recount offenses, we can begin to feel that pain which is the first instance of hellfire licking over our bodies, for we have said the great, No thank you, to our God and have begun to enter Hell on earth.  We must not let our cold, hard, stony hearts become a part of us, for then those cold, hard, stony hearts will sink us away from Heaven and down towards Hell.  That hate and hurt cannot stand the presence of the Living God Who is Love, and if we cling to that hate and hurt, we will flee the presence of Almighty God along with those evil things which we will not release.  We can gain heaven through our God the Christ, but we cannot take these evils with us.  We must instead flee from those Hell-bound things and repent and leap into the loving arms of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

 

“PETER said unto Jesus, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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