November 24

God Forgive Them

By Marsh Chapel

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Jeremiah 23:1-6

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:33-43

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“We seek to truly see each other as beloved children of God.  Our calling is to empower our neighbors and ourselves to love hopeful lives and gratefully offer our own gifts for the glory of God. We are called to share our authentic selves with our neighbors in right relationship”…. – The Rev. Joseph Wallace-Williams

Who is Your Jesus?

Who is Your Jesus?

Today is the last Sunday of Pentecost.  Also known as Christ the King Sunday.  I invite you to reflect on who has your Jesus been for the past church year.  My Jesus is always changing.  My Jesus is not the same Jesus of my childhood or even a few years ago.  Life experiences, pray and the study of scripture feed my “Jesus Roots” and deepen them.

  • The Jesus of my youth – church school Jesus
  • The Jesus of my teens – questioning Jesus in the world
  • The Jesus of my 20’s – Jesus who?
  • The Jesus of my 30’s – globalized Jesus, forgiving Jesus, sustaining Jesus, life-changing Jesus
  • The Jesus of my 40’s – womanist Jesus, radical Jesus

What has been your personal journey with Jesus?

Except for my 20’s my Jesus has always been in tandem with other people’s Jesus’

Christ the King Sunday is a relatively new development.  It does not bear the history of many long held church traditions such as All Saints and All Souls.  I once heard by one of my clergy colleagues that he glosses over this Sunday because it’s too Catholic. I remember in seminary when during our weekly Eucharist one of my classmates shoved the bulletin back in my hand stating that “she refused to participate in a liturgy with patriarchal language.  Looking back I think she missed the point.

This Feast Sunday was brought into the church’s liturgical year by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to advance the message of God in Christ over and against the political questions regarding papal territories, and in response to growing secularism, nationalism and anti-clericalism.  Addressed to the hierarchy of the church the document warns that “as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations”.

While we may find the Popes words archaic our take away is “Do we belong to Christ or do we belong to the world”  Pope Pius was moving into a world that was about to usher in the rule of Hitler and Mussolini so his statements were bold a provocative but those words and statements are very relevant for our life in the world today.

As we lead up to an election year candidates for all office tout that God is on their side and all we have to do is support their coronation by casting our vote.

The royal crowns rattle in the church’s cupboard every election year.  What’s the reason for this fascination?  Perhaps it’s based on a lust for raw political power.  Perhaps the unreserved endorsement of candidates who support “faith-based initiatives” stems from the anxiety that pervades our time and culture.

However we are mostly uncomfortable with the notion of Kingship.  The notion of a King reflects on principles that America was not built upon.  The notion of King also means big shoes to fill.  My dear friend Carl  (name changed) belongs to a family long held to be as quoted in the press “America’s royalty”.  I once asked Carl what is what like to be part of that family dynasty.  He laughed and said for the most part people leave him alone, except for his public display of drunkenness over two decades ago and his admitted botched and ill-fated attempt at a career change.  He said since I look like my mother’s side of the family I am unrecognizable in public.  I am able to be left alone to do the work of trying to leave the world a better place than I sound it.  “I have my faith and my family, my humility and my gratitude and it has taken me a lot of years, and a lot of life experiences to work that out”

Our readings on this Christ the King Sunday, challenge us to examine our priorities and to see who- or what – holds our allegiance.  As I see it there are two ways of looking at this Kingship.  The King of our outward being and appearances and the King of our inwards hearts.

If we belong to the Christ King of the world our outward being is the one who nods and pays lip service to issues of injustice, oppression of the other in any form.  You know the people who are on committees or involved in activities that make them feel better, but not willing to do the deep internal radical welcoming work that will bring systemic change.

But the Christ King that occupies a place in our hearts in about servant leadership.  It doesn’t matter if their name is on the committee.  There work is one on one getting to know the other better.  Being an ally, and all that involves for deep systemic and personal change.  Because when you are an ally, when you support when you feel, when you are able to get out of the way of your ego.  Then the deep work of empathy, change, restorative justice can take place.  If we belong to the Christ King of our hearts we forgive.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things that we can do.  As my friend Donnie was famous for saying “God forgives you immediately, but it takes me a while”.  In her reflection piece for Parabola Magazine entitled “Forgiving: The Art of Mercy” the author and speaker Mirabai Starr begins with a litany of “I’m sorry’s “I’m so sorry that I broke your heart that I was too demanding of your approval.  I’m sorry I was so quiet. I’m sorry I interpreted your rejection as rejection, rather than as the cry for love that it really was”.  She then moves in to her forgiving: I forgive you.  I forgive you for talking about me behind my back.  I forgive you for not seeing me.  I forgive you for being blind to your own shadow, for your participation in institutionalized racism, misogyny, heteronormativity.  I forgive you for the slave trade, for sex trafficking, for treating garbage collectors like garbage. I forgive you for putting profits ahead of people, technology ahead of clean air and water, head ahead of heart.

Forgiving you was the best thing I ever did. Forgiving you set the bird of my heart winging through the universe.

So here we are in the last week of the Christian year where we are about to enter into the midst of the turkey coma, and a secular world that tells us that we really need this that and the other to make us feel better, can we make room for the sole source of divine power and reign, Jesus Christ?  So once again in the midst of this “Who is your Jesus?”

Centuries before Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah address the issue of kingly power as he strongly denounced the leaders of Judah for abusing their authority.  Jeremiah looks toward the future where the followers will be brought back into the fold.  A place where they will be guided and protected by a loving God.

The reading from Colossians was written in response to a dispute within the community.  The question that they raised was “what exactly was accomplished by Jesus”?

So if we use these lens’ to look at this last Sunday before Advent this Christ the King Sunday reminds us of our Jesus we are reminded of the ultimate price Jesus paid for US.

In today’s Gospel we are told that two criminals were crucified with Jesus.  The first man mocks Jesus saying if you are the Messiah then save yourself.  He was interested in his own well-being, and reflected the attitude of those who followed Jesus for what they hoped to gain.

The second man had a very different attitude.  What has been described as being the gospel within the gospel.  The man recognized his own sin and the innocence of Jesus … we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.  He then turned to Jesus with a profession of FAITH as he asked that Jesus remember him in his Kingdom.

Jesus answered with an assurance of forgiveness and eternal life.  “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.  Here salvation was extended first of all to a repentant criminal, who would now share eternal life with the Lord.

Where are we are in our lives in terms of our capacity for forgiveness? An article from The New Yorker titled The Afghan Way of Death: Upended Peace Talks. Civilian casualities keep climbing. Afghans are suffering more than ever, dated October 28th tells many stories of a suffering people but the one story that stood out for me was the story of Jamila Afghani, a promoter of gender equality.  She tells the story of seven-year old Ahmad and eight year old Shadh Agha who were born in a rural part of Ghazni Province.  Their father Noor Agha was a farmer.  After the night raids intensified in his village, he decided to move the family to the city.  This required abandoning his land and his livelihood, which plunged them into poverty.  The father arranged for his sister to be married to obtain a bride price.  Ahmad and Shah Agha made the wedding invitations and accompanied Noor Agha when he delivered their work to the groom’s family who lived in another neighborhood. According to Afghani, police officers in the area, identifying a strange vehicle, opened fire without warning. Noor Agha was killed and Ahmed sustained a glancing wound on his face. When Noor Agha’s father heard the news, he had a heart attack and died. The money from the marriage was spent on funerals and medical bills, Afghani said.  Ahmed and Shah Agha moved in with their grandmother and Afghani paid to send then to a private school – which had just been bombed and the boys had been wounded by shrapnel.  Afghani was in tears when she finished telling the story “Why are you killing us?” She wailed at a conference she was attending.  One of the other participants told of his being tortured and said to the gathered group, “I am willing to forgive you for what you have done to me and the rest of society. But that forgiveness must have meaning. The meaning lies in your heart not in the world.  Are we not called to love and to love abundantly.

We mark the end of the church year today as next week we begin the season of Advent. A season to once again look and reflect on who is your Jesus.  A season of God’s love for us.  A season that is marked by an expected anticipation.  We will be reminded of the anticipation and fear of a teenage unwed mother to be.  We will be reminded of the light of Christ birth that will shine upon all of us without exception.  We will take these shorter winter days to be in reflection, contemplation and exploration of the one who loves us beyond all measure.  The one who forgave and was gracious even in death.

After service today we will be making Advent Wreaths.  I started making Advent wreaths with the youth when I was serving at Christ Episcopal Church Needham.  It was a time of wonderful organized chaos.  But it is also a time of narrowing down and focusing in.  I invite you to take the coming week to prepare for Advent much like we would prepare for Lent.  Find time for quiet reflection and contemplation.  If you have an Advent wreath put it out early or reflect on the wreath you made. Water it with intention and prayer.

We are all invited to the throne room where Christ is exalted and worshiped.  We have come full circle in our church year and are at the end of this journey and ready to move on the next.  Who is the Jesus that you take with you into the next year?  Jesus the living God, the living King is found right here and right now in the midst of us, in the midst of our secular and over commercialized world, in the midst of canned Christmas music at every store that you will enter over the holidays.

This is all good news that we celebrate here today.  Jesus is King throughout the year, throughout all time and in every place.  There is an expression about turning your will and life over to the care of God it ends with the statement  “There is a God and I’m not it”

  • We don’t need to seek another king.
  • We now longer have to judge one another
  • We don’t have to control what other people think and feel or force then to fit our expectations

What happens is that in this control filled society:

we find power,

we find the reign of God when we let go,

when we realize that the reign of God is here and now, here in our hearts, here in our community both physically at Marsh and elsewhere one is connected to us!

It’s a liberating idea.

Who is your Jesus?


The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, Associate Chaplain for Episcopal Students

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