....When You ARE that Snake!
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA; 5 Lent, 22 March 2015
Year B RCL: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
Lying awake last night asking, “Where have I gone wrong?”
I heard a voice say to me
“This is going to take more than one night.”1
I enjoy the perspectives of Charles Schultz, whose quip about lying awake I just paraphrased. Schultz points us to our work this final week of our Lenten Forgiveness Forum when we explore how to forgive our self. He also points us to today's scriptures about forgiveness.
In Jeremiah God says God will make a new covenant that we won't have to be taught, one that will be in our hearts so that we have “the God-given ability to obey.”2 God also says: “I will forgive their iniquity & remember their sin no more.”
God forgives us & remembers our sin no more. So who are we to keep dragging up our past sins & not forgive our self?
Remember the resource we have that Jeremiah tells us:
God writes God's law on our hearts.
God's Love lives in our hearts.
God's Love in us makes us able to forgive our self &
cease suffering over our sin.
As we read in Hebrews, Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. Unless we learn from our suffering over our sins, we are doomed to repeat them. When we miss the mark, we are wise to forgive our self & remember what we learn from the experience so that we can behave differently in the future.
In our Psalm today, the Hebrew words for sin include words that mean: like an arrow missing its mark, rebelliousness, twisted out of shape.3 Forgiveness also takes many forms in our Psalm: Its Hebrew words for God's forgiveness include words that mean: compassion [from a Hebrew word for womb], graciousness for non-relatives & outsiders,
loving bonds within the family or social group,
& throughly wash clean....4
Forgiving ourselves can be hard work. In our Gospel we hear how Jesus faithfully proceeds through the hard work he has ahead. He says: “Now my soul is troubled.” He is facing the hardest work of his life – giving his life for us on the cross. As we face our hard work of self-forgiveness, remember, we have Jesus working with us through our forgiveness process.
A friend recently shared this insight: “When life is so dark that you can't look forward, the past is too painful to look back, look beside you: Jesus is there with you.”
Soon after that insight, the Monastery Icons catalog arrived showing a new icon, Christ the True Friend, based on a 7th century Coptic icon that is in the Louvre in Paris. It shows Jesus holding the Gospel in one arm with his other arm around a Coptic saint. Below the figures are the words: “I call you my friends.”
With our friend Jesus beside us, we can live in love through God’s capacity to love that is greater than our capacity to mess up.
We can forgive our self, & incorporate that learning as a resource to apply to future failings.
Know this: there is a difference between guilt & shame. Guilt self-assesses our behavior in light of our values. Shame self-assesses our being. Shame says: “I hate myself for what I did. I am a bad person...” Shame alienates us not just from the person we harmed, but from our very self. I alienate me from me!
Counteract shame by changing its demand quality into a preference: “I prefer that I would have/wouldn’t have, etc.”…Identify what personal value you violated & whether you want to keep that value...To keep the value, think of that past incident & decide what you will do differently if you encounter a similar situation in the future so that you honor your values...
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory....(F)orgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”5
We don't rationalize, minimize or deny sin. We acknowledge the mess, learn from it & get on with life, transformed by God's abounding Love. We die to a past perception of self so that we can flourish now & in the future.
Jesus tells us that a grain of wheat has to transform in order to flourish & bear fruit. Like the grain of wheat, we won't flourish staying isolated in our past errors. We have to do the work God gives us to do in the present to spread God's Love that will produce more good in the future. We have work to do like Philip & Andrew in our Gospel to help people encounter Jesus so they know God's forgiving Love.
Take a moment & be aware of God’s Love despite whatever sin you recall that you did...Let yourself be held by God's love & be at peace with yourself & with God...
As you rest in God's vast Love, ponder this shocking perspective: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented & fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be [so]? You are a child of God. Your ‘playing small’ does not suit the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people don’t feel insecure around you. We (are) born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people don’t feel insecure around you.
We (are) born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us. It is in (each of us). As you let your light shine, you unconsciously give other people permission to do the same...”6
So shine your light!
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 16 Feb. 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. “Teaching Forgiveness” www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
2 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 634.
3 Ibid. Harper's. P. 457.
5 Ibid. Voyles quoting Louis B. Smedes. P. 69.
6 From ‘A Return to Love’ by Marianne Williamson. Quoted by Voyles P. 71.