The Truth about Forgiveness

Here is the truth no one (okay, maybe not “no one”, but most Christians anyway) either don’t know, don’t want to admit, or don’t believe: you are already forgiven. I not only believe this with my head, but I know this with my whole heart and soul.

(For the full audio of this sermon click here.)

The dominant Christian tradition says I’m wrong. It says that we are sinners and God holds us in that sin (despite the fact that Jesus supposedly died for our sins) until we jump through the right hoops to be forgiven.  Let me trace that a little bit.

As always, it begins with Adam and Eve, who broke the rules causing humanity to be born inherently sinful ever since. God, in this worldview, is seen as the lawgiver and judge. Humanity was judged sinful and, as judges do, must be sentenced with punishment in order to be redeemed. But, humanity, being inherently sinful, wasn’t good enough to meet God’s requirements for redemption. So, God sent a perfect human, Jesus, to die as a sacrifice for our sins. Whew. We were saved. Oh no, wait! Then the church decided that in order to receive that forgiveness, each person needed to believe that Jesus died for their sins. And that wasn’t all, then that person had to ask forgiveness, which only lasted until they messed up again, or went to church and confessed.

It’s exhausting, honestly, this circle of sin, guilt, confession and forgiveness. In most Catholic and Protestant churches this cycle is repeated each week as people go to worship, confess their sinful nature, and ask for forgiveness as part of the order of worship.

Given the way we’ve been taught that God holds us in our sin, constantly reminding us of our miserable, guilty nature, is it any wonder that we do the same thing to others? Humanity is great at judging and then holding that person in a place of guilt. We are apt to constantly remind others of how they have wronged us, constantly throw their weaknesses and unworthiness at them, and refuse to forgive them… ever.

What if we knew God in a different way? What if we understood that God’s forgiveness does not have to be earned? What if we really knew that grace – God’s unconditional love and forgiveness – was real? Could we stop beating ourselves up so much? Could we stop holding ourselves and others in our sin (if you will)?

In the story of Jesus and the woman with the alabaster jar (Luke 7:36-50), the author of Luke develops the relationship between forgiveness and love. Jesus is invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee. A woman shows up, one described as having a low reputation in town – defined by many scholars as a prostitute. If that wasn’t enough to label her as a sinner, her actions would have clinched it: she cries and lets her tears fall on Jesus’ feet, she lets down her hair and wipes his feet dry and then anoints them with oil. Women were not permitted to touch a Jewish man (much less on his feet, which had sexual overtones, as did letting down her hair). She had caused Jesus to be unclean in the eyes of the Pharisee.  His honor and Jesus’ honor were both at stake here.

What the Pharisee didn’t understand, and what Jesus points out to him, is that this woman is already forgiven. And we know that BECAUSE of the love she is showing. Jesus’ comment that her sins were forgiven was merely confirmation of what had already taken place. Her openness to God’s forgiveness transformed her. As she experienced that Love, she then turned around and shared that love. The Pharisee, being rather pious and self-righteous, had no idea what it meant to be forgiven, nor did he even have any clue that he was in need of forgiveness. He loved little because he had experienced so little of God’s love.

What this story reinforces is that Jesus doesn’t hold this woman in her sin. She was forgiven and it didn’t require death on a cross, confessing to a priest or any other requirement. Jesus essentially says, “You are loved. You are forgiven. Your openness and experience of the Divine – your faith – has saved you from the pain of guilt and shame. You may go in peace.”

The dominant model of forgiveness has kept us running around in circles, unable to truly grow and express our gratitude and love. It is time to give it up and embrace the model that Jesus provides for us. Forgiveness from God is always and already there for us. When we realize that, it can have a transformational effect on our lives and our spiritual journey. Instead of being thrown back into our old places of guilt and sinfulness week after week, we can find ourselves in a new places of love, compassion, and understanding. From here we can go forth in peace.

Love & light,

Kaye

 

 

 

The Quest Begins!

Oddly enough I find myself sort of excited today, almost like a little kid about to leave on a trip for Disney World. But in this case, I’m looking at myself crosswise because I’m excited about something that in the past has been more of a burden and obligation.

What starts today is a program I’m doing with three teenage girls (including my daughter) in our community that we are calling Quest. In a previous life and church we would have called this Confirmation. It would have been a program where the youth had to learn certain things about the church including history, creeds, structure and hierarchy of the church, what exactly the church stands for and believes, and what specifically it meant to be a member of that denomination. Yawn. I was so grateful for student pastors who were younger than I was and had some passion to try to make that fun and interesting for the kids.

But the concept of confirmation didn’t fit with the Sacred Journeys vision. We understand that spirituality, first and foremost, is a journey. And that each person’s journey is distinctly unique. This has left me free to think about ways to teach youth about spirituality instead of doctrine. I can throw away all the old rules and take them on a quest to find not only the Divine, but themselves in the process. Today we begin and I have plans for pudgie pies and ‘smores while we set some stepping-stones for the journey. Wednesday we’ll head to the Hindu temple. Later this summer we’ll experience an outdoor labyrinth and have a fireside chat with parents and mentors. Hopefully before summer ends we’ll have time for some art and spirituality. I’m afraid I have more ideas than I have time!

Truly, I only have a sketchy idea of what I’m doing, but isn’t most of life about punting and making it up as we go along. I’m hoping the girls will come up with some of their own ideas as we go along through this next year. Who knows? For now we have our Inclusive Bibles, journals, highlighters, colored pens and each other. Why shouldn’t I be excited?

Peace ~Kaye

Receptivity

I typically pray with my hands open wide in a stance of receptivity to God and the energy of the universe. If only that were the only thing needed to receive the messages, nudges, assurance, creativity and peace of the Divine.

(For the full audio version of this sermon click here.)

Last Wednesday I wanted to start writing this sermon, but I couldn’t even start because I could not shake the negative place I was in. It was the middle of a long week with stuff to do every night and not much down time. I was tired, I was whiny, I was grumpy and I felt like I just couldn’t help it. Not only was I not shaking the negativity, I kept harping on it in my mind. Do you ever get that way? You get in a bad mood, or something makes you angry, or you are easily irritated, and the feeling just won’t go away?

Anyway, I took myself out for a walk and had a little come to Jesus meeting with myself. “Ok, listen up Kaye,” I said to myself, “isn’t it interesting that you are trying to preach on being receptive to God and here you are stuck in your own s*&% and unable to be receptive? Why can’t you let it go? Why don’t you want to?” My inner self had no answer. She was listening, but she was pouting. I had no good reason to hang on to my grumpiness, so I decided to defy my inner pouty girl and start trying to let go.

After surreptitiously looking around the walking path to see if there was anyone was around (yes, I still struggle with vanity) I spread my arms out, palms and fingers splayed open to receive the cleansing breath of the spirit. It was a beautiful windy day and I envisioned the wind blowing through me and taking away the negativity bit by bit. Slowly, my body felt lighter. The heaviness of the negativity was replaced with a clarity and peace. Coming upon a bench, I sat for a little bit, closing my eyes and extending my walking meditation by opening my hands and continuing to feel my bad attitude drain from me. Honestly, it sounds a little corny, but it worked.

For the Children’s Time on Sunday morning I brought a glass jar with a lime inside. I explained that when people wanted to trap monkeys they stake a jar to the ground with a piece of fruit in it that just fits through the opening of the jar. When a monkey sticks its hand in to get the fruit out, its fist and the fruit won’t fit together through the opening. But the monkey is so determined that it needs that fruit to survive that even in the face of being captured, it will not let go of the fruit until the last second. By then it is too late. I was behaving just like the monkey with my fist tight around my own negativity. Sometimes we all close our fists desperately around things in our lives. We refuse to let go of illusions, expectations, negativity, baggage, anger, guilt, grief… the list goes on. And refusing to let go keeps us stuck in one place and, metaphorically, makes it impossible for us to open our hands to receive anything new. We deny ourselves our freedom to live and grow.

Being receptive to the Divine is more than opening one’s hands in prayer, it is about living life with a stance of openness, with a stance of receptivity. To begin to do this we need to be aware of whatever is in us that might be blocking us from truly connecting with God. Silence, meditation, journaling, music, prayer, walking, yoga (sometimes therapy is necessary) are all things that can help us release the things we don’t want to carry anymore and help us to open our hands. The choice is ours.

Love & Light,

Kaye

When can faith just BE faith?

I felt a little like “Dear Abby” this week when I got this great question from a friend on Facebook:

Kaye, At what point do all the poking and prodding, questioning and thinking about faith end so it can just BE what it is, faith? Faith, an all-enveloping strength and comfort that comes from ‘knowing’ that we are not alone, that there is, at the core of the universe, an incomprehensible unending Love for us, and of us, that, when allowed to, constantly provides us with the strength we need to get through the day and do the next good thing. When can we just let faith be faith? 

When I read this (and it is possible that I read something into it), it seemed to cry out with longing for something easier when it comes to God, faith and religion.  A plea to stop struggling with the questions and doubts, to just be assured, safe, confident, comforted, strengthened by faith… by truly, deeply knowing God and God’s love and letting it pervade every cell of our being.

(For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)

It almost made me feel guilty for continuing to encourage everyone to keep questioning and doubting, to ask the hard questions. I felt perhaps like I’d let him, and maybe even all of you, down. Who am I to rattle anyone’s ideas about God and religion? Who am I, in the middle of this crazy, messed up, broken world, to not just continue to present you with a comfortable nest to snuggle into with God? Who am I to say it just isn’t that easy? Maybe it is, or maybe it should be…

This was such a great, mind-challenging question that I actually had to get up and go take a walk to process it – that’s how God and I work. After all my pondering and reading, here’s where I’ve ended up…

I think there is a difference between faith and belief.

Faith, according to Hebrews 11:1 is “…the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen” (The Inclusive Bible). But the proof of God is not a scientific equation, or video, or scripture (though I imagine some would argue this)… the proof of God is a gut-level knowing that there is something more. It is a direct, personal experience of the Love that nourishes us, strengthens us, comforts us.

Belief, on the other hand, is an idea or a concept that we hold to be true. This can be based on what we’ve been told, what is accepted as truth by the culture, or what is experienced.

Therefore, while faith gives us the knowing that God exists, belief tells us what to think about God, how God works in the world, and what God’s relationship to us is.

Faith is not dependent upon whether the Bible exists or not, whether Jesus was human or divine, whether there really was such a thing as a Virgin Birth, miracles, an ascension or anything. Faith just knows God deep inside one’s soul, separate from the religious boxes people put God in.

Now, let me just say (in a way that is not bragging by any means) that I am confident in my faith, in a Love that permeates all things, that is dynamic not static, that is the center and ground of my being, that comforts and strengthens, leads and sustains me. This does not stop me from questioning and doubting. You see, life confronts us with so many ideas, formulations and pictures of God, as well as situations of crisis – death, natural disasters, illness and more –  that questions must arise to try to make sense of the tension between what we faith (know) and the challenges and contradictions of lived reality. For example:

  • We have faith in a good God, but live in a world where evil often seems to win
  • We have faith that God is everywhere, yet sometimes it feels like God is absent
  • We have faith in the transforming power of the Spirit, yet know that there are many times we don’t feel transformed
  • We have faith in a God of love, but see suffering everywhere
  • We have faith in a God of justice and equality, but there is injustice and oppression  everywhere

In all of these things and more, our faith seeks understanding of God and the world. And the only way to seek understanding is to ask questions, to search, to challenge, to study.

Sometimes (or perhaps often), people seem to confuse belief with faith. I’m teaching a Religion 1000 summer class at Carthage. My first class was on Tuesday. I started the evening with 8 students… by the end I was down to 7. One young man, I’d guess in his early 30s, former military, had actually emailed me the day before to say that he did not approve of one of the books I was using entitled “Healthy Religion” by Walter Kania. These are some of the quotes he said he didn’t like:

The cause of the most devastating conflicts in the world today, are based more in the passion and the beliefs of religion.

The claim that any religion makes regarding its exclusive possession of truth marks it as both deceptive and fraudulent.

If a religion  is devoted to evangelizing and converting others to its belief system it is destructive to positive human interaction.

Religions are man-made.  They are not the product of a God, the Gods, or some Infinite Reality…They are a subjective interpretation of reality and are not the essence of Infinite Truth.

He made it clear that he is a fundamentalist Christian, that there is only one way to God, and that I was insulting him with the use of this text-book. I think he’s gotten his beliefs about God – what the church told him, what people wrote long ago – all confused with the unbounded love that we call God. He was not even willing to entertain discussion, to stay at the table, to think critically about his religion.

What people often don’t understand is that faith is deeper than theology and doctrine. God can’t be confined by our beliefs. Our belief system is simply our attempt to understand God and that it keeps changing and evolving as we try to understand better.

The bottom line here is that I don’t at all want to take away the security you feel with a God who loves you, comforts and strengthens you. I want to affirm that and strengthen your connection with the Divine, to constantly remind you that you are loved and held by the One in whom you live and move and have your being.

Life will cause us to question what we believe to be true about this Essence of All. That’s ok. Faith can just be faith underneath it all… faith seeking understanding.

Love & Light,

Kaye