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Sowing Love & Forgiveness

The Prayer of St. Francis: "Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace":

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me sow love,
Where there is injury let me sow pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
And where there is sadness, joy.
Oh Divine Master,
Grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in forgiving that we are forgiven,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In the beginning of the Franciscan Rule, Saint Francis wrote that, “The Rule and the life of the Friars Minor is to simply live the Gospel.”  In fact, the first Rule that he started writing around 1209 is simply a collection of quotes from the New Testament. When Francis sent it off to Rome, the pope looked at it and said, “This is no Rule. This is just the Gospel.” You can just hear Francis saying, “Yes . . . that is the point. It is just the Gospel. We don’t need any other Rule except the Gospel!”

People tend to think of St. Francis in terms of statues for their garden; a saint who loved nature and animals and preached to the birds. Yes, he is said to have had an inexhaustible tenderness about him, but his message wasn’t necessarily warm and fuzzy. His message called people to do something hard… be like Jesus. Love one another and do something about improving the world.

The Prayer of St. Francis is one of the most beautiful and simple prayers ever written.  It invites us to enter into that which God calls us to be – an instrument of peace – and it does so in such a way that we are touched and moved.  It asks nothing of us that we cannot accomplish, and yet it commands what sometimes feels like the impossible. With this prayer we are asking to be an instrument of God’s peace – we’re asking God to use us, and shape us into a form through which God’s voice can be heard, and through which God’s presence can be felt.

Over the next 4 weeks, we are going to flesh out the meaning of much of this prayer and all the ways that we can be an instrument of God’s peace.   We’ll take it a few lines at a time for us to reflect over and dwell in.  Today I’d like to address the first few lines:

Where there is hatred let me sow love,
Where there is injury let me sow pardon.

I would venture to say that we believe in love… but do we practice it? We believe in forgiveness… but do we practice it? Love and forgiveness are much easier to talk about than to do, and yet they are exactly what Jesus practiced and what God calls us to do.

In the story of Ananias in Acts 9, he is called to go beyond just saying that he is a follower of Jesus, to actually practicing what he and Jesus were preaching.  The story goes something like this… Saul has been persecuting the followers of Jesus, but Jesus decides to change that. So, Jesus visits Saul and leaves him without sight for three days. Suddenly obedient (go figure) to Jesus, Saul goes into the city as Jesus commands and waits to be told what to do. Then Jesus speaks to Ananias, a faithful follower of Jesus who is well aware of Saul and his active persecution of Christians. Jesus asks Ananias to set aside Saul’s past and to help him. Ananias kind of says, “You have got to be kidding.” (Wouldn’t we say the same thing?)

Ananias’ resistance is rooted in a forgiveness issue:  whether or not to risk following Jesus’ leading in reaching out with love to an enemy.  Jesus was really pushing Ananias to move way out of his comfort zone, beyond prejudice and conflict, to sowing love and forgiveness. Jesus is clear. The spiritual path of love must include forgiveness. In this story it almost seems that Ananias forgives more as a favor to Jesus; he forgives grudgingly, yet his ability to do so makes way for the unfolding work of God.

Where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury pardon… 

This whole concept of sowing love and forgiveness is simple and yet extremely difficult. When we've been wronged we typically feel hurt, betrayed, taken advantage of, angry, and sad. And instead of forgiving we'd much prefer to pull away and never speak to that person again, or seek revenge. An “injury” has taken place, as Francis says in his prayer, and “healing” is needed.  Healing rises above the question of right and wrong… it has to do with restoring a life to health.

DISCLAIMERPlease note that I would never suggest that someone in a physically, emotionally, or even spiritually abusive relationship remain there.  I believe that God wants us to be safe and to be healthy and happy.  Some situations make that impossible, and the person needs to get out.  However, even in those situations, in order for healing to fully occur once the person is safe, the issue of forgiveness must enter in.  Forgiveness is NOT dependent upon a person being sorry and changing. It is a releasing of the energy that holds us against that person. Hating someone and carrying anger around only succeeds in hurting our souls.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Hatred is one of the most frightening of human emotions.  It is willful, it is predatory, it is full of anger and tends to consume the one who is doing the hating, not the one who is hated.  Raw hatred, when come upon, fills us with fear and a desire to turn away and flee.  Francis tells us to stay present to it, to meet it with love so that the hatred might not spread.  Love is stronger than hatred because hate proceeds from an empty core inside of us.  Hatred does not fill us, but comes out of loneliness, or a deep, deep hurt that has become so intense that the only way to express it is in destroying things that are good.  But love has the ability to conquer hate because love has the ability to fill the emptiness inside of another.  Kent Nerburn says, "The core of hate is always silently crying out to be filled with love." Hatred is an armor to hide ones’ own vulnerability, pain and sadness.

In Brene' Brown's latest book, Braving the Wilderness, she says it’s hard to hate people close up and encourages us to do the exact opposite of our initial reaction to people we hate. Instead of turning away, she says get to know their story and the real person behind the one we “hate.”

In this world of labels, it is too easy to demonize and vilify groups of people based on their race, sexual orientation, religion or politics. When the reality is that many of us are probably good friends with someone whose ideas about something we don’t agree with. But we also know them to be kind, caring, giving and fun to be around. We don’t hate them because we disagree with them. We love them because we know them up close and the disagreement takes a back seat. This should be a lesson to us not to judge too quickly.

Sometimes we can’t confront the actual hate, but we can plant seeds of love in places where hate has been prevalent. This last June a video of a dad giving out free dad hugs at a PRIDE parade in Pittsburgh went viral. Scott Dittman had heard that moms were going to show up with mom hugs and thought perhaps dad hugs might be even more important, so he bought a FREE DAD HUGS shirt online and stood on the side of the parade. He expected it to be a day of fun and smiles, but was surprised to also have people sobbing in his arms. One young woman with tears in her eyes ran through the parade from the other side of the street and just kept hugging him and thanking him.

Another young man embraced him and sobbed into his arms. His parents had kicked him out when he was 19 and he hadn’t spoken to them since.

In a Facebook post after the parade, he encouraged parents to love and accept their children.

"Imagine that your child feels SO LOST FROM YOU that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger and sob endlessly just because that stranger is wearing a shirt offering hugs from a dad. Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be," he wrote. "Please don't be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden. I met WAY too many of them, of all ages, today."

Where there is injury let me sow pardon.

When Francis tells us to sow pardon, he is telling us to seek healing and reconciliation, not approval or even acceptance.  Pardoning is what is necessary to restore health to our bodies and souls.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days' work," he said. "perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with?"

"Yes," said the older brother, "I do have a job for you.  Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor, in fact, it's my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I'll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence - an 8-foot fence - so I won't need to see his place or his face anymore."

The carpenter said, "I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I'll be able to do a job that pleases you."

The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter woked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer's eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge! And there was his younger brother coming toward them, his hand outstretched. "You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I've said and done." The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other's hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.

"No, wait! Stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you" said the older brother. "I'd love to stay on," the carpenter said, "but, I have many more bridges to build."

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon.  Francis asks us to plant the seeds.  Sowing does not expect that something is immediately fully grown.  We’re expected to try.  Sometimes our love may fall on deaf ears and our forgiveness be met by a hardened heart, but at least if we plant the seed we give God something to work with.

Love & Light!