Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Mike Turgeon Outside my own little world: “I try to stay awake” 9/11/11
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.‘ Matthew 18:21-35
I try to stay awake.
You may have heard the story of the woman who spent the first day after her divorce sadly packing her belongings into boxes, crates and suitcases. On the second day, she had the movers come and collect her things.
On the third day, she sat down on the floor in the dining room by candlelight, put on some soft background music, and feasted on a pound of shrimp, a jar of caviar, and a bottle of Chardonnay. When she had finished, she went into each and every room and deposited a few half-eaten shrimp and caviar into the hollow of the curtain rods. She replaced the end caps on the curtain rods, cleaned up the kitchen, and left.
When the ex-husband returned with his new girlfriend, all was bliss for the first few days. Then slowly, the house began to smell. They tried everything: cleaning, mopping, and airing the place out. Vents were checked for dead rodents, and carpets were steam cleaned. Air fresheners were hung everywhere. Exterminators were brought in to set off gas canisters, during which time they had to move out for a few days; and they even paid to replace the expensive wool carpeting.
People stopped coming over to visit. Repairmen refused to work in the house. The maid quit. Finally, they couldn’t take the stench any longer and decided to move.
A month later, even though they had cut their price in half, they couldn’t find a buyer for their stinky house. Word got out, and eventually, the local Realtors refused to return their calls. Finally, they had to borrow a huge sum of money from the bank to purchase a new place.
The ex-wife called the man, and asked how things were going. He told her they were selling the house but didn’t tell her the real reason. She listened politely, and said she missed her old home terribly, and would be willing to reduce her divorce settlement in exchange for getting the house back.
Thinking his ex-wife had no idea about the smell, he agreed on a price that was about 1/10th of what the house had been worth, but only if she were to sign the papers that very day. She agreed, and within the hour his lawyers delivered the paperwork for her to sign.
A week later, the man and his girlfriend stood smiling as they watched the moving company pack everything to take to their new home – including the curtain rods.
What is it about hearing that story that is so self-satisfying? We enjoy hearing a story like that – especially if we’ve been wronged by someone, and make no mistake, we have all been wronged by someone. We like to hear about people ‘getting even.’ It’s scorekeeping, pure and simple. Scorekeeping during a ball game makes sense. In life, it will eat you alive.
Peter is looking for some scorekeeping basics when he asks Jesus how often one should forgive. The number seven sounds pretty reasonable. Biblically, the number seven rivals the number three in perfection. And it’s hard enough to forgive one time let alone seven. Then Jesus goes and blows the whole thing out of proportion. You ever notice Jesus does this a lot? Really, Jesus, 77 times, or in another Gospel 70 times 7, or 490 times? You really have been drinking that new wine, haven’t you? Jesus says there is no life in keeping score. In fact, he goes on to describe how scorekeeping destroys one particular slave’s life from the inside out.
I speak as a score keeper of the first order. All four of my sisters to this day refuse to play any board and card games with me. Monopoly, Uno, Crazy Eights, all off the table. My wife and my daughter will still play Scrabble with me but only because they claim to have beaten me somewhere in the distant past. Whatever!
My scorekeeping history goes even deeper than that.
I can still remember the look on my son’s face once when I told him I’d be there at his Little League game one night. The look said, “Oh, please don’t be there.” I was the worst of all kid’s nightmares--a parent who was a sideline screamer. I was always one of those baseball players they would put in right field, so as to hide my atrocious skills. I saw my son’s skills as some weird redemption, a way for me to draw even, even though my skills never did develop.
I want to confess also, since confession is good for the soul, that some of the most destructive moments I’ve endured are the ones where I’ve kept score in my primary relationships, especially my relationship with God.
One of the kids in our family had an annoying habit of leaving kitchen cupboards open, cupboards and drawers, without much conscious thought about it, I’m sure. But I took this way too personally. I remember taking to keeping track of these infractions, week by week.
You know, the real problem with keeping score is that we tend to see what we want to see, and we only keep track of the things we’re expecting. As I began counting the number of times doors were left open, my eyes began to focus on that one thing only. What I wasn’t counting was the number of times I encountered closed doors, cupboards in the position they were supposed to be. What stopped me completely one day from this insane game I was playing inside my head, was the day I came into the kitchen, found a cupboard door open and realized I was the only one who could have possibly left it open.
To this day I believe it was a moment of grace that kept me from confronting the offender in the family with their failing ‘score.’ When we keep score outside the white lines of a ballgame, there are no winners, there are only losers. And what suffers the most is our relationships.
As we know, there is not a person in this world who has not been wronged by someone. The result of being wronged is hurt feelings and we all sit next to a pool of tears as I heard it said one time so eloquently. Let me go one truth further: at some point, if left unexamined, hurt feelings turn into resentments, that harden into attitudes and positions, that become strategies for vengeance and retribution. Like half-eaten shrimp carcasses, our hurt feelings begin to infect everything and everyone around us. Even if we never act on our plans for vengeance, we become slaves to our hurt and pain.
Jesus’ parable this morning strikes deeply at the heart of this truth.
The ungrateful slave shows no inkling of awareness of how outrageous his actions are. Though his billion dollar debt was forgiven, he throws his fellow slave in jail over a mere ten bucks.
I’ve always found the Oriental mind to be quite elegant at summing things like this up. About revenge they say, “go seek revenge by first digging two graves, one for your opponent, and one for yourself.” It is rare when that does not prove true.
Despite our own outrage at the unforgiving slave, the reality of our human condition is that we, too, most often choose vengeance over forgiveness; we are vengeful. We may not want to admit it, but we prefer to see people get even rather than to see people get or give forgiveness.
Rare, in our society, are the stories of forgiveness. When you turn on the evening news, you know darn well you won’t be getting a half hour of reconciliation and repentance. Forgiveness doesn’t sell well because of our vengeful nature. A case in point is how astounded the news media was when they reported on the Amish community in Pennsylvania who forgave the man who killed 5 of their young children in 2006.
It is tempting to dismiss the Amish as quaint throwbacks without much relevance in the modern world, but make no mistake, the Amish are mature and gentle people. They forgave and they still suffer deeply the loss of their innocent children. Forgiveness does not eradicate hurt and suffering; what forgiveness offers is the hope of reducing suffering and liberating us from the prison of cynicism.
Another thing that is clear from this morning’s parable, is that Jesus envisions a church where forgiveness is not rare, but the norm. Is that ever going to come about? Does the church have some serious baggage that it is hauling around? You tell me. But the beauty of the church is that it’s not my church, it’s not your church, it is the church of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus says later in Matthew to
“...go therefor and make disciples of all nations.” Mt 28:19b
the task at hand became clear.
We’ve had a lot of conversation recently about the state of the ministry of this particular local church, this entity called Windsor Community UMC. What are its strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, from our perspective. I wonder how Jesus would answer those questions, from his perspective? Would he see us as one generation from extinction? Would he notice what’s not here or who’s not here? Or would he see us as a collection of his blessed spirits, gathered together in his name to offer hope in the midst of darkness?
What if news got out that this was a place where forgiveness was not a rarity but the norm? Where each and every person was committed to releasing others from their burdens of guilt and shame and debt because we have been so blessed? And I don’t mean news gets out because we publish it in the Windsor Times, or put up flyers around town. I’m talking about word spreading because people felt the touch of Jesus Christ through you, and through me. I’m just asking.
The sermon series this month is “Outside my own little world.” The sub-title for this morning is:
I try to stay awake.
I try to stay awake.” I suppose it could easily have been titled, “I hope I don’t go numb.” Numbness, along with its cousin, skepticism, is a real risk in our day and age, it is one of the by-products of cynicism. I believe we are especially vulnerable to cynicism and its tentacles due to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. If at some level you didn’t go numb that day, I’d be curious to hear your story.
It is important to say as the church that we will not go numb...even in the face of the worst circumstances. Why could we even think to do that, to stay alive and alert? Because Christ is on the scene. Where two or more are gathered in his name, he is there. He’s not there to be our avenging angel, though many who profess Jesus would have him wreak havoc on enemies, perceived and real; there are many who would have him not be the Prince of Peace. Yes, Christ is there, here, waiting for you and me to open ourselves completely to him, letting him invade our hearts so the love he planted there on the Cross may be released.
Does Jesus have anything to give to this broken world. He does, he has you. Are you willing to give of your blessings in his name?
If you are, this will require some forgiveness on your part, somewhere in your life. Jesus doesn’t need you to keep carrying around your baggage, he took it with him to the Cross, don’t be going up there and taking it back.
If you are willing, Jesus is ready to use you. Someone, everyone, is waiting to hear a word of hope, see an actions of mercy and justice.
If you are not willing, if I am not willing to follow him wherever he leads us, let’s pack this whole operation up today, put a lock on the door and stop pretending to be playing church.
Paying lip service to what Jesus demands of us is no longer sufficient, not an option.
The truth is, if we wish to exempt ourselves from the law of Jesus, the law of love and forgiveness; if we establish for ourselves some new reality; if vengeance and retribution are what we embrace as most true and reliable, then that is what we are left with. Hell is not so much the punishment of God as it is the result of what our punishment of each other demands.