Scripture Passage – Luke 23:34
Description – 2011 Community Good Friday Message
Our text for this noon hour is Luke 23:34, “While hanging on the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
An increasingly common sight along our interstates and local highways these days are crosses used to mark the sites of those killed in traffic accidents. There are three crosses about 5 minutes from our place of worship today that mark the site of a very tragic accident several years ago when US 6 was a sheet of ice.
And when I travel down Interstate 69 I think of the site where a tragic accident took place five years ago next Wednesday as a group of students and staff from Taylor University, headed back to campus when a semi, driven by a driver who had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel, crossed the median and hit their van head on. Of the six students who were in the van, only one survived.
Then several weeks later it was learned that a mix up occurred in the identification of two of the students and one who was believed to have been killed had really survived while the other one, believed to be alive, had died instead. What followed was an incredible story of grief and healing and forgiveness.
I remember watching Oprah when the family of the one who survived were interviewed. As I knew it would, a question came up about a phone call from an attorney seeking to represent them in legal action. With Oprah watching the audience to see their reaction, she asked him what they told the attorney. Basically it was, ‘Take your business elsewhere.’
Would you and I do the same? Or would we sue and seek damages? Or would we instead choose to forgive as these two families did?
Now I don’t know what happened after all of that but my sense was that those two families wanted to honor God and I have not heard of a lawsuit ever being filed. It could have been but at that time five years ago, it was not happening.
To forgive those who had mixed up your daughter’s identity and was responsible for her death was an audacious act.
During this Lenten season I have taken our congregation on a journey through the very painful wounds people inflict on one another of invalidating people’s views, feelings, and even personhood; of escalating conflict through words and actions which “raise the temperature” in a relationship; of negative interpretations of one’s actions and words: and of withdrawal/avoidance in our relationships by either walking out of a conversation or simply avoiding a conversation that needs to take place; and how Christ demonstrated forgiveness as He faced these things in His earthly life and during His arrest, trial and crucifixion.
In the face of such inhuman and dehumanizing responses, forgiveness was an audacious act.
As He hung on the cross Jesus could have said, “Hey! I am the Messiah and this situation needs to be righted.” And then He could have acted accordingly but then forgiveness would have been short-circuited. God’s plan of redemption would have never taken place.
Jesus did not have to forgive them, but He chose to forgive them, as our text indicates. ‘Them’ – those who arrested Him, those who ‘tried’ Him, those who spit on Him, those who denied Him, those who taunted Him, and those who hung Him on the cross – they needed to be forgiven. For if not, where would have forgiveness started if not with ‘them?’
Forgiveness is an audacious thing to do to people who rage at and taunt us to our face and behind our back.
Yet we struggle with forgiveness, don’t we?
And it is not some fuzzy group of people ‘out there’ we have the most trouble forgiving, is it?
It is the people ‘in here’ that we have the most trouble forgiving.
The people we work with…
For students, the people who teach us and who we learn alongside…
The people we live next door to…
The people we call family, and not just the ones we live with, but the ones who share our family history and genetic sameness…
The people we worship with…
These are the people most difficult to forgive at times.
They wound us with their words or lack of attention…
They ignore us (just ask any teenager about the pain that comes from being ignored and they will tell how much it hurts)
They dismiss our views as stupid; our emotions as unrelated; and sometimes our very being as inconsequential.
I ask us this noon hour, “Do you think that the enemies, of which Jesus spoke, the ones He tells us to love, are not the ones we would see on a battlefield, but the ones in the bed next to us; or across the dinner table, or at the next machine or cubicle; or the ones who share our last name?”
To forgive them for wounding us so deeply is an audacious thing.
A bullet fired from a rifle at a distance on a battlefield is one thing but a knife in the back is something else. Jesus did not face the sniper’s rifle on this day. No he faced the deadliness of hand to hand/face to face combat. He was stabbed in the back by betrayal and denial.
The audacity of forgiveness requires us, almost on a moment by moment basis it sometimes seems, to forgive again and again and again:
“Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!”
Forgiving someone is an audacious thing to do. But it is also a necessary thing to do.
Jesus, I believe, hung on that cross neither out of hate nor anger but out of love. We who are parents understand what it means to ‘sacrifice’ for our children. We make choices to give something up or go without so that our kids can go to a camp, or have essential athletic equipment, or, in the case of our family these days, sing and dance across the stage!
We do it out of love. We want our children to thrive and succeed in ways we did not and we trust and pray in ways that God wants them to thrive and move forward.
But the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, a sacrifice greater than we will ever make for our children, was as John 3:16 reminds us, was made out of love, not anger/not hate for all humankind. Forgiveness is God giving up the right to take the human race out of existence. Instead of judging (which He had a right to do and, one day, will do) God sought to close the gap between Him and us by sacrificing Himself, out of love, on the cross.
Forgiveness, through Christ’s death, and praise God, His resurrection, is about God wanting us back, wanting us home. He looks for us, He seeks us out, He loves on us even at our worst, because we matter to Him.
As I wrote this and thought about God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ I thought about the story of a man and his two sons. One was apparently was all set with daddy and could have anything He wanted when he wanted it. The other one wanted it then and there and he got his and wasted it while the other one stayed home thinking, I believe, “I have got it made!”
Eventually the one comes home because he realized that Daddy could be helpful again as he had run out of money and fun. But the other one has difficulty with it and refuses to join in the homecoming celebration for lots of reasons one of which I think is a fear that he is about to lose his status with daddy as the ‘good’ son. Daddy is frustrated and wonders why the oldest has trouble with the younger brother coming home. What he hears from the oldest is a person who has high expectations that become a breeding ground for all kinds of resentment and, as a result, of unforgiveness as well.
As I have re-read and re-studied the parable of the prodigal son in the past few years I have begun to ask myself, ‘Who is the real prodigal in this story?’
Forgiveness is a core issue here. The father forgave the youngest for his ‘oat sowing’ ways. But the oldest could not and more likely, would not.
And further more the oldest son misses the point of what the father did for the youngest son. It was not about ‘things’ nor power nor standing.
It was about a father who loved his two sons and was glad they were both home. A father who would have done just about anything to make sure they would be.
The father could have accepted the youngest offer of becoming a hired hand but that would have not been forgiveness. It would have been something short of forgiveness. In fact, I think that it would have illustrated the kind of a relationship that many people have with God today – a professional arrangement: lots of contact and interaction but a lack of a deep seated and personally chosen commitment.
This daddy loved his boys! He was not happy with a business arrangement as the youngest desired and the oldest seemed to have. This daddy wanted to be daddy in the best sense of the word. He did the audacious thing – he forgave his youngest and restored him to the right relationship – father and son.
The same holds true with our Heavenly Father. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we would have a formal relationship with us. He died so that He could get inside of us and change us at a deep and personal level. He wanted us back so much so that He could again celebrate with us and welcome us home.
(Prayers of Prodigals by Jim Kane)
I have betrayed one that I love…
I have thrown away their trust,
I have stomped on their personhood.
I have treated them as a commodity and not as a person…
How could I have done this?
How could I have been so blinded by the shiny and new;
the provocative; and the sensual
by the unquenchable thirst for power and influence…
He is (was?) my friend/She was (is?) my spouse/They “are” my family…
I am unworthy to ask for forgiveness
I am only worthy of damnation and rejection
Everywhere I go people look at me and think (or so I think)
But is it not the guilt ridden look of shame on my face that they see?
I am undone
I have failed
I am unworthy to look in their eyes and say, ‘I was wrong, please forgive me..’
Shame shadows me like the dark shadow of death..
And I have died and I have caused death…
the death of a trust
the death of a love
publicly pledged and given
nurtured from birth
created out of a common cause
O God! Help me!
I burn with the flames of sin, of shame, of evil!
Am I done?
In Your stealthy Love that fills my soul with hope,
In the Grace that seeps through the cracked walls of my soul
In the Mercy that oozes from the floor and gives me a solid foundation to stand on
You come to bring me home…
the prodigal me…
smelly, dirty, rancid
a shadow of the self You want me to be
You come and tell me
‘this day, you will be with me in paradise’
I had only hoped for a spot on the kitchen staff
but you have a place for me at family table…
I am undone
Great God of mercy,
I come, I come
just as I am
Amen and Amen
© 2011 by Jim Kane