February 25, 2018 — Rev. Nancy Bancroft
Rev. Paula sent me her sermon, and gave me permission to read it or do something of my own. I felt that I couldn’t do it justice and decided to share my own reflections about the readings. But I’ve borrowed the stories that she offered and would like to begin with the prayer that she wrote.
Let us pray, God, just as it can be our habit to break, to unbind, to distance ourselves from those we love and from those who need us, so it is your habit and your way to re-member us, to draw us back together and to you, and to enfold us in your embrace. May this season allow us to hear that message of mercy and of reconciliation. Amen.
As I reflected on today’s theme and read the prayer that Paula prepared for this morning I was struck by the phrase, “so it is your habit and your way to re-member us.” Paula wrote the word “re-member” as a hyphenated word: “re-member”.
Today’s first reading from Luke is perhaps one of the most familiar stories in the New Testament. It’s familiarly known as The Prodigal Son. But many scripture commentators suggest that a more apt title would be The Prodigal Father. In many ways he is the central character; the man who has who is expected to love two difficult sons. And yet, he loves them both in the ways that he sees they need to be loved. He is generous with both. He welcomes back the squandering son with joy and celebration and he tries to embrace and draw in the resentful son who distances himself from the family. In this story, both sons actually left. One left physically, moved away and the other left emotionally.
We don’t ever know how the story ends. The father has tried his best to re-member the family; to have both sons celebrate with him, but the story ends without us ever knowing if he is successful.
February is Black History month and in the sermon Paula prepared for today she tells a powerful story about forgiveness. The story is about Congressman John Lewis, who in 2013, was offered a public apology by the Chief of the Montgomery Police Department, Kevin Murphy.
You may remember the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama which took place in 1965, a day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday.” At one point, the marches were met by Alabama State Troopers who ordered them to disperse. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis was seriously injured. His skull was fractured. The scars on his head are still visible today.
Finally in 2013, as people were once again commemorating that historic march the then current Chief of the Montgomery, Alabama Police Department, Kevin Murphy, offered a public apology to John Lewis and to all of the Freedom Riders of 1961, who at that time were also beaten when they got off the buses in Montgomery.
In the apology Chief Murphy removed his badge and offered it to Lewis, saying, “This symbol of authority, which used to be a symbol of oppression, needs to be a symbol or reconciliation.” As a response, Lewis started crying. The tears, he later said were tears of gratitude.
Paula ended this story by commenting, “Some might ask if there’s ever a time when it is too late to apologize.” In the twelve steps of AA, a program that helped re-member Tom and I individually and as a couple there are several steps related to forgiveness. And the reason for that is that the wise founders of AA knew that forgiveness was central to finding ones lost life; that forgiveness was critical to coming into right relationships. Step 8 reads, “ Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Became willing. In this step we try to be open to accepting our human imperfections. We address the guilt and shame of what we have done wrong in the past or for the right actions that we never took. We become willing to forgive and accept ourselves. We enter into right relationship with ourselves. And when we do that, miraculously, the parts of ourselves that we dead are found. We can live more fully. We can rejoice. We can be ourselves with no facades. We can dare to get close to others.
Once we take step 8 and open ourselves up to healing, step 9. “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others,” a step that seemed insurmountable before now seems doable. For like the second son in today’s scripture reading we find that it is often not the person we have harmed that has created the distance between us, but it is us who have left emotionally due to our discomfort.
Our second reading this morning was also about forgiveness and reconciliation and focusses on the willingness to forgive others. In my many years as a therapist I met with people who wept bitterly telling of deep hurts caused by family members or once dear friends who did or didn’t do something that caused them great pain; pain that they still carry. Many of these hurts were from childhood and not only hurt terribly but often had created brokenness. These individuals were often afraid to have close relationships, trust others, or be truly themselves. And yet a willingness to let go of this pain and to truly forgive those who had caused it was the only way to experience healing – to re-member their bodies with their own hearts and souls.
And again, two of AA’s twelve steps are particularly helpful in this process. Step 2 reads, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The story of the Prodigal Son is really a parable of God’s love and mercy towards all of us and a model for us to live by. Reflecting on the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and stories of reconciliation like those coming out of the civil rights movement we know that no wrong is too great to forgive.
Step 3. States “ Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” As we look around us, at the beauty of creation, at all of our blessings we encounter an all loving and generous God; a God who loves and accepts us no matter what.
Lent is a time when we are invited to take time and re-member, God’s ways.
Many of us had and maybe still have the tradition of giving up something during Lent. I still do. I find that loving often requires self-denial and so for me Lent is a period that includes giving up something that I enjoy as a practice. Perhaps it will make me more able to give of myself when the opportunity comes. But maybe what we need to give up this year is something that prevents us from living fully. Maybe we need to give up guilt or shame that we’ve carried too long. Maybe we need to give up resentment or long-held anger or hurt. Maybe we have to give up a false sense of personal frailty that causes distance between us and others. Maybe we need to give up a need to have a perfect image and let others see us as we are; imperfect and precious. Maybe in letting go of the obstacles to right relationships with ourselves, others and God we will hear in our heart of hearts, “celebrate and rejoice, because this child of mine was dead and has come to life; was lost and has been found.”
I’d like to end with Paula’s beautiful prayer: God, just as it can be our habit to break, to unbind, to distance ourselves from those we love and from those who need us, so it is your habit and your way to remember us, to draw us back together and to you, and to enfold us in your embrace. May this season allow us to hear that message of mercy and of reconciliation. Amen