Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 27, 2022
Truth & Reconciliation – Luke 15:1-3,11B-32
What is it like to forgive as God does? Today’s Collect says it for me: “you invite us to forgiveness even before our hearts are softened to repentance.”
Maybe I should leave things just like that – nice and simple. So if you remember nothing else from today’s preaching, remember today’s collect. Remember that God’s move to forgiveness is not dependent on our being sorry.
There is a lot of talk these days about truth and reconciliation – mainly with regards to the first peoples of this land. I would guess that these words bring a number of thoughts and emotions to you. One may very well be “Not again, I’m full up to here with that talk. Some may want to learn more. Some may not understand it at all and think they are just catch words that are used whenever somebody tries to talk about our relationship with first nations.
Today though, try to put as much of that out of your mind as possible, because truth and reconciliation are much broader ideas than just one issue, no matter how important that one issue may be. Then maybe we can return to the first nations truth and reconciliation with a fresh mind and some fresh ideas.
First of all Truth and Reconciliation are actually the beginning and the end of a process. They don’t represent the totality of what the process really is.
Truth is the starting point. Often facing the truth about anything is hard, especially if it’s the truth about how my actions have hurt others or even how my lack of actions may have also hurt them. Sometimes it’s the truth about our action or inaction as a group or community of people that comes into question. In these situations it’s often something that happened in the past and that we didn’t personally do. Take the slavery, oppression and racism which Canadians of African descent had to endure. I certainly have never owned a slave. I don’t think I have ever purposely oppressed a black person or acted in a racist fashion towards a black person, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are some benefits I enjoy as a white person that they do not. It is important to face the truth of the consequences of past actions and my part of the responsibility for making those right.
Truth must be the starting point, the first step. If my/our starting point is a lie or a making of excuses, then our fist step is in the wrong direction – and so will our second step be. Not recognizing truth can shove the possibility of reconciliation to another time in the future – even worse it can put a barrier in the road which stops reconciliation altogether.
Jesus said when he was being questioned by Pilate: What is Truth? It’s a legitimate question. Sometimes there is my truth, our truth or your truth. How do we figure out which one is right and which is mistaken. I never intend to hurt anyone when I tease them. I know, though, that there are times when I have hurt people unintentionally by that teasing. It can be tricky figuring out the truth in those situation because we can place our truth in our intentions and forget to look at the other’s truth, which is an actual hurt. Until we recognize that truth and the degree to which we are responsible for it, we can’t take the next step – Repentance.
Once the truth is acknowledged, once we understand and have faced that what happened is something we should be sorry for, we express that sorrow as repentance. Here is where being honestly sorry is so important. Often we trip up at this stage by being sorry the other person was hurt, but not recognizing that, at least in part, we are responsible for that hurt. Sometimes we express regret when what we are sorry about is actually the fact that we got caught. This is probably one of the ways we most often judge politicians or others in positions of power not to have true repentance. It is something, though, that we can be guilty of ourselves. Repentance must be a true reflection of what we actually feel and believe , otherwise this also can be a false step that will take us in the wrong direction – often of mistrust and an even harder job convincing someone when we repent the next time! When we truly repent, we are ready to accept forgiveness.
Until now it’s all been about us the next step is perhaps the most difficult. In forgiveness, who forgives who? Both sides of the relationship usually have some responsibility towards the other. For now though let’s concentrate on what we need forgiveness for, what it is that we are sorry for – mainly because WE DON’T HAVE CONTROL OVER SOMEONE ELSE, both their repentance, and their forgiveness.
Sometimes we have to start by forgiving ourselves, not beating up on ourselves, but move beyond this in our sorrow to say “Ok, I really screwed that one up, now let’s see what I can do to make it right and not do it again.” Sometimes in actions of a community over generations we also have to forgive those who came before us for what they did to put us in this position. They will answer or have answered to the justice of God for their own actions. We will answer for ours.
So now we move on to what we are sorry for, the things we think we need forgiveness for. The first thing we are asked to accept is that forgiveness is a gift. The power in forgiveness is in the one who grants it. This makes us vulnerable. Once we say we are sorry to someone, we can’t force them to forgive us. It is not due to us just because we ask for it. There is no timeline and no right to expect forgiveness! But once that forgiveness is given it must be acknowledged humbly. Reconciliation can begin.
In a sense, we are now on an equal footing to begin reconciliation. One has acknowledged their responsibility and their sorrow. The other has acknowledged that sorrow and forgiven. Things may still not be right. The little boy has not yet given back the money he stole from his sister to buy that candy. This might seem like a silly example, but it does get to the heart of reconciliation which is making things right.
What do we do about making things right? Sometimes one saying “I’m sorry.” and and the other saying I forgive you, along with a hug is all that is needed. Sometimes though, especially when past wrongs are still affecting those wronged, they must be set right. Then reconciliation continues with negotiation and building trust. It is a process, not an event. Sometimes wrongs are so bad that seeming to go overboard in making up for them is required. That is why at times numbers or percentages of certain groups are established in school enrollment, or more funds are given for group B than for group A. Sometimes it looks like someone is “jumping the queue”.
Physical reconciliation may be more easy and less time consuming than other forms of reconciliation. It may be easier to offer money or property in repentance than to make things right culturally or spiritually. Assuming that there is a just end to the war in the Ukraine, Russia may be forced to compensate for all the physical damage it has done. This will not, however be a true reconciliation until some attempt and success has been achieved in “making things right” between the peoples of the two countries. The death of loved ones, the destruction of lives’ work or of cultural treasures cannot be made up by a cold transaction of cash or property. This “non-physical” making things right is among the most difficult types of reconciliation.
So what about today’s Gospel parable about the Prodigal Son, the Good Son and the Forgiving Father. You’re probably ahead of me here. It is one of Jesus’ primary stories of reconciliation from:
- the squandering of the gift by the younger son – which is the wrong done to the father, to
- the recognition of the Truth – ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, to
- Repentance: I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” to
- Forgiveness & Reconciliation: But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’
Here Jesus uses the father to show us the forgiveness we can expect from God, He also shows us what true repentance looks like in the prodigal son. What he does not show us though is the resolution to the problem of reconciliation between the father and the older Son and the older son and his brother. The hurts that are involved there are emotional and spiritual hurts. Searching for that truth, coming to terms and expressing sorrow, the asking for and giving of forgiveness, and the hopeful reconciliation among all of them may not be so simple to sort out. It may take time. It may take patience, and it certainly will take love.
Like our own lives and our own hurts to others and from others it is sometimes complicated and something which takes effort and commitment. Oh well, the younger brother had to spend some time in the pig sty before he came to terms with the truth, so maybe we have a chance too.