Monday, April 14, 2014

According to Luke: Father Forgive Them

April 13
Palm Sunday
According to Luke: Father Forgive Them

Luke 23:32-47    (NRSV)
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Oftentimes I am amazed that people (you all) show up week after week to hear somebody preach.

I don't get to do it very often --- but more often than not, when I am sitting where you are --- just having the opportunity to listen --- more often than not I leave disappointed.

Sometimes it has to do with the quality of the speaker.
Some people just aren't very good preachers.

But more often than not it has to do with the message that the preacher is trying to convey.  

I can't tell you how many times I have heard --- and Lord I pray that I HAVE NOT SAID --- if you just believe the right things than everything is going to be OK.


If you DO the right things --- then God will not only protect you from evil, but will reward you with all kinds of material goods.

I know that the truth is --- that over the years --- in the well over a thousand sermons I have preached --- that I have said BOTH of those things.

But every now and again --- I hear a sermon that stops me dead in my tracks and it forces me to stop and re-gather myself.

Working on this sermon, listening and reading others, and re-reading the scriptures with new eyes --- did just that.

Maybe it has to do with just where I am on my journey right now --- but our scripture this morning is why I come to church!

It is the familiar story of Jesus dying on the cross --- convicted by Rome for being a revolutionary insurgent.

Jesus is looking out at the crowd 
the people who had lied to convict him
the institution that had let him down
the people who had been systematically torturing him
and the people who had nailed him to that cross (and laughed while they did it)
the crooked politicians who made this all happen

From that place Jesus looks at each of them

And what would YOU do if you were in his place?

I am sure I would scream curses and ugly things at them . . .

But do you remember what Jesus does?

Luke 23:34
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”


If you get a chance, go to the library and take out AWAY FROM HER, the 2007 Academy Award nominated film starring Julie Christie and written by Alice Munro.

It is the story of Grant and Fiona Anderson who have been married for 45 years
Fiona has Alzheimer's and has had to move into a nursing home

After a 30 day settling-in period Grant is finally allowed to go and visit Fiona
The problem is --- she no longer recognizes him

even worse --- she has transferred her affections to another man (Aubrey) --- a mute man in a wheelchair who has become her "coping partner" in the facility
           Fiona helps Aubrey play cards
           She helps him with his wheelchair
           She holds his hand
All in the presence of her heart broken husband
           But the truth is --- she has no idea what she is doing

Grant tries to get her to remember
           Reintroducing himself to her --- trying to spark her memory
            He sits for hours in the lounge --- just watching her
She just complains:
           "My, you are persistent."

You can imagine the rejection that Grant feels --- but the truth is she just doesn't remember.

He even takes her out to visit her favorite places --- but still nothing

Grant just keeps on visiting.
And even most amazingly it is obvious that he forgives her

Grant is devastated by the whole situation

But his forgiveness is so complete that when, her friend, Aubrey is released back home --- Fiona goes into a deep depression --- Grant does his best to convince Aubrey's wife to send him back to the Nursing home so that Fiona will be happy again.

Grant understands --- that the reality is --- Fiona just doesn't remember --- and his forgiveness is complete.

Just as Grant forgave his wife --- so Jesus forgives the Pharisees and Romans for what they were doing to him

While Fiona could not help not knowing --- the Pharisees and the Romans should have known better.

The Pharisees knew that the charges against Jesus were trumped up

Pilate knew that the trial was a miscarriage of justice

The Sadducees knew Jesus had healed people

The soldiers understood that crucifixion was torture and, unfortunately, quite enjoyed raping little Jewish girls and stealing Jewish wealth

So where Fiona didn't understand anything and yet Grant forgave her --- those who crucified Jesus knew a lot.

YET --- with his arms outstretched --- nailed to a cross
his face and hair matted with blood
while he was suffering pain you and I cannot even imagine --- that is when Jesus called out to God and prayed: 
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” --- this is the most amazing story in all the bible

And it gives me great hope!
If Jesus could be gracious to those who tortured and killed him --- then he will be gracious to me too!

It is in these few little words that I can find hope because to me they show what God's real attitude toward humanity it.
          Not a "I am gonna get you" God, as portrayed in the new movie Noah

          But rather a "I am gonna love you" God.

How can we ever fear --- how God will treat us --- when we finally come face to face, when God loves us so completely!!!

Isn't this the message of Jesus throughout the Gospel?
Luke 6:27-29   (NRSV)  “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Jesus asks us not only that we do to others as we would have them do to us --- he also asks us to do exactly what he has done.

The bible is filled with stories of God's undying love for us

That is the kind of God I put my hope in

That is the kind of God I want to hear preached.

I want to share one more story --- then I will let you go and try to get your head around this idea of God's most amazing grace for us.

Donald Miller --- whose Storyline conference I attended in February tells a great story from his time at Reed College.

Reed has a reputation as being one of the most liberal colleges in America.  

Every spring they hold what they call Renn Fayre, a three day festival that is really one huge party.  

All students are required to write a senior thesis that consumes both semesters of their senior year.  Renn Fayre (short for Renaissance Fair) was designed to celebrate the accomplishment of turning in your senior thesis.

When Miller was at Reed, Christians were not really welcome, but one year this group that he was a part of decided that Renn Fayre would be a good time to come out of the closet.

They were discussing how they might do this and Don suggested that they should build a confession booth in the middle of the campus with a sign that invited people to come and "Confess your sins."

Don Miller, in his book, Blue Like Jazz wrote: 
"I said this because I knew a lot of people would be sinning, and Christian spirituality begins by confessing our sins and repenting.  But I also said it as a joke."

Actually, after he suggested it, he tried to talk his friends out of it.

One of his friends however ran with the idea.

Miller writes this:
"Okay you guys." Tony gathered everybody's attention.  "Here's the catch."  He leaned in a little and collected his thoughts.  "We are not actually going to accept confessions."  We all looked at him in confusion.  He continued, "We are going to confess them.  We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry.  We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus.  We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."

Can you imagine doing something like this in the middle of Munster?  
Maybe during Three Floyds' Dark Lord Festival or even during the Third of July Fireworks celebration?

But they actually did this --- and it was life transformative.  
To confess and most importantly to KNOW that you are forgiven.

You see, I have figured something out about being a follower of Jesus.

Being a follower of Jesus is the greatest thing in the world --- I love following Jesus --- His way is life changing.

But what I figured out is what Jesus was saying from the cross.

You see, even though I have been told my whole life that Grace is free and I am forgiven --- I DIDN'T BELIEVE IT

I thought in order to receive grace I had to do something
You know what I mean
believe certain things
well, at least respond to God's love

But this passage reminds me that God's grace is NEVER dependant on me!

To those who tortured and crucified Jesus he prays to God:
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

To each of us --- Jesus prays to God
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Jesus loves you! PERIOD!

Just try and get your head around that.


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