Sunday, June 30, 2013

Count the Cost

Luke 9:51-62
June 30, 2013

            A hen and a pig were out for a walk one day, when they pass by a church.  They see a flyer posted on the church’s bulletin board asking people to help feed the poor and hungry.
            The hen looked at the pig and said, “I know how we can help feed the poor and hungry.  We can give them bacon and eggs.” 
            The pig replied, “I have just one problem with that plan.  From you it requires only a contribution.  But from me it asks for total commitment.”
            It’s an old joke and a funny one, but it brings up a crucial fact about discipleship –discipleship is total commitment.  That’s what this whole Christianity, following Christ life is all about, isn’t it?  Total commitment.  Even to the point of giving up our lives for the sake of following Jesus. 
            But are we really ready to do that?  Are we really ready to take that step, set off down that path, and be willing to give up everything, even our lives, to follow Jesus?
            That’s the question that Jesus has for the three would-be followers in our passage from Luke.  The time for the cross has drawn near so Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, the place where his last days would be lived out, where he would stand up to the powers and principalities, not with violence nor bloodshed but with love and the power that comes from being the suffering servant.
            Jesus has set his face.  In other words he’s going to Jerusalem no matter what.  There’s no looking back, no looking in any other direction.  This is not the road most people would choose willingly, but Jesus knows that this road will make all the difference.
            So our scene is set and Jesus is on his way.  In the first part of this narrative Luke tells us that Jesus sends messengers ahead of him.  They stop in a Samaritan village but are not welcomed there because Jesus is heading to Jerusalem.  The enmity between Jews and Samaritans was deep and wide, so I suspect that just the idea that Jesus was going to Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, was enough reason for the Samaritans to refuse him welcome.  When James and John witness this they are outraged and ask Jesus if he wants them to rain down fire on the village.  But Jesus rebukes them because they have missed the point – again. 
            They continue on.  As they are making their way, the first of the would-be disciples approaches them and declares to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
            Seeing as how Jesus’ disciples often made the decision to follow him in an instant, it is surprising that Jesus doesn’t immediately take this person up on his offer.  But Jesus replies in an unexpected way, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
            Then Jesus calls to another person, “Follow me.”  This person tells Jesus that he must first go and bury his father.  Jesus’ responses continue to surprise.  “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
            Jesus approaches still another person who tells him that he will gladly follow him, but first let him say goodbye to the loved ones back home.  For the third time, Jesus responds with the unexpected, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
            Strange answers all three.  They are a crucial part of the challenge of this passage.  These people were not making radical or frivolous requests of Jesus.  They were willing to follow, so why did Jesus answer so oddly, so harshly?
            Think about the first person.  He wants to follow.  He’s eager to follow.  He seeks discipleship with Jesus voluntarily.  But Jesus issues him a stern warning.  Even animals have a place to call home, but the Son of Man doesn’t.  And the implication of this is that anyone who follows Jesus will suffer the same consequences.  So are you ready?  Are you really ready to follow Jesus, to be without security, without home?  Are you ready to face the trials and tribulations that will inevitably be encountered on the road of discipleship?  Have you counted the cost?
            The next prospective disciples are also willing to follow Jesus, BUT.  The first follower must go to bury his father before he can set off on the road with Jesus.  There is great debate over how this should be interpreted.  Does it mean the obvious?  The man’s father has died and he must go and bury him.  Burial was serious business.  The burying of one’s parents was an act of respect, honor and duty according to Jewish law and custom.  It was part of the requirement of the commandment to honor your mother and father.  This man was duty bound to bury his father.
            However this could also mean that the man’s father is old and the son must stay with him and care for him until he dies.  Again this was the expected duty of any child.
            The third man also has family members to attend to.  He will gladly follow Jesus but first he wants to say goodbye to the folks back home.
            To our ears none of these requests seem frivolous or flippant.  They were not out of the ordinary.  Yet Jesus answers them in a way we don’t foresee.  Jesus tells the second man to let the dead bury the dead.  Some commentators believe that Jesus means that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead.  But one of my New Testament professors made us spend practically an entire semester exegeting this passage and the word for dead in both cases means dead.  Physically, in the flesh, dead.  Let the dead bury the dead.  It would seem that following Jesus trumps even that time-honored responsibility.
            And Jesus response to the third wannabe disciple implies a reference to Elijah and Elisha in I Kings.  Elisha is plowing a field and promises to follow Elijah, but first he must go and kiss his parents goodbye.  But Jesus denies even this simple appeal.  If you’re looking backward when you’re trying to plow the furrow will be crooked.  And to look back, to family, to friends, instead of forward to the cross is to be unfit for the kingdom of God.  Unfit and unready. 
Have you counted the cost?
The Biblical scholars I’ve read agree that Jesus’ responses are harsh.  They are.  It would be easy to try and explain this away by saying that Jesus was using hyperbole, deliberate exaggeration to make his point.  But that doesn’t do justice to Jesus’ words.  Jesus’ words also reflect his urgency.  His face is set toward Jerusalem.  He’s going, and he knows what lies ahead.  He’s told the disciples, twice, what it means for him to be the Son of God.  He will suffer.  He will die.  He will be raised again.  Jesus knows what’s coming, so there is no time for waffling or entering into a casual kind of discipleship. 
Jesus tells them all, if you want to be my disciple, there’s a cost.  You need to count that cost before you follow me.  Discipleship comes with a price.  It may be a home, a duty, leaving behind friends and family.  The road of discipleship does not come without trade-offs.  Before you follow me, before you take one step on this road, you have to count the cost.
As un-Jesus like as all this may seem, Jesus makes them and us face the hard truth about discipleship.  Discipleship means that following Jesus the first priority.  Everything else, family, responsibility, security, comes after.  This isn’t easy news to hear.  And it isn’t easy to do.  Have we counted the cost?
When I’ve preached this passage in the past, I haven’t always been able to name what it is about Jesus’ responses that most frightens me.  It should be obvious.  The cost of following Jesus means that we have to be willing to leave behind people and places and things that we love.  That should be enough reason for fear.  But something I read this week made me realize that underlying all of that, the real thing we have to give up is control. 
I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, for me this is a problem.  I may be able to intellectually acknowledge that there is very little I actually have control over, but at a gut level I fight that reality with kicking and screaming.  I want to be in control – of my life, my future, my destiny.  I have plans and I expect them to play out.  But it seems to me that what Jesus is telling all of them – the disciples already following and those who are still thinking about it – is if you want to throw your lot in with mine, give up the idea that you are in control.  The plans you’ve made for your life, let them go.  The course you may have set for yourself or the path you thought were choosing let all of that go.  Following me won’t be easy or neat.  You can’t drop a trail of breadcrumbs so you can go back to where you were before.  Following me means that you may be led into chaos and suffering.  Following me will require something of you that you will think is impossible.  Following me means that you’re going to have let go of control and embrace trust.  Following me means that you have to not only trust that you are becoming the person you need to be in the place where you need to be, but that you are not alone in the process.  Following me means that you have to trust that I am right there with you.  Following me means trusting me.
That’s the real cost.  Following Jesus means that we let go of all that we think we want or need, all that we seek to control.  Following is trusting.  Following means trusting that Jesus is not just pulling us behind him as though we are puppets on a string, but that he is right there with us, through everything.  Following Jesus means trusting that our decision to say “yes” to his call is worth the cost.  It makes all the difference.  Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

After the Storm or Zombies and Me, Part 2

     In February I wrote a blog called "Zombies and Me."  In said blog, I admitted that I was depressed.  Challenging experiences and circumstances in my life had (have) taken a toll on me, and I felt like I needed to acknowledge that I was not a perfectly happy, joyful person.  My hope was that if I said it out loud, then things would get better.  The admission was key, and then I could get past being depressed and be me once more.

     For a while it seemed to be working.  I felt a little better.  I was affirmed.  My piece touched a chord with others.  Surely I was past the worst of it.  But I wasn't.  It got worse.  Much worse.  In my mind I made a distinction between being depressed and depression.  I was okay with saying I was depressed.  That was just a mood I had to overcome, but depression?  Depression is an illness, and dammit (!) I'm not sick.  

     In my earlier blog I also wrote about how hard I'd been trying to fake happiness I didn't feel.  Yet I went right back to that defense mechanism.  In public I did my best to be happy.  I put funny statuses on Facebook.  I made jokes.  I tried to act and look and be someone who was NOT depressed.  I certainly was not someone who was in a depression.  So I just kept trying, pushing, determined not to give in to what I thought was normal grief.  In my darkest moments I would tell myself to just lean into the pain and sadness and eventually I would come out on the other side.  But that wasn't happening.

     Because of my determination to tough it out, my stress level was acutely high and events that would have been challenging in other times were devastating.  I had no resilience.  I was drowning, but I was so used to the water I no longer realized I was sinking.  

     Then at the beginning of May, I went to CREDO -- an eight day conference that's all about caring for ministers and helping them find constructive ways to care for themselves in all aspects of their lives.  I should have seen this as a positive thing, but I went with fear and trembling, distrustful that anyone would really care or want to help me.  I have never been so grateful to be so wrong.  

     For me CREDO wasn't just a conference or a retreat, it was an intervention of grace.  I was cared for.  I was loved.  And there were people who truly wanted to help.  The time and space away from my daily life gave me the perspective to see just how tough my daily life had become.

     At one point in the week we were given the opportunity to let our creative side out to play.  My creativity is generally expressed through my words, so it was nice to have the chance to draw and cut and paste.  I didn't know what to do at first, but then I thought about an icon I'd seen that had captured my imagination.  It was of Jesus and the disciples caught in the storm at sea moments before the storm was stilled. Jesus is sleeping peacefully but the disciples are terrified. I wanted to portray what might come after, when the waves were calm and, at least for the moment, there was peace.  So I made that picture.  For the rest of the conference, it became my symbol of hope.  At some point the storm will pass.  The sky will clear.  The stars will show themselves.  There will be peace.  This picture was important enough to me that when I returned home, I framed it. It hangs on the wall opposite my bed, so I see it everyday.  It reminds me to be brave.

     That's the second part of this story.  I am trying to live a brave life, a courageous life.  I have not always been your typical person of courage.  I was the kid the other kids called "scaredy cat."  In fourth grade when every other kid lined up to touch the boa constrictor that was part of a special assembly on nature, I moved as far away from that thing as possible.  In high school when so many of my friends were into horror movies, I had nightmares from the trailers on television.  My second worst date ever was going to a party and having to sit through a Jason slashes Freddy on Halloween walking down Elm Street type movie.  (The first worst date is the subject of a whole other blog)  I don't like storms.  I think clowns are creepy.  I don't care if I ever see a snake, much less touch one.  In other words, scaredy cat.  But I want to be brave.

     But I've learned that bravery isn't dependent on not being afraid.  Bravery is trying to live the fullest life I can in spite of my fears.  As a friend of mine wrote in a poem in response to my claiming a lack of bravery, being brave is a willingness to reach for a new life, knowing that it won't be easy or without pain.  Bravery is showing my children that being afraid is okay and that asking for help isn't weakness.  I had confused toughing it out with bravery.  They are not synonyms.  

     I am slowly but surely changing my definition of bravery.  Depression isn't failure.  Asking for help doesn't make me weak.  I trust that one day I'll be on gentler waves after the storm.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Identity Crisis

Luke 8:26-39
June 23, 2013

            If you look on the big wall in my office, you’ll see among the pictures that hang there, a work of embroidery made for me by my mother.  It’s a poem that I wrote when I was seven.  She loved the poem and saved it for years, always with the intent of making it a gift for me.  She says that it is proof I was a well-adjusted child.  This is the poem entitled, “A Wish.” 
            “I wish I were a teacher.  Or even a nurse.  Or a mother with children all around her.  I wish I had a husband who was a millionaire.  But I am just glad to be me.  Because Amy Busse is me and that is that.”
            If I could make a wish today, it would be to talk with my seven-year-old self and discover what it was that made her happy to be her.  What did she know about herself that made her so fundamentally content with the person she was?  How did the seven-year-old Amy have such a solid understanding of what it means to be Amy?  Because I can tell you that since that time I haven’t always had that understanding.
            I don’t think that I’m necessarily outside of the norm by admitting that.  I think that one of the challenges we often face as we grow up and grow older is trying to figure out who we are in the midst of all of the good and the bad that we encounter and endure.  The self-assuredness I had at seven was lost to the self-consciousness of adolescence.  It began to come back as I entered into adulthood, but it was never quite the same because I wasn’t the same.  Who is?  All that you experience, good and bad, shape you.  What you learn, what you see, who you meet, the loves and the losses, the joys and the heartbreaks – all those pieces and parts of our lives shape us, shape our identities.  And, at least for me, at different times in my life, I have wrestled with the question of “Who am I?” 
            I realize the pain I’ve felt during my times of identity wrestling is a far cry from the pain this man, this demoniac, endures.  What was considered demonic possession at that time would be mental illness to us.  Surely the man was suffering from some sort of personality disorder or schizophrenia.  But then or now, putting a name on it doesn’t lessen or change the pain someone in its grip experiences. 
            Think about how awful this man’s life must have been.  He was a man of the city.  Does this mean that once upon a time he was an upright citizen?  Fully functioning and capable?  A person with family and friends, a profession, a life?  But something changed for him.  For a long time he went naked.  He no longer had a house, but he lived in the tombs, which was probably its own sort of wasteland, its own sort of wilderness.  He was kept under guard, for the city’s protection and for his own.  Yet even shackles and chains could not hold him.  He would break out of them and be driven by his demons “into the wilds.”  The demons drove him to break loose but he could never break free.  It was a nightmarish existence. 
            Then Jesus arrives.  Jesus and his disciples have just come from a trip in a boat.  While they were sailing they were assailed by a terrible storm.  Jesus calmed it with a word.  Now that they have crossed over to dry land, Jesus is confronted with the storm that rages inside this man. 
            This story is found in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Luke tells us that when the man sees Jesus, the demons in him cry out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, do not torment me.”  This is not the first time we have heard of demons recognizing Jesus as the Son of God before the people do. 
            I find it interesting that, if I’m reading it correctly, Jesus has made one attempt at commanding the demons to leave the man.  It’s almost as if their words are in response to his command.  What changes everything is when Jesus asks the man, “What is your name?”  His answer?  “Legion.”
            To us, hearing the word legion probably translates to “a great number” or “many” or “a whole bunch.”  But the people hearing this would have had a clear picture of what a legion was.  These were people living under Roman occupation.  A legion of Roman soldiers was a troop of 5,000 to 6,000 men.  That goes well beyond my initial definition of “legion.” 
            If the demons possessing this man are legion, then how could there be anything left of him?  But Jesus asking that question, “what is your name?” opens the door for them to leave.  They did not want to go back to the abyss so they beg Jesus to let them enter into a herd of swine feeding on a hillside.  Jesus gives them permission.  The demons rush out of the man, enter the pigs and run into the lake and drown. 
            This is the point in the story where I think many of us stop listening because we’re horrified at either the animal cruelty that’s involved here or the lost livelihood to the people who owned those pigs.  But right or wrong, I think we need to get past that and pay attention to what happens next.  We need to pay attention to the people’s response to the man.  The swineherds have witnessed this, so they run off to tell everyone in the city and the country just what’s happened.  The people come out to see for themselves and what do they find?  This man, who had been so completely possessed by demons that almost nothing of him was left, was now clothed.  He was in his right mind.  He was seated at the feet of Jesus, the place where disciples sit.  Did the people upon seeing this rejoice?  Did they run with tears in their eyes and hug the man, their friend, their neighbor, returned to them at last?  Did they thank Jesus for giving them back one of their own?  No.  They were afraid.  Luke says that they were “seized with great fear.”  Sounds almost like another sort of demon possession doesn’t it?
            They were seized with great fear.  So Jesus gets back in the boat to return to the other side, to Galilee.  The man – now healed and whole – begs Jesus to let him go along.  But Jesus tells him to go home and tell the people at home how much God has done for him. 
            It is remarkably hard to preach on demons in our modern age, because we know that so many illnesses at that time, mental or physical, were blamed on demonic possession or the person’s own sinfulness.  Now we know better.  Now we know that illnesses are not caused by the supernatural.  We have technology and medicine and astonishing scientific advances and I am grateful for it all.  Miracles happen every day because of them.  But I think we also have our share of demons.
            I am not speaking of the supernatural when I say that.  I’m speaking more of our struggles, our pains, our fears.  If someone is dealing with addiction, isn’t that its own sort of demon?  Anxiety, shame, loneliness – all of those are demons to the ones who can’t seem to break free. 
            The problem as I see it is that too often it is our demons that define us.  We tend to become what assails us.  At the points in my life when I’ve had what could be termed an identity crisis, it’s because I couldn’t figure out who I was beyond the roles that I carry – mother, teacher, preacher, daughter, friend – and because I couldn’t see myself beyond what has most wounded me.  Too often we define ourselves more by what assails us, the wounds, the mistakes, the heartaches, the demons. 
            But we are more than our worst mistake.  We are more than the sum of our fears.  We are more than the broken places inside of us.  We are more than the demons that try to possess us.  We are children of God.  To say that is not to say that we are not unique individuals with our own unique identities.  To say that we are children of God is to say that we are claimed by something greater than ourselves.  It is to acknowledge that fundamentally we carry the spark of the divine within us.  In claiming that, we have the opportunity to realize that our identities are formed not merely by what assails us but by love, forgiveness, hope.  In seeing our identities first and foremost as children of God, we have the chance to become the opposite of the community that regarded the man’s healing with fear.  We can be the ones who rejoice.  Too often we hold onto what’s bad because it’s familiar.  And a familiar evil is far better than a potentially unknown evil.  But knowing that we are children of God means that we can let all of that go.  Our identities, individually and as a community, are created more by love than fear. 
            In a few minutes we will participate in a baptism.  This is one of my favorite duties as a minister, but it is more than just a sweet moment.  This little one’s family, her parents, grandparents, and all of us are saying that this child of God is claimed by love. We will make promises to help her and her family understand and remember that most important truth.  She is a child of God.  That is her identity.  And whatever this little one encounters in her life, all of the good and all of the bad, her identity as a child of God will never change.  She is a beloved child of God.  So are we.  Let all of us, God’s children, say, “Amen.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Overwhelming Gratitude

Luke 7:36-8:3
June 16, 2013

            Over the last year-and-a-half I’ve become a huge fan of TED talks.  TED is a conference that is held at different places around the country.  Although I am unclear as to the origins of TED, I embrace its motto:  “Ideas worth Spreading.”  That’s essentially what each conference is – a collection of speakers who have ideas worth spreading.  Speakers discourse on every topic you can imagine – arts, science, medicine, technology, creativity, innovation, personal experience, family, children – the possibility for ideas are as endless as the speakers who speak and the audiences who listen. 
            A few days ago I watched a recent TED talk by author, Andrew Solomon.   I’m currently reading one of his books so I was intrigued to hear what this talk titled “Love, No Matter What” was all about. 
            Solomon has written a book about parenting and the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance, especially in the context of parents who have children who are different from what we think of as the norm.  This includes children who are deaf, autistic, children with dwarfism and Down’s Syndrome, children who are prodigies and children who are criminals. 
            In his talk Solomon tells his story of interviewing the parents of Dylan Klebold.  If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Dylan was one of the two young men who perpetrated the massacre at Columbine, then turned his gun on himself.  Solomon says that at first Susan and Tom Klebold were reluctant to speak with him, but once they did their story just came pouring out.  He recorded 20 hours of conversation over the course of several weekends he spent with them.  At one point he asked them what they would most want to ask Dylan if he were with them.  Tom said he would want to know what Dylan was thinking in doing this horrible thing.  Susan thought for a moment, and then said, “I would ask Dylan to forgive me for being his mother and not knowing what was going on inside his mind.”
            Forgive me for being your mother and not knowing what was going on inside your mind. 
            Forgive me.
            I may have titled this sermon “Overwhelming Gratitude” but in reality this passage from Luke is about forgiveness.   Jesus has been invited to a dinner by one of the Pharisees, a man named Simon.  I’ve read various commentaries speculating as to why a Pharisee would invite Jesus to dinner, since we tend to think of Jesus and Pharisees as being fundamentally opposed.  But whatever his reason, he invited Jesus and Jesus accepted.  Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and “took his place at the table.” 
            Then we hear of this woman.  We know nothing about her, other than she is labeled as a sinner.  I’m sure that hearing that label applied to a woman conjures up one particular sin, prostitution.  But I’m going to go along with the commentator of this passage on this week and say it’s unfair to assume that the only sin a woman was capable of at that time was prostitution.  So we don’t know why she is considered a sinner.  We just know that she is.  But when this woman hears that Jesus is breaking bread at the home of Simon the Pharisee, she brings an alabaster jar of ointment, stands behind Jesus at his feet, weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, then drying them with her hair.  But she doesn’t stop there.  She kisses Jesus’ feet and anoints them with the ointment. 
            We might think this is strange for a number of reasons.  One, how did she get into the party in the first place?  I suspect Simon the Pharisee’s home was much more open than ours are.  There would have been walls, obviously, but it’s possible that Jesus and the others were dining in a courtyard that would have been easily accessible to anyone outside of it.  It’s also possible that there were others standing outside looking in, watching the festivities as we might watch celebrities on a red carpet. 
            Yet what’s most surprising to me is not that this woman intrudes upon the dinner, but that when she begins to weep over Jesus and touch Jesus and anoint Jesus, Simon nor any of the guests do or say anything to stop her.  Perhaps they were paralyzed with shock at the sight of it, because what she was doing was scandalous.  Her actions toward Jesus are intimate.  They are rife with innuendo.  A woman touching a man’s feet carried an implied message of physical relationship.  However here is this woman, this sinner, touching the feet of Jesus!  She’s crying over them.  She’s bathing them with her tears, using her hair to dry them.  She’s kissing them!  She’s using an ointment from a costly jar to anoint him.  But no one tries to stop her.  No one hustles her away from Jesus.  All we read is what Simon is thinking. 
            “If this man were really a prophet, he’d know the kind of woman she is, he’d know the kind of sinner she is.” 
            Jesus does know.  He also knows what Simon, and probably others, were thinking.  He doesn’t belligerently confront Simon.  Instead he tells him a story about two debtors.  One owed the creditor five hundred denarii, the other fifty.  Neither one could pay, so the creditor forgave the debts of both.  Then Jesus asks Simon this question, “Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon answers with a certain amount of attitude.  “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” 
            Jesus tells Simon he’s correct.  He’s judged rightly.  But Jesus doesn’t stop with that.  He then compares Simon to the woman.  Jesus came to Simon’s house but was given no water for his feet.  Simon did not welcome Jesus with a kiss or oil for his head.  But this woman, this sinner, has done all of that.  So this woman, whose sins were many, has been forgiven.  Because of that she is showing Jesus overwhelming gratitude, great love.  “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 
            Jesus then says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  This is the final nail in the shock coffin for the others in attendance, because this man wasn’t just a prophet, he also forgave sins. 
            It’s easy to assume that because Jesus tells her in that moment that her sins are forgiven that this is the first time she grasps this.  But Jesus’ words to Simon say otherwise.  The woman knew she was forgiven, that’s why she sought Jesus out.  That’s why she risked so much to show him so much love.  Because she knew she was forgiven.  We don’t have the back story to know how or why she knew this.  But she did.  When Jesus reiterates that she is forgiven, everyone else knows this as well.
            She was forgiven much so she loved much.  Her gratitude was overwhelming because she understood just how much she had gained.  As I said earlier, I may have used gratitude in my title, but this story is about forgiveness.  Even more it’s about being forgiven.
            Forgiveness does not always come easily to me.  I have a good memory about certain things and, sadly, I can’t always forgive them.  I’ve realized that forgiveness isn’t a feeling.  It’s an act of will.  You have to just do it in order to feel it.  But of all the things that I need to forgive right now, and there are a few, the person I have the hardest time forgiving is me.  Whatever anger I may carry for other’s actions toward me, I carry even more anger at my own mistakes, my own shortcomings, my own errors in judgment.  No one is harder on me than I am.  The person I need to forgive the most is me. 
            When I was contemplating this sermon, I realized that I had tons of stories of people forgiving other people.  Tons.  And they’re beautiful and powerful and moving.  But I was having a much harder time finding an illustration that would convey what it means to be forgiven.  What does it feel like in the moment when you know that you are forgiven, completely, unconditionally? 
            I think about Susan Klebold’s words to Andrew Solomon and I think about the countless nights I’ve lain awake worrying about my kids, wishing I could undo or redo something I’d said or a way that I’d responded to one of them; hoping that one day they’ll forgive me.  I can’t fully relate to Mrs. Klebold’s pain and heartache at the tragedy her son committed and died for, and honestly, I hope I never have reason to.  But I can imagine it.  I can imagine that she has been haunted by it, and haunted by her need to be forgiven – not by the many people who condemned her for being a bad parent, because bad parenting is our go-to explanation for why these terrible things happen – but by her son for believing she had failed him. 
            So what stories do we have of being forgiven?  What does it feel like when we are? 
            In honor of Father’s Day I changed my profile picture on Facebook to one where I was about 3 and sitting on my dad’s lap, with his arms around me.  I also have this picture, framed, in my office.  In the picture I’m not just sitting.  I’m sprawled out; my arms are hanging to either side.  My legs are in perfect frog position, a position that only a very limber 3 year old can maintain, and I am fast asleep.  I joke that my family liked taking pictures of me sleeping, not because I did it so often but because I didn’t.  They wanted a record that I actually slept.  In this picture that is what I’m doing.  Sleeping.  And I’m able to sleep because I’m in the arms of someone who loves and accepts me without condition.  I’m able to sleep because I have complete trust that I am cared for, protected, loved.  I think maybe that’s what it’s like to feel forgiven.  I have had moments, like this sinful woman, when I have been so moved by someone’s love and forgiveness of me that I have been overwhelmed with emotion, love, gratitude, joy.  But I also believe that sometimes when we know we are forgiven, we are able to trust, to sink into that forgiveness and sleep.
            So if you are like me, and there are people you need to forgive, let’s commit that act of will and forgive them.  And if you are like me, and you need to forgive yourself for whatever burdens you carry, do that as well.  Because as the familiar words of assurance remind us, who is in a position to condemn?  Only Christ.  And Christ lives and dies for us, reigns in power over us, prays for us.  In Christ we are new creations.  In Christ we are forgiven.  Let all God’s children say, “Alleluia!  Amen.”

[i] TED Talk, Andrew Solomon, April 2013, Commentary for June 16, 2013