Easter Sunday - Forgiveness: Roll the Stone Away

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rev. Dean Snyder

I Corinthians 15:12-19

Happy Easter!

I want to say a word of thanks to our altar visuals team who has decorated our altar and sanctuary all this season in a profoundly meaningful way. The sanctuary is beautiful today.

I want to thank our choir for their ministry of music during this season. Then all of our staff for the hard work they do especially in this season. We are short-staffed right now so everyone has been working particularly hard.

On the back page inside the cover of your program this morning there is a form about the Washington Interfaith Networks action for services for homeless youth. Over the past several weeks I have visited two of our youth shelters here in the district and I have met some amazing youth people. Our goal today is to have 300 Washington DC voters fill out this form today. You can fill it out during the sermon or you can fill it out during the anthem. Put it in the offering plate or there will be members of our WIN ministry team holding baskets at the door. I encourage you to join in this action to provide more services to the homeless youth of our city.

I want us to consider one verse from First Corinthians today. From the very beginning there were followers of Jesus who found the idea of resurrection difficult, if not impossible, to believe. It was not easier 2000 years ago to believe in the resurrection of the dead than it is today. Some of those who could not bring themselves to believe in resurrection were members of the church in Corinth.

In First Corinthians chapter 15, Paul is trying to persuade them to believe in the resurrection of the dead.  In verse 17 of chapter 15, he writes these words:

“If Christ has not been raise, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

“If Christ has not been raised, … you are still in your sins.”

I have decided after much thought that the best way to begin today is to ask you to close your eyes. Close your eyes please and take a minute to think … think about something that somebody has done to you that was wrong.

Someone treated you unfairly. Somebody lied about you. Someone insulted you. Someone cheated you or cheated on you. Someone who should have loved you did not act loving toward you. Someone who was supposed to take care of you did not take care of you. Someone was violent and hurt you. Someone was emotionally abusive. Perhaps whatever it was is still going on in your life this very day as we speak. Think.

[silence]

Let’s try to stay here just a little longer.

[silence]

Long enough. You may open your eyes.

I have just taken us back from Easter to Good Friday. I have just taken us back to crucifixion.

The things you have been remembering are your Good Friday. They are your crucifixion.  Being unloved and uncared for by the very people who ought to have loved us the most is crucifixion. Being neglected, being discriminated against, being hated, being lied about, being stolen from, being injured, being abused, being cheated on, being insulted. This is your crucifixion.

All these things come from a force and power in the universe that I call the force of oppression. There is one source for all of these things. It is the force of oppression. The force of oppression is the root source of all crucifixion.

There is nothing the force of oppression wants more than for you to stay crucified. There is nothing the force of oppression wants more than for you to stay buried inside a tomb with a big rock that no person can move pressed up against the opening to the tomb. There is nothing the force of oppression wants more than for you to stay buried in a world that is defined by the wrongs and sins done to you so that these things will control your thinking and your emotions. This is where the force of oppression wants you to be.

There is only one way out of the tomb. The only way out of the tomb is forgiveness of those who have participated in crucifying you. “Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,” Jesus said from the cross.

The only way out of the tomb is to forgive those who have crucified you.

The only way out of the tomb is to forgive and to accept forgiveness for the times the force of oppression has used you to participate in the crucifixion of others.

Forgiveness is the only thing that will roll the stone away from our tomb so that we can rise up and live again.

There are two worlds in which we can live. Traditionally they were called heaven and hell. I prefer to call them the world of freedom and the world of oppression. They could also be called the world of grace and the world of sin.

We have all lived in the world of oppression and the world of sin. In the world of oppression and the world of sin we are crucified and we crucify back.

In the world of freedom and the world of grace we forgive and forgiveness rolls the stone away and we are resurrected.

We decide which world we will live in at any given moment, in any given hour, in any given day. And the key that opens the door from one world to another is forgiveness – forgiveness given and forgiveness received.

I want to say a few things that forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not willingly being a victim. Forgiveness is not staying a victim. Forgiveness is not allowing others to do to you whatever they want to do to you. Forgiveness is not permissiveness. Forgiveness is not being without limits or boundaries.

If someone abuses or violates you and it is possible for you to escape the abuse or to set limits on the violations and you fail to do so that is not forgiveness, that is called stupidity.

Forgiveness is when you are crucified, refusing to stay in the tomb of anger and resentment and oppression and sin. Forgiveness is to roll the stone away and rise again.

This is why the Apostle Paul says that if Christ has not been raised, we are still in our sins … we are still living in a world of oppression and sin. We are still being defined by our oppressions. If Christ has not been raised.

But, no, Christ did not stay inside the tomb of crucifixion, oppression and sin. Christ forgave and rose to new life not defined by the force of oppression but defined by freedom and grace.

So what do you think would be harder for God to accomplish … raising someone from the dead or Nelson Mandela forgiving those who imprisoned him for 27 years. Which would be harder for God to accomplish … raising Jesus from the dead or Amish families forgiving the man who shot ten school girls aged 6 to 12 and killed five.

Nelson Mandela chose not to stay in a tomb. He let God roll the stone away. The Amish families chose not to let crucifixion define their world or their futures.

Christ has been freed from the tomb, raised from the world of oppression and sin to live in a world of freedom and grace. Christ has opened the door, shown us the way so that we can choose to live in the world of freedom and grace with him. And the key is forgiveness – given and received.

It is our decision, moment by moment, which world we decide to live in. Which master we choose to serve – the force of oppression and sin or the Lord of freedom and grace.

I’ve been working on forgiveness all this Lent. I’ve come up with a three step program for myself to give and accept forgiveness.

The first step is to pray. God, forgive me my sins and help me forgive those who have sinned against me.

The second step is therapy. Dr, help me understand why I am hanging on to this resentment and anger. Dr, help me understand why I am hanging on to this guilt and self-condemnation. Or it maybe it is not a therapist but a friend or my small group. Step 2 is talking it through with someone I trust.

The third step in serious cases when I still cannot forgive or accept forgiveness is exorcism. You get some water, not special water, just water from the tap and you sprinkle some on the walls of your house and you say: Force of oppression, spirit of crucifixion and sin, scat. Lord of freedom and grace, fill this home.

You sprinkle some of your forehead, and you say Force of oppression, spirit of crucifixion and sin, get out of my head. Jesus of freedom and grace, fill my mind. Occupy my head.

You sprinkle some of the water on your chest and you say: Force of oppression and sin, get out of my heart. Christ of freedom and grace, dwell in me. Occupy me. Fill me.

You sprinkle some on your desk or in your classroom at the beginning of the day and say Force of oppression and crucifixion and sin, get out of my work. Lord of freedom and grace guide my work.

When someone you have a difficult relationship with, someone who seems to make you defensive and wary, when she walks into your office, do not sprinkle her with water, because she is not the problem. The space between you is the problem.

Prayer. Therapy. Exorcism. (Ritual. Ritualize it to help you live in the world of freedom and grace.)

I want to say a word to those of us who are Americans. It is not an easy word. It was not an easy word for me to hear when it came to me while I was walking between church and home this week. Here is the word:

We need to forgive 9/11.

America, we need to forgive 9/11.

We have fought two wars.

We have killed Osama bin Laden and buried his body in the sea. We danced in Lafayette Park when he was killed.

We are about to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of orchestrating 9/11. They have said they want to be found guilty and die as martyrs and my prediction is that we will accommodate them.

I am not saying that we should not defend ourselves. I am not saying that we should not set limits or protect our boundaries.

What I am saying is that so long as we respond to crucifixion with crucifixion we are choosing to live in the world of oppression and sin which is a tomb filled with more and more death. So long as we react to crucifixion with crucifixion we are living in the world of oppression and sin and not the world of freedom and grace. We will not be able to kill everyone who has participated in crucifying us.

We need to forgive 9/11.

I want to end with two thoughts.

Back in Philadelphia I knew a Yugoslavian Methodist minister. There have not been many. There are only about 6,000 Methodists in the region that once was Yugoslavia. Paul Mojzes is his name. Paul was very excited about the Yugoslavian experiment of bringing different cultural, ethnic groups together to live as one people. The experiment failed because the Bosnians and Sebs and Croatians could not live with one another. Paul was devastated when Yugoslavia failed.

Paul told me what happened was that men of each ethnic group would gather together on a Saturday night and talk and drink, and they would begin to rehearse grievances against the other ethnics groups that were sometimes a 1,000 years old. By Sunday morning, he said, they were enraged as though it had happened yesterday.

Is that the kind of America we want to be?

The other memory is from Jane and my trip to Japan. We visited Hiroshima. I don’t want to argue whether it was justified or not, but our atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed anywhere as many as a quarter million Japanese civilians. Many of them were vaporized. No remains.

We have a Foundry member who is in Hiroshima right now and one of the things he is doing is looking for the youngest living survivor of the bomb to interview, and one of the questions he is asking is how the Japanese people have managed to forgive.

Japan has forgiven us. I am not saying every Japanese person has forgiven us but the Japanese people as a people have forgiven us.

What kind of America do we want to be?

And what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of person do I want to be?

Someone who lives in a tomb of oppression and sin? Crucifying those who have crucified us? Or do you choose to live in a world of freedom, grace and resurrection?