Empowerment after forgiveness and repentance

Empowerment after Forgiveness & Repentance


The book of John is the only gospel in which we find this part of the story after the resurrection, especially Jesus’ questions to Peter “Do you love me?”. For me, this is a beautiful story of restoration and empowerment, after the hard road of failure, forgiveness and repentance.

Failure

Peter, many days before, had been left crying bitterly at his failure and lack of faith. The very day that Peter declared that he would die with Jesus, when asked if he was a disciple, he denied it vehemently. Peter simply caved in to fear and the dread of the unknown after seeing Jesus voluntarily submit to his arrest. When Peter had lopped off the ear of one of the guards, Jesus had healed the man.

Read More »
resurrection, birth, rebirth, phoenix, death, growth, seed, tree, breakdown, break through

Resurrection

Easter has just passed, and while everyone was focused on Jesus’ resurrection I was busy thinking about my personal “death” and “resurrection”.  I don’t know about you, but it seems that every 6-7 years, life presents us with a “breakdown”: grow through this experience or be doomed to repeat it in 6-7 years time! They say that after every breakdown, comes a break through, and I think that this is very true for all of us, especially spiritually. Without the break down, we would never be forced to break through!

Over the past months, I have been convinced that I need to focus on my spiritual well-being, putting God, as Source and Substance first in my life. I find this to be particularly challenging. Source: as in source of my

  • income and substance,
  • energy and health,
  • emotions and feelings, and
  • source of my thoughts.

If I focus on one aspect of my life, I typically exclude the Divine from other aspects, unconsciously. So, I constantly find myself “going it alone”, and then try to come back to center. When I remember that the Infinite is the source of my abundance and finances, I forget about my health and well-being. When I focus on Divine as source of my emotions, I get caught up in my thoughts.

Death: releasing and renewing

So, over Easter, I was busy contemplating: what do I need to release and let go of? What beliefs and thoughts and feelings no longer serve me? What would I be better of without?

And even more importantly, perhaps, what do I need to forgive and release? What baggage am I carrying around, emotionally and in my thoughts, that needs to “die” in me and be released?

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” — Buddha

The same goes for suffering, hurt and pain that we hold onto because it has become part of who we identify with. Who will I be if I let go of this? We talk about “renewal of our minds” and yet strangely consider it okay to hold on to those beliefs and habits which do not allow us to grow, renew and resurrect.

I started March on the right foot: a morning spent on World Day of Prayer in prayer and forgiveness. And yet, when we arrived at Easter, I was very aware that there was still work to be done in forgiveness and release. I needed to renew my mind even further. I needed to focus on forgiveness of self, and release and let go, so that I could move past mistakes of the past and grow.

Rising from the ashes like a phoenix:

We have developed, as a human race, many concepts of death and resurrection. We speak of rising like a phoenix from the ashes, and this symbolism exists across many cultures.  For the Greeks, it is the phoenix, but it is also the Benu bird of the Egyptians. For some, it is the Nimbus, closely related to the sun. The Jews has the Milcham, and the Persians had the Simurgh. Native Americans have the Thunderbird, Russians have a Firebird, and the Chinese have the Feng Huang. Finally, the Japanese have the HoHo bird. These are all symbols of resurrection after loss.

The phoenix is a legendary bird that can live for 500 years. Knowing that the end was near, the phoenix builds a funeral pyre for itself. It lies down on this pyre as it begins to die and burst into flames, consumed by the fire. Then, from the fire, the phoenix  emerges, renewed, purified, more beautiful and regal than before. And so the cycle of life would begin again, for another 500 years, dying, purifying, returning more beautiful than ever, into perpetuity.

And so, I have been ruminating about what has died or is dying in my life that it’s time to release?

What should I simply release and let go of, so that I can rise again, a more beautiful and better version of myself?

As a spiritual being in a human body, what does eternity and perpetuity look like?  If the Kingdom of Heaven is here: what does that look like in my life and experience?

Renewal & resurrection:

And so as Easter moves into Pentecost – a time in which we rejoice in the Oneness that we have with Wisdom and Comfort – I am invited to contemplate what my renewal and resurrection looks like.

  • Who am I when I am the best version of myself, living as my Creator intended for me to live?
  • Who am I after I have walked through the fire of purification, with eyes clearly fixed on my purpose?
  • What does my spiritual self look like when I leave behind that which no longer serves me and commit to being the Light in this world?

As I live in Presence each day, committing to Peace in my life, I am assured that I have everything that I need.  That the source of my abundance and sustenance, my emotions & feelings, my thoughts and my bodily health is Perfect. I am simply asked to allow the Light to fill me and flow through me.

accountable, Matthew, Romans, judgment, brother, sister, despise, judgment seat, heart, forgive, score, forgiveness, wronged, practicing presence, Shekinah, glory of the Lord

Sermon: Accountable before God

Readings:

This morning in Romans we read:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

And in Matthew we read:

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

The reading in Matthew started with:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Some say that means that we have to forgive 77 times and others say that’s 490 times: seventy times seven.  So, imagine with me, for a moment, if God actually kept score of our forgiveness of each other, the same way that we keep score of how others have wronged us. How would that ledger look? Do you ever make it to forgiving someone 77 times for one offence? Ever?

forgiveness, behavior, heart, forgive, let go, let God, move on, grow, bitterness, anger, pain

And then imagine if God was as quick to pass judgment on us as we pass judgment on others. Romans asks us today, why do we despise each other? Some versions say “treat them with contempt”, others use the word “belittle” or “look down on”, and still other versions say “set at naught”. To set at naught means to treat as of no account, to disdain, to hold in disregard, to treat with ignominy, to hold as insignificant.

A loving Christian is meant to care, deeply, for others: family, friends, church members & neighbors. But when we go into survival mode, that vulnerability and authenticity get shut down. Poets have long claimed that hearts grow cold and become hardened:  we treat others with disdain and insignificance. In our attempt to protect ourselves from distress and dull the pain, we divest ourselves of caring and responsibility.

When broken people live together in a broken world, pain is inevitable for anyone who loves. The only way to avoid the crushing pain of a broken heart is to make your heart unbreakable. So, we become the person that says “I don’t care” or “whatever”, when the luxury of giving ourselves the time and space to feel is threatened. And much of this despising or indifference towards others comes from looking inwards at our hurt and pain, and the defense mechanisms that we naturally have to block this out: just stop feeling. And so our hearts become hardened. If you choose the becoming “unbreakable”, you will also choose to lose your compassion.

What is critical to remember is when a heart becomes hardened, the brain has its own reasons for pressing down upon vulnerable feelings. To feel sets the person up to get hurt and the brain is geared towards survival at all costs. To bring emotional defenses down, the heart must be softened. The question is how can this be done? For me, personally, forgiveness has played an incredible role. I have repeatedly worked with Ho’oponopono meditation, where you sit and repeat: “I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you.” I’ve used this focusing on loving myself, loving others, loving God.

Forgiving and letting go is so much more than just my relationship with other people: a hardening of heart inevitably means I have hardened my heart towards God. And when you forgive yourself and others, truly forgiving them, you begin once more to experience God’s love and light in your life.

Jesus knew this: which is why he said we need to forgive an offense 77 times (or 490 if you read the KJV). If we want to be compassionate in this world, we need to allow people into our hearts. People will hurt you. People will take advantage of you. People will manipulate you. Not everyone and not all the time, but some will. And you have two choices: you can either choose to forgive or you can choose to become hard. You can’t have it both ways.  And forgiving is a hard practice: for most of us, it is not something we just do once and then we’re done. Hence the need to forgive again, and again.

When we remember the offense that the other person has committed against us, we have to repeat: practicing forgiveness. And for a while we will forget and let it go. But the memory of the hurt and offense will come back again, and we will have to repeat once more. And repeat once again. Not because you are going to leave yourself in a situation where that person will continue to hurt or take advantage of you, but because you are choosing a relationship with God over and above all things.

When you are consciously aware that such-and-such a person is “like this”: let’s say that they always ask you to lend them money and they never pay it back. When you make a decision to forgive them and also to keep that person in your life, you know that you will be exposed to more requests for money that will not be paid back. And then you have two choices:

  1. You can give them the money, as a gift, freely, with love; or
  2. If you cannot find it in your heart to give them the money lovingly, you can learn the life lesson of saying “no”. Of learning how to say “no” with love, without attacking them; without putting them down. Just “no”.

But if you give them that money with resentment, it’s like you are putting a curse upon them, because in your heart: you are cursing them and resenting them. If you are going to give, then give with love and joyously.  Make it truly a blessing.

1 John 4: 20 reminds us of this truth:

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

There’s a lot of emotional intelligence involved in being a true Christian! You have to set loving boundaries in your life: where you love yourself enough to be true to yourself, and yet you love God enough to be willing to do the work to be open, vulnerable and authentic. We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our pain and hurt. That’s mine – my precious. I’m holding onto that pain. I’m not letting it go, I’ve been carrying it around for so long now, it’s part of who I am.

We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our judgments and prejudices against others. Paul says in Romans 14: don’t judge those who are vegetarians, or those who eat pork, or those who honor the Sabbath differently from us. Are we supposed to respect the Sabbath on Saturday, or on Sunday? We live in a society where dressing in a nun’s habit is okay, but it’s not okay to dress in a hijab. A society where girls should be allowed to dress anyway they like – but it’s their own fault when they get raped for dressing seductively. If we read Romans 4, verses 2 to 4 from the version The Message, we read:

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

So who are we to judge another by appearances? Everyone has been invited to God’s table and is to be warmly welcomed. Even those who have hurt us. Even those who have somehow betrayed us. Our accountability before God is individual – I will be judged according to what I have thought, said, done or failed to do in honor of God. You will be judged and held accountable for what you have thought, said, done, or failed to do for God.

I leave us with this parting thought about the way we live our lives, in forgiveness and compassion for all others who are invited to the table:

None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It is God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.  (The Message – Romans 14:7-8)

 

 

compassion, Romans, Matthew, Psalms, Jesus, Christ, Messiah, Paul, countrymen, Christianity, moved to action, Luke, widow, sick, lame, blind, crippled, healed, hungry, practicing presence

Sermon: Compassion

READINGS:

  • Romans 9: 1-15
  • Matthew 14:13-21
  • Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21

Compassion:

These verses from Matthew & Romans 9 contain a common theme: the compassion of Jesus for the crowd and the compassion of Paul for his Jewish countrymen.  Paul is anguished that his Jewish countrymen cannot see the truth of Christ being the promised Messiah:

9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred … to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, …and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, …

He expresses himself as having great sorrow and unceasing anguish for these, his countrymen: how many of us could say we feel like this for our countrymen in Panama?

Where is our Christianity, if we have no compassion? For so many people, life is hard: every story of the gospels shows us Jesus moved to action.

Take a moment with me, to consider the following passages:

  1. Luke 7: 13 – When the Lord saw her (the widow from Nain whose only son had died), he had compassion on her and said to her “Do not weep.”
  2. Matthew 15: 32 – he had compassion on the crowd that came to him with their sick, lame, blind, crippled, mute and healed them. But more so than this, they were hungry and so he ordered the disciples to feed them, all 4,000 of them!
  3. Matthew 9: 35-38 – Jesus was travelling throughout the cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction. And when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
  4. Matthew 20: 29-34: As Jesus left Jericho, a great crowd was following him and 2 blind men were sitting by the roadside, calling out to him. And Jesus stopped and asked “What do you want me to do for you?”, and they said “Let our eyes be opened”. And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they regained their sight.

Where have we, as Christians, gone wrong? I cannot imagine a Christ without compassion, but I see so-called Christians without compassion! Where has humanity gone wrong?

I want you to consider a 2, 3 or 4 year old child: if you drop something, they will scuttle to help you pick it up. If they see another child crying, they are anguished and want to make it better. They are anxious to help with the cleaning, the dishes and all those household chores. They are compassionate and caring, they notice the emotions and feelings of those around them.

But then, somewhere along the way, they lose that compassionate nature and they start to think only about self – “I want” and I don’t want to share. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature? Why do we stop taking the time to say “what can I do to help this person”?  We’re living in an epidemic of incivility, disengagement, and despair – in politics, in the work place, in our homes, and even in our church.

What Is Compassion?

Compassion: put simply is empathy PLUS action. It is more than just kindness; it is sensitivity to the suffering of others with a commitment to do something about it. It is:

  • the smile we give to a stranger
  • the food we give to the homeless or our oldies in our AAAM missions program
  • giving someone the benefit of the doubt
  • it is listening to understand, rather than listening to answer back
  • it is making all conversations safe – even when we have a difficult conversation or feedback to give

We all need more compassion in our lives: a totally different perspective when it comes to how you perceive yourself and others. We start with compassion towards those we are in contact with every day in our homes, each week day in the office, or once a week in our Church.

Think of this for a moment:
Let’s say you are very worried about your daughter’s health. You took her to the doctor and he decided to take tests in order to rule out a Dengue Fever. Later that day you are in Arrocha, buying some medicines, preoccupied with your daughter and an acquaintance passes you and says hello. You say hello in return but because you are so deep in thought you don’t stop to chat.
Later on you hear the acquaintance felt insulted because you “snubbed” her. Even though it was not your intention to snub this person, and you had a very good reason for your behavior-the acquaintance assumed the worst.

That is, simply, what most of us do. We assume the worst:

They were rude! They were harsh! They were judgmental! Did you hear the tone in their voice? Did you see the way she looked at me? She ignored me! She walked right past me!

Learning to have more compassion involves making the radical shift to assume the best in others.

What would Balboa Union Church look like if every person in this Church were truly compassionate in word & deed, as Christ was?

Where Do We Start?

First – we start with ourselves!

How good are you at being compassionate to yourself? Do you forgive yourself when you make mistakes? Do you love yourself and your body? Do you take time to ask your body how it’s feeling? If you haven’t identified what you are feeling, how are you going to be able to identify what other people are feeling?  How are you feeling right now? Do you have any aches or pains? Are you feeling nervous or uptight anywhere? Is there tightness in your stomach or a tension in your shoulders? Are you carrying any tension into today from the week that was – are you carrying the past with you? Are you brooding or concerned about the future: where are you holding it in your body?

We start with baby steps: practicing compassion each day. First, I want us to take a small step towards compassion for ourselves:

I want you to think about your body scan that you just finished and what you identified: that part of your body that is tense, tight, aching, whatever it was that you felt: and I want you to bless it. Right here, right now. I want you to pray mercy on yourself. I want you to show yourself some compassion – and instead of complaining about that part of your body, “oh, that knot in my neck”, or “that pain in my knee” or “that old injury that always plays up” – put your hands on it, and say “God bless you”.  Pray love to that part of your body that you always complain about! And every time you feel that ache, pain, tension: I want you to use it as your cue to pray for yourself. Remember God’s love for you, and surround that part of your body with love, acceptance and joy: and bless it. I am sure that you have cursed it enough times already – and I imagine that’s not working for you! So, why not try something different for the next 30 days? Whether it be a slipped disk in your back, a recurring pain in your shoulder, a tightening in your jaw, a sore ankle from when you fell over: let it be reminder to you to love yourself, bless yourself and show yourself and your body some compassion!

Then the second step is showing compassion for your neighbor:

It might be just that person you passed in the street: if you are out and about a lot, in your car, I want to suggest that you use red lights, stop signs or just the traffic jams, and allow them to be your “pause”. Every time you stop, take a deep breath, notice how YOU are feeling, remember you are God’s representative in this world, and then breath out a blessing on another person – maybe a pedestrian that is crossing the street, or the person sitting in the car next to yours, or the traffic cop that is directing the traffic. And each time your car stops, take a moment to pause, to breathe in God’s love, and to exhale a blessing on another person: to reach a point where the red light or stop sign becomes your cue to cultivate compassion, and it helps you establish a habit of compassion for your fellow man.

And then, I want you to bring compassion home, to your house – the place that it is most needed! Unfortunately, most of us treat the people that we live with, our families, with a certain level of disdain that we would not give to others! And it takes extra effort to treat them with compassion, because you really know them, flaws and all! Each morning, take a moment to ask yourself what act of kindness you can perform today in your home, however small.  If you really want a challenge – try the 40-day love dare for your spouse or a person that you live with in the same house!

The world needs Christians that actively practice compassion and caring for their fellow man.  Without compassion, our love towards God is meaningless!

Let’s pray:

Spirit of Life,
Thank you for the opportunities to love that present themselves in the turmoil of life!
When the light catches the tears in another’s eyes, in moments without words, let us be present.
Let us seek to make another’s wellbeing the object of our concern.
Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Let us be kind, gentle, generous, loving, giving and forgiving wherever we may go. Allow us to be as compassionate as the air we breathe. Give us the strength to help our brother, to pick up those who have fallen. We declare and decree that we will follow the example Jesus has set before us, in his Mighty name we pray!
Amen