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Forgiveness Sunday 2019
Matthew 6: 14-21
I’d like to begin this morning with a story from the Bible. Let’s go back to Genesis where we learn about the Twelve Patriarchs. The 11th son born to Jacob was Joseph. God revealed His plan for the life of Joseph when he was still a young boy. Joseph excitedly talked with his brothers about God’s plans. His brothers became jealous and eventually sold him into slavery while telling their father Jacob that his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal.
Joseph was bought by a man who eventually recognized Joseph’s honesty. The man gave Joseph great freedom even though he was still a slave. Eventually Joseph was wrongly accused of a crime and ended up in prison. Joseph’s integrity won him favor with the jail keepers and he became a guard over other prisoners. Through time God elevated Joseph to great power within the kingdom.
The brothers thought Joseph was dead. They did not suspect that the man they stood before was their own brother Joseph. When Joseph revealed himself, they were shocked and horrified to know he was alive. They had feared for years that he would come back and seek vengeance. After the family was reunited they lived together in Egypt. When their father Jacob died, the brothers began to fear even more that Joseph would finally show his hatred towards them (Genesis 50:15). Joseph was heartbroken when he learned they still did not trust him and that they feared what he would do to them (Genesis 50:17).
This amazing story of forgiveness culminates with these words from Joseph to his brothers:
“And Joseph said to them, ‘Fear not, for I am God's (servant). Ye took counsel against me for evil, but God took counsel for me for good, that the matter might be as it is to-day, and that many people might be fed.’ And he said to them, ‘Fear not, I will take care of you, and your families:’ and he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21, LXX).
“I am God’s servant” said Joseph. “I can do nothing but behave as such toward you. You have done me evil, but like God, I will forgive you with all my heart. I will love you and I will take care of you because you have repented of your evil-doing.”
Behaving like God is a tall order, and forgiveness is perhaps the tallest. Yet St. Augustine says: “You are just on the point of saying to me, ‘But I am not God, I am a man, a sinner.’ God be thanked that you confess that you have sins. Forgive then, that they may be forgiven you. Yet the Lord our God Himself exhorts us to imitate Him. And concerning Him the Apostle Peter said, ‘Christ has suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps’...(and) lest ye should think it is too high a thing to imitate Christ, hear the Apostle (Paul) saying, ‘Forgive one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you. Be therefore imitators of God.’ These are the Apostle's words, not mine. Is it a proud thing to imitate God? Hear the Apostle, ‘Be imitators of God as dearly beloved children.’”
Breathing in and out is essential to our biological life just as the giving and receiving of forgiveness is essential to our spiritual life. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk says: “Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or unforgiveness of your sins, then, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself. For without forgiveness...there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how serious it is.”
I will end with a partial text from a sermon given by my late Seminary professor, Fr. Alexander Schemann who said:
“Now we have to forgive each other whether or not we have any explicit sins or crimes against each other. That reconciliation is another epiphany of the Church as the Kingdom of God. We are saved because we are in the Body of Christ. We are saved because we accept from Christ the world and the essential order. And finally, we accept Christ when we accept each other. Everything else is a lie and hypocrisy.
So, fathers, brothers, sisters: let us forgive one another. Let us not think about why. There is enough to think about. Let us do it. Right now, in a kind of deep breath, say: “Lord, help us to forgive. Lord, renew all these relationships.” What a chance is given here for love to triumph! – for unity to reflect the Divine unity, and for everything essential to return as life itself. What a chance! Is the answer we give today yes or no? Are we going to that forgiveness? Are we gladly accepting it? Or is it something which we do just because it is on the calendar – today, you follow, forgiveness; tomorrow, let’s do…? No! this is the crucial moment. This is the beginning of Lent. This is our spring “repair” because reconciliation is the powerful renewal of the ruin.
So, please, for the sake of Christ: let us forgive each other. The first thing I am asking all of you, my spiritual family, is to forgive me. Imagine how many temptations of laziness, of avoiding too much, and so on and so forth. What a constant defense of my own interests, health, or this or that… I know that I don’t even have an ounce of this self-giving, self-sacrifice which is truly a true repentance, the true renewal of love. Please forgive me and pray for me, so that what I am preaching I could first of all somehow, be it only a little bit, integrate and incarnate in my life. Amen. (SVS, Forgiveness Sunday, 1983).