Tuesday, 4 October 2016
Sermon October 2, 2016 19th Sunday after Trinity
Lorna and I have been rather old fogies in terms of video technology. At our cottage we do not have a TV hooked up to cable or even an old fashioned antenna much less a satellite dish. Until this summer our movie viewing at the cottage was restricted to whatever movies we could find on VHS to watch on our VHS player and 20” portable TV – now I must reassure you it is at least a colour TV. We certainly have fun locating second hand VHS tapes at Value Village and yard sales.
Well this year we were forced to upgrade as the VHS player gave up the ghost. Lorna was able to fine an updated player through Amazon which played both VHS tapes and DVD. After buying an adapter so it would work on our ancient TV we were launched into the wonderful possibilities of DVDs.
Well we plunged headlong into the DVD world by purchasing all the seasons of Six Feet Under, a series we were introduced to many years ago when we were staying at a cottage here on PEI that had satellite. It is an excellent series that deals with many issues of dying and the aftermath of death. We also purchased the first three seasons of House of Cards. Lorna was introduced to this series but I had never seen it. It is the story of Francis Underwood and his over weaning ambition to become President of the United States. Frank, as he is called by everyone except his wife Clair, is absolutely ruthless and will do almost anything to achieve the end he desires. Indeed up to this point I haven’t seen anything that he would not do.
At one point he is talking with a Bishop who has presided at the memorial for three Navy Seals who were killed under Frank’s watch as President. The Bishop tells him that what God requires of him is to love God and to love everyone. Frank tells him that he can’t do that. He can, however, relate to the Old Testament God who is the God of vengeance. When the Bishop leaves he looks with distain on a life-size Crucifix and says something nasty and pushes it so it comes crashing down and breaks into many pieces. No loving everyone for Frank.
Many people are in the same position regarding which God they serve as is Frank Underwood—perhaps not many take as extreme a position. However, many people find the Old Testament God—at least the popular version of that God—who is not considered the God of love—a preferable God to follow. They can’t imagine loving your neighbour much less your enemy. They have no possibility of doing what Paul tells us in today’s epistle from Ephesians, “31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
The Old Testament God really is more attractive to many people. The idea of “Vengeance is mine” can be appealing and it feeds into our feelings of anger, rage, hatred and even our desire for justice being done. Of course they do not complete the sentence, “says the Lord”. What Jesus is calling for us as his followers to do is not easy. Indeed it seems it goes against our natural instincts. It certainly goes against our baser instincts. Perhaps that is a part of our fallen nature. We can easily give in to those thoughts and desire for revenge and getting our just deserts.
To forgive seventy times seven as Jesus tells Peter seems impossible. Indeed the idea of forgiveness is made to seem too easy. We come to believe that if we say the words, “I forgive you” that is all it takes. However, the words are easier than actual forgiveness. We can say the words to someone who has wronged us but the hurt and anger and pain will still be in our hearts and we can find those feelings coming to the surface much later when we thought they were long gone. Given that it seems that forgiving someone seventy times seven is asking too much of us as is asking us to love our enemies or everyone as the Bishop said to Frank.
So what are we to do with all these seemingly impossible requirements of being a Christian? Let’s not kid ourselves, Jesus is very clear. We heard in the Gospel last week that Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your strength. The second is like it, to love your neighbour as yourself. That does not mean as one of the followers of Donald Trump said well you have to love your neighbour so you know he is not a terrorist. It means loving the Samaritan who is the outcast, the unacceptable, the one you don’t find it possible to love.
It may seem impossible to do this but it is not impossible. Otherwise Jesus would not have commanded us to do it. I don’t find it any easier to do this than anyone else. The only thing I do is to remember that to love someone doesn’t mean you have to like them. You can love them and pray that God is with them even though you don’t want to be with them. And when you fail to do that, as we all will at times, remember that God forgives you when you sin and fall short of the mark. You can repent and turn around and try again. Thanks be to God. Amen