Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
Ray and I were down in South Carolina a few weeks ago
one of the grandsons was in a soccer tournament.
I had the first shift of driving
the morning we headed back north
As I was trying to find my way through unfamiliar city roads and traffic
Ray decided to make conversation.
“What is the scripture you'll be preaching about at St. Dunstan's?” he asked.
Well, I had read these texts
and found them a little overwhelming
I was afraid that if I tried to discuss them at that moment
I'd either get us totally lost
or crash the car.
So I said,
“I'm sorry, honey,
I can't talk about scriptures right now
That would be texting while driving.”
I hope you can forgive me the bad pun.
Now that we're here
we're in a perfectly appropriate place to study the texts
so let's go!
What struck me first in today's gospel is that last line
“If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
I've known so many prayers to go unanswered
prayers by good people, for good causes.
On its face, that line of the text has not seemed to be true.
So, what on earth could this mean?
I read it again.
Anything you ask for in my name.
If we are asking for something in his name,
we are asking for something as if we were Jesus.
What have we seen in Jesus?
Compassion for everyone he encounters
Speaking truth to power
Inclusion, reaching out to known sinners,
to the “unclean,” to children, to non-Jews
Miracles like healing, walking on water
Over and over again,
and he talks about the importance of
But never forces anyone to behave a certain way.
No mind tricks
No Obi-Wan Kenobi, “These are not the droids you are looking for.”
And we know from his 40 days of temptation in the desert
that Jesus did not use his power for his own glory
So when we ask for something in Jesus name
we are asking for something that he would ask for,
it is probably not appropriate to ask for a parking space.
In the text from Acts
Stephen is being stoned by the crowds
What he asks for is not “Make them stop!”
He asks they they be forgiven.
Hmm, just as Jesus asked that those who crucified him be forgiven
Apparently, forgiveness is important.
In “the prayer that Jesus taught us”
“Forgive us” is in the middle of a very short list of things prayed for
So, okay, Forgiveness.
Maybe they are pointing toward forgiveness.
not necessarily in the sense of saying that “What you did is okay”
Stephen was not saying that
those who were stoning him were right to do so
and also, not requiring that the one behaving wrongly
ask for forgiveness.
The ones stoning Stephen did not ask to be forgiven
The ones crucifying Jesus did not ask to be forgiven
Mayo Clinic says that forgiveness is important
for your own mental and physical health,
that holding on to grudges, resentment, anger is
bad for your blood pressure and your immune system
I think, beyond the personal benefits
forgiveness is essential in God's kingdom
because it is essential to relationship and community.
Without forgiveness, ongoing relationship is hobbled
Without forgiveness, life together
Some forgiveness is easy.
You forgave me my bad pun
(or at least I didn't see anyone walk out)
On Mother's Day, let's give a moment to think about
all the things that mothers forgive.
Jesus told Peter that we should forgive someone “Seventy Times Seven”
How many good mothers have you known who forgive their children
seventy times seven times a day.
How many of you have known a Mom
holding a precious little bouncing bundle of joy in her lap
when the baby bounced right up &
with the back of its precious little head
bashed mom in the face
leaving her with a black eye or a fat lip?
Did they hold a grudge agains the little one who hurt them?
How many of you have known a Mom whose heart was bruised
when a sullen adolescent wouldn't engage
with anything beyond monosyllabic grunts
even on Mother's Day
The good mom might give a good, corrective conversation with the little ingrate
but she moves past it
because the important thing here is
beyond the moments of hurt;
The important thing is ongoing, loving, nurturing relationship.
Forgiveness can be hard.
One of my favorite theologians, Anne Lamott, says:
life is forgiveness school – it is the hardest thing we have to learn,
and we have to do it over and over again
and, she points out, it starts with forgiving ourselves.
One of my other favorite theologians, Rosi Sweeney
says that forgiveness is a decision
to never use someone's wrong behavior against them
to move on, to let it go.
It is possible to accept the reality that someone has done something wrong
something that causes harm
but, with forgiveness,
being able to go forward
in relationship with that person.
Nelson Mandela understood the vital importance of forgiveness
for himself and for his whole nation.
After being unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, he wrote this:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,
I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind,
I’d still be in prison.”
So, for his own peace of mind, his own well-being,
he'd have to forgive.
for the well-being of his country.
He could not bring such a broken nation together
if he did not set a public example of moving on in forgiveness.
It has been noted that
it was the example of his forgiveness
that allowed his country to move on without a bloodbath.
Sometimes, forgiveness feels nigh on to impossible.
For instance, what if someone is freely causing harm
right and left
and “moving on in relationship” with them
would be seriously dangerous
physically or emotionally?
I do not believe that forgiveness means that you have to trust someone again
If you know that someone is
prone to a certain kind of bad behavior
if they have caused you harm, and you have every reason
to think that they would do it again
You do not have to put yourself in harms way
In order to forgive.
You can move on
… at arms length.
But, what if the harm that was done to you
still hurts so keenly
that you cannot even think of forgiving?
In the hymn we just sang, “A Place at the Table”
there is a line that made me gasp
it says “Abuser, abused, a place at the table.”
“Really?” I thought
the first time I heard it.
“How could that possibly be right
How could I possibly be asked to sit at the table
with my abuser?”
But the answer was right in front of me.
it is in front of us...
The table is God's table
and in God's kingdom
everyone is welcome
everyone is forgiven
everyone is loved
and it will be all right.
So maybe that is the time to fall back on Jesus' promise
Jesus, I cannot forgive this person.
But I trust that you can.
We can ask
“In the name of Jesus, dear God, please forgive this person.”
keep yourself safe
but let it go
and move on.
Let's watch a video together.
It's about wolves.
Early in the 1900s, wolves were considered predators
and they were – they killed cattle, and sheep
This was considered a bad thing
especially if it was your cattle & sheep that were getting killed
You might say that the wolves were considered “unforgivable.”
So, throughout Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
killing wolves was encouraged.
Eventually, by 1926, the last wolves in Yellowstone Park were killed.
So, In 1995, fourteen wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park
When the 14 wolves were placed in the park,
they of course started hunting and killing deer.
The population of deer began to decrease, rapidly.
The remaining deer began to avoid the areas where they were an easy prey.
The deer's absence from those areas meant that
the plants the deer had been over-eating
could grow again.
Aspen and willow trees began to flourish.
With those trees, and other bushes, came more berries and bugs.
Thanks to that, various bird species returned to the park.
And the beaver, which had been extinct in the region, came back.
The beaver dams attracted otters, muskrats, and reptiles.
The wolves also killed coyotes,
so the mice and rabbit populations grew.
This in turn attracted red foxes, weasels, badgers and hawks to the park.
Even the population of bald eagles rose.
But it gets even more interesting.
The reintroduction of the wolves even changed the rivers.
With the better balance of predators and prey
other species could thrive.
Increased vegetation growth made erosion decrease...
and river banks were stabilized.
More pools formed.
And the rivers stayed more fixed in their courses.
So, the wolves did not only give Yellowstone's ecosystem new balance,
they changed the park's physical geography.
* * *
What it comes down to, I think,
is that God's world is for all God's creation.
We may not understand it
but there is
there needs to be
a place at the table, like the hymn we sang
a place at the table for everyone.
This means recognizing that we are all flawed.
Not one of us is perfect, far from it.
But we are also
God's creation is apparently constructed in such a way
that we need all of it
and all of us
to make it work.
And if we are to live with ourselves and others
in any sort of peace
with shared resources
with any hope of productive effort to make this world better
we have to be able to forgive ourselves and others
our sometimes MASSIVE flaws
and move on.
If we fail to forgive
if we decide to hold on to our hurts and our grudges and our judgements
what path is open to us?
How can the conversation continue?
How can the community figure out how to cooperate
and do the work we are called to do...
Which I believe is no less
than the healing of the world?
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
May we all be forgiven
May we all forgive
And may we all get on with the work that He began.