Last Wednesday, at Celebrate!, we heard the parable that Jesus tells about the unforgiving servant. Because my appointment calendar always fills right up after I preach about forgiveness and because I’d recently heard Prof. Mark Schwehn give a talk based upon an essay that he’d written sparked by his own conversations with students on the subject, we decided to structure the message that night as a Q&A session instead of a more traditional sermon.

We invited those in attendance to anonymously post their questions about forgiveness online and vote on questions that were posted. As you can see here, there were many questions.

I did my best to respond to the most popular questions in the time available. You can listen to what I said here. We left lots of questions unaddressed. Among them was this one: “How do I forgive myself?”

I find this question interesting for a few reasons. First, it seems to parallel the perception of the unilateral nature of forgiveness that Prof. Schwehn describes as his essay begins. Second, because I can relate the question to my own re-rehearsals of the same past sins in my own mind – failures and faux pas and times when I acted in a manner that I now regret. These seem to orbit my mind the way a comet orbits the earth, out of mind for a time (maybe even a long time) and then suddenly back and so present, it’s all I can think about. Finally, the task of figuring out how to forgive oneself, an action that is reflexive – that is, it’s done by me and for me – seems to be absent in the economy of forgiveness as described in the Bible. That doesn’t mean it’s incorrect or wrong – there’s lots of stuff that’s not in the Bible – but it does suggest that in spite of our contemporary psychologically-formed senses of individualistic self-understanding, where self-forgiveness has some currency, biblical wisdom sees forgiveness as either something that is done for us or something that we do for someone else. Jesus’ parable, referenced above, is one example. The way the Lord’s Prayer describes forgiveness is another: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” is the way it reads in the liturgy books.

Maybe the reason it’s hard to forgive ourselves is because forgiveness is something that’s best received from another. Maybe when we talk about struggling to forgive ourselves, what we’re really trying to do is take hold of the promise of God’s forgiveness for us in a way that makes it real.

At the Chapel of the Resurrection, every gathering for worship is another opportunity to re-bathe in the reality of God’s forgiveness. The big basin of water that stands in the main aisle, almost blocking our way to get in, is a baptismal font. At that font, people are washed of their sinfulness, marked with the cross of Christ’s redemption, and given a new identity as an heir of the rule and reign of God. They are forgiven. Anyone can stop at the font, touch the water, make the sign of that same cross and remember their own baptismal identity as one forgiven. If you haven’t been baptized and would like that forgiven identity for yourself, please let me know and we will set a time for you to receive this gift of a forgiven identity. 

Sometimes, the returning comet of our guilt and shame has such a small orbit, it seems to be the only reality in our lives.

When your shame threatens to dominate your life, the Chapel offers an opportunity for you to call out and name what burdens you and hear that God’s forgiveness is also for you. We even have a scripted ritual for us to use to support you in this important work. You can find a version of that script here.

“How do I forgive myself?” That was the question. I think the answer starts with knowing that God loves and forgives you. And then the work is that of leaning into this blessed reality.

Peace be with you,

Pr. Jim

Nov. 20, 2019

University Pastor James Wetzstein and Deaconess Kristin Lewis take turns writing weekly reflections. You can contact Deaconess Kristin here and Pastor Jim here

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