Thuth, reconciliation and other Achievable Saintly Acts
October 29, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Exodus 16:2-4a, 17-23; Mark 6: 30-44
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
So yesterday June asked if she could show me a new video game she’d learned about at school. I was skeptical at first. I am not a video game person. I don’t like the way they suck you into an alternate reality. But she persuaded me to come and see this new game. It was called Kind Kingdom and at first it looked a lot like any other video game. There’s a little character, a blue bird, that you control with arrow keys on the keyboard and it tries to chase down little floating tokens with pinging sounds when it gets them. But here was the difference. Instead of the tokens being special powers to help in battles, in this game the floating tokens were heart shaped pieces of love. And when you meet another character, instead of battling them, your job is to give the love you’ve received back out to them. To complicate things, there are big, bullying birds who are out to pick on everyone else. Your job as the player is to enter into this world and… make it better.
The main character, the blue bird, has a couple of options for confronting these bullies. One option is to try to separate the unfriendly character with a wall and the other option is to grab a “megaphone” and “report” the bully to someone in charge who then removes the bully. The blue bird can then give love out to the slumped over, sad bird and they perk up. At the end of the game, we see where all the bullies have gone after they were reported. It’s a space where they are surrounded by little birds tossing love and encouragement tokens at them until…. The large bully character transforms back into a little bird.
Okay, so I was pretty impressed with this game. I like that the whole premise is about using our energy to make the world a better place… to seek out things that give us love and then to return that love as encouragement to those around us that are feeling low. What I love the most is how much the last level of this game seems to truly visualize a heaven-on-earth situation. The bullies don’t just magically disappear, they go to a place where they are showered with love and encouragement. So much love and encouragement that they realize they aren’t bullies deep down inside. They’re regular little birds that just needed someone to love them.
From my *vast knowledge* of video games, I give it a 10 out of 10 rating.
The only problem is, how do we get real life to be more like this video game? A statement I never thought I’d say.
Because this game makes it look easy! Getting and giving love, seeing a painful situation and immediately knowing how to respond? Taking hard blows yourself from unfriendly people and then turning right around and calling them out on it? Throwing compliments and encouragement at someone who has been totally mean and unloving? Risking terrifying jumps onto tiny pieces of floating grass just to bring a smile to someone feeling sad. Why can’t real life be more like this?
I think it’s wonderful that games like this exist for our children. But I also wonder, how we translate these messages into real, actual life. How do we be people who see and experience tremendously painful and hurtful things and then somehow bring love and peace into the midst of the turmoil? There isn’t anything easy about that. In fact, most of the time it’s a pretty terrifying prospect.
We’re in the middle of a series on the Lord’s Prayer, digging deeper into its meaning, line by line and rediscovering it as a condensed, bit-size version of what being a Christian is all about.
And so we’ve moved already through a lot of the truly inspiring stuff. God as householder whose will is justice and mercy, heaven on earth as a possibility, daily bread and blessing provided by God so that there’s always enough. Good stuff, right? And then we get to this part of the prayer,
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
And a couple of things happen to us. First, we might be confused because we learned it with the word “debts” and “debtors.” Or even “sins.” And that’s all fine. These words have been used interchangeably in our tradition. But language differences all aside, the next thing that might happen if we *actually think* about what we’re saying for a half a second is that we realize, wait a minute, this is actually a really hard thing to pray. Asking for forgiveness from God means we are willing to admit we’ve made a mistake. And forgiving trespasses and debts against us means we’re ready to move on after being hurt or taken advantage of. These are two hugely difficult tasks. Admitting we can be wrong, and moving on after being hurt.
I think sometimes we’d prefer to say this line of the prayer and quickly move on without giving it much thought.
Today is All Saints Sunday, the day when we think about those who have died in the past year, especially who really demonstrated what it meant to be a follower of Christ. We think about what it was about them that shone with God’s light. Their kindness, their laugh, their hugs, their ability to make you feel loved no matter what. I love this holiday when we remember the people who have gone before us to show us the way. I also love that we have a tradition of seeing everyday, ordinary people as being saints. As if to say, simply living in the way of Jesus in this difficult and burdensome world is enough of a miracle to qualify you for sainthood.
An artist I admire named Kelly Latimore has taken to depicting ordinary people who have led lives of love and compassion as saints with golden halos around their heads and iconic poses. Sometimes these people have become famous for their love and pursuit of justice, other times they remain nameless. I shared this picture on our church Facebook page this morning and in the caption, Kelly names each of the people she’s drawn.
My point here is this: we don’t have to perform major miracles or be holy martyrs. We don’t have to do heroic acts of virtuous living to be a saint. Sometimes all that’s needed is that we mean what we say when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
That we truly seek forgiveness from God for the times when we’ve not gotten it right. And trust me, there isn’t anyone in this room who’s gotten it right all the time. Could it be that the simple words “I’m sorry” could themselves bring about a minor miracle in a situation where we’ve caused the pain? Do we have the ability to see outside of our own bubble of existence and see the ways our actions affect other people? Sometimes causing hurt, whether we know it or not? I think this is why we pray. So that we don’t get stuck in our own heads. Forgive us, O God. We don’t get it right a lot of the time. Just saying this to God is a humbling experience. Maybe even a saintly act.
But what about the other side of forgiveness? When we’ve been hurt—emotionally, physically, financially, or spiritually. How can Jesus ask us to move on so easily, forgiving those who trespass against us as if it’s no big deal at all? Wrestling with this concept myself, I was stopped this week by a thought. A thought about conflict around the world. The wars we see filling our news stories. I mean, I think my own problems are big sometimes, but in these places of horrendous conflict, how on earth could one side ever just forgive the other? I mean, this explains why peace has been nearly impossible. When heinous acts of violence have been committed, when huge breaches of trust have been made, when lives have been upended and changed forever, are those who have been immeasurably hurt just supposed to say, “I forgive you”?
This is when I wish life were more like a video game. A simple tap of the button and love could just be there ready to hand out, even to the biggest bullies.
But there’s something else. Do you remember in the game how it is that the little blue bird confronted the bully? They carried a megaphone and used it to report the bully. Another way of saying that is that they told the truth about what was happening and it was only when saying the truth—this bully is hurting me or this bully is hurting someone I care about—only after saying that was the situation able to change.
I don’t believe that Jesus expects us to issue forgiveness without first wanting us to speak our truth. In fact, in one part of the world where peace seemed almost impossible, it was through a process called Truth and Reconciliation that moving forward even became an option. In South Africa during apartheid where white people oppressed black people, before there could be forgiveness, there was an opportunity for those in pain to speak their truth. To name their hurt. To give voice to their oppression. And it was only when that truth could be said and heard, that the situation could change.
Desmon Tutu was in the center of this truth telling. Having lived a life of oppression, he gave a voice to the voiceless when he insisted on speaking about his pain. It was only then that change could happen. It was only then, that forgiveness could come.
He famously said, “I can't control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond to it.”
And he chose to respond by speaking up and telling his truth to those who had bullied him.
Truth, honesty, reconciliation, asking to be forgiven and forgiving for ourselves. This is not simple stuff. It’s saintly stuff. It’s the kind of stuff that takes a lot of bravery and a lot of prayer. This line didn’t make it into the Lord’s Prayer because it was an easy ask. It made it in here because the world won’t heal itself. It needs saints, ordinary and extraordinary alike, who will admit when they’re wrong and speak the truth of pain and hurt into situations that need healing. Blessed are the saints: those who are poor; those who mourn; those who are meek; those who hunger. The merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the outcasts. The bullied. The truth tellers. The megaphone users. The changemakers. The forgiven. The forgiving. Help us to stand against violence, pain, and bullying of all kinds and recognize when we ourselves are part of the problem. Give us voice to speak up for the voiceless. Give us a deep reserve of love that is ready from which we are ready and willing to give when it is needed most. Amen.