Homily given by Sonya Dykstra on November 24, 2019
After my second homily this summer, I felt I was done giving them. In fact, when I agreed to coordinate this service, I did so under the assumption that I’d find an individual willing to give a reflection instead of standing here myself. So why is it that I’m attempting another homily? I’d like to share three beliefs I hold that work together and contributed to this homily.
One, I believe in God the creator. I’m sure it’s a belief many of you share, so much so, we say it together in the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed: I believe in God, the creator of heaven and earth.
Two, I believe God continues to create, the easiest example to cite are the newborns who enter the world each day: tiny creatures that I believe God had a hand in.
Third, I believe God invites us to be co-creators. I love this idea – that you and I can accept God’s invitation to participate intentionally in what God is doing in the here and now. God’s story in humanity isn’t finished. The bible ended in Revelation, but God’s story is still unfolding. When we align ourselves with being attentive to God’s will rather than our own often uncertain, often selfish wills, there is joy, there is purpose, there is life-giving energy. How to be attentive to God’s will is a harder question to answer and I want to use my standing here to serve as a small example.
Two weeks ago, I bumped into a Holy Trinity companion on the subway who, despite the brevity of time we had on the ride together, initiated a conversation on forgiveness. I walked away from that interaction wondering what just happened: on the surface, a mere coincidence but on a deeper level, something about it felt pre-ordained.
The next day, the individual who I was hoping would agree to give a homily respectfully declined, leaving me to ask: who instead? Two weeks wasn’t exactly ample time to give someone in order to prepare a reflection. I thought there was no harm in going through the readings and if something inspired me, I’d consider writing a homily. I was half-convinced that wouldn’t be the case and that conviction grew as I worked my way through the readings, not hearing anything that resonated with me. When I got to the Gospel, that story didn’t inspire me either. So the decision not to give a reflection seemed set except for one word in the Gospel that happened to jump out at me.
Abba, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
I thought back to that conversation on the subway.
Could God be using me to say something on as big as a topic of forgiveness? That seems like an awfully daunting undertaking. What can I add of value to an already much discussed, much written about concept? A word that means different things to different people as I discovered from some of my conversations last week.
Besides the slightly terrifying aspect of standing here before you, there was also a curiosity: what is God up to? I didn’t have a clue and there was only one way to find out. I was starting to get a little excited. By accepting what I believe was God’s invitation to co-create in this moment, I was opening myself up to more. More of what, I wasn’t quite sure, but at the minimum, more trust in God that the words would flow.
Abba, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
If it were the case that when forgiveness is demanded of us, it is due to someone’s inability to perceive that what they did is harmful or hurtful, it might be easier to digest. But, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, someone knows that their action is going to hurt and they do it anyways.
Recently, I was hurt by someone’s careless words. Did they know their words would cause me pain? I don’t know but those words found their way into my head and twirled around, allowing the pain to remain fresh. I knew I somehow needed to forgive, but I was having troubles doing it.
There’s a little book I like to read whenever I need to remind myself of the goodness of forgiveness titled God’s Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness. In it, Joan Chittister warns of premature forgiveness, the kind that absolves another person without taking the time or making the effort to examine what the hurt is saying to our own souls about our needs and expectations.
I decided to do a self-examination to see what the hurt was telling me about my needs and expectations. In that process, I was able to see that another person in my shoes might not have had the same reaction, might not have felt the pain because their needs and expectations differ. That helped to soften the edges of the hurt. And it reminded me of something my cousin Cyndi once told me “We humans are like two porcupines in a snowstorm trying to keep warm – we’re bound to prick each other.”
I’m human, I’m going to be pricked. And on the flip side: I’m human, I’m going to prick someone.
While the exercise of self-examination softened the sting, it didn’t eliminate it. I was still holding on to the words, holding on to the past, holding on to the remnants of the hurt.
Something came to mind that I read some time ago and I wish I could remember the source but I don’t and it is loosely this: God loves me not because of what I do or who I am. God loves me because of who God is: God is love and nothing I do is going to change God’s nature. When I turn from God, God forgives me. When I turn from God again, God forgives me again. God’s love for me remains constant, steadfast. That is the place from which I want to operate: that though wrongdoing has been done, my spirit remains whole.
Framing it in this way, I saw that I could not only forgive, but that I wanted to forgive because I want God’s spirit cultivated within me and that is a loving spirit, a forgiving spirit, a generous spirit. It’s not only who I want to be and become, it’s who I believe God is calling me to be and to become.
And that excites me, like writing this homily excited me. I could have said no to the homily, I could say no to forgiveness. By saying yes instead, I am co-creating with God. With forgiveness, I’m helping to create a joy-filled spirit within me that I believe God desires for each of us to inhabit.
I thought back to that conversation on the subway. The forgiveness this person was grappling with is on a whole other level than the example I shared. What can I say in the face of the unforgivable?
Abba, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.
With Jesus on the cross, I wonder if God may be showing us forgiveness in the moment of the greatest wrongdoing in history. And I hope you’ll bear with me as I take some theological liberties here. They are about to kill Jesus and he will enter hell. The best definition I heard of hell is separation from God. In this context, Jesus is about to be separated from God. This Jesus, who is fully human, fully divine. I like to propose that in those moments leading up to his death, Jesus had to be only fully human in order to facilitate the separation from God. And in that fully human, fully frail state, what does Jesus do? He doesn’t say “I forgive them.” He asks God to forgive: Abba, forgive them.
Maybe when the wrongdoing we experience is so big, so powerful and we so human, we can turn to God for forgiveness. And trust that God will work forgiveness through us and that our spirit can remain whole.