Today in worship we talked about forgiveness. Rev. Michael Livingston preached an amazing sermon on Jesus’ direction to forgive; you can watch the service here. Here’s the pastoral prayer:
As we turn our minds and hearts now toward the work of response, we gather the courage to ask God for what God has asked of us: forgiveness. The work of reconciliation requires soft and open hearts, ready to give more than we thought we could and receive more than we ever deserved. So as we begin, let’s take a few moments to remember the places in our lives for which we need and long for…forgiveness, parts of ourselves filled with doubt and regret, pain and fear. And let us confess in this silence…to God.
With a supply of forgiveness more vast than we can imagine, we are welcomed into reconciliation with God, loved, forgiven, at peace.
The Lord be with you…
Lift up your hearts…
Good and gracious God, you who never fails to forgive us, to wipe the slate clean, to begin again for each of us, one more time…we come to you today, your answer to Peter’s question and our own, “How many times should we forgive?” echoing without end in our ears, your answer: over and over and over and over and over…and over again.
We confess this was not the answer we wanted to hear. We prefer instead to clutch tight our anger and resentment, the deepest conviction that we have been gravely and grossly wronged, far beyond all acceptable limits, as we all have. We prefer this, but one day we realize that in the holding tight, our justified outrage becomes an impenetrable armor that cannot be breached by any human attempt, no matter how sincere. What started out with the good intention of self-preservation turns us from victim into victimizer, tearing down relationship and assaulting beloved community because we are so very scared to take even one more chance at forgiveness. And that armor protects us from hurt and pain and humiliation and self-doubt and vulnerability…and that armor disallows love and tenderness, authenticity and deep relationship, and most of all: community. Communion. With you. And with our sisters and brothers.
Lord, Lord, we need you. We need your help, because we heard you loud and clear today: building the beloved community the world needs—we all need—is going to take our herculean efforts at forgiveness. Big, huge shifts, and tiny nudges of our hearts, opening ourselves in ways we perhaps could never even have imagined, each movement a step toward the possibility of relationship and reconciliation, even transformation for those who have been our tormentors, to the broken world around us, and even to…ourselves.
We don’t want to do it, God. We don’t want to forgive. They don’t deserve it, and we can’t bear the pain. But here we are again, facing what we know to be true: it’s brave and gritty and powerful and freeing to unclench our fists from the false security of resentment. To open our hearts to the possibility of love. To be disappointed yet again. And to be delighted with a heart miraculously turned from death to life because we had the courage to listen and obey you today.
You are the one who, with your last breath, offered to forgive the unforgivable. Soften our hearts in a way only divine mystery can invoke, and with a supply of forgiveness more vast than we can imagine, help us welcome into reconciliation those who have sought to destroy us, so that they may feel what we feel: loved, forgiven, at peace…and so that together we may build the community you long for in this world. Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
May it be so.