At the end of every composition, one of the greatest composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach would write “S.D.G.” which stood for the Latin phrase “Soli Deo Gloria,” which translates to “To God alone be the glory.” Much of the inspiration for his music came from his Christian faith and from scripture. Bach’s music was all in response to God’s love for him.
We don’t have to be musical geniuses to respond well to God’s love. It would be great if we did, but we can’t all be Johann Sebastian Bach.
In our passage from Luke this morning Jesus challenges us to respond to his love for us by becoming forgiving and non-jugmental people.
We are continuing on in our sermon series “God is…I am.” Today our theme is God as judge. God is a just and loving Judge. We are called to embody God’s justice and love through Jesus Christ.
We do that by loving those who hurt us. By loving those with whom we disagree. It’s why we pray at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Forgiveness is a huge sacrifice. In forgiving others we are giving up our right to get even. And this is hard to do. Nevertheless, just as God forgave us through Jesus Christ, we are to forgive others.
Side note: This passage is not to be understood as a command to stay in an abusive situation or to not call out evil. There needs to be consequences when someone hurts another person. God is a God of justice after all and it is not God’s will for anyone to continually suffer. But it does mean that to be a follower of Jesus Christ one must not engage in retaliation and revenge. It means to stop the perpetual cycle of hate and violence.
In 1993, Mary Johnson lost her 15-year-old son, when he was shot at a party by another teen, Oshea Israel. Oshea went to prison for the death of Mary Johnson’s son. Today, Mary lives next door to Oshea Israel. Today, Oshea checks on Mary regularly and has become her adopted son. Yes, you heard that right. The person who killed her son has become her adopted son.
This beautiful family didn’t happen overnight. Twelve years after Mary lost her son she felt compelled to visit her son’s murderer in prison. Mary was expecting to meet the troubled teen who essentially ruined her family, but instead found a grown man repentant for his actions. At that first meeting, Mary shared with Oshea about her son, and in doing so her son became a real person to Oshea. At the end of their meeting, Mary broke down in tears and Oshea simply held her up and hugged her as he would his own mom. When Oshea left the room it dawned on Mary that she had just hugged her son’s murderer. Just as Mary’s son became a real person to Oshea, Oshea became a real person to Mary. In that instant, she knew she needed to let go of the deep anger and resentment she had been holding onto for 12 years. She forgave Oshea. She goes on to share that their relationship today is beyond belief.
Today, Mary calls Oshea if he hasn’t called her in a couple of days – scolding him as any mom would her son for not being better about keeping in touch. Oshea shared that it’s Mary’s radical forgiveness that keeps him on the right path and pushes him to be a better person. Oshea shared that it remains difficult to forgive himself for what he did to Mary and her family, but through Mary’s forgiveness of him, he’s learning to forgive himself.
Just as Oshea became a real person to Mary, Jesus needs to become real for us. Just as Mary’s act of forgiving Oshea changed Oshea for the better, we need to allow God’s forgiving us through Jesus Christ to change us. If Oshea hadn’t been repentant of his actions he would not have been able to accept Mary’s forgiveness of him. In the same way, we need to take ownership for the sins in our own lives in order to truly be changed by Christ’s forgiveness and grace. And that is a daily process.
It’s not enough to pray a prayer of confession once a week as we do on Sundays because, as Jesus points out, the plank in our own eye is with us all week. I love the quote on your bulletin by Fred Craddock. Looking always to others can be a socially and religiously approved way of never looking at oneself. Focusing on the faults of others is always a great way to avoid what is wrong in ourselves. It’s easier to judge others because we don’t have to deal with our own guilt and shame about all that is wrong with ourselves. Jesus desires for us to be real about ourselves. To be honest. When we allow ourselves to be honest with God about our own sins instead of focusing on judging others or wanting God to judge others, we are better able to accept God’s love and forgiveness. We see ourselves as we really are and we see Jesus for who he really is.
And just like Oshea and Mary, we are changed. We are transformed. And we can do crazy things like be in a real relationship with the most unlikely of people. And it’s a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God.
This is also why Jesus goes on to warn against false teachers. The message of these false teachers did not reflect the values of the kingdom of God. They claimed to follow Jesus, but their actions and teachings did not coincide with what Jesus said and did. Their message was not one of grace and forgiveness, but one of judgment and self-righteousness. They preached a message that put one’s self, not Jesus Christ, at the center of faith. In doing so their message did not take into account the goodness and well-being of others. This blurred the lines between God’s desire for our well-being and the well-being of others. It’s not an either/or in God’s Kingdom. It’s both/and.
If we are following someone who preaches a message that puts one’s self instead of Jesus as the center, it’s a picture of the blind leading the blind – putting both in danger of falling into a pit. Jesus uses the image of the treacherous practice of finding water in ancient Palestine where the land is pockmarked during the dry season. It’s dangerous for a person of sight to navigate this land, so how much more so would it be for a blind person.
Failing to accept Christ’s forgiveness for ourselves makes it impossible to forgive others. When this happens we find ourselves in a pit of constant pain and anger. We live out of the need for retaliation and revenge, which is the opposite of God’s justice, defined by mercy and grace.
We become people who are so fixated on what’s wrong with others we fail to see what we need to repent of in ourselves. It is true that the church is for sinners, but sinners who know they’re sinners and ready to repent and turn back to Jesus. It’s then and only then can we be transformed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It’s then and only then can we radically love instead of judging others. We can’t embody the justice and love of Jesus Christ without Jesus Christ himself. We can be forgiving people when we know we are forgiven in Jesus Christ. We are meant to live as people transformed by God’s transformative forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ.
That’s who we are because that’s who God is.