I really don’t know where it came from, but since I can remember, there were two great interests in my mind – politics and religion. Strange, since my traditional Southern upbringing discouraged the mixing of the two realms of human endeavor. But there it was, a passionate interest in both, so much so that there was a time in my life where I had to choose whether to become a politician or a preacher.
With those interests, I have been in many “lively” discussion about both subjects and it never ceases to amaze me that, no matter who the person might be, it seems we all think ourselves imminently qualified to speak about both of these subjects as if we were experts and our positions are not only right and clear, but that everyone else should agree with us as well! It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic at times. Suffice it to say that the most passionate among us concerning both of these subjects look with suspicion on alternative opinions to the point that we think a different opinion is actually dangerous to the well being of society as a whole. One only has to look at the rhetoric on both sides of the so-called “same-sex” marriage issue. Dire warnings from both sides telling us that if this is allowed/not allowed then everything will be destroyed. Both sides warn us “the wolf is at the door” and the alarm and strenuous arguments surrounding this debate often have groups leaving the impression that, between our opinion and the destruction of all things, there is nothing left to do but agree with “us.”
And yet, we are promised that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20), so the message of the Faith is that, no matter how corrupt the society gets, that corruption will NEVER be stronger than God’s grace! Frankly, with Forgiveness Sunday approaching this Sunday, we have little hope of living in true Forgiveness without this confidence.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today. It’s a long one. It’s Luke 23:1-31, 33, 44-56. We won’t quote the whole passage, but it is the section that tells us of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and His crucifixion:
At that time, the chief priests, the scribes, and elders of the people brought Jesus before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, “I find no crime in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” Luke 23:1-5
Our Lord is accused of perverting the nation. The whole charge against Him was that, if we let this Man’s message be believed and accepted, our whole way of life will be destroyed. Plus, they charged, His message was a danger to the political rulers as well. He was a dangerous Man, according to His critics. And they were right! But notice they are convinced the Lord and His message was going to “pervert” the people.” And they saw how His message “stirs up the people.” The Lord’s message was, and still is, disruptive to the “status quo.” No wonder discussions of religion are so heated. There really is a lot at stake!
So, why have this passage before our eyes on this Cheesefare Week approaching Forgiveness Sunday? What is it about all we’ve said that prepares us for Great Lent and Forgiveness? Simply put, a life enabled by being forgiven and able to forgive changes the whole world! The world, gripped by selfishness and misunderstanding and ego, sees the message of Forgiveness and mercy and love and transformation as a threat, and it certainly is. You see, my dearest, if you are forgiven and able to forgive, all the meanness and misunderstanding and foolish pride of those around you, all of this is powerless to enslave you to bitterness, despondency, disappointment, and hatred. If you can forgive and if you are forgiven, you are truly free and you are truly both a light to those who long to be forgiven and forgive and you are truly a real and present threat to those who refuse to be forgiven and forgive. All the debate, all the discussion, all the arguments, become powerless to trap you in their desire to make you their slave, to reduce anyone to an “enemy.” The amazing grace of Christ’s destruction of death by His death truly creates a different way of life for those who have the courage to embrace it!
Today, Great Lent is just a few days away. Forgiveness Sunday is upon us. Where do you need forgiveness? Where do you need to forgive? All the tools to make this possible in your life are here in the Church. Every service is meant to strengthen you to enter into this freedom. Will you have the courage (and that’s what it takes) to accept forgiveness and extend forgiveness? To the extent you do, you will be free; you will be Orthodox on Purpose.