11 Sunday C - Much Love, Much forgiveness

Heaven and hell
A great warrior once went to see a humble monk.  “Father,” he said, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience, “teach me about heaven and hell!”
The monk looked up at this mighty commander and replied with utter disdain, “Teach you about heaven and hell?!  I couldn’t teach you about anything.  You’re dirty.  You smell.  You're ignorant.  You're a disgrace, an embarrassment, to your people.  Get out of my sight.  I can’t stand you.”

The warrior was furious.  He shook with humiliation and was speechless with rage.  He pulled out his sword and raised it above his head, ready to slay the monk.
"That’s hell," the monk said softly.
The warrior was overwhelmed.  The compassion and the surrender of the little monk who had offered his life to show him hell!  He slowly put down his sword, became filled with gratitude and was suddenly at peace.
“And that’s heaven,” the monk explained softly.
[Father John Shea]
We can experience hell right here and now in our judging and condemning those who do not meet our standard of what is right and good, in letting pride and vengeance prevent us from forgiving and seeking forgiveness.  And we can experience heaven in imitating the compassion, love and dedication to reconciliation of the Gospel Jesus.  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be reconcilers, not judges; we are called to forgive, not keep score; we are called to welcome back those who want to return and to enable them to put their live back together, not to set up conditions or establish litmus tests to prove their worthiness and sincerity.  To love as Jesus loves demands that we live, not in skepticism or distrust, but in the optimism of faith that God always welcomes us back.

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s first reading speaks of David’s misdeeds and sins for which he is confronted by the prophet Nathan. Not content with having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, David plots the murder of her husband Uriah in order to cover up his sin. David as king had the responsibility to see that justice prevailed; instead he had committed grave injustice and fallen into deepest moral misery. Roused by the prophet’s words, he acknowledges and admits his sin and at the same time recognizes God’s divine mercy towards him. Because of God’s forgiveness he will not die in his sin but will be given a chance to live.

Under the Volcano
In the movie Under the Volcano, Albert Finney plays a British diplomat in South America. His personal life and career have been at a steady downgrade. He is an alcoholic and his wife has left him and he’s been assigned to a remote diplomatic office. His wife returns to help him salvage his life before he destroys himself completely. But the diplomat comes to a tragic end, not because he dies an alcoholic at the hands of violent men, but because he dies without being able to accept his wife’s loving forgiveness or to forgive himself. –Forgiveness is the subject of today’s readings from Scripture. The Old Testament reading tells how Nathan confronts King David with his sin of adultery and murder, David acknowledges his guilt and is then forgiven by God. His fall occasions a greater fidelity.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

In the Gospel we are told of the meal encounter at Simon the Pharisee’s house. Jesus was invited by Simon and while he is enjoying the hospitality and the meal, a sinner woman comes into the house and falls at his feet and weeping, wipes his feet with her hair and anoints them. Simon is taken aback by the action of the woman and by the behaviour of Jesus. Simon finds the tears and the kisses of the woman unacceptable; by accepting them Jesus put himself in a different category, beyond the human rituals. For the woman, those tears are the silent expression of sorrow and thankfulness for the forgiveness she already senses. Jesus confirms her intuition: God has forgiven her much; how would she not love in return? We humans are quick to judge and go by externals; God goes beyond and knows our innermost motives that control our actions. He just forgives.

Gift of Forgiveness
A religious man learned that a prostitute was doing business in the neighbourhood. He found her house stood across the street and every time a customer walked out, he placed a stone in a little pile, symbolizing the weight and extent of her sins. Years later the prostitute died and soon afterwards so did the man. When the man was shown his heavenly abode he was aghast to find a heap of stone similar to the mound he had built to mark the prostitute’s wrongdoing. On the other side of the pile, he saw a magnificent estate with rolling lawns and colourful gardens, where the prostitute strolled joyfully. “There must be some mistake!” He railed. “That woman was a prostitute, and I was a religious man.” “There was no mistake,” a voice answered. “That prostitute hated her job, but it was the only way she knew to make money to support herself and her young daughter. Every time she was with a client she inwardly prayed, ‘Dear God, please get me out of this.’ You on the other hand were fascinated only with her sins. While she was talking to God, you were talking to rocks. She got what she prayed for, and so did you.”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’


A young man secretly misappropriated several hundred dollars from the business where he was employed. When the shortage was discovered the senior partner called the young man into his office. Immediately he knew he would be fired and sent into prison. His employer asked the worried man if he was guilty. He replied that he was. Then the executive surprised him. “If I keep you in your present capacity, can I trust you in the future?” he asked. “Yes sir, you surely can. I’ve learned my lesson,” replied the astonished employee. His boss must have detected the repentant man’s sincerity. “I’m not going to press charges and you can continue in your present responsibility,” he said. Then he added, “I think you ought to know, however, that you are the second man in this firm who succumbed to temptation but was shown leniency. I was the first. What you have done, I did. The mercy you are receiving, I received. It is only the grace of God that can keep us both,” – Isn’t it true that those who love best are those who know best that they are loved?  Those who forgive best are those who are forgiven. Our best efforts only reflect the deep, deep love of God. But how they reflect!
Steve Goodier in ‘Quote’

The Power and the Glory
Graham Green wrote a powerful novel called The Power and the Glory. It involved a priest who decided to remain with his flock, despite the great danger of the persecution of Catholics in that country. Whether due to the pressure of his situation, or just an inherent weakness, he took to the bottle, and was alcoholic. He was in his prison cell. It was the morning of his execution. He was lying on the floor, reaching out in vain to an empty brandy bottle that was just beyond his reach. Suddenly, the situation in which he was, swept over him like a tidal wave. Here he was about to face his Maker. This was not going to be the kind of death he had hoped or prayed for. He was a failure, an alcoholic, a disgrace to his calling. He tried to mutter an Act of Contrition, but the words just wouldn’t come. From where he was now, it was easy to see that his life would have been so much better, and his death so much more peaceful, if he had only made an effort to be a saint, instead of a drunk and a failure. At that moment he believed that the only thing that should ever have concerned him was his attempt to become a saint. It all seemed so simple and easy now that it was too late. All he would have needed was a little courage and a little self-control. –He must have been filled with amazing joy at the hug of welcome he received when he came face to face with Jesus!
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

A Second Chance
Georgia Tech played the University of California in the 1929. In the game a player recovered a fumble, but became confused and ran the wrong way. A teammate tackled him just before he would have scored a touchdown against his own team. At halftime all of the players went into the dressing room, wondering what the coach would say. This young man sat by himself; a towel over his head, and cried. When the team was ready to go back for the second half, the coach stunned the team when he announced that the same players who had started the first half would start the second. All of the players left the dressing room except this young man. He would not budge. The coach looked back as he called him again, and saw his cheeks were wet with tears. The player said, “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you. I’ve disgraced the University of California. I can’t face that crowed in the stadium again.” Then the coach put his hand on the players shoulder and said, “Get up and go back in. The game is only half over.” -When I think of that story, deep inside I say, “What a coach!” -“To think that God would give me another chance!”
Billy Graham


1.     The Music Director: 

Once upon a time, there was this parish director of music, a young woman just out of musical school. She found a children’s choir which everyone loved, an adult choir which no one liked because they sang too long, a scola cantorum which sang Gregorian chant, which some people liked a lot, and a teenage choir that “jammed for Jesus,” which the young people liked totally, and they were by their own admission the only ones that counted.

 She was also going on for her master’s degree and had a boy friend, who was a baseball pitcher without a future because he played for the Cubs. The pastor was delighted with the young woman’s talent and work ethic. After her first year he recommended to the financial council that she receive a fifty percent raise because, as he said, “She works harder than any priest I know.” We’re not considering a raise, they said. She’s only a kid. Let’s not give her a raise till she asks for one. If we do pay her more, she’ll be back in two years for more. More likely she will be out of here, said the pastor. This is a case of commutative justice said the pastor, who was kind of old and remembered these words from his social ethics courses. They still said no.

 He gave her the raise. Finance committee complained to the bishop who said that if she didn’t get a raise he’d hire her for the Cathedral. That was that.
2.     Weather forecasters have the coolest toys.  

They have satellite "eyes in the sky." They can track off-shore flows and coastal disturbances, high pressure systems and low pressure cells, the rise and fall of the jet stream (whatever that is!). Television weather people even have the most interesting screens to work with, with all kinds of magic features to make this bigger and smaller. Yet, even with all these sophisticated, complicated technologies to help - as we all know - the weather report is often way wrong.  

Forecasting the weather is complicated. Living with the weather is not.

In the last month parts of this country have been under water, parts of this country have been on fire, and parts of this country have been swept away by whirlwinds. All the meteorological explanations and predictions in the world don't change the reality.

If you are in a flood zone-get to high ground.
If you are on fire - get some water your way.
If there is a hurricane coming, get out of town.
If there is a tornado approaching, hunker down, preferably underground, and pray.

No matter how complex the weather system, your best response is simple and straightforward. The complicated part is doing the simple.  

That phrase "It's complicated" was enshrined in a movie starring Meryl Streep a few years ago with the title "It's Complicated." But "It's complicated" is most often associated with the Facebook relationship status, where the choices are "single," "married," "in a relationship with" or "it's complicated." What it means when you choose "it's complicated" can be as diverse as you're unhappy with the relationship you're in, or you're no longer in a former relationship but wish you were. 

"It's Complicated" seems like a fitting way of describing many of our lives. Some of you this morning seem to be facing situations of enormous complications. But I want to suggest to you that there is another way of looking at your situation, which is the way Paul is having us look at life in this morning's text. What if your situation is simple, but what's complicated, and hard, are the difficult choices that lie before you? Your situation isn't complicated. Your solution isn't complicated. What's complicated, and hard, are the choices you need to make to apply the solutions to your situation...  
3.     Listening to the Noise

Some years ago I served as a campus pastor at Oregon State University, and one of the activities we had each week was a Wednesday noon study. From time to time we would pick different topics to discuss, and sometimes we would be hooked. At one of those luncheons we were discussing the book "The Courage to Teach." We were asked by our facilitator on that day to share an experience of a teacher who influenced our lives. Vicki Collins, an English professor, shared an experience of a teacher who changed her life during high school. She says the classroom in which her teacher was teaching was located on the side of the building where a main thoroughfare of the city ran. Traffic was constant, including the sound of emergency vehicles, throughout each day. At the beginning of each class, the teacher would complain to the students about the noise from the traffic. The emergency vehicles especially annoyed him with their sirens.

After one weekend, the teacher addressed the class at the beginning as he usually did. This day he said he wanted to apologize to the class. He told them that this weekend his wife had an emergency situation. The service that the ambulance provided saved his wife's life and his baby's life. He told his students, "I want to apologize because I was listening to the noise instead of thinking about the lives."

The disciples looked at a sinner in the community; they did not see the woman who in her life was reaching out for help.

In his external world, the teacher heard noise. The experience with his wife and child caused him to inwardly see that lives were being cared for by those noisy vehicles. As a result of his experience, he gained a better perspective of his experiences with the emergency vehicles. He apologized to his students.

Friends, Jesus is helping these disciples, and us, to see that there are lives that need care. Sometimes the "noises" of selfish desires, self-centered desires, greed, or bigotry, keep us from seeing beyond the sin or the wrongly perceived experiences of life. The opportunity we have is that of seeing Jesus' way of seeing people, seeing the possibilities for righteousness in them, forgiving them when they fall short, encouraging them to go in peace. 

Isaiah Jones Jr., Seeing Beyond the Sin
4.     Getting Out of the Pit  

There is an old legend about Judas that Madeleine L'Engle tells. The legend is that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent, he looked up and saw way, way up a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards the light. The walls of the pit were dark and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top and then he slipped and fell all the way back down to the bottom. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures, he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around the table. "We've been waiting for you, Judas," Jesus said. "We couldn't begin till you came."

So many people are looking for a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners. Would they find what they are seeking here?

Jimmy Moor, A Place of Welcome

 5.     A Way to God

 Before the Reformation Martin Luther was in his monk's cell weeping because of his sins. His confessor, a young man, simply didn't know what to do, so he began repeating the Apostles' Creed. 

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

"I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; the . . . ."
"Wait!" Luther interrupted his confessor. "What did you say?"
"What do you mean, what did I say?"
"That last part. What was it again?"
"Oh, that. I said, 'I believe in the forgiveness of sins.'"
"The forgiveness of sins," Luther said as if savoring each word. "The forgiveness of sins. Then there is hope for me somewhere. Then maybe there is a way to God."

There is a way to God. Jesus Christ died to provide that way. We may not be a woman of the city but there are sins that break our hearts as well. And there is One who sees those broken hearts and cares, and forgives, and heals, and makes whole.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons
6.     So I Could Stand Beside My King 

There is an old story about the Greek Marathon. Muscular, conditioned runners paced nervously near the starting line for the long-distance race. The time was near. They "shook out" their muscles, inhaled deeply, and put on their "game faces." In the midst of it all, a young stranger took his place at the starting line. His physique was awesome. Taking no notice of the other contestants, he stared straight ahead. Two prizes would be awarded the winner of the Marathon: a magnificent bouquet of flowers and the honor of standing beside the king until the conclusion of other contests. There seemed to be no question among the runners about who would win the prize. It is alleged that the stranger was offered money not to run. Someone else attempted to bribe him with property. Refusing the offers, he toed the mark and awaited the signal to run. When the signal was given, he was the first away. At the finish line, he was the first to cross, well ahead of the rest. When it was all done, someone asked the young man if he thought the flowers were worth as much as the money and property he had refused. He replied, "I did not enter the race for the flowers. I ran so that I could stand beside my king!"

Again, the woman who "intruded" into the Pharisee's house apparently had one thing on her mind. She wanted to stand beside her king. 

Larry Powell, Blow The Silver Trumpets, CSS Publishing Co.
7.     As Grace Opens Up

I recall the first time I got a glimpse of the pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. I made the van driver stop so I could take a picture, but after a while as we got closer, I asked that he stop again for another shot. Several times we went through the same process as the three grand pyramids opened up before us. 

Grace is like that. It opens up wider and wider, more and more grand. Our first glimpse seems so small compared with now. 

Jerry L. Schmalenberger, Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Series VII, Year C, CSS Publishing

Thou art my righteousness and I am thy sin

Martin Luther
8.     A Kiss of Love 

The great pianist, Paderewski, had a friend whose little girl was going to give a piano recital. Out of respect for his friend, Paderewski accepted the girl's invitation to her recital. When she saw the famous pianist in the audience, she got stage fright, forgot her piece, and broke down in tears. At the close of the concert, Paderewski said nothing to her but went up and tenderly kissed her on the forehead and left. If she had not made the mistake and failed, she would not have received a kiss of love and understanding from the master pianist. Likewise, it is when we stumble and fall into sin and are complete failures that the mercy of God in Christ is experienced in terms of forgiveness. 

John R. Brokhoff, Lent: A Time of Tears, CSS Publishing Company
9.     The Odour of Sanctity 

When you enter a synagogue or a church, you know it is one that is prayed in, because it has the odour of sanctity about it. You also can tell when you've entered a happy home -- there's something in the atmosphere. If there has been continual fighting, even the smiles that are put on for you won't fool you. And so the pain must be addressed.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as quoted in Colin Greer, Without Memory, There Is No Healing; Without Forgiveness, There Is No Future, Parade, January 11, 1998, 6.
10.  The Cookie Thief

Today's gospel reminds me of the story of the cookie thief. A woman at the airport waiting to catch her flight bought herself a bag of cookies, settled in a chair in the airport lounge and began to read her book. Suddenly she noticed the man beside her helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she read on, ate cookies, and watched the clock. As the daring "cookie thief" kept on eating the cookies she got more irritated and said to herself, "If I wasn't so nice, I'd blacken his eye!" She wanted to move the cookies to her other side but she couldn't bring herself to do it. With each cookie she took, he took one too. When only one was left, she wondered what he would do. Then with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, and he ate the other. She snatched it from him and thought, "Oh brother, this guy has some nerve, and he's also so rude, why, he didn't even show any gratitude!" She sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate, refusing to look at the ungrateful "thief." She boarded the plane and sank in her seat, reached in her bag to get a book to read and forget about the incident As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise, there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair, the others were his, and he tried to share. Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

How often have you be absolutely convinced of something, only to find out later that you were mistaken? 

Perhaps you were certain you put your keys on the dining table, but found them in your pants pocket. Or you were convinced you failed an exam, but ended up getting a B.

Most of us have a tendency to err on the side of pessimism, justifying this by claiming it is more “realistic” and saying that we don’t want to get our hopes up and be disappointed. Unfortunately, we don’t really do ourselves any favors by doing so. I mean, think about it, why would we want to bet against ourselves? Does being pessimistic make us more determined, persistent, focused, poised under pressure, enthusiastic, resilient, and lead to more dynamic performances? Yeah…not so much.

From Fr. Tony’s Collection:

 11.  "If Jackie Kennedy can do it, so can I.

 " William Miller, in The Joy of Feeling Good, relates the story of a woman who went to a psychiatrist because she was severely depressed. As her therapist began to probe her emotions, he discovered she had never worked through the death of her husband many years before. Her husband had died one week after President Kennedy was assassinated. This woman had watched with admiration how well Mrs. Kennedy handled the shock and trauma of her husband's death, and when her own husband died, she made up her mind to be just as composed, calm, and brave, saying to herself, "If Jackie Kennedy can do it, so can I." She did not realize that Jackie Kennedy on national television was not Jackie Kennedy behind the scenes, sharing her heartbreak with her family and friends. So that woman's grief remained repressed because she never let herself express what she was really feeling. (1) Have you ever known what it is to have a breaking heart? Have you ever let go and let the tears fall without regard for what others might think? Luke tells us about a woman who did just that. He tells us about a woman at Jesus’ feet at a banquet, whose heart was breaking in two.

12.  “And that's the way it is with us."

In his book, Healing for Damaged Emotions, David Seamonds deals with people who have scars that nobody else can see. He uses the analogy of those beautiful giant sequoia and redwood trees in the far western part of our country: "In most of the parks," says Seamonds, "the naturalists can show you a cross section of a great tree they have cut, and point out that the rings of the tree reveal the developmental history, year by year. Here's a ring that represents a year when there was a terrible drought. Here are a couple of rings from years when there was too much rain. Here's where the tree was struck by lightning. Here are some normal years of growth. This ring shows a forest fire that almost destroyed the tree. Here's another of savage blight and disease. All of this lies embedded in the heart of the tree, representing the autobiography of its growth. "And that's the way it is with us," Seamonds continues. "Just a few minutes beneath the protective bark, the concealing, protective mask, are the recorded rings of our lives.  "In the rings of our thoughts and emotions, the record is there; the memories are recorded, and all are alive. And they directly and deeply affect our concepts, our feelings, our relationships. They affect the way we look at life and God, at others and ourselves." (2) If we could look into the heart of this woman described in today’s gospel, we might not be so harsh in our judgment of her. What brought her to such a wretched position in life? Was she abused as a child?
13.  "Cleo really likes you, dear, and she is an excellent judge of character.

A certain young woman was nervous about meeting her boyfriend's parents for the first time. As she checked out her appearance one last time, she noticed that her shoes looked dingy. So she gave them a fast swipe with the paper towel she had used to blot the bacon she had for breakfast. Arriving at the impressive home, she was greeted by the parents and their much-beloved, but rotten-tempered, poodle. The dog got a whiff of the bacon grease on the young woman's shoes and followed her around all evening. At the end of the evening, the pleased parents remarked, "Cleo really likes you, dear, and she is an excellent judge of character. We are delighted to welcome you into our little family." It seems that perhaps Cleo was a better judge of bacon grease than she was a judge of character. The Pharisees who invited Jesus for a banquet believed that Jesus wasn't a very good judge of character when he allowed a sinful woman to kiss his feet.