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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Forgiving or/and Forgetting

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Mary Wester, Worship Associate, Dayna Edwards, Director of Religious Exploration, and the Chalice Dancers

Forgiving and/or Forgetting

A sermon preached by the Rev. Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

February 23, 2014

The only well-known twentieth century UU theologian, James Luther Adams, is famous for having said, “Church is a place where we get to practice being human.”

One of the most important times to practice being human is when someone in our midst is suffering and our love is called forth.

This morning, my heart is heavy with sadness. Many of yours, as well. One of our oldest, at 95 - and longest-time, most cherished members, Esther [last name deleted for posting on-line], isn’t able to be with us today like she almost always is. Because many of you know why, but not everybody, I have made the difficult decision to share some facts, recognizing that some of you don’t even know who she is and others have their own experiences that will resonate painfully with hers. Please know that the full story is hers to tell, if and when she wants, to whom she wants.

And, for now, kind cards and prayers are welcome, and calls only from those who are most close to her and able to listen for what she needs from your call, not to meet your own needs in calling.

On Friday evening, her home where she raised her four sons and lives alone, was invaded and she was hurt. She called the police and they took her to the hospital. A son, Mack, soon arrived to be with her. They took really good care of her there, she told me. In the morning she was well enough to go home and he is staying with her. I visited her there late yesterday afternoon. She is recovering.

The magnitude of this is huge and unbelievable. It provokes anger in some. Rightfully. In me, mainly grief. I call out to the universe that someone so beautiful and kind, such a bright spirit, should not suffer such an evil thing. No one should. But certainly not Esther.

When someone suffers, it calls out love from us. The love that is in our hearts shines even brighter than ever. It connects us one to another, and to the one who suffers. We need each other at times such as this. As the Opening Words said, “All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.”

That reading is one I have chosen as the Chalice Lighting words when I meet with our We Care Coordinators. Esther is one of them, and has been for eons. These are the people who arrange rides, meals, cards and calls for congregants in need of them. Many of you have called Esther to ask for such help and even more of you have been called by Esther and asked to help. She also recruits our Ushers. I’m told it is hard to say “no” to a request from Esther!

I recall her commenting at the end of that reading in her quiet profound way, “That is so true.” All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.

Now Esther needs us for herself. Let us hold Esther up, in the light of our love. Let us hold her up to the light of the love in our hearts. In a moment of silence, let us all feel our love for Esther, even if you don’t know her, and for each other, and for our own families and friends.

May Esther be well. May we all be well, and our families and friends, and everyone in the world. Amen.

After the service, our Pastoral Care Associates will be available in the front of the sanctuary to sit with you in small groups to share with one another, practicing being human.

“Church is a place where we get to practice being human,” James Luther Adams said.

I often think of that when I become aware of situations in our congregational life in which it seems to me that apologies are in order. Of all the things we can practice here, forgiveness is perhaps the most life changing. Here we can practice asking for and making an apology, offering and receiving forgiveness. The more we practice on the relatively small matters we encounter here, the better we will be able to handle the major .

There have been quite a few such situations this church year, or perhaps I’m just becoming more aware.  In some, an apology was made and accepted, either right away or after some time had passed. Bravo!

In others, the one who felt wronged has not brought the need for an apology to the attention of the other person, who may be oblivious of the hurt they caused. Or not. But either way, the damage to the relationship hasn’t been repaired.

In other situations, the one who, perhaps inadvertently, caused hurt has been informed, but has not made amends, as far as I know. Which only increases the damage.

In still others, nothing has been said.

And sometimes the one who feels hurt is so emotional and direct in expressing it that the other person withdraws or becomes too defensive to apologize, or - like in the story told by our Worship Associate today, Mary Wester - tries and isn’t heard by the one who is angry.

What is most sad to me is when individuals withdraw from all or some church involvement feeling hurt or wounded, not knowing how to speak up or having spoken up but the interaction didn’t result in a mending of the relationship.

Someone involved in one of the “Bravo!” situations asked me to preach sometime this year on forgiveness. So, I scheduled it for this particular day, and having been aware that, like most preachers, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had preached on the topic, I decided to draw on what he said as a source.

Because it happened that it was to be during Black History Month, I linked the sermon topic to that, but I regret having done so, because we can and do draw on African American wisdom sources any time of the year. For that reason, it’s not been my practice to celebrate either Black or Women’s History Months, but this year I’m doing both.  The latter on March 2nd with a sermon about the ecologist Rachel Carson, who lived and worked near here.

Since announcing the forgiveness topic some months ago, I met with one of the 2013 PBUUC Auction’s winning bidders on a sermon, to find out what he wanted me to preach on, and guess what he wants me to preach on? Mercy and forgiveness!

The reasons why some of us apologize easily and others do not, why some hold grudges and others do not, why some experience hurt and do not speak up, while others speak up readily (or too forcefully) to ask for amends to be made, are complex, to say the least. They include our childhood experiences, our personality types, and our cultural backgrounds and social locations such as age, race, class, gender and whether we are in positions of authority or not. Hopefully, we all have reflected on these complex matters, are able to love and forgive ourselves (as Mary suggests), and feel we are making some progress, the older we get. I’m not going to try to deal with all of that today.

What I’m intrigued by is the relationship between forgiving and forgetting. Some people say “To forgive is to forget” while others say, “I’ll forgive, but I will never forget.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Kind wrote, “Forgiveness means that the past is overlooked. “I will forgive, but not forget,” has no meaning. Forgiveness means a renewal of higher fellowship. Forgiveness cannot exist in isolation. If a person says, “I have forgiven [him],but I will have nothing else to do with him,” this man actually hasn’t forgiven.”

The above is at http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/forgiveness-1

And Gandhi, with whom Dr. and Mrs. King visited on a trip to India, to whom he referred many times, said, “To forgive is not to forget. The merit lies in loving in spite of the vivid knowledge that [the] one that must be loved is not a friend.” In otherwords, it is not enough to just love our friends, people we like, or get along with.

Are we up to their standards? They call us to interact in such a way that “higher fellowship” – does Dr. King mean love? – can be renewed.

We have seen lately in public discourse, examples of what I think are heroic expressions of forgiving. I refer to the parents of Trayvon Martin and Martin Dunn, young men, teenagers, unarmed, who were killed. Each of their parents has conveyed in public the most amazing calmness and lack of revenge.

I’ve never been faced with a situation of this magnitude, nor of Esther’s in regard to her intruder, but King and Gandhi did. They had lots of practice, as leaders of movements and as individuals whose people faced unspeakable violence and rose up through non-violence to achieve significant steps toward change, freedom and justice.

In the early sixties, King preached a sermon, probably at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, that he published in the 1963 collection The Strength to Love. Called “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” in it I think he conveyed something important about how we all can find our way to forgiving.

Biblical Text, Christian Scriptures:  Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16

A French philosopher said, “No man is strong unless he bears within his character antitheses strongly marked.” The strong man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites. Not ordinarily do men achieve this balance of opposites. The idealists are not usually realistic, and the realists are not usually idealistic. The militant are not generally known to be passive, nor the passive to be militant. Seldom are the humble self-assertive, or the self-assertive humble. But life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony. The philosopher Hegel said that truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So he said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” And he gave them a formula for action: “Be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

The Strength to Love, 1963    

(The remainder of the sermon was extemporaneous. Unfortunately, on this one Sunday, the service was not recorded. Therefore, it can neither be transcribed to written text nor posted on-line as audio).

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