Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Christ have Mercy/ Forgiveness

Let me try once more to go through the book.  Meanwhile I'm reading it with my husband, but blogging is worthwhile.  I'll try not to get sidetracked again.  Let's go back to Chapter 6.

We have here two powerful stories employed to convey what it is like to ask for and receive forgiveness from the people you associate with.  And to give it also.  These moments in life are very powerful, if we allow them to happen with us.  It brings me back to the gut-feeling of mercy.  These forgiving moments are also often deeply felt and treasured.  Harrison says:  "I will always treasure that moment.  Both of us will treasure it together in eternity.  My son knows something of being spoken free and living mercifully."  (p. 77)

I like also the part about treasuring this in eternity.  I think of life this way, too.  Why this life?  What the pain, the drama, the resolve, the happiness, the gifts?  Why anything at all?  It matters in the eternal frame.  We know what we are waiting for.  The trials sharpen the hope. The tears are counted.  The death is precious. The gifts have a giver.  The forgiveness cleanses us and binds us into an unspeakable care.  It matters somehow and it prepares us.

We have a section that explains the effectiveness of the divine word of forgiveness, the office of the keys.

And again Harrison brings it around to the "mutual conversation and consolation of bretheren".  "To forgive is the vocation of all Christians."   (p. 79)

Does this mean only pastors forgive sins? No!  Every Christian is able to speak forgiveness when sin besets us in our unique vocations and stations of life.  According to Luther not only can every Christian do this, but every Christian should do this.  There is never a shortage of sin!  But a word of Gospel, a word of forgiveness--even spoken by the humblest child ("Yes, I forgive you, dad"--is divine and effective).  The Lutheran Confessions call such words "mutual conversation and consolation of brethren."  Luther calls this lay absolution "confidential." p. 79

Then he tells something I find interesting about counselling couples.

Growing up, I had never experienced or even contemplated private confession to a clergyman.  But during my first years in the parish, I began to comprehend the importance of private confession and absolution.  Like every other pastor, I worked with those experiencing trouble in their marriage, broken families, individuals caught in unspeakable sins those in mourning and numerous other challenging situations.  I was struggling o provide the needed care until I overheard an older pastor say that once he began using private confession and absolution in his pastoral care of married couples, the number of repeat visits diminished markedly.  Having the conflict and the sin named, confessed, and forgiven was extremely salutary in distressed lives.  It also helped the pastor to apply appropriate portions of God's Word as advice and salve in that situation.... Like every pastor, after a decade in the parish, I had heard it all.  Yet I bear absolutely no burden, because Christ bore everyone's burden on the cross.  All is forgiven.  Moreover, hearing those saints confess and receive absolution gave me courage to name and confess my own sins.  (p. 80)

This reminds me of something I read in the Christless Christianity (Michael Horton) over the weekend:

It is just as easy to lose Christ by distraction as it is by denial.  We keep expecting the ball to be fumbled by the liberals, when conservative churches are often as likely to be interested in someone or something other than Christ crucified this week.  A woman who was struggling in her marriage told a pastor friend of mine that she decided to visit his church because her home church was going through a series on "How to Have a Better Marriage."  "What I need to hear most right now is who God is and what Christ has done for me even though I'm a wreck.  My marriage needs a lot of things, but that more than anything else."  She was right.  (p. 144)

I think Michael Horton is Reformed, so I don't know for sure what he could say about absolution.  He is talking about a general presentation of the gospel, where Harrison talks about actual delivery of it through persons.  The latter is more powerful because more direct and pointed.

It also reminds me of my own grief and how I am not interested in grief groups.  Please, just give me the sacrament.  I don't want to cry.  I don't need to talk about how to cope with every little thing.  One step at a time. The hole in life will be there.  Other gifts will be given. You have to live with it and try to make the best of it, indeed, but the rainbow is up above.  You have to look somewhere else.

Anyhow, the observation about confession and absolution is probably most astute.

And hearts are only changed and healed through the Gospel, anyways, come to think of that, together with the attendant humility and generosity.

Then we get an admonition. It makes me think of Bonhoeffer, too.  "Forgiveness without confession" is cheap grace, if we shan't shy away from that term.  We need to practice speaking both.

"As much as we Lutherans harp on the importance of forgiveness, it forever amazes me that we can be so inept, so silent, so unable to speak absolution to one another.  We daily live the parable of the unforgiving servant.  Our innumerable sins (even those of which we are unaware) are forgiven in Christ. We obsess, we stew, we fret, and we grind our axes, over one sin committed against us.  After one untoward word from a  brother or sister in Christ or one off-the-cuff remark from  a family member, we are shouting, "Pay what you owe!"

Sad indeed.   Lord give us the needed courage and humility.  I find since the Treasury of Daily Prayer came out and we sometimes have a Compline at night, which includes a general confession and absolution, it at least opens the heart and the avenue.

The chapter ends with a section called "Freed for a Purpose."  Again, we get the idea, that this forgivness is not just for ourselves in isolation.  The freedom achieved through forgiveness is a "freedom toward community."  This makes sense to me, as without the community, forgiveness hardly matters. Again we are admonished:

God freely gives out His grace, so we also serve Him freely.  According to David Yeago, throughout the Lutheran world today freedom has come to mean something quite different from what Luther understood it to be.  Yeago wrote that "the notion of freedom is essentially negative:  release from pressure, the lifting of the burden of an unendurable expectation."  However, Luther places a unique emphasis on that fact that freedom in Christ is toward something, not only away from something.  Freedom in Christ has an object, as result.  During confirmation instruction, most Lutherans learned these words form Luther's explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed:  "He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil."  But Luther does not stop there.  Instead, he continues:  "That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness."  Luther adapted the long-standing Augustinian tradition of defining the self in terms of love and the "innate directedness toward the good..  By contrast, modernity finds the dignity of the self in terms of power and free will, including "the power to impose its will on the world, or to realize is own authentic uniqueness despite the world."  The will of God came to be viewed as something fundamentally limiting--and post- modernity concurs with this view.  For "we are free insofar as we can do what we want, insofar as our power is unchecked, unhindered by expectations or prohibitions imposed form outside ourselves."  How completely different is our freedom spoken in Christ.

This is really important for us to realize.  This also comes up often in conversation with other Christians.  Sometimes one wants to talk about justification with someone and we are in the second article of the creed and it is so profoundly wonderful about redemption with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death;  and then it finished off, like tacked on, but it is not tacked on:  that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom...  (Small Catechism)

Some people really want to emphasize this living and working in the kingdom, like Bishop N.T. Wright and because of that they don't understand Lutheran (Christian) justification.  The point is:  we want to get both right.  Justification through the atonement, forgiveness of sins, all for the purpose of coming into Christ's kingdom AND living under Him.  If we understand everything correctly, there is no dichotomy. 

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