Isaiah 43: 18-25; Ps. 41; Mark 2: 1-12
******** United Church of Christ
February 19, 2006
You don’t have to raise hands but how many of us need to say we’re sorry to someone? How many of us are waiting for someone to say to us that they’re sorry? How many of us are waiting for someone to forgive us? And how many of us need to forgive someone?
Which is easier to say: I’m sorry or you’re forgiven? I don’t know about you but I find it easier to say “you’re forgiven” than to hear it. It’s more comfortable for me to hear “I’m sorry” than it is for me to say it. In the play “A Thousand Clowns”, one of the characters, Murray, stands on a street corner in New York City, saying “I’m sorry” to everyone who passes by. Just about everyone responds by forgiving him: “It’s okay, buddy. It’s alright. I forgive you. Fuhgeddaboutit.”
Imagine, though, if he was offering forgiveness to all those New Yorkers: “I forgive you. You’re forgiven. I forgive you.” He probably would have gotten some hard glares, some snarls, if not a threat to his person. We’re all in need of some forgiveness but it’s not easy to hear when we haven’t even considered apologizing for something we’re not sure we did wrong.
Saying we’re sorry and forgiving someone are a way of bringing our lives back into balance. We are in debt to someone we’ve hurt or we are holding onto a debt that we feel is owed us when someone hurts us and we are no longer on equal footing with each other. I’m alright when God forgives me because I know God understands. Have you ever had someone forgive you and it seemed like they were doing you a favor rather than offering you understanding and mercy? Or had someone apologize with an edge in their voice instead of a touch of humility? When we have difficulty hearing forgiveness or saying we’re sorry, it’s almost as if we think we’re on the losing side of a battle, that we’d rather be right than happy.
In the book of Isaiah the prophet tells the people that their sins are a burden to God, that our injustice to one another wears God out. Have you ever heard your parents say (or you who are parents, have you ever said…) “You are wearing me out!” especially when you were testing their patience and misbehaving? God also gets weary when we remember all the bad things someone did to us and hold it against them or when we have hurt someone else and have not apologized nor sought out their forgiveness. Yet the prophet says to the people that God will not remember their sins, that God is going to do a new thing and will make a way where there is no way. Instead of bearing the burden of guilt that has kept us down, we now can bear the burden of responsibility for making things right which ultimately sets us free. God will make it possible for us to find the forgiveness we have been looking for; God will make real the ability to forgive someone who has hurt us and to remember their sin no more. God does not want any of us to hurt. God wants all of us to live and to love with joy.
Needing forgiveness, holding onto a grudge, being reluctant to say we’re sorry can cause us suffering. It hurts when we feel separate from someone we love. And we can feel stuck too. We can’t seem to get into a good mood or really enjoy something or serve God faithfully until we say we’re sorry, forgive someone, let go of that grudge. It’s almost like we’re paralyzed, like that man in the gospel story. Sometimes we need the gentle nudging of some friends to bear us up so we can get to that place where we can let Jesus touch us and release us from being stuck in our hurt and guilty feelings.
And the beauty of it is we don’t have to say a word when it comes to getting God’s help but we do have to show up and allow ourselves to be put in God’s care. In the gospel story it is the faith of his friends that catches Jesus’ attention. Ten to one we all have someone praying for us, praying that we can let go and forgive, say we’re sorry, so that we can make room for joy and get on with our lives.
We’re not in this alone. We have our families and our friends who stick with us and love us when we feel unlovable. We have this community of faithful people who love us despite our ability to get stuck sometimes. And this church is not alone. This church has brothers and sisters that we can lean on in those times when we are in need of healing. And the relationships go both ways. We’re here to bear each other up, to bear with each other, to practice what it means to be loving and forgiving so we can take that gift out into the world that is crying out for love and mercy.
Most of all, we have the companionship of Jesus the Christ, who heals us, forgives us, releases us and gives us the strength to move on with our lives. So, fuhgeddaboutit! Amen.