Unilateral Forgiveness and Advent/Christmas

For my Advent devotions I have been rereading Luke’s Gospel. All four Gospels carry a particular message for a given audience. Matthew ironically is hated by his own people as a Roman collaborator but his emphasis is on Jesus the Jewish Messiah. He quotes the Old Testament more than any other Gospel writer. His birth narrative has Jesus fulfilling the proclamation of God’s salvation to the whole world through the Jews. The Magi come from the East to fulfill Isaiah 49:6, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Matthew has the Magi finding Jesus in a house not a stable albeit how incorrect our creches are.

Mark with all of its action verbs and the oft-repeated “immediately” is geared toward a Roman “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” audience. Luke is for the poor with his Gospel directed toward the “least,” “last,” “lowest,” and “lost.” His version of Jesus’ birth narrative has the poor disenfranchised shepherds hear the Gospel instead of the eastern Wise Men. Mary’s “Magnificat” elevates humility over power. Jesus is born in a lowly stable and laid in a manger not a bed in a house. Then there’s John’s Gospel that has no parables coming from Jesus. They are replaced by powerful “I am” statements by Christ. It has Jesus going to Jerusalem 4 times as opposed to once by all the rest except for Jesus at age twelve going to the Temple in Luke’s Gospel. John’s Gospel is a telescoping Gospel with an ever-widening view of Jesus’s salvific work that light conquers darkness. It’s a Gospel for everyone, but aren’t they all?

But, like I said, this Christmas I am spending time in Luke’s Gospel. It seems appropriate given the poverty of our economic times, and poverty of spirit, too. Then the Word spoke to me moments ago in a fresh way as it always does when I’m listening. These are tough times. Those were tough times in Christ’s day. The toughest times don’t occur for me when something hits me externally, but rather when my heart and soul are sucker-punched. The holiday season is often such a time. The shopping frenzy doesn’t exhibit a slowing down but a speeding up. Anger and frustration are evident on driver’s and shopper’s faces as parking lot and store aisles are desperately navigated. Plus there’s the added tension of family drama. That’s the sucker punch.

Ah, family drama! There’s the who gets or gives the better gift reciprocity or lack thereof. The last minute we-decided-to-not-swap-Christmas-gifts-this-year dilemma and you already bought one. Do you keep it for yourself or donate it to a charity? What if it was handmade and created especially for that person? Then there’s the unfavorite uncle or aunt that carries drama wherever they go. Don’t let them near the punch, no matter what! So, what does Luke’s Gospel say about these tense but hopefully joyous days leading up to Christmas?

What does it say about handling the fluster and bluster of anxiety and getting along with difficult people, especially the ones in our own families? Well, ton of bricks, it hit me: unilateral forgiveness! Have you ever thought that there’s not one incident in the Gospels of anyone asking Jesus to forgive them? Not once, but Jesus forgives anyway. Only in Luke’s Gospel do we have all three accounts of Jesus forgiving people in a one-sided unilateral way. I’ve just hit the concordance to recheck and it’s so. In Luke 5 we have the four buddies who want to help their paralyzed friend see Jesus so they dig through the roof and lower him down. Nowhere does it say that this guy asks Jesus to forgive him, but Jesus says to him (Luke 5:20): “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Or how about Luke 7:36ff when a woman who had led a sinful life pours an alabaster bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet? It doesn’t say that she asked to be forgiven, but Jesus in vs. 48 says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then the most remembered example in my mind of Jesus’ unilateral forgiveness is when Jesus is on the cross and he says to the soldiers and jeering crowd (Luke 23:34): “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” No one in that crowd asked for forgiveness. Only in Luke’s Gospel do we have these words. Wow! Jesus forgave even if people didn’t ask for it!

Well, that changes my thinking for Advent and Christmas when my anxiety gets ratcheted up and family, friends, and parking lot pirates get on my nerves. I should live grace and love not because I or anyone else deserves it but because Jesus loves us, forgives us, and sets the captives free. So cut everyone some slack. Let’s be like Jesus and practice unilateral forgiveness. It’s bound to make the world a better place, mine and your house included! Then, wham – Luke 6:37 drives the point home when Jesus says: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” To have peace is to give peace; to know grace and forgiveness is to give it. The Jesus method is to be the first one to do it whether the other person ever reciprocates. What a Jesus! What a challenge! What a hope for the world!

Non-Anxious Presence: A D.S.’ Soup de Jour


This has been a day of what I call “Full-Moonitis.” I don’t think there’s a full moon, but the way today has gone from calm to the tyranny of the urgent has been a real yo-yo. Just like the moon affects the tides, I sometimes think that it tugs on our amygdala’s and we lose focus on what’s real or imagined. Today was like that. As they say, “It ain’t paranoia, if they’re really after you.”

I spent the entire day doing what District Superintendents do most days: conflict management, trying to remain calm in the freak-out problems that everyone presents to you as if theirs was the only problem that exists. Everybody has anxiety. To not have anxiety is humanly impossible, but what makes the difference between the good edgy anxiety that propels you to a creative solution and the flooding anxiety that makes you freeze up in a fetal position is whether you react to stuff when the ship hits the sand or whether you’re responsive and thoughtful.

Thus, I spend a lot of my time saying, “That’s interesting,” or “Really?” instead of spouting off information or emotion. Calm demeanor, don’t shake your head, don’t smile too big or at all, unless you want folks to put words into your mouth and make out like you’ve agreed with their position. You have to differentiate, step aside, be a whole self and not perforated enough that their anxiety sucks you in. But, you have to remain connected, too. Here’s where a handshake, a closing prayer, a verbal hug or whatever lets the other know you’re still you, but you are in this thing with them, not for them. I only about lost it about 5 times today. Not bad for a fairly stressful day.

But, hey, I ain’t Jesus. I can’t solve all the problems, don’t know all the answers. Heck, Even Jesus scribbled in the dirt and made the bystanders think for themselves. I never did like the funnel-in-the-head churches that tried to tell you all the right answers before you even asked the question. There’s something wrong with that, promotes co-dependency if you ask me. I like the United Methodist way. We question everything except God’s grace, and disagree on about everything but that. We call it conference. Yet, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we conferenced with responsiveness instead of reactivity. Now that would be Holy Conferencing. I think I’ve actually seen it done. Well, anyway, I have about tongue-and-cheeked away my sarcastic cynicism. I feel more calm. You?

In a Tizzy or Trusting


I just saw a sign riding down a Columbia street in front of a United Methodist Church. It said: “Sermon Waiting For God.” There wasn’t a colon between “Sermon” and “Waiting,” and I found it either an intriguing title or an accidental conundrum. I hope every sermon that I preach or any preacher preaches, for that matter, is “Waiting for God.”
It’s a fact that I have preached more than a few where I didn’t wait on God long enough and should have gone into the pulpit Quaker-style and waited for a Word from the Lord. But, oh no, I have usually thrown something together in my own strength or perceived ability, and then I wonder why God didn’t show up. I didn’t wait long enough.
The rhythms of life are all about waiting, pausing, taking a deep breath. As I write this, however, I know that sometime today I am going to get a phone call that was set up yesterday and is extremely important. Here’s the deal. It was MUCH more important yesterday when it was set up. Part of me was very anxious, a bit angry, more than a little bit hurt, and flumoxed a lot. Here’s the deal 15 hours later: Big deal, whup, whup!
If I trust the Lord who is as perennial as the tide and as solid as a mountain range, then what’s up with worrying and freaking out? Two sayings come to mind that I must choose between: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the Church help!” and “Worry is like being in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere!” So let the church kill me, or be still. Two choices. I hope that I make the right one when the phone call comes.