“A Piece of My Mind”
March 2015 Newsletter from Donald Shoemaker
Advancing Christian Faith and Values, Defending Religious Liberty for All, Supporting Civility and the Common Good through Preaching, Teaching, Writing, Activism and Reasoned Conversations
Easter’s Message – Suffering and Hope
“[Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place…” – Philippians 2:8-9
Easter gives a message of great hope. But the season also speaks of humility, sacrifice and death. The glory awaits us in the future; the sacrifice is now.
We must not forget this order. We don’t get a pass on faithfulness today.
Christian martyr and true German patriot Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this lesson. In The Cost of DiscipleshipBonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Bible Insight – “Forgive us our sins”
“Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:12, 14 & 15 (English Standard Version)
This remarkable prayer request in The Lord’s Prayer asks God to liberate us from one of the greatest human burdens—“How can I be forgiven for all the wrongs I have done?” These wrongs are summed up in the confession of The Book of Common Prayer, “We have not loved [God] with our whole heart;we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
The request to be forgiven is not a free “get out of jail” pass. It places an obligation on the person praying. We are asking God to forgive us up to the level of our willingness to forgive others. It would be hypocritical of us to ask God to do more for us than we are willing to extend to others. So the prayer obligates us to forgive even as it beseeches God to grant us forgiveness. (Read a powerful story Jesus told on this point in Matthew 18:23-35.)
American Evangelical Christianity widely teaches that forgiveness should be unconditional. * “As soon as someone wrongs you, immediately forgive that person in your heart.” The point is, forgiveness is something you do for yourself (a therapeutic act so you will feel better), rather than something you do for others (a relational act so reconciliation may occur). Look at these slogans, which are posted as Bible thoughts on forgiveness for goodness sake:
The slogans and their “therapeutic forgiveness” have an important point to make. Why let someone’s wrong against you tear you up inside and fill you with bitterness? Why give this person a double victory?
Scripture addresses this:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” – Ephesians 4:31
This indeed must be done, for these negatives can ruin us. But to deal with them is different from forgiving others. Forgiving others is done so relational “shalom” might occur—interpersonal healing, restoration and peace.
Forgiveness is discussed in the next verse (Ephesians 4:32):
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
God forgives us “in Christ”. In this dynamic God’s forgiveness is very conditional—dependent on the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world, and dependent on our embracing of God’s offer of forgiveness.
“The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’I tell you, this man went down to his house justified.” – Jesus (Luke 18:13-14)
Here’s what Jesus said about conditionalforgiveness of others:
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” – Luke 17:3-4
God’s conditional forgiveness is taught later in the New Testament (1 John 1:9):
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”
What reasonable steps of contrition should we expect to see before forgiveness can be granted and a wholesome situation of “shalom” restored? I suggest at least these four signs if someone is serious about being forgiven:
1. Remorse – “I am truly sorry.”
2. Repentance – “From the heart I confess to you that I did wrong.”
3. Restitution– “I am willing to do what I must to make things right.” (This point should be kept flexible—it is as much an accountability lesson for the offender as it is a payment to the person wronged.)
4. Resolve–“By God’s strength, I will not do this again.” (Fact is, we may. That’s what requires the “seven times a day” forgiveness Jesus taught. But the resolve needs to be sincerely made.)
* A “forgiveness” quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (top page): “”Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.”
It was my privilege to speak at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach on March 22, with the sermon “Lord, I Need Your Help to Forgive!”
You may listen to this sermon at:
Good Friday Communion Services at Grace Community Church: Noon (in cooperation with 1st United Methodist Church) and 7:00 p.m.
Easter Morning Services: 8:00, 9:30 (2 services) and 11:00 (2 services)
Reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ death and celebrate his resurrection at gatherings where these are truly believed and made central in people’s lives.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
– 1st Amendment
“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”
– Thomas Jefferson (Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom)
Threat to Religious Freedom in San Francisco
Many parochial schools have wandered from this and allowed the goal of giving a good educationreplace the goal of inculcating the teachings and values of the sponsoring church. The parents don’t mind a crucifix on the wall so long as faith and values aren’t stressed. A pastor or bishop who tries to turn the school back to its proper mission is in for headaches and opposition—in this case from the teachers’ union and politicians.
Archbishop Cordileone wants teachers who will stand for those teachings, not apologize for them, and do so with compassion.“We don’t want kids mouthing what we tell them to say. We want them to believe it. But to believe it they need living, breathing examples of people that are fulfilled living this, and they exist!”
That a religious school should be free in America to teach the faith and values it embraces should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Politicians, in disregard of the separation of church and state, have come out against the archbishop:
• The 11-person Board of Supervisors of San Francisco has unanimously approved a resolution opposing the archbishop’s policy.
• Eight California lawmakers have written a letter of opposition.
What an intrusion into religious conviction and expression! Turn the tables and imagine this—what if nineteen bishops high-pressured San Francisco’s government one way or the other on some non-religious issue? Listen and you will hear loud howling on how the “wall of separation” is being violated! *
In a written reply, the archbishop challenges the legislators, asking them:
“Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?”
Joan Desmond asks in the National Catholic Register, “What is the primary mission of a Catholic high school?” All churches, Protestant or Catholic, need to ask this question about their educational institutions. If they have wandered ‘off mission’ they must be called back and held accountable.**
And the government’s job is to support their freedom to do so, not erode it.
* Actually the First Amendment prohibits the government from interfering with the free exercise of religion. It safeguards the right of the citizens (including citizens who act collectively such as througha church) to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
* *If the church did allow its schools to slip “off mission” and “off message”, this is a warning to all religious schools. Much easier to keep strong in message and values than to let these things get diluted over the years and then try to restore them. Still, restore them they must (they needn’t choose between good values and good education). Otherwise, close the schools, save your money, and let the public system or secular private schools do the task of education.
From Michael Josephson –
“Whether it’s sports, business or politics, whenever we divorce issues of competence from issues of character, we create a class of amoral professionals who think they’re exempt from common standards of honor and decency. This discredits and demeans the moral standing of everyone involved.
- What Will Matter: Coaching for Character (March 25, 2015) whatwillmatter.com
Our Prayer for Good Friday (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Friends and Colleagues,
Here are some items I hope you will find of interest in my April Newsletter:
Easter’s Message – Suffering and Hope. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood that being a follower of Jesus means suffering is often our lot in life now. Hope is fully realized in the life to come. That’s a lesson from Good Friday and Easter.
Bible Insight – “Forgive us our Sins.” This request in The Lord’s Prayer seems so simple. But the condition attached to it makes it a serious challenge. Does the Bible, after all, teach conditional or unconditional forgiveness? If conditional, what are these conditions?
Religious Liberty Vigilance – Threat to Religious Freedom in San Francisco. As the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco works to restore the centrality of church beliefs and values in Catholic parochial schools, he is being severely opposed—by politicians! Why would they interfere in church matters this way?
You may listen to my March 22 sermon on the “Forgiveness” petition in The Lord’s Prayer by following this link: http://www.gracesealbeach.org/
I pray for a meaningful Good Friday and Easter for you, and every best wish for a joyous spring season.
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