Homily for Pentecost 14, September 10, 2017

Romans 13:8-14

St. John the Apostle

“It’s not too late to say you’re sorry”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

When I came into the church this morning, there was a beeping from the alarm panel.  The back-up batteries were low, and so it was reminding us that we need to attend to it.  Now.  That irritating sound that you hear won’t give up until you do something about it.  That’s much like the passage we hear this morning from Romans chapter 1.  St. Paul sounds like a nagging parent: “You know what time it is”.  Do we ever?  I for one have a remarkable capacity for putting off the things I need to do unless I put a deadline in place.  For everyday tasks, writing a sermon for example, I have a clear end date- Sunday morning.  But there are other things that we know we should do someday soon, but procrastinate about.  Having an emergency kit stocked and ready seems like a sensible idea, but how many of you have one near the door of your home?  We tend to put things like this off because although we have been told that someday there will be an earthquake, the probability is that it will not be tomorrow.

But we never know how much time we have.  Events can overtake us quickly.  Think of those residents in the interior of BC that had to leave their homes quickly because of approaching wildfires or floods.  Even with warnings and evacuation alerts, it was difficult for many to pack what was needed in time to flee.  And for the residents of the southern states, past experience with hurricanes may led some to believe that they could weather this storm, only to find that supplies like gasoline and plywood were sold out by the time they really needed them.  Hour by hour Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and those that will follow, move across the Caribbean on courses that change in intensity and direction even with the best of predictions.

We are slow learners, and so we need to be reminded to not take for granted that things will unfold on our schedule.  In Exodus, at the first Passover, the Hebrews didn’t even have time to allow the bread to rise before they left Egypt.  They had to bake the unleavened loaves and eat them in a hurry.  In the comemoration every year of this event, Jews still eat the crackers called Matzah to call to mind that God’s salvation can come quickly and unexpectedly.  And in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his followers not to wait to forgive another.  Rather than triangulating by complaining to a third party, we are to confront sin and estrangement directly.  Our task is not to put off reconciliation, but to take the steps to have healthy relationships.  This is important for people of faith not just in our personal lives, but at a systemic level as we counter racism and fear in our society.

And there surely is a certain urgency to our present time.  Even without the background of natural disasters, economic disparity, and political instability, this really is a moment for the world to wake from sleep because our salvation is nearer than when Jesus spoke about forgiveness.  We can live in fear of the dark days that appear to be leading towards the apocalypse, or we can get our priorities straight.  For each of us has a choice to start working on our unfinished business or to ignore the signs and continue hoping that we have more time, a lot more time.  The point that St. Paul is making is that love is an urgent matter.

Old habits can keep us from living and loving more fully, especially those habits that hinder us from seeking forgiveness.  We are all more comfortable with the words “mistake” or “weakness” than that archaic term “sin”.  It’s hard to admit even when we say it in the Lord’s Prayer.  But there is at work within something that drags on our ability to respond in willing compassion to another.  It may be fear, it may be pride, it may be selfishness, it may be that lack of energy to change or challenge.  St. Paul speaks of it as “the desires of the flesh” in contrast to the Spirit.  Whatever we want to label it, this force works darkness instead of light.  We are called to lay aside the things that keep us from loving, and that means getting on with the business of forgiveness.

It is not easy to say sorry, and even when we do, we are sometimes not clear what we mean by it.  Especially for Canadians, “sorry” can imply anything from “I didn’t intend to bump into you but it was an accident” to “I am expressing sympathy for the death of your loved one.”  And sometimes we think that just by saying “sorry” we have solved the problem that lies between us, when there is much more work to do.  Dan Furman is a writer who runs a business writing apology letters.  On CBC’s program “Out in the Open”, he explains that people often ask for help to make an apology sound sincere.  It is not just a matter of magnitude.  Whether you are dealing with a neighbour who is annoyed by your barking dog or revealing to your spouse that you have committed adultery, the same rules apply.  Furman shares four rules:

  1. Include the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”, not “I regret”
  2. Take responsibility by naming what you did
  3. Show you understand the impact your action has had on the other person
  4. Explain what you will change so that it doesn’t happen again or how you will make reparations

Without these components, he says, an apology is worthless and you are better off not offering one.  The focus should not be on who is to blame or who is right, but on reconciliation.  As soon as you qualify your apology or defend your actions, you have defeated the purpose.

Jesus, too, speaks not just of the process of naming and healing a rift, but the motivation.  Our goal is to be loving relationship, expressed in listening to the other and problem-solving in community.  Living honourably means moving beyond the quarreling and jealousy that tears our world apart.

In our corporate worship, we practice this when we say words of confession.  The familiarity of Sunday morning sets up good habits for the rest of the week in our prayer lives.  Talking to God is not just about asking for help, or even giving thanks.  It also must include times of self-examination and the willingness to admit and take responsibility for our part in hurting others.  Only when we bring this before God can we hope to accept God’s capacity to forgive us.

It is not too late to say you are sorry.  In fact, now is a good time to act.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring for any of us?  If we can do today something that will show more of our love, then we are truly dressing ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Many Christians wear a cross, around their necks or on their bodies.  It was on the cross that Jesus said of humanity, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do”.  If we are to bear this ultimate sign of forgiveness to the world, isn’t it time we acknowledged that we are forgiven when we ask.  And get to the urgent work of forgiving others.  You know that time it is, and It is not too late.