February 14, 2016
February 14th, 2016
Valentines day, or single awareness day, as many now call it, – is supposed to be a day we show appreciation to the ones that mean the most to us.
Being single does not have to be bad thing. It can describe someone who is strong enough to find meaning, joy, peace and love in life even without having a “significant other” at the time.
But love is something wholly other than the kind of feeling we have, or wish we had, when we fall in love with that one special someone. Love is not the same as infatuation, just as it is something quite different from physical attraction.
Love includes genuine affection. And, there is no genuine love without empathy and compassion. But love goes far beyond fuzzy feelings. It has to do with being committed to another person or persons to the point where we make the effort to stop ourselves from treating them in a way we would hate to be treated ourselves, and we make an effort to look for ways to demonstrate our affection and commitment to them in positive ways. That kind of love has no limits.
During the Vietnam War, an 18 year old soldier by the name of Richard Luttrell, on his very first tour, made his way through the hot jungle, totally exhausted, when he sees a young Vietcong soldier pointing his rifle at him. For some reason the young Vietnamese man doesn’t shot, so the stare at each other before the GI shoots and kills him. When he got closer to the dead man, the first man he ever shot, he saw a picture sticking out of the cap of the other man with a young girl on it. And he takes it with him.
For decades he kept the picture in his wallet, staring at it often, his stomach burning with the pain of guilt for having taken the life of the father of that young girl. He started a search for the young girl that took 10 years, until he was able to return to Vietnam to give that picture back to her, now grown, to make amends and to ask for her forgiveness (2007 or early 2008).
Just a few seconds of a clip of when he returned the photograph, part of an NBC dateline special.
The girl and her brother forgave Richard and it was this that allowed the healing process to continue – the process of letting go of the guilt that had been with the man for such a long time.
I mentioned last week that we are deeply imprinted by the suffering that we have received. However, I also mentioned that we are also affected by the suffering we have caused others.
Unless we are psychologically challenged, we experience our “sins” (as the Bible calls them), as shame, guilt, or remorse – our sensitive hearts calling for our attention about having violated our conscience, our deepest values, our sense of justice.
This is healthy guilt or shame. Genuine guilt reminds us that we have violated our deepest life values and that as a result our sense of self is diminished, is damaged.
And it is quite unlike false guilt or shame that is triggered by our perfectionistic tendencies and manifests itself in the bad habit of blaming ourselves for everything that goes wrong, even if it is out of our control.
Genuine guilt can motivate us to deal in a positive way with our past actions. For example, we can admit our mistakes, we can ask for forgiveness, and we can make amends whenever we are able. As a result we can experience forgiveness; healing from our guilt; and a renewal of our hearts, minds and souls.
Feeling genuine guilt
Yearning to relieve the pain I caused
Apologizing / saying I’m sorry
Acknowledging what I’ve done wrong
Making amends where possible
Restoring what I’ve taken
Deciding not to repeat my actions
This, in a nut-shell, is what I want us to consider this morning.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of this process of reconciliation with regard to others who we have hurt. This is what he said:
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
We have to understand that the whole sacrificial system that surrounded the temple services were meant to bring about the reconciliation of a guilty person over against God.
Bringing an animal to be sacrificed at the temple signified that the one bringing the animal is aware of the fact that they have not lived their lives as God had intended. They had sinned. The offering itself, was a symbolic repayment of the “debt” owed to God – a debt that God, in his mercy, would forgive. And the offering could also be seen as a declaration to live according to God’s will.
Of course there were various offerings that had to do as much with acknowledging that all possessions are ultimately from God’s hands and with looking after the priests who served at the temple. But at its root, the offerings, the sacrifices, had to do with reconciliation between humans and God.
The sacrifice “atoned” for errors and made possible the reconciliation -- with God, with the injured other, and with our own heart and being.
The historical problem with Israel, was the people sometimes missed on or more of the four components that should have been part and parcel of the temple sacrifices (contrition, confession, restitution, repentance). And that brought a response from God as spoken by and recorded in the Prophets.
Don’t bring your worthless offerings to me any longer … I cannot stand bad actions with demonstrations of piety in the assembly. I hate the appointed feasts and festivals. … (Instead) cease to do evil. Learn to do what is right. Seek justice. Isaiah 1:13-14,16-17
I desire compassion, not just the offering of sacrifices at the temple. Hosea 6:6
The sacrifices were a show because there was no authentic intention to reform or to do the right thing. There is no intention to stop injuring others and taking advantage of them. I can keep overcharging in my business as long as I give to the church.
So Jesus said, even if you are in the temple and you’ve brought your sheep or goat or ox, and you’re approaching the altar so that the animal can be sacrificed by the priests … and at that very moment, you remember that you have wronged someone, stop, turn around, take the animal back out, find a place to keep the animal – and possibly pay for it, go and find this person you’ve hurt, maybe traveling quite a distance, make things right, and then come back, pick up the animal again, and find your way to the temple.
Jesus’ listeners would automatically know what an inconvenience that would be. And how embarrassing. No-one actually would do this, would they?
The whole point is, that being reconciled to those we’ve hurt is SO important, that it trumps even what appears to be the most important of religious duties. It is more important to God that we make things right with others before we worship him.
So let us consider some of the components of being reconciled to someone we have hurt.
What do we do when we apologize?
In essence, we voice our regret, our genuine remorse, for our hurtful actions and words
We let the other person know that we’ve have realized that what we did was wrong – it was our fault, not theirs.
We ask their forgiveness.
We promise that we will do our best never to do it again.
That’s an apology.
Some apologies aren’t apologies at all: I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m sorry for having offended you by my remarks. I’m sorry for whatever it was that made you mad. I’m sorry that you were hurt by my words.
What’s not contained in these apologies is any kind of admission of fault or guilt. Politicians are famous for making non-apologetic apologies.
Some of us may have a hard time making an apology – saying that we are sorry for something we did or said – or potentially left undone or unsaid. Why? For one, we may be conflicted about the situation. Yes, we hurt the other person, but we also feel angry about the situation ourselves.
What will this do to my reputation? Maybe the person we apologize to will think less of us?
We may also have some difficulty saying we’re sorry because it means intentionally taking responsibility for our actions. It means having the courage to face the reality of the negative impact that we had on others. It means acknowledging their hurt. It means not downplaying our guilt by justifying our words or actions, or telling the other person it’s their fault.
When we openly admit that our ongoing selfish behaviour and self-centered choices have hurt another person, it would also mean that we can’t continue to be as selfish and self-centered as we were.
Of course it’s easier to deal with our guilt and shame by getting angry or defensive, or by finding self-righteous excuses and pointing the finger at someone else. But ultimately that resolves nothing. It doesn’t improve the relationship. It doesn’t bring about reconciliation.
Giving a sincere apology is having the spiritual and emotional maturity to be the bigger person.
Most of the time it is best to make an apology face to face – something that is implied in our passage. The person leaves the temple and goes to meet in person with the offended party.
In our day and age, we can use email, telephone, social media. Better than all of these is writing an actual letter or putting words in a card in our own handwriting. However, by far the most effective way to apologize is in person.
The one thing we need to be prepared for when we apologize, is that the person will let us have it … blasting us with what a crappy thing we did. We also need to be prepared for the case that the other person will not forgive us.
Whatever the outcome is, we need resolve to move on. We won’t feel sorry for ourselves, wallow in self-pity, or get horribly angry at the other person. We should be at peace about this, since we did everything in our power to set things right. The apostle Paul wrote:
As far as it depends on you, and if at all possible, be at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
This verse implies that some people will refuse to be at peace with us even when we’ve done everything in our power to be at peace with them.
By the way, we can even apologize and ask for forgiveness even from individuals who we have lost track of a long time ago or who may no longer be alive. We can acknowledge the pain that we have cause and offer our remorse, wishes and prayers. We can write a letter of apology, even if we don’t have an address to send it to.
Self-forgiveness is often not possible, and certainly cannot be complete, until we have in some way apologize sincerely to those we've injured.
OF ALL THE PEOPLE I HAVE HURT OVER THE YEARS, TO WHOM DO I NEED TO APOLOGIZE TO THE MOST?
But Jesus continues in our passage with another example.
Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:25-26
With his advice, Jesus takes as fact, that the one accusing the person of wrong-doing has a legitimate beef. Further, Jesus is stipulating, that the hurt or injury is significant enough that a simple apology will not suffice to bring about restoration – something more is needed to make things right. Unless amends are made, a high price will be paid – one way or another.
It has been said that self-forgiveness is often not possible, and certainly cannot be complete, until we have in some way made amends to those we've injured.
Making amends has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. It is restoring in some meaningful way that which we have broken or damaged, or, if that is simply not possible any longer, to do something symbolically that would make things right.
Say, for example, that I borrowed 20 dollars from you and never paid back the money. If I go up to you and say, "Gee, I'm sorry I borrowed your 20 dollars and spent it on drugs," that would be an apology. Making amends is giving the money back to you.
Or if you borrowed someone’s car and got into a fender bender. It would still be pretty clear what needs to be done to make amends – you pay to have the damage repaired. If you ruined an event, offer to stage another at your expense.
But what about making amends for our words? Let’s say you called another person terrible things. Beyond the apology, a long list of all their positive attributes, would help to make amends.
Regardless of what we stole, money, time, attention, … we do whatever we can to give it back.
I have heard it said that we don’t apologize or make amends if it will injure the person we’ve offended or even someone else. For example, it may not be a good idea to apologize for a fling that happened years back – that’s clearing our conscience at the expense of making someone else feel terrible. It would be so much better to make amends by using all your energy and heart to commit to your spouse the full attention and affection that he or she deserves.
Sometimes direct amends are impossible. When a drunken driver kills someone in a traffic accident, the dead person cannot be brought back to life. Indirect amends could be going to jail, filling out a donor card, or warning others of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Some indirect amends are also called “living amends”.
This simply means that we make a genuine change in our behaviour, we live differently, we stop the behaviour that is hurtful to others.
The Bible calls this “repentance.”
We will not be perfect, but we can become dependable and considerate friends. We can become trustworthy. We can stop gossiping. We can become those who never resort to name calling, who never become violent again, who stop themselves from screaming when angry, who won’t allow ourselves to be absent or uncaring or indifferent any longer.
The huge benefit of being reconciled to others, is that it enables us to let go of the past and live in the present. So even if things don’t work out as we would hope, we can thank God for this gift of moving on, being able to forgive ourselves, and healing.
WHAT WILL I DO TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT WITH AT LEAST ONE PERSON WHO IS ANGRY WITH ME?