4.23.2009

3rd Sunday in Easter

Psalm 4
Luke 24: 36b – 48
Acts 3: 12 - 19
1 John 3: 1 - 7


Forgiveness is a tough thing to wrap our minds around, especially when we struggle to take what we have collected and learned from our context and read the biblical texts through our lenses.

Specifically, in the lectionary readings for this week, we see a couple of different perspectives of how the process might work out, and we recognize that we are struggling between the lenses of our lives and with what the text says in black and white, remembering that it was written in a different time and place among a different people with different history, economy, sociology.

We will go at these scriptures (roughly) chronologically as they occurred.

As the concept of God’s forgiveness of humans in the sacrifice of Jesus develops, something of a process gets established: Name your sin, repent / turn away from it, ask for forgiveness, and receive forgiveness. And if we read these developments carefully and do some homework, we can begin to understand some of the early theological struggles of the church, and can begin to understand where cultural biases emerged. And maybe, just maybe, we can peel back some layers and look at the original writings with fresh eyes.

The Psalms were written to be used in acts of worship...offered for both the shaping of the people who participated and for God’s hearing. The Psalmist did not have this emerging forgiveness/atonement process (and certainly no process that involved relationship with an entity other than God-in-one-being) in place as she wrote. At that point in theological history, they were working with a different system. The people of Israel are in direct relationship with their God and speaking to God, they ask for forgiveness and for guidance, and they maintain Torah and keep faith. In Psalm 4.5 she says "offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD." The writer of this psalm is writing from a vantage point of being in the good graces of Yahweh and is encouraging others in how they should pursue such a situation for themselves. In the process she warns that folks should just avoid sinning completely and on top of that, offer sacrifices to make sure all is okay.

Let’s look at both chronology and authorship for the remaining texts. Luke and Acts are both attributed to the same author — an author who was writing a story about a real person caught in the dramatic conflicts of the age. As the story became deeply imbedded in the church, it came to be read as more of an “anti-Jewish story.” We need to be careful to peel away some of that interpretation as we read it afresh. In the passage from Luke we see Jesus in one of his post-resurrection appearances surprising the disciples on the beach. As he was making another attempt to teach the disciples how the scriptures pointed to him and to The Father, he quotes non-specific teachings of that time (pause and note with some interest that these quotes are not specific to any one Hebrew Scripture text) and essentially tells them that what they are reading / have read is happening and (as we learned last week) it is partially their responsibility to share / participate in this forgiveness. It is worth noting that this forgiveness is proclaimed for all nations.

In Acts, we find Peter speaking to some assembled Jews right after the disciples have performed a miracle. It is likely we can all read this passage and understand Peter had good intentions behind what he was saying...he was trying to encourage people to change their ways and follow God as exemplified and illustrated through the birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But when we read his actual words it is also easy to feel like he is wagging a disappointed finger at them the entire time. He seems to be taking the "you will be forgiven, but I am not forgetting" approach to things as he recounts their history for them. Now on first reading, we felt like this text was an “us” and “them” text that could be used for finger pointing. “You rejected the Holy and Righteous One” can be dangerous content in the hands of someone bent on pinning blame on a specific population. But it is important to remember that at the time of this writing, this would have been an account of dialogue of disagreement among groups of Jewish people – an ongoing struggle within the family to arrive at some common understanding. But wow, there sure is basis for lingering guilt and shame here!

1 John, as we noted last week, was probably not written by the author of the Gospel of John, but is written in similar tradition and very likely originated in the community in which John might have originally taught. There are similar references and uses of language. The Gospel of John has elements of “wisdom” and “special revelation” that are continued in some of these epistles. This text was also probably written late in the first century, possibly at the same time as Luke and Acts but probably later and definitely to a different community. The writer of 1 John takes yet another slightly different tack. He goes back (similar to the Psalm) to writing to someone as a companion. It even sounds like he is encouraging folks who are already followers of Jesus to continue to be followers of Jesus. The speaker is gathering people back, reminding them that they are all children of God. He encourages them that because of Jesus, because of his righteousness, they are all capable of also being righteous and being without sin. It is certainly a less guilt inducing encouragement.

It is hard to be human. It is hard to be good. It is hard to walk a path toward righteousness and to set an example to the world around us sometimes. And the complexity of the bible doesn’t really make it easy. We have to use our hearts and our minds and other tools available. It is work, isn’t it?

Thanks be to God.

Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Oh, Lordy)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Hallelujah)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

I took Jesus as my savior, You take Him, too. (Oh Lordy)
I took Jesus as my savior, You take Him, too. (Hallelujah)
I took Jesus as my savior, You take Him, too.
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Oh, Lordy)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Hallelujah)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

I've got a home in the land of glory,
That outshines the Sun,
Oh, I've got a home in the land of glory,
That outshines the Sun,
I've got a home in the land of glory,
That outshines the Sun,
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Oh, Lordy)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Hallelujah)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

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