Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the armistice that brought field combat to an end in Korea. But the end of combat, as we know, doesn’t mean the end of war. The armistice was a truce. Officially, the Korean War is still being waged.
For the Korean people, and for the rest of us, life has moved on. South Korea has become prosperous and relatively open. North Korea remains poor and very closed. And yet, one thing remains the same: both sides are waiting for the other side to change. There is no forgiveness. And where there is no forgiveness, there can be no peace.
Yesterday’s Seattle Times quoted an 83 year-old Korean War veteran by the name of Dick Bonelli, who had this to say: “It’s ridiculous to have an armistice this long and not sit down, break bread and make peace,” he said. “The future is about the children. Let’s stop it.”
I don’t know if Dick Bonelli is a Christian but that sounds like a statement of faith to me. Let’s sit down, break bread and make peace. It’s why we’re here Sunday after Sunday. It’s why we need communion as often as we can get it. It’s what our readings for today are about. It’s all about forgiveness.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is well-known but poorly understood. It’s a story of God’s mercy. Abraham asks God to have mercy on the people of these two cities, and God does show mercy! This same mercy is echoed in our second reading from Colossians: God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us.
To practice forgiveness is so much at the heart of what it means to be a Christian that when people asked Jesus how to pray, he answered: Say, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Save us from the time of temptation, and deliver us from committing evil. You see, a whole huge chunk of the Lord’s Prayer is devoted to asking God to help us practice forgiveness.
We need to come before God week after week, to be reminded of who we are, whose we are, and how we are to live. We are to love, and we are to practice forgiveness, no matter how hard, no matter what.
There’s not much in the world that will support those who take this teaching seriously: You have a right to be angry. Get revenge. Get justice for yourself. Stand your ground. Don’t give in. Those are messages that will sell.
This past week our nieces sat down with us to see the original three Star Wars movies. They’d never seen them so it was fun for all of us to sit down, watch, and reflect on what we experienced.
Even if you’ve never seen the films you at least know that these are classic stories of good vs. evil. Darth Vader is the main character on the side of evil. As a young man, he had given in to anger and hate and he spends a lot of energy trying to convince his own son, Luke Skywalker, to turn from the good and join him. Over and over the evil Lord Vader says to his son, “Give in to your anger. Give in to your hate.” In the end, just before he dies, Darth Vader gives in to love for his son and his soul is healed.
Fortunately, we don’t depend on fantasy stories to point us in the right direction. We have real-life examples that remind us that there is a better, more difficult path to follow. We don’t need to follow the easy path of anger and hatred and revenge. As Jesus taught—as he commanded—we strive to practice forgiveness.
The mother of Trayvon Martin comes to mind. You know the story; it’s been in the news constantly. A young, unarmed black teenager gunned down; his killer, George Zimmerman, acquitted because of laws that support and encourage fear. Here is a woman who lost her son to one man’s fear and anger. But following the acquittal of her son’s killer, rather than giving in to her own anger, listen to how she responded. “The spiritual side of me knows that eventually I will have to forgive [Zimmerman] so that I don’t block my blessings. I know that. Am I ready to do that now? I am not. That’s something I pray for, I pray for my forgiveness. Because just like I want God to forgive me, I want to forgive others. But, I’m just not at that point right now where I can say that I want to forgive him.”
What a statement of courage. What a statement of faith. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Either this is our prayer and our goal—either this is how we attempt to live our lives–or, we will give in to anger and hatred, and live lives controlled by that anger. Before we know it, 20 or 40 or 60 years have flown by and nothing has changed. The old animosities and grudges remain in place, whether it’s a Korean War that’s never ended, or personal relationships that haven’t mended.
There may be some resentment you just can’t shake. You say, I have tried. I am trying to forgive. I am trying to let go of my anger. I just can’t. Well, as Trayvon’s mom teaches us, forgiveness is not always something that happens instantly. It’s a process. But one thing we know. She wants to forgive and therefore one day she will.
How do we know that? Because in today’s gospel reading Jesus says,
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Think about that. Many would dispute Jesus’ words. “Lots of my prayers haven’t been answered. Lots of what I ask for I don’t receive,” you may say.
But Jesus is not Santa Claus, who will give us whatever we want. Read the text and you will see that he says, if we are persistent God will give us what we need. All of us pray for many things we want, and we’re free to do so. But we also know from experience that not all our prayers are answered, or at least, not answered in the way we would hope. If you pray for health, or wealth, or long life, or anything else you want for yourself or others, you may get it. And, you may not. But there are two things you can ask for and be 100% certain of getting what you pray for because they’re all you need: God’s love and God’s forgiveness. They’re already yours, even if you don’t ask.
What if all of us were diligent in asking for what we need? We need love; we need to practice love. We need forgiveness; we need to practice forgiveness. Most everything else in life is secondary. The alternative to forgiveness is to remain stuck in a previous time, like the two Koreas and our own nation—stuck in the 1950s: mistrustful, unforgiving, and all these decades later, still unable to make peace, still unable to move forward.
We have little control over nations and their leaders. We have little control over other people. All we have is the opportunity to allow ourselves to be transformed. All we have is the daily opportunity to claim the great gift of forgiveness which is ours in Jesus Christ. It is he who has loved and forgiven us. It is he in this moment who loves and forgives us. It is he who always will love and forgive us. It is entirely up to us whether we, like Trayvon Martin’s mom, choose to work at paying forward to others that same love and forgiveness, or, whether we choose to give in to our anger.
This morning our Lord invites us to ponder where we are in need of forgiveness and where we have failed to forgive—or even, failed to even want or pray to be forgiving. Who are we? Why are we here? What are we about the rest of the week? Hear again the words of Dick Bonelli, that 83 year-old Korean War vet: “It’s ridiculous to… not sit down, break bread and make peace.”