After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the preacher. Towards the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons. “Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God.” The pastor was thrilled. “No one’s ever said anything like that about my preaching. Please tell me why.” “Well, it reminded me of the peace of God because it passed all understanding and the love of God because it endured forever!”
It’s not so easy to feel peaceful. Living calmly, tranquilly, well doesn’t come naturally. It’s something we must achieve, labor to attain, and know how to acquire.
It comes from God’s grace, sure, but living in God’s grace, day by day, hour by hour or minute by minute, is not something any of us can control. That’s why it’s called God’s grace.
If we truly want to live a more peaceful life, we must dig deep and learn to forgive. It’s in our own best interest. Christ warned, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Scripture tells us, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
A spirit of unforgiveness complicates our daily walk with ourselves and the Lord because it keeps us turned against others, our family, our neighbors, our colleagues. It hurts us. Nelson Mandela once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
You know what’s interesting is that even though we’re not that great at having empathy for others too often, we’re often even worse at showing real empathy for ourselves. We push ourselves to suffer more. We choose feuds and anger and isolation and resentment when these only injure us.
We ought to turn a more considerate eye toward ourselves. We should put down the sword that first pierces our skin only in hopes that it draws blood from another later. Love yourself. Protect yourself.
Find a way to lift yourself up by lifting someone else up. Empathize with another, even or especially when you’re having a tough time regarding her or him with kindness. Test yourself.
Can you say, “I love that person?” Can you say, “I wish well for that person?” Can you let that person have her or his journey even if it meant or means their life conflicted or conflicts with yours?
Let your heavenly heart regain its rightful place in your thinking and feeling about someone who you feel hasn’t been so right or righteous. God can bless the one who seeks a better way.
The Easter season of alleluias can sometimes seem to leave little room for pain or problems. We tend to forget that for the first disciples, there was fear, doubt, pain, and serious confusion before there was understanding and joy.
The disciples in our gospel reading today are hiding. They’re hiding for their lives but maybe, just maybe, the disciples were also afraid of Jesus. After all, they had failed him miserably. Peter had denied him three times, and the rest had deserted him. Perhaps the last person the disciples wanted to meet on that evening was Jesus, risen from the dead to confront them with their failures.
They lock the doors.
Those doors weren’t about to stop Christ however. He comes right through the wall and appears to his disciples. And what does he say? Not, “Where were you?” or “You abandoned me.” Astonishingly, he says, “Peace be with you.”
This greeting carries the sense of the Hebrew greeting “shalom,” a blessing that offers more than tranquility, but a deep sense of wholeness and well-being, a complete forgiveness and a starting over. Forgiveness and fullness of life. Then John gives us what I think must be one of the greatest understatements in scripture, he writes, “Then they were glad when they saw the Lord.”
Of course, there is the absolute delight in seeing Jesus risen but I think the rejoicing happens greatly as well because in saying “peace be with you,” Jesus is saying, “I forgive you. You’re still my friends. We belong together.”
Somebody must go through the walls. Jesus can come in or you can go out, but if you stay in that locked room, you’re finished. You’ll never get out, not alive, not resurrected, that is. That room of unforgiveness is a trap. It’s a cage.
To make it even clearer, Jesus blesses them with “Peace” a second time. Christ raises his disciples with two peaces from the basement of fear to the height of forgiveness. He removes their shame and grants them peace.
Do you feel afraid? Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Do you feel you’ve let God down? Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Our failures toward God and others aren’t the last word. Just as Jesus empathized with the disciples, forgave them and blessed their hearts with warm greetings of peace, so should you acknowledge and feel the same love.
The Lord overflows with mercy. God is full of abundant compassion. God’s kindness flows from everlasting to everlasting. There is infinitely more forgiveness in God than judgment.
But just as the Lord is toward us, we who want to live one with God, must act in accord with the Lord. How good are you at empathy and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes? Try to understand someone else’s situation. Make the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Think with kindness about what someone has done to you. Consider with compassion others’ failings.
Having empathy for someone else is like driving a car and waiting to turn at an intersection. Let me explain.
I’m sure you’ve been second in line at a light, trying to turn right left. You’re waiting behind a car and you can’t quite see the intersection. The car in front of you stands there, not going. No car is coming, and still you wait. You could have turned one time, maybe even a second car could have turned by now. I have begun to think about honking my horn. After all, I’m in a hurry, and there are at least several people out on the road at any one time who aren’t as attentive or focused on driving as they might be. You may be helping them, and yourself, at this point.
Then you see a person walking or someone riding a bike, and now understand why the driver in front of you is delaying. I’m glad I didn’t honk my horn.
You don’t know, you can’t see, what is going on or what has gone on in someone else. They’re stuck and making you stuck. Why? We will never know perhaps, but stuck people sticking it to you (and may I say, the other way around also) is a fact of life.
Empathy comprehends better real life, real world living.
Now you might be thinking, “Well, I can’t let everyone just have their way with me. I need to have standards for behavior. If I say nobody is responsible for what they do, then where would this all take me? Nobody would be responsible then.”
That’s true in a court of law, but not true in the court of God. If you want to live beyond the limits of laws and punishment, and free yourself to receive God’s power and live with real spiritual strength, then think in a different way.
Find a new path for your thoughts. Break through walls of limited reacting to others. You’re going to have to pass through old boundaries to raise up new lives of peace.
When we think this way, we’re forgetting the first rule of forgiveness: unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and thinking it will hurt the other person. Don’t poison yourself. Forgive.
There’s another rule of forgiveness that may be more difficult to grasp and live but is just as important. Unforgiveness is putting ourselves in the center of the universe. Forgiveness is putting us where we belong.
If forgiveness’ first rule is don’t poison yourself with unforgiveness, its second rule is don’t orbit yourself with self-importance.
Look at the example of being second in line and not seeing what was going on in front of the first car. That stuff happens all the time. I don’t’ mean that exact situation at the intersection, but how we see things without empathy for what’s really happening. It’s so easy to make the world revolve around our schedule, our desires, our whims, our perspective, our pain. It’s better if we don’t.
I could have honked. You can honk all you want. We can all honk. But that person has a right to cross that road. It’s her world, too. And we would be wrong to honk. It would hurt our ears, and everyone else’s ears. We would be out of turn.
Now of course the truth is many people don’t care if they honk and they’re wrong. I don’t mean literally honking. I mean too often people don’t realize and/or don’t care that when they’re upset or hurt or can’t forgive it’s because they’re self-orbiting, that is, putting themselves in the center of the universe. They think everyone else will just have to deal with it.
Besides, everyone else is doing the same thing.
But not everyone is doing it. Jesus didn’t. He didn’t honk. He forgave. He didn’t lift himself up over others. He didn’t put himself at the center. He could see beyond his own self. He grew in wisdom and stature.
The truth is the best people you meet don’t honk. The most amazing people in your life, the ones who lift you up, the ones who are encouraging in disappointing times, the ones who understand others in their time of need,
those who can look past the obvious and see more deeply, feel more widely, love more consistently, trust more fully, hope more strongly, the ones who have made such a positive difference in your life, forgive, let go, believe, empathize. The most amazing people don’t honk.
Those who forgive, know peace and share peace. They reduce suffering and spread hope. They disperse dark clouds and show others the sun is still shining. They stand in the breach and lift banners of hope. They don’t cause pain, rather they bring peace.
It’s time to cover yourself with mercy and your life with compassion. Let go of others’ failings. After all, we seek compassion when we fail. Unhitch yourself to unforgiveness. You need the peace you have too long or painfully refused yourself. Be like the Lord: Grant forgiveness.
Reduce suffering. Spread peace. Have faith the Lord will show you a life no longer centered on keeping track of someone else’s transgression, failing, or sin.
May the Lord walk through the walls of what has kept you locked in and grant you peace.
Can the church say Amen?