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Easter - Forgiveness & Resurrection
Sermon Date:Sun, 04/08/2012
Easter, A Time For Change
Easter Sunday is the most important Christian holiday. It's a celebration of the day Jesus rose from the dead. Despite the suffering Christ experienced, it is a profoundly hopeful holiday, symbolizing forgiveness, rebirth, and God's saving power. Upon his rising from the dead, he did not seek revenge, as one might have expected of the old testament God. Instead Christ preached love and forgiveness.
Regardless of whether or not you accept the Easter story as truth, the lessons it teaches - to Christians and non-Christians, to us all - are universal and timeless. I see the central lesson as this... That rebirth, whether physical or spiritual, is possible, and that love and forgiveness are the keys to this rebirth. Forgiveness can grant a new lease on life, a resurrection, for both forgiver and forgiven.
Megan McKenna, in her book "Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible", recounts the following incident:
"I was leading a Bible study and had been saying that some of the most powerful acts of resurrection happen to the least likely people; that we are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering.
Then came a challenge from the back of the church: 'Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?'
My response was 'Yes.' I went on to say, 'Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice -- I bring people back from the dead.' "
At the web site SpritualityAndPractice.com I found this interesting list of ways in which we can practice resurrection in our daily lives:
• Whenever you compassionately open your heart, mind, and soul to the pain of the world, you help bring suffering beings back into the land of the living.
• When you build connections, the walls of separation come down and new life can spring up
• Enthusiasm and joy are the marks of a life-giver. When you can laugh and sing and relish life, you are practicing resurrection. When you add even a small portion of joy to the lives of those around you, you bring resurrection into your community.
• Every time you forgive someone, another resurrection is in the making.
• Become aware of beauty and spiritual radiance in people, places, and things, and you'll see birth and growth everywhere.
• Leave the past to God's mercy. Leave the future to God's discretion. Living in the present moment allows your sacred self to be reborn. • When you bring hope to the despairing, and healing to those in conflict, you contribute to the ongoing resurrection.
• Your work for justice, freedom, and equality sets the stage for resurrection.
• Your acts of kindness tenderize the world, add to the fund of good will, and set the table for resurrection.
• Every time you bring to life another's sense of wonder and affirm that you are all standing on holy ground, you practice resurrection.
• When you practice reverence for life, you can't help but notice all the little resurrections going on all around you, the continual process of creation on Earth.
• Welcome changes - big and small - in your experience and signal your receptivity to transformation and resurrection.
I've heard it said that "People don't really change".
There was a time in my life when I would have agreed with that. But I no longer think it's true. I disagree with it now because I look at myself and I see a different person from who I was as a young man. I think the biggest change is that somehow I've become someone who genuinely likes people. I also enjoy life more now than I did then. These are fundamental changes.
Just this last week I was considering the reasons for this change. For some time now I thought that I knew what they were, that there were fundamentally two reasons.
First, I believed the ordeal of losing my first wife after caring for her through a long illness had made me understand the difference between big things and little things-made me realize that most of the things that worry us are little things. This realization allowed me to be more relaxed and enjoy life more.
Second, I believed that the experience of caring for someone I loved, and ultimately watching her die, had brought me a sense of fellowship with the rest of humanity. Sooner or later we all experience enormous loss and suffering. Understanding that these experiences are universal allowed me to cut my fellow members of the human race some slack, to be less judgemental... which in turn allowed me to appreciate and like them more.
I still believe these two things were very important contributors to my change. But I believe there's something else, something perhaps even more important.
During Patty's illness, and for some time after her passing, I would occasionally receive praise from various people for taking good care of my wife and children during those hard times. At first my silent response was to dismiss the praise with the thought that they didn't know all the times that I wasn't the ideal father, husband, caregiver--the times when I felt sorry for myself, was angry, impatient, or ... well, a jerk!
But somehowI began to understand that the concept of "doing your best" is meaningless unless you look at it within the context of who, what, and where you are. The question isn't "Was I the best?", it's "Did I do my best, given my situation, including the limitations of my personality, emotions, experience, age, etc...?"
And slowly, little by little, I began to answer...
"Yes". I did do the best I could, as lousy as it sometimes was. I began to accept and forgive myself. I started believing that I really was a good and worthwhile human being.
And once I started to forgive myself, I started seeing the same thing in everyone else.
>>> My God! They're ALL just doing the best they can! <<<
I hope you have some appreciation for how liberating this concept is. No more hate, no more carrying grudges, no more contempt, no more need for revenge. It's such a powerful concept that... starting to believe it is like... well, starting to be reborn.
I believe that God, an infinitely beautiful and loving being, is a part of each of us. Is this what Easter is all about, forgiveness and rebirth? Are we being called to forgive ourselves and others so that by doing so we can allow the sacred within us to be reborn?
I know this is an Easter service, but allow me to bring up a line from the Christmas Carol "O Holy Night":
"Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til he appeared and the soul felt its worth".
This line speaks to me because "He", Christ, is the epitomy of love and forgiveness, and it's only when I allowed in love and forgiveness that I truly started to feel my soul's worth. Another way of stating it might be ... "till forgiveness appeared and the soul felt its worth".
In her book "The Gift of Change", Marianne Williamson writes...
"Crossing the bridge to a better world begins with crossing a bridge inside our minds, from the addictive mental patterns of fear and separation, to enlightened perceptions of unity and love. We're in the habit of thinking fearfully, and it takes spiritual discipline to turn that around in a world where love is more suspect than fear.
To achieve a miraculous experience of life, we must embrace a more spiritual perspective. Otherwise we will die one day without ever having known the real joy of living. That joy emerges from the experience of our true being-when we detach from other people's projections onto us, when we allow ourselves permission to dream our greatest dreams, when we're willing to forgive ourselves and others, when we're willing to remember that we were born with one purpose: To love and be loved."
As we go through life we begin to believe that what we are is related to what we have, where we live, how much money we make, what we look like, how much power we have, how much respect we get... and so on.
But these are false gods. They don't produce happiness. On the contrary, they create fear. What we don't have, we fear we'll never get... what we do have, we live in fear of losing. Poet William Blake wrote...
"In every cry of every man
In every infant's cry of fear
In every voice, in every ban
The mind-forged manacles I hear."
These manacles of fear are "mind-forged", meaning self-imposed.
To understand who you really are, to see the God-like beauty inside you... is to be free of fear.
Now, before you start thinking that I've reached a state of Nirvana, let me assure you that I have not. I feel like I've only just started on my journey. Like every one on this Earth I have so much more growing to do. Who among us is the right-minded, love-centered, all-forgiving person we would like to be twenty-four hours a day?
One of the best ways to grow is to be positive in actions, thoughts and words. I think our subconscious mind controls us to a greater extent than most people believe. The good thing is that we can use that to our advantage. Practice kindness, and you start to become kind. Practice forgiveness and you start to become forgiving. Practice gentleness and you start to become gentle. Over time, our actions influence our self-perception.
The same is true of our words. Marianne Williamson writes
"One of the gifts we can give our children is to teach them the metaphysical power of words. "I hate school", "Everybody hates me", and "I'm not good-looking enough" are powerful statements that seem innocuous but are not. It behooves us as parents to teach our children that what we proclaim to be true will then seem to be true.
I have tried to develop the habit of gratitude and praise, as I realize how fortunate I am and affirm it with my thoughts. 'Wow, what a beautiful day this is'-just a simple reminder of the beauty of life will literally make your life more beautiful."
Another aspect of growth is to learn from our experiences. I think that forgiving yourself and others allows you to do so much more realistically and effectively. This is especially true of our mistakes. Thomas Moore, in "The Re-Enchantment of everyday life" writes...
"Every mistake we ever made occurred because, in the moment we made it, we were not in conscious contact with our highest self... How many times have we made a mistake that affected the rest of our life simply because at the moment we made it we were moving too fast, at the effect of our stress or anger or fear? Would we have made that mistake had we remembered in that moment who we really are in a spiritual sense and who others are in relation to us? At the mercy of negative, shallow thoughts, we are bound to misperceive ourselves and others."
I'd like to close with a final quote from Marianne Williamson that nicely summarizes today's message:
"Forgiveness can be very hard when someone has acted horribly. But the truth, whether or not we care to admit it, is that someone did what we too might have done if we had been as freaked out by something as they were; if we had been as scared of something as they were; if we had been as limited in our understanding as they were. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be held accountable or that we shouldn't have boundaries and standards. It doesn't even mean we have to stay in contact with that person. But it does mean we can come to understand that humanity is not perfect.
Just knowing that-that we all do the best we know how with the skills we have at the time-is a realization that opens the heart to more enlightened understanding. And that's what we're on the Earth for, because in the presence of people with enlightened understanding, darkness ultimately turns into light."