Forgiveness is always a challenging topic to talk about or preach about. At one level forgiveness is a challenging topic because when we talk about forgiveness we are talking about our very personal and sometimes painful experiences.
Beyond the personal nature of the topic, forgiveness is also challenging subject because in our culture there is disagreement about forgiveness. There is disagreement about what should be involved in the process of forgiveness – there is disagreement about the goal or purpose of forgiveness – there is disagreement about when we should forgive. The idea of forgiveness is a contested idea.
Beyond the personal nature of the subject, and beyond the fact that there is disagreement about what forgiveness should look like – beyond all of that there is also the fact that forgiveness always draws us into a particular story – and our stories are always complicated. Our stories always involve unique personalities and a unique set of actions and unique set of words spoken, and a unique context of relationships. Our stories can always be looked at from different perspectives. And this richness and complexity means there is no simple way to describe forgiveness. In one situation forgiveness might unfold in this way. In another situation, forgiveness might unfold in that way.
So the only thing we can do in exploring forgiveness is to try and describe one little piece of the puzzle at a time. That’s what we are doing for just a few weeks these Sunday mornings. We’re kind of circling around the subject of forgiveness, looking at it from a different perspective each time. Continue reading
Today we continue taking a look at the Psalms of Ascent – those fifteen Psalms that follow immediately after Psalm 119. Last week we took up Psalm 121 and this week we turn to Psalm 126. Doing so, I’d like to begin a little differently this morning. I’d like to begin by sharing, somewhat a length, a modern version of the story of the Prodigal Son – a modern version as told by the American journalist and author Phillip Yancey. I trust it will become evident why we begin in this way. Here is Yancey’s version of the story of the prodigal. [The original version is on the Christianity Today website, here and there is more on Yancey here].
A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.
She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, drugs, and violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.
In January I will be teaching a course in the McGill Faculty of Religious Studies. It is entitled Contemporary Theological Issues, which is to say that the actual content of the course was actually somewhat open-ended. After considering several possible topics, I landed on the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation.
In the process of considering and exploring this theological question I came across this sculpture by Margaret Adams Parker – commissioned by Duke Divinity School and situated on their campus. It is a remarkable portrayal of the return of the prodigal son – and of the elder brother’s hesitance (refusal?) to welcome his brother home.