Monday, July 19, 2010

Forgiveness is a process, not a product

In the sermon on Sunday I said that a disproportionate number of sermons have been about how we gain access to God's forgiveness. Not enough sermons have been about how we forgive ourselves and others. I think that this is unfortunate, and distracting from what I would see as essential to the spirituality that Jesus taught.

We live in a culture in which self-interest and consumerism are powerful influences. It is not surprising then that "forgiveness" has been packaged as a purchasable product. Preachers have pandered this product as something that Jesus has paid for with his "precious blood", and we can get our portion of the product if we accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

This approach to marketing has at times been effective in winning converts to a version of the Christian faith based on fear of damnation, which exploits our self-interest. If we can be convinced that we will go to "hell" if we are not "saved", then we can be further convinced to buy into the solution, which is to accept the brand of Jesus that is being sold by a particular preacher or church franchise.

If I sound cynical in this characterization of "evangelism" as high pressure sales, it is because I think that it is abusive of people, and gives Jesus a bad name.

During these summer weeks I have been using the Lord's Prayer as the basis for a series of teaching sermons. It has struck me that me that Jesus taught this prayer as a model for how people can approach God. I see no indication in the Gospels that Jesus believed any so-called "saving act" or "blood sacrifice" was necessary.

Jesus invited his followers to pray to God as a loving parent- the word used for father in the original Aramaic tongue is "Abba", which is something like calling God "Daddy".

Jesus instructed us to pray "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I notice that Jesus did not tell us to pray "forgive us our trespasses, because the price for our sins has been paid by the death of Jesus on the cross".

Jesus did not teach that. Jesus gave his friends the example of this prayer, including the line about asking God to forgive us, while he was still alive.

This suggests to me that Jesus' death was not necessary to gain our forgiveness, and that in his lifetime, Jesus taught people that the basis for God's forgiveness was not in a price being paid, but in the love of "Abba".

I also notice that the forgiveness talked about in the prayer is not just God forgiving us. It is not just a product we seek for ourselves. Forgiveness is also a process, something we are called to do. We are to forgive,even as we are forgiven.

The emphasis in our culture on "getting" often means that not enough attention goes to the giving, and forgiving, that we are called to as people of faith.