Most of my sermons these days rely on what I might have researched and written before about the readings for the week. For this week’s readings, I had written sermons both back in 2009 and 2018. It was interesting finding such different views and resulting sermons I came up with for each of those times. I have some material from each sermon in this one today, of course updated to look at what we are doing in the world and our lives right now.
Back in March 2009 I had the experience of going up to Redmond for about 2 ½ days to visit my son Jim III, daughter-in-law at the time Addie, and my youngest grandson Oliver—who was about 1 ½ year old at the time. Some of you at St. Mark’s have seen him before when he comes to visit us. I found out once there that I would also get to stay with Oliver for most of the day time hours both days, as Jim III and Addie were both working. This provided me a unique opportunity to be with Oliver—to play, teach, “discipline”, and care for him.
Some of the ways this played out were:
--He would laugh and respond well to many of my efforts to play with him
--He would sit on my lap to read books and watch children’s shows (and also golf—he seemed to be enamored with the golf ball moving thru the air)
--He would lay on me to fall asleep before allowing me to take him to his crib for his naps
--He would run around the house when I left the gates down and get into almost everything
--He would cry when he made messes in his pants and want me to clean him up
--He would complain about the food I gave him but would then eat it, and then change his mind and want something else and throw it on the floor
--He would hug me and call me grandpa and smile a lot (until Jim and Addie got home and then he wanted to see them)
What does this have to do with the readings for today? I’m not sure it ties in directly with it, but here is what I think.
I looked at this experience with Oliver as an example of how we are as God’s people in relationship with Him. As God’s people:
--We laugh and enjoy things that God has given us
--We sit in God’s presence and are quiet and watch His world go by
--We may pray to God before we go to sleep or whenever we remember to --We run around crazily in the world around us hoping to find new things for our pleasure
--We cry out to God when things get messed up and want God to fix everything
--We complain about some things when they don’t go well and sometimes we blow up, and
--We come back to God and praise Him and offer our prayers and thanksgivings (until the world gets in our sights again and we forget about our God)
What does God do in response to all of this? God is always there for us. And God sent his only Son Jesus Christ to be the sacrifice for us, to give us the eternal life we hope.
In a normal year, this weekend Bonnie and I would be attending the annual Camp Victory for Children leadership training gathering, in preparation for the Boys and Girls Camps coming up later this Spring. In 2020, the Covid pandemic started to hit in WA state by early March, the lockdown actions began, and all bets were off for getting the proper annual training and eventually we had to cancel the 2 camps, that would have been so important for about 70 kids.
For a refresher, or for those who do not know, Camp Victory for Children is a local area camp put on by an incredible group of caring volunteers, for kids who have been sexually abused. It is a time for these kids to have a totally fun weekend, where they can try to forget their issues around this abuse, and just have a good time, while being encouraged and empowered that they are strong and powerful and have a say about their own futures.
Two years ago, at our last training, we have the largest group of people being trained ever—over 100 people were there, including about 20 first time volunteers. This organization is run totally by women, and has been in existence for over 30 years now.
It was started to help girls in the Grays Harbor and Pacific County areas, and last year was supposed to be the 30th year of camp for girls--over 50 came in 2019. The boys’ camp would have been its 8th camp last year—17 came in 2019. Many kids come back year after year, and for the girls some now volunteer as adults who were once campers for years. (Note: I am honored to be one of the few men who has been chosen to be at Girls’ Camp, in a limited way, the past 12 years, and I have worked at all but one of the Boys’ Camps.)
During our training time each year we talk about the core values of Camp Victory, with those volunteers themselves saying what they believe the values are. Things like … compassion, empathy, awareness, worth, integrity, respect, kindness, strength, justice, safety, happiness, trust, vulnerability, openness, acceptance, and hope … are offered up as so important to remember as we worked with all the kids in camp, and with each other. It is a wonderful organization that runs strictly by private grants and donations, something that St. Mark’s has supported for the past few years with part of its outreach $$.
Our readings this week are all about forgiveness, as I have read from knowledgeable sources who study scripture and our lectionary readings. Paraphrasing our former Diocesan Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley in his assessment of our readings, he said this:
“Jeremiah records God's forgiveness of His wayward people--God does the hard part for them and us, even giving us all new hearts of flesh that seek God with the very actions of our lives. The Psalm focuses on our need for God in doing what is lovely and true and gracious and, ...Godly.
Accepting forgiveness can only be found in humility. One has to acknowledge one's own sins and shortcomings to receive the forgiveness that is offered by God or any other person. The text from Hebrews illustrates Jesus' humility to us, and he sets for us a model of how we are called "to lose our lives" in humility and forgiveness.
Jesus understood the power of forgiveness, both our being forgiven of our transgressions and of our forgiveness of others. Holding forgiveness locked inside of ourselves causes our hearts to become like stone, hardened by the burden of vengeance that steals away our life. This is the holding tight to our lives that can cause damage to our souls as we protect against the messiness of relationships that can nourish our spirit with love and grace.” [This ends Canon Lance’s words, and it gets to what is for me the hardest thing to deal with…and it does hurt, a lot. The forgiveness of others, especially one of my brothers, is really hard. I know I need to fix this, and I need to do more to do this—soon.]
Our Bible studies in the past have had lots of discussion around forgiving and related topics, and what our ability to forgive is, in terms of how bad we feel we might have been wronged personally by others, and whether that other person knows they have wronged us or should even be or want to be forgiven. It is a complicated issue in general society in normal times, but even more so in this time of partisan everything and lots of hatred. The past year of Covid lockdown certainly has not helped this all to change for most people either--for us and our own personal issues with forgiving someone else.
For me, I have talked many times about my struggles to forgive my dad (11 years ago deceased), and my youngest brother (15 years younger than me), for how they treated others in our family. I know my failure to do so does cause me to have a more struggling heart than I could have if I could just forgive them and moved on. Part of this is me being so sure I am right and they wronged me and others, and they should realize it and say they are sorry before I can forgive them. But I also know that won’t happen.
So, do I keep carrying the burden around, or do I do what God did for his people over and over—forgive them and tell them he will move ahead with them as they go forward in their lives, always struggling with their doing what is right by God and having hearts for God and the work of Jesus.
There is a word that I failed to mention that is brought up at the Camp Victory trainings as a core value, but seems to be a part of all the other core values. It is also the basis for everything God does with his people. That word is LOVE! Our Camp Victory work has no meaning unless we do it with a clear sense of love for the kids we serve and for each other volunteer who is a part of these weekends.
Camp Victory is not particularly and is definitely NOT officially a religious organization, but it knows what Love is and why that is a major driver for its work. God does not do what he does over and over again without loving what he has created, his people. He has given them free will to follow him or to screw up and follow other ways, and he always is there to forgive them—because of his Love for them.
As we get closer to Palm Sunday and Easter Week, we will experience the realization of God’s ultimate Love for us. And we can show our own love by forgiving others and to accept that forgiveness given when we mess up, and allow ourselves to be whole as we do the work of Jesus in this world around us.