Forgiveness, Can You Imagine?

One of my current favorite musicals is Hamilton, you may have heard of it. The musical follows the life both personal and professional of Alexander Hamilton, one of our founding Fathers. Alexander was not always faithful in his life, cheating his on his wife, and later would also know that his oldest son was going to be in a dual with someone who spoke out against Alexander. After the death of his son Alexander attempted to make things better with his wife. As the musical continues, there is a song called, “It’s Quiet Uptown”. Here are a few lyrics from the song, and don’t worry I will spare you and not sing them, “ There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is grace too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable. They are standing in the garden. Standing there side by side. She takes his hand. It’s quiet uptown. Forgiveness, can you image? Forgiveness can you imagine?”
As I read this morning’s gospel reading I couldn’t help but think about these earie words from Lin Manuel Miranda. Over the past two weeks, I had a lot of time to think and to ponder. It was good for me. Often my world gets so busy that I don’t really stop to just sit and be. But these past two weeks gave me that opportunity. And one of those days, when I found that I had done something pretty terrible, something I am not really proud of, and my anxiety over what would happen and what could happen, over whose life I had messed up. After everything was settled and better, I found myself in driving in the car hoping for some sort of peace. The situation was resolved, but I was in no way moving on. I felt stuck. As if I could not break free from the what ifs, the how could I, the fear of what others would think, and how could I. I called a friend, another Pastor who knew what was going on and asked her for something simple, but something that I could never give to myself. Forgiveness. Weekly, as we gather for worship, we begin with a time of confession and forgiveness. A time of coming before God and admitting to God and to ourselves and one another that we are not perfect. We mess up, each and every week. Not because we always want to, but because we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. And so as we confess, as we admit to those things that we have done and those that we have left undone, we come before God asking for forgiveness. And by God’s grace we receive that forgiveness, wholly and fully. So as I was driving, I called my friend and asked her to do the service of individual confession and forgiveness with me.
It was an instant peace, but slowly and surely throughout the day, more and more peace came upon me. It was cathartic. It was what I needed. I needed to confess the ways personally that I have messed up, the ways in which I have failed and am in bondage. And I needed to hear, from someone else’s words, from someone else’s voice, from their presence that I was a forgiven, beloved child of God. I needed to know that what happened, that all of the ways I have messed up and missed the mark, that I was not trapped to those sins. I did not have to live in captivity to sin, death, and the devil.
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus give Peter the keys to the kingdom. There are some things we should probably realize about these keys that Peter was given. The first is that Jewish leaders at the time were often seen with keys that they carried around their waist. They were a sign of their education and proficiency. We see these keys, not as literal church keys, but rather they are the keys to the kingdom of God. Meaning, in our baptism we are all given these keys. Keys that free us and others from the bondage of sin. They are keys that open us to the heart of a forgiving God. And notice what Jesus says about these keys, “The gates of Hades will not prevail.” We know how the Gospel will continue. We know what happens to Jesus. We know that he will walk on his way to Jerusalem to be handed over to death, to die, and to rise again so that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
So that death, the devil, and the sin that we find ourselves in bondage will not have control over us. They will not keep us from being beloved children of God. When we are baptized, when we are marked with the cross of Christ on our forehead, this is not something we can wash away or something else that will ever change. Rather, because of God’s grace and mercy, we are always Gods.
One of my colleagues puts the keys that Peter is given like this, “ the greatest power that we are given, the key to open God’s kingdom to others, is our power to forgive one another as we have been forgiven. In absolving one another, we knock down the walls of sin and shame and of all the daily deaths of self-imprison and bind us by trying to separate us from the love of God and of each other. Sin and shame, the gates of Hades, cannot prevail against forgiveness.” (Anna Anderson)
Forgiveness, can you image? It can be extremely difficult, I get it. And I know that some of you still have your rock that I gave to you almost 5 years ago, that were symbols of what we hold onto when we cannot forgive the other. But, this forgiveness can also be freeing. Not just for us but also for the one who we grant it to. Forgiveness does not take a master’s degree or special hands, but rather we all can do it for one another. We can all remind and share the forgiveness that God has given us with all of those around us. This in fact is who we are called to be. People who grant and receive forgiveness with one another. A true forgiveness that does not keep track of those things that happened, but a forgiveness that truly means, “When I say you are forgiven you are, I won’t hold on to it anymore, I won’t think about, I will forget it.” A forgiveness that frees the other and us to be who we are as children of God.
And think of how freeing and welcoming that message can be to those who are broken and hurting? To those who are unsure that they will ever be anything but their mistakes and their faults. Think of how freeing it is for you, to hear the words that you are forgiven. You are loved. You are welcomed. You are a Child of God. Think about the peace you find in yourself, when you come to the table to hear the words “This is the body of Christ for you and this is the blood of Christ for you.”
This week, we are invited to take these keys of freedom, forgiveness, grace, and mercy, and share them with our world. Next week we will hear what that will actually look like for us as the forgiven, loved, Body of Christ. Amen.

Pastor Katie has served St. Paul Hametown since July 2012. She is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg with a Masters of Divinity and a concentration in Theology and Public Life. She is married with three children.

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