By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH
AND THE MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART
BE ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT,
O LORD, MY ROCK AND MY REDEEMER. AMEN.
Many of you have enjoyed the series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. They are set in Botswana, Africa, and are the story of Mma Precious Ramotswe, a lady detective. As one reviewer said, “They are an oasis, full of wit, nuance and caring.” In the fourth book of the series, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, Mr Molefelo came to Mma Ramotswe with his story of being attacked by ostrich rustlers who had come to his farm from across the Namibia border. He was sleeping and heard noises in the ostrich paddocks, thinking it a lion or a hyena. It was men. Mr Molefelo said:
“I had almost reached the paddock when I was suddenly knocked to the ground. My face was in the dirt. I remember breathing the dust and coughing and then I was kicked in the side, painfully, and a man pulled my head up and looked at me. He had a rifle in his hand and he put the barrel at my head. I did not understand him. I thought I was going to die, and so I thought of my sons. I wondered what would happen to them when they no longer had a father. I had been too busy/ to do much with them/ and now it was too late.”
Mr Molefelo did not die. The men were discussing whether they should kill him when some of his workers heard the commotion and came out. The rustlers drove off. He tried to forget this incident but he recalled, “I kept thinking about what this meant for my life…it made me think about everything I had done. It made me weigh up my life. And it made me want to tie things up, so that the next time I faced death, I could think, I have set my life in order.”
Today is the first Sunday in Advent and the texts are warnings of the end times:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord …
There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars,
and on the earth distress among nations…
People will faint from fear and foreboding
of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
The texts speak of God’s deliverance, the fulfillment of the promises God made with Israel and with us. The tribulations that will come are signs of God’s deliverance but they are also portents of the end. The texts are written to encourage believers in their faith—God’s Word is eternal; God’s promises are sure. We do not need to be afraid. People often fear what is unknown and unexpected and we are given these words so that we might not taken by surprise. As Jesus tells us, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The Day of Judgment will come. The wicked will be punished and the redeemed will be saved.
The theme of these Advent texts is that we should be ready for our life’s end. None of us will live forever and we may not have much warning. As Jesus reminds us, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth, be alert at all times.”
Mr Molefelo had his warning on his ostrich ranch. He came to Mma Ramotswe to set his life in order. As a student he had stolen a radio from the family he lived with and sold it on the black market. When the police came he lied and said someone had broken into the house. He lied to the family because he didn’t want to tell them that he had stolen the radio to get money to give to his girlfriend to get rid of his unborn child. He abandoned this girl. Later Mr Molefelo did well in school and business, had a lovely family and forgot upon the sins of his youth. But then he was attacked. He remembered what he had done and the people he had hurt and knew that his soul would be burdened if he did not make amends. He sought out the mother of the family he had lived with and asked forgiveness and offered to pay the bills for a grandchild who had AIDS; he met the girlfriend he had abandoned, now married with a family and offered to sponsor her daughter who needed money for nursing school. He asked forgiveness of the woman. Mr Molefelo put his life and soul in order.
Most of you are familiar with the twelve-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups patterned after it. The twelve step programs all begin with an affirmation that a person is powerless and a belief that a higher power could restore the person. A decision is needed to turn one’s life over to God. Then a moral inventory is made. A time is set aside to admit to God and another human being the exact nature of wrongs done with a willingness to let God remove those defects and shortcomings. This is consistent with the message of the Scriptures to return to the Lord, to confess one’s sins to God and receive the forgiveness which God promises to those who believe.
But the twelve steps do not stop with confession to God and our Christianity should not either. Jesus tells us, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is pretty scary stuff—we are called to ask forgiveness of those we have wronged and to forgive those who wrong us; as Jesus said, even seventy times seven we are called to forgive. Step eight reads: Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all. Step nine: Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Step ten: Continue to take a personal inventory and when wrong promptly to admit it.
Millions have been freed from addiction by twelve step programs such as A.A. or N.A. We can all be freed from the burdens of our past by forgiveness—the forgiveness we receive from God and the forgiveness we give and receive from each other. Leonard Felder explains in A Fresh Start :
“If you have someone from your past with whom you have never been able to resolve your differences or express your feelings of love or anger, now is a good time to start. There is nothing more cleansing,” he writes, “than working through your feelings towards someone whose impact on your life is still being felt. You don’t need to carry your conflicts with this person forever. Healing the hurt inside can free you.”
As one man said in Bible study this week, “When I can’t forgive someone, I turn it over to the Lord and ask Him to take care of it.” We can let God take care of retribution; better we should ask for the power to forgive and the strength to move on in our own lives without the poison of bitterness or the weight of a grudge. The authors of the book To Forgive is Human —Michael McCullough, Steven Sandage and Everett Worthington—suggest,
“Hate and not forgiving are like addiction.
They make us feel better immediately,
but in the long run they destroy.
They have as much control over us as prison bars.”
The heart of the Christian message is the proclamation of forgiveness of sins. Huston Smith, the scholar of world religions, considered the unique, distinctive characteristics of the various faiths. When he got to Christianity, Smith simply said, “Forgiveness, forgiveness of enemies. This is the very strange notion that makes the teaching of Jesus distinctive.”
We are forgiven through the death of Christ. We receive that redemption through faith and then we live out our calling through forgiving and being forgiven. St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan who lived in the fourth century said, “I will not glory because I am righteous, but I will glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am free from sin, but because my sins are forgiven.” We forgive the trespasses of others and we are promised that God will forgive us.
One woman whose husband recently died told me that he had had everything organized and planned—except he hadn’t cleaned out his drawers. I don’t know that I will ever get my house in order enough to clean out my drawers, discard books that I haven’t read in years or donate to charity clothes that no longer fit. This man had planned his funeral service years ago; I haven’t given any thought to mine. But we get our house in order by making amends with those whom we have wronged and forgiving those who wrong us. We are ready for our life’s end, whenever it comes, by confessing our sins to God and receiving forgiveness through Christ. We are alert to the signs that the end is coming. We are not worried or burdened—for the end of our story is our salvation. “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because you redemption is drawing near.” Amen.
Copyright 2006, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.