Love Forgives

Scripture: Mark 11: 1- 11
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
March 20, 2015

We just finished a Lenten sermon series on “The Languages of Love”. Just as we have a primary language we speak – English, German, Spanish, French – so, too, we each have a primary love language we speak.  The goal is to learn your loved ones love language so that you can communicate most effectively. The 5 love languages we covered include:

1).  Words of Affirmation.  Verbal compliments are powerful communicators of love.  They are best expressed in simple, straight-forward statements of affirmation, such as:  “You look nice in that outfit.”  “Thanks for taking the trash out.  I really appreciate all the hard work you do.”  “This meal is soooo good!”  “You are awesome!”

2).  Physical Touch.  Numerous research shows that babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact.  Physical touch is very significant; it is also significant among friends, family members, and life partners /spouses.    For those whose love language is physical touch, those “love touches” are their emotional lifeline.

3).  Quality Time.  This means giving your partner, child, family member, friend your undivided attention.  It is not sitting on the couch watching television.  When you give him/her your undivided attention and communicate that they are more important than anything else that is going on around you.  It is a powerful, powerful expression of love.

4).  Gifts.  Gifts are tangible.  A gift says, “She was thinking about me.  Look what she got for me.”  Gifts need not be expensive.  If Gifts is a person’s primary love language, it is not what you give but how often you give that communicates love.  Maybe give that special person a box of candy in the morning, flowers delivered in the afternoon, a shirt in the evening or make a gift or plant a tree in honor of that person.

5).  Acts of Service.  Scripture encourages us to love not only in word but in deed.  Such actions as cooking a meal, setting a table, washing dishes, vacuuming, walking the dog, mowing the grass, changing the cat’s litter box, especially when done with a positive spirit.  They require thought, planning, time, effort and energy.    If a special person in your life has the primary love language of acts of service ask them to make a list of 10 things he or she would like for you to do during the next month and have them prioritize that list.  Cut out some heart-shaped note cards and write, “Today I will show my love for you by. . .” and fill in the blank – cleaning the bathroom, taking out the trash, etc.  If you have more money than time, then hire someone to do the acts of service.

Some of you have shared with me that you have had some enlightening conversations with your loved ones around this very topic “The Languages of Love”.  For those of you have not yet had the conversation about “love languages” with those closest to you, here is your opportunity to discover something new about your loved ones.  Look around as I ask this question.  Please raise your hand for your language of love.  (Bilingual is o.k.).  If your love language is words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, gifts, acts of service…

Now that we know each other’s language of love, we will live happily ever after.  Right?  While I believe that knowing the love language of family and friends can help us in our communication with one another, there is another very important element to relationship – vitally important – maybe the most important and that is…forgiveness.  If there was ever a week to learn about the power of forgiveness, it is this week – as we follow Jesus to the cross and beyond.

This day has two very different titles and two very different moods.  The first title is Palm Sunday and the mood is that of a festival frenzy with the waving of palms.  In the Song of Songs the scripture that Floyd read on Valentine’s Day), the beloved exclaims, “Your stature is like that of the palm and your breasts like clusters of fruit.  I will climb the palm tree and I will take hold of the fruit.”  The palm is a symbol of fertility, a symbol of new life, a symbol of blessing.  Certainly, the crowd was hailing Jesus as one who brings new life, an oasis, a blessing in the midst of their wilderness.

Palm Sunday reminds me of the joy and intoxication of a new relationship.  In a romantic relationship.  Everything about the person is extraordinary.  You love the way the way they walk, they way they talk, the way they chew their food and you even love the way that the way they interrupt you – you think that it is so great that they are so involved in what you’re saying that they can’t wait for you to stop talking so that they can share.  Interestingly, scientists are saying that the brain chemistry of those who have fallen in love in the past 6 months is similar to the brain chemistry of those who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – in both subjects there is an imbalance of serotonin.  That certainly gives new meaning to the term “madly in love.”  And undoubtedly, we do obsess about this new love in our lives.

On Palm Sunday, the people are wildly excited about Jesus as they wave their palm branches.  They are obsessed with Jesus. They are declaring that this one is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He is the long-awaited Messiah who will overturn the Roman government – or so they think.  Yes, Palm Sunday is a festival frenzy.

But there is a second title for this day, and it is Passion Sunday; it is the solemn side of this day as we begin the journey from delight to betrayal, denial, agony, a cross.  Our preference would probably be to go from one parade to another, from palms to Easter lillies, from Hosannas to Alleluias and skip everything in between.   As preacher Fred Craddock says, “You can’t get to the Promise Land without going through the wilderness.  You can’t get to Easter Sunday without going through the unrelenting shadows of Good Friday.”

After the frenzy and newness and intoxication of our relationships begins to wear off and solemnity sets in, we may face bumps in the road and challenges on the journey.  The very thing that attracted us to one another become the very thing that drives us a little looney.  Things are not nearly as exciting anymore.  Disagreements turn into cold wars.  Mishaps may take place.  We may say hurtful words; we may participate in harmful behaviors; we may cause injury to our relationships.  It is then when forgiveness plays a critically vital role.

This week, we remember that Jesus faced hurtful words, destructive actions, and grave injury.  Jesus shared a meal of excessive grace, of wasteful love, of broken body, of poured wine – even with one who would betray him, even with one who would deny him, even with the others who would abandon him.  There was a last tortured prayer in Gethsemane, (“Abba, Father…remove this cup from me…”), but the cup was still there when the prayer was over (Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way, pg 84).  Jesus was arrested.  He was alone.  He was doomed.  By noon the next day, he was panting on the cross.  We have moved from palms to passion.

Bishop John Shelby Spong puts it this way, “He was betrayed but he chose to love the betrayer.  He was forsaken but he loved those who forsook him.  He was falsely accused but he was silent in the face of his accusers.  There was nothing defensive about him.  Even when he was mocked and tormented, he loved his mockers and tormenters.  He was scourged and he loved his scourgers.  He was denied and he loved his denier.  He was crucified and he loved his killers” ( Jesus for the Non-Religious, pg. 288).  Hostility and rejection, abuse and even death on the cross did not diminish who Jesus was.

Dying people become more who they are than they have ever been.  The core of a human being is laid bare.  And at the very core of Jesus Christ is extreme love; at his very core is unconditional grace and unrelenting forgiveness.  The cross, the powerful symbol of our faith, ends up representing the very thing that Jesus had to give:  life and life abundant.

Notice the words that Jesus says while hanging on that cross.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  The crowd heaped scorn upon him and he responded with compassion.  “Father, forgive them…”  The important word was “forgive.”  It meant that the violence stopped with him.  It meant that he did not want anyone punished for his death, especially people who had no clue what they were doing.  While they pronounced him guilty, he maintained their innocence.

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Forgiveness, here, is not simply letting bygones be bygones.  Forgiveness is a full, clean restoration of a relationship. As one theologian says, “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us; however, I refuse to allow that act to stand between us.”  In the face of excruciating injustice, cruelty and inhumanity, Jesus forgives.

And interestingly, it is in Jerusalem where Jesus forgives on the cross.  Jerusalem, the city whose name means peace.  “Salem” is a form of shalom.  Almost everyone knows the Hebrew word for peace is “shalom,” but what many people don’t know is that shalom means more than peace.  It means wholeness.  It involves vulnerability; it involves facing the conflict before us head-on that we may ultimately come to a place of reconciliation.  It is not passive, it is active.  Shalom means traveling through the unrelenting shadows of Good Friday that we may discover the empty tomb of Easter.  It is no accident that the Prince of Peace is crucified in the city whose name means peace, shalom.

Yes, this is the Jesus whom we are called to follow as we navigate the palms and passions of our relationships – a Jesus of unrelenting forgiveness and unconditional grace .  As we stand at the beginning of the holiest of weeks, I believe that Jesus encourages us, urges us to grow in the love language of forgiveness.  May we seek healing, wholeness, and reconciliation.  May we offer the gift of full restoration.  May we leave open the possibility for transformation. And in doing so, may we discover on Easter morning that love wins, after all!