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2009/01/25: The Third Sunday After the Epiphany - Andrew Schneider: “For the present form of this world is passing away.”

posted May 21, 2010, 6:13 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:18 PM by Terry Brady ]
"For the present form of this world is passing away”

When we hear those words in Corinthians it’s understandable and right to let our gaze look back at the events of this past week and say indeed the present form of this world is passing away.

For those of us who braved the cold or followed the events on television, for the strangers and citizens who joined together to mark this passing and the celebration that rippled out across this city throughout the country and indeed the world how can it be denied that present form of this world is passing away?

While the events of the past week weigh heavily on our minds we gather today to celebrate the Rite 13 of four special young adults. Rite 13 is a ceremony that helps mark their journey from childhood to adulthood. Each Sunday we gather to tackle and discuss and share questions facing them in their journey. For you four as well, it is safe to say the present form of this world is passing away.


So, what does it mean to say that the present form of this world is passing away? Biblical scholars debate exactly what Paul was alluding to. Perhaps he was warning against the troubles that could come from being followers of Jesus, or maybe he was reacting to a specific crisis or event that was causing social upheaval or crisis. What we do know, is that Paul was presenting a sense of urgency, because “the appointed time has grown short.”

For Charity, Daniel, Allyson and Reid, your time as children has grown short. But, in reality, for all of us, today’s readings seem to be saying the same thing, work quickly, intensely, and for the things that you cherish most.

In the gospel, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, all abandon their fishing nets, with haste, to follow Jesus. Imagine poor Zebedee standing there with fishing nets in his hand watching his sons walking away with a long haired stranger. Something to keep in mind in the years ahead, for both our Rite 13ers and your parents.

And I believe Jonah felt the same sense of urgency after reconsidering God’s request to go to Nineveh. Jonah traveled to Nineveh to proclaim God’s message. And, it appears that the people of Nineveh also felt had the same sense of urgency. Despite being a city that took 3 days to walk across, within just one day’s walk “ the people of Nineveh believed God”.

In this brief passage, the obscure, post-whale, episode of Jonah’s life, we view God’s willingness and ability to forgive. God forgives Jonah for not going to Nineveh the first time - something else that parents and kids should keep in mind - sometimes asking or being asked once should be enough - and God forgives the people of Nineveh when they turn away from their evil ways.

Two years ago when I preached here at St, Margaret’s I focused on God’s greatest gift….his unwavering and unending love for us, for you. For me it is a personal and intimate love, not constrained or defined by denomination or dogma. But the more that I have thought about it, I no longer believe that God’s unending love is the hardest thing to believe or accept. Rather, it is God’s ability to forgive and even harder still is our ability to forgive one another.

Forgiveness. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive Me. I forgive you.

Recently, I read a book on Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals….throughout the book what struck me, and which has apparently struck anyone who knew Lincoln or researched him, was that he was “unselfishly magnanimous”. In other words, he forgave very easily friends and foe alike and treated everyone he encountered with dignity and respect.

I thought of these words recently, when I read that Rick Warren was selected to give the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration. Probably, like many members of St. Margaret’s I was skeptical that Dr. Warren could give a benediction that would fully embrace all Americans and people regardless of who they were as individuals.

Yet, I was also disappointed how vitriolic the response was from so many who have been aggrieved by Dr. Warren and other conservative religious leaders who I believe attempt to narrow the scope of God’s love. Is not the power of forgiveness the power to forgive those who have hurt us? Who have demeaned us, cheapened us, belittled us, caused us physical pain, mental anguish. The forgiveness must come from the aggrieved not the one who aggrieves.

I also thought of that description of Lincoln and his ability to forgive when I read that John Podesta described President Obama as someone who operates in a “grudge free zone.”

For those of us who are in relationships, for those of us with children, or those of us with parents, or those of us with colleagues, and friends, and especially for those of us with in-laws, I do not have the secret to what makes it easier to forgive. I know that it’s easier to apologize than it is to forgive. I also know that just trying to forgive more and holding onto fewer grudges does help.

If you say I will forgive more, you will forgive more. If you say you will love more and begrudge less, it will happen. It must, or else we risk having what we say here in this beautiful sanctuary become hollow statements. As President Obama says in his book The Audacity of Hope, where we put our time, talent, and money, is a true test of our values, regardless of what we tell ourselves.

So, Allyson, Charity, Daniel, and Reid, forgive your parents and family members as they will forgive you. And, proceed with the haste of apostles on the beach when Jesus came to them, and think about what you value and hold those things closest of all.

I will close with the words of Dr. Warren on Tuesday that spoke most loudly to me:
When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.