Our scripture lesson sounds like the kind of thing a mother tells her kids. You know one of those appeals to their better natures, to get them to take the high road after some tiff between the siblings. It’s how values get passed along from generation to generation.
31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love. . .
With it being Mother’s Day, I am reminded that mothers teach us much about forgiveness. I mean, there is a lot of stuff we do that mothers forgive. I love the title of a book on adolescent/parent relationships: Get Out of My Life: But First Can You Drop Me and Cheryl Off at the Mall? Generally, mothers see the disobedience, shallowness and insensitivity of their children, they deal with it, and they move on. Thank goodness everything we have ever done isn’t held over our heads forever!
Forgiveness. It is a beautiful thing. It is the only way that any relationship can stand the test of time. My mom had lots of teachable moments on forgiveness. Like the time I was in sixth grade and I was in the church’s neighborhood with a friend and my brother. My brother needed a restroom so we checked to see if a church door might be open. It was late Sunday afternoon. We quickly discovered we were in the church alone.
We went to the sanctuary where there was this long ladder that went up to the steeple. We climbed all the way up there with great hopes of bragging rights. “Steeple? Been there, done that.” But when we reached the top of the ladder to open the hatch that led to the steeple, we found that the hatch was locked so we couldn’t get there.
We felt guilty. We knew it was wrong. It had been a communion Sunday. And left out on the altar were the communion wafers – remember those little wafers that taste like cardboard and stick to the roof of your mouth? Mom told us communion is about getting your sins forgiven. You take communion and it is like having every bad thing you have ever done erased. My brother said, “David, say a prayer.” I did. It was my first time presiding at the Lord’s Table. We woofed down those wafers like they were potato chips. We tossed back some juice from the little glass shot glasses and went home forgiven.
We were so completely forgiven that when mom asked what we had been up to, Rick told the whole story. Believing that God had forgiven us, our parents would have no choice but to forgive us too. We went over their heads. I knew there was something wrong with his logic but couldn’t put my finger on it until the punishment commenced.
God may have forgiven, but there were still consequences. We should not just presume upon the holy things of God as our personal playthings to get us out of a jam. They come with a great price. They are not to be taken lightly or presumed upon. They are gracious gifts of love. We learned. Mom forgave. We went on. I am blessed now to stand up here and give the gift of forgiveness and grace time and time again. Go into the world and proclaim forgiveness of sins.
Sometimes there are things we need to forgive our mother’s for too. That is harder. Usually mothers are more inclined to forgive their children than children their mothers. The truth about the hardness of this day is that not everyone was blessed to have a supportive and loving mother. Some women who have become mothers have not done right by their children and for those children this day is painful. That is why church is important so that those kids will have some positive adults in their lives. There are also a lot of moms who did a good job, but are perfectionists and feel that they failed their kids and today brings upon them a lot of feelings of guilt and shame. Despite what you may have read, mothers are not totally responsible for every decision their kids make or moment of pain they experience.
I am remembering the day her 10th birthday party. Mom instructed dad to purchase a gift.
“What does she want?”
“A bicycle chain,” mom replied.
“What do you mean?” asked dad.
“You know…just a bicycle chain for a little girl’s bike,” she said sounding annoyed.
“You mean that cute, blonde, ten-year-old girl wants a greasy chain that makes the wheels go around as a birthday present?” Dad asked incredulously.
“Stop annoying me and just get the chain.” mom huffed.
Afraid to cross mom any further dad inquired, “What size?”
“I don’t know,” mom yelled, “just one for a little girl’s bike. We don’t have much time.”
Something was terribly wrong. Rick and I were horrified. We went to the party, and tried to find some way of going outside when the gift opening commenced. She opened other gifts, the appropriate gifts — things like clothes, games and toys. Then at the height of reverie, she reached for the one from The Clarks. “I always love what you get me,” she said as she began to rip into the paper. Before this, we had always given her things she would like. They weren’t gifts like everyone else gave. We gave her things that either had lots of small pieces or things that made a lot of noise.
Rick and I could only slither toward the back of the crowd and hang our heads. She ripped into the paper. She had a puzzled look as she tried to comprehend what sort of a gift this might be. She gave the most sincere, yet deflated, “Thanks Aunt Sheryl and Uncle Norm and Rick and Dave,” she could muster.
There was no, “Wow! It is just what I asked for. Now my bike will operate because my parents don’t love me enough to purchase the mechanical equipment for my bike.” People encouraged her, “Michell, hold up the present so everyone can see what you got.” There was only an awkward silence as the flash bulbs stopped popping. Now it dawned on everyone what this gift was. Although I stared holes into the green shag carpet, I could feel the looks exchanged between the adults around the room. Undaunted, Michell quickly attacked the gift pile for better treasure. The damage had been done.
There was a long silence in the car on the rest of the way home. How did I get born into this family? Surely, there must have been some mistake. Surely, I belong to different parents. Mom found out the next day that what Michell really wanted was a chain lock for her bike. Of course! That would make sense. Mom sent dad and me over to pick up the greasy chain to exchange it for the right gift.
Dad then said, “You watch what happens. I guarantee you that somehow this was all my fault. I don’t know how, yet, but you watch and see.” “No, dad, I heard her tell you to get exactly what you got. You only did what she asked.” I protested. “It doesn’t matter. Somehow it is always my fault.”
Sometimes forgiveness is a longer process. I have watched my mom in her process to forgive the drunk driver that killed my brother. The forgiving process has taken a long time. The offender did a few years in jail – he suffered some consequence. But mom’s anger at him was eating her up. Nothing bring Rick back, not even her anger. The past cannot be undone. She had to make a conscious choice not to dwell on her anger and resentment. Her gift is to let it go. I am in awe. Truly forgiveness is what pokes the stick in the wheel. It gives us all a chance at a fresh start.
Forgiveness is what will change the world. There is something good in everyone. Each of us are created in the image of God. Look for it deeply in everyone. Choose to forgive, to go on, to love and you will find yourself forgiven. At the heart of Jesus teaching of forgiveness are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us.” Learn it from a mother, give it to a mother. It might be the best Mother’s Day gift you ever give and she ever receives. Amen.