The text this morning
is from the Psalms. It's been a while since I preached on the
Psalms, so just as a general word of introduction: most scholars
understand the Psalms to be a collection assembled over several
centuries, written by a number of different authors, not just
David. Primarily for the purpose of using them in worship. And
specifically worship in the Temple in Jerusalem.
So the Psalms are in
essence the hymn-book of ancient Israel. And it was used as the
hymn-book by the early church as well. Many of the Psalms,
including the one this morning as a classic example, are quite
personal. They reflect the experience of a single person, which,
because of that spiritual insight and wisdom that enables many
people to relate to, and became incorporated into the liturgy of
the people of God, and hence our Scripture.
So then, this Psalm,
Happy are those whose
transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2Happy are those to whom the
Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3While I kept silence, my body
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand
was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of
5Then I acknowledged my sin to
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
6Therefore let all who are
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress,
the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding-place for
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
8I will instruct you and teach
you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a
mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
10Many are the torments of the
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in
11Be glad in the
Lord and rejoice,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
If ever there were ever a 'theme' Psalm
for the Oregon football team, this would be it, right? I mean,
what are the odds? I know many of you know that I pick my
passages early in January for the year. So I picked this Psalm
of forgiveness for this Sunday, and Friday, what do we see? The
star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and the star running back
LaMichael James, both on the same day in effect confessing to
their sin, pleading guilty to the charges against them.
Masoli for theft, James for the harassment in a physical
altercation with his now very former girlfriend. And so now the
The coach suspending James for the opening game, and Masoli for
the entire season. Did he do the right thing?
Was he too hard? Was he too soft? What kind of signal has he
given, not only to the rest of the team but to our community?
About role models and consequences for bad behavior, and absence
of certain moral standards. And for the most part, I'm not going
to weigh in on such things, because I never do :).
Except to make a couple of general observations. First of all,
all of us need to be careful about rushing to judgment in any
case like this, because we don't have all the facts. We don't
know what coaches, we don't know what the players know, we don't
know what the victims know. And secondly, those two players in
particular are very fortunate to still be on the team. It's not
to say their suspensions were not sufficient, but it could have
been much more severe.
And thirdly, particularly in the case of James, a case of
domestic violence, it is especially important that in football a
very high standard be kept for players, that it is made
abundantly clear that domestic violence is never acceptable by
anyone, anywhere. And to the credit of James, we have to
acknowledge that he has accepted full responsibility for his
actions, apologized not just to his team and the school but most
importantly to his former girlfriend.
But lets be clear: that he is not the end of his responsibility.
It is but the beginning. This young man has a unique opportunity
to be a star off the field as well as on. To show by his actions
and that he gets it. And become a role model for other men who
also have problems controlling their anger, taking anger
management classes, listening to stories of other victims,
speaking out precisely as someone who has now been given a
second chance and using that chance not just to score
touchdowns, but more importantly to touch the hearts of other
men who also struggle with anger issues.
And given what we know about the horrible statistics of domestic
violence in this country and the consequences that it has mostly
for women and children, what those Ducks now do or do not
accomplish on the football field pales in comparison to what
these young athletes can do off the field to to send a different
message about respect for women and standards of decency and
civility in our society. And I pray that will indeed be the
So, as I reflect on the fate of these young men, and I read this
text: "happy are those those whose transgressions are forgiven".
But such forgiveness does not happen overnight, does it? God may
be quick to forgive, but we humans, you know, it takes awhile.
We need to see some sign of a change of heart.
A note on that story of the prodigal son -- the son has a change
of heart, but the father doesn't wait to hear it. As soon as he
sees his son, he gets all excited. Just imagine that father
going through that long period of 'what will I say when my son
appears? How will I hold him accountable? How will I welcome
him?'. Well, going back and forth, when that moment comes, his
heart opens and he welcomes him.
Martin Marty, former columnist for the Christian Century that I
subscribe to, writes of a Sunday in his Lutheran congregation
when an intern was speaking with the children. And he brought
two signs with him -- one said "Welcome", and the other said
"Keep Out". And he said to his kids: "which sign to we want out
in front of the church?" They said "We want 'welcome' out in
front of the church. Well, what about when someone
different-looking than you comes, different background,
different heritage, different language? "Welcome, we want to
What about someone poor off the streets, someone who spent the
night on the street? "Welcome, we want to welcome them". Let's
make it a little harder: what about someone who stole your bike?
And I imagine the intern was thinking of someone who was caught,
restitution was made, forgiveness is sought, but he didn't tell
them all that -- it was just someone who had stolen his bike.
For all they knew, it may have just happened. Anyone can relate
to that? How many have had their bike stolen? Purses stolen in
church? We had one last Sunday. Cars? I know of at least two out
of this parking lot -- one of them was mine on Christmas Eve of
all times. Came back the day after Christmas, and it is really
strange, we discovered it had exactly the mileage that it takes
from here to Bethlehem :).
Would you be ready to forgive that
person? The kids said "no" - keep out, we don't want those
people here. And the intern said: "Do you remember the sermon or
pastor gave last Sunday? His message about forgiveness? How
Jesus wants you to think differently? Remember, it's all about
And one of the kids piped up, the wisdom of children, said "No
it's not, it's all about the bike!". And, yeah, he's right, it
is about the bike too.
Frankly, I'm not so sure that God is any different. The
experience of the Psalmist, in fact, was that it was not until
he acknowledged his sin that he found that forgiveness from God.
And then and only then did he discover the joy of forgiveness as
the weight of that burden was lifted from him. And what this
ancient worshiper of God discovered was the power of forgiveness
to transform the human heart.
It's a power known in every culture. In that great movie
Invictus, Morgan Freeman plays the role of Nelson Mandela. He
was of course elected as the Prime Minister of South Africa. And
there was one telling moment in the movie when his head of
security comes to his office and finds there some of the white
men, the previous occupants of that office, who are responsible
for much of the violence against the black majority during the
days of apartheid. And are now reporting to duty, to their new
boss. And so the head of security marches into the president's
office, demands that these doers of evil be removed, and
President Mandela, firmly but with compassion, says 'no', how
can he expect the nation to follow him if he does not
demonstrate the very thing he is asking of them: to forgive the
perpetrators of apartheid, and work for a new South Africa,
black and white together, as citizens of a united nation.
Jack Cornfield went to Cambodia shortly
after the Holocaust by the Khmer Rouge that killed over a
million citizens of that country to study under a Buddhist
teacher. And they went to a refugee camp, against the wishes of
the Khmer Rouge, to setup a Buddhist temple. And though the
people were warned against going to it, when they opened the
Temple, rang it's bell, 25,000 people came. And Cornfield
writes: "My teacher began the ancient chanting that had informed
everyone's spiritual life in Cambodia before the revolution. And
people sat down and began to weep. Why? All he did was recite a
simple phrase from the time of Buddha, which goes:
"Hatred never ceases
by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient
and eternal law".
He recited it over and over, and as the
people heard it, they began to chant with him: "Hatred never
ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed". And Cornfield
says those people knew as much or more about pain and suffering
and injustice as any people anywhere. But somehow as they
chanted, you could feel the truth in their words was even
greater than their sorrow.
And from that experience he concluded forgiveness is one of the
key acts of spiritual practice because it allows us to release
the past, renew life. Without forgiveness it's always the
Bosnians versus the Croats vs the Serbs, killing each other,
repeating the cycle over and over and over. Without forgiveness,
it never ends.
Actress Emma Thompson, like many actors, does a lot of charity
work, specifically in Chile and Argentina, working with the
victims of torture and murder perpetrated by former governments
in those two countries. She says: "Out of that experience, I
have never heard a single one desire revenge. There is no more
important undertaking than forgiveness. It is the most powerful
weapon we have against terrorism and atrocity".
Many of you, I know, read Bob Welch. He had a column in December
about the story of a 7th grader here in town, who was doing a
report on the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963 that killed
four young African-American children, and was one of the turning
moments in in the civil rights movement. And this young gal had
found the name of the Pastor, John Cross, and his phone number.
Had the wherewithal to call him up, out of the blue. Well, she
found that he had died two years before. But the woman answering
the phone said she was his daughter, I'm a survivor of that
bombing (was about the same age as those four young girls, was
injured herself in the bombing). They spoke for 25 minutes. She
asked Barbara Cross: did you, or do you now, hate those men who
bombed the church? And Barbara said "no". Her father's sermon
that morning, that he did not get to deliver, was "The love that
forgives". And she said "I learned from my father never to hate
because hating so severely is like having a cancer inside. It
slowly eats you up".
That phone call is something the 7th grader says she will never
forget the rest of her life. And those four girls who died that
day did not die in vain.
Journalist Marina Cantacuzino, has
collected stories like this, for the Forgiveness Project. Some
may remember the exhibit we had here in our alcove just a little
under two years ago, pictures of people (some very famous like a
Archbishop Tutu) and everyday people and their stories (along
with their pictures). It's available on on the Web too, the
Forgiveness Project, if you Google that. She said she collected
those stories as a journalist because she is far more moved by
stories of forgiveness than stories of revenge. And she shared
those stories not because she wants to tell other people what
they should do -- we who are not in someone else's shoes cannot
say to them 'you have to forgive'. That's the choice each
individual has to make, it's not our role to tell them that. But
rather, she says simply that she shares those stories because
they give her hope. A way out of the darkness that is so
prevalent in the world.
So let me end with one more story of forgiveness that touched my
heart. Also from the pages of the Register Guard. It began with
alcohol, as so many stories of tragedy do. A car race, and then
Left seriously injured on the street was Hart Godbold, a
graduate student at the University of Oregon. The investigation
quickly lead to Joshua Clifton, a 23-year-old man who was
driving with a suspended license, who filed a false police
report that his car had been stolen as a way to cover up his
crime, and then claimed that he didn't know that he had hit
anyone. Pretty hard to feel any sympathy for the guy.
Informed that a suspect had been apprehended, after Jim Godbold,
his father, brought his son home from the hospital for a long
period of recovery, Jim said "The first thing that came to my
mind is that the suspect is just three years younger than my
son. My heart goes out to his parents and the people who love
him for the ordeal they are about to begin".
Here is this father, his injured son that he is caring for, and
his heart goes out to the family of the perpetrator.
That ordeal came to a head last week, as many of you know,
Joshua Clifton was sentenced to seven years in prison for his
multitude of crimes in that single act. Jim, the father, didn't
go to the trial, but his son did. In part, he said, to learn
what happened because he has no memory of it.
And he told a reporter afterwards that
he thought it was a fair verdict, but it also made him sad. He
said: "It's something that happened in an instant that will have
lasting repercussions for me and for him. I forgive him. I have
no animosity toward him".
Well, I know Jim, the father, from his days as the editor for
the Register Guard. He now works at PeaceHealth. So I called him
up. I said "Jim, you've got to tell me about this". I was so
touched. I didn't know about his son's statement, I was just
touched by what Jim had said. And I asked him: "So where does
that come from"". Jim did not hesitate -- he says it came for
him from 22 years of living in sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.
He gave me permission to share this story. And he said that
taught him that forgiveness is the act which provides the
greatest mutual benefit. Because of the forgiveness he had
experienced in his own life, working through those 12 steps of
AA, he does not hesitate to offer it to others. And so too, now
the son, learning from his father.
To forgive, as we are forgiven, have you heard that before? It
doesn't make it easy, or quick. Sometimes it may not even be
possible, or perhaps not even the right thing to do. But I can
tell you this: without forgiveness, we are all in a heap of
trouble. With forgiveness, this world is a better, gentler,
Glory be to God. And joy, that we have in the forgiveness of the