Finding words to express
We live in a culture where words flow all around us. We see them in signs, in ads, in texts, emails, in print media. We hear them from the people and devices that surround us. We get to the point that we ignore most of them. I was walking in the woods recently and thought I was away from words, but ran into them there… in a product logo on a piece of trash and on the sign above it that said, “Do Not Litter.”
School children will soon be learning weekly vocabulary lists, committing spelling and meanings to heart and practicing how to use them in a sentence. Just as they engage in this mental challenge and become more proficient, so too, as people of faith, we are called to be diligent, habitual and proficient in learning and applying the vocabulary of our faith.
Some faith-words are hard. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill theology words like soteriology, or ecclesiological or knowing where an epiklesis belongs. No. I am talking about words that are really hard to understand and use, and sometimes even to say. Like love. And peace. And Christ. And forgiveness. For those who call ourselves Christian, this last word is at the core of all we believe and are called to embody. It is also perhaps the hardest concept to accept and to apply.
Jesus once told a parable about a master who had a servant who had been an absolute leach, borrowing millions of dollars from him. When the master demanded the servant return the money, the man pleaded for mercy. The master forgave the debt. But then the same servant went out to a second servant who owed him fifty bucks. When it couldn’t be paid, the first servant wouldn’t forgive him, but punished him severely. Jesus warned the listeners what the master would think once he learned that the servant hadn’t followed the master’s example. (See Matthew 18:21-35).
In what we call the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught those who would follow him to pray, “forgive us our debts (sins or trespasses)… as we forgive our debtors (those who have trespassed or sinned against us)…” They go hand-in-glove. Only as I embody forgiveness to others will I be fully aligned with Christ. He has shown me forgiveness and I call him my master and Lord. Forgiveness isn’t an easy word, but it changes the world.
Rev. Michael P. Kendall is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church; his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.