31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 21, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
At one time or another, we have all likely had issues with our neighbors. Maybe they make too much noise or consistently forget to shovel their sidewalks or maybe they think you don’t mow your lawn often enough or take in your trashcan quickly enough. Living in community is challenging, and it is easy to have issues with our neighbors.
Can you imagine though if your neighbor kept 65 goats? That was the case in Redding, CT.
According to the Hartford Courant, the state of Connecticut seized 65 goats “after a years long battle between the animals’ owner, neighbors, and the town.” (Hartford Courant, Zach Murdock, Section 2, pg 3 “Redding goat saga comes to an end”) In addition to being tired of the goats escaping and being a general nuisance, the neighbors were also deeply concerned about the treatment and living conditions of the goats, so concerned that they filed 120 individual complaints over 13 years!
Jesus calls us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. What happens though when your neighbor is also your enemy? For Jesus, the answer is the same. Love them, too. Pray for them, too.
Each of our Lenten messages has focused on a different part of the Lord’s prayer. While it is hard to pray and live out, ‘God’s kingdom come. God’s will be done.’, it is even more challenging to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Forgiveness is tough. It is hard to love our enemy, to pray for our enemy, to forgive our enemy. You may feel like they do not deserve your love, prayers, and forgiveness. You may want an apology first and you are still waiting. Or we may not wish to pray for our enemies because as Sybil MacBeth writes in Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God:
Praying for others….is an act of hospitality. It involves opening the door of our hearts and minds and admitting people into our consciousness ……..[And] Praying for the people who irk us, the people who hurt us, or the people we dislike or even hate is difficult because we do not want to think about them, let alone permit them to enter the sacred privacy of our prayers. We want to avoid our enemies, to forget they exist. Even saying their names gives them a prestige we do not want them to have. Hospitality is out of the question. (Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, Sybil MacBeth, pg 114-115)
Jesus calls us to love, pray for and forgive those who irk, annoy, hurt, and anger us, not because they deserve to be forgiven though. Jesus doesn’t even call us to forgive them so our relationship might be mended. Jesus calls us to love, pray for and forgive our enemies, our neighbor enemies, our family member enemies, our church and work and community activity enemies, for our own sake. So that we may be children of our Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:45). The Message Bible translation of this verse says that when we pray for our enemies, we are being our God-created selves, our true selves.
We do not love, pray for, and forgive others because it will change them or even change our relationship with them. We do it because it changes us. It allows us to be our God-created selves because prayer and forgiveness go together.
In With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen, a priest, spiritual writer, and all around deeply faithful Christian, wrote, “To pray means to open your hands before God.” He goes on to write “prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God’s promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world.” (With Open Hands, Henry Nouwen, pg 127)
Prayer is opening our hands to God, opening our hands so we can receive the amazing blessings God wants to give us, opening our hands so God can take them and guide us. It’s a challenge though to open our hands to God when our hands are full of something else, when our hearts of full of something else, when our lives are full of something else.
To pray, to connect with God, we need to find a way to let go of the anger, the pain, the annoyance, and hurt we are holding. To pray, to connect with God, we need to forgive, forgive our own sins and also forgive those who commit sins and wrongs against us. Prayer requires forgiveness, and forgiveness, in turn, requires prayer.
Prayer guides us on the challenging journey of forgiveness. A journey that begins with thinking about praying for someone who has hurt you. Because just thinking about them and the situation acknowledges the hurt, acknowledges the pain, acknowledges the wound that has always been there, even as we try to ignore and pretend it away. Only when we name it, can we begin to forgive and heal.
Acknowledging this pain, naming this hurt brings us to a place where we can then confess it, share it with God. Confessing our debts, our trespasses, our hurts and grudges is an act of trust. We are saying we trust God with it all. We are asking God to help us work on the things we can change in our lives and relationships and releasing to God the things that only God can fix and free us from. (Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, Sybil MacBeth, pg 100)
When we come to this place where we can acknowledge our pain and give it to God in prayer, a next step on this challenging journey of forgiveness is to say the person’s name. Speak it out loud. Write their name or initials down. Offer this person up to God because just that simple act transforms them, transforms them from an enemy, from an evil person, into “someone worthy of the prayers and time of another human being.” Sybil MacBeth writes, “Seeing a person as a child of God and praying for them changes both the person we pray for and us in ways that we cannot plan or predict.” (Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, Sybil MacBeth, pg 116)
Don’t push yourself to pray for forgiveness or healing or reconciliation. Simply offer this person’s name up to God. Do it regularly – again, not for them, for you, so that you may be your God-created self, so that you may be healed, “so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).
Prayer and forgiveness. They go together. Forgiveness, confession, letting go of our hurts, annoyances, and grudges enables us to open our hands and open our hearts to receive God’s blessings and guidance.
Prayer and forgiveness go together because only through prayer, through connection with God can we journey to forgiveness, releasing those debts, trespasses, sins, and wrongs that burden our hearts and lives.
Prayer and forgiveness, bring peace to our hearts, peace to our lives, peace to our world, saving us from the time of trial and rescuing us from the evils of hate, inviting us to live as God’s beloved children in God’s peace and love.