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saying sorry allows us to begin again

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Rev. Joel Crouse

Third Sunday of Easter

April 14, 2024


Acts 3:12-19

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

Chances are, like me, you did something this week you should apologize for. (Hopefully, you already have.) The longer you live and the older you get, the more you realize that truly saying sorry takes a particular, deliberate approach – much more than the quick “Say you’re sorry,” that we teach our kids when they are little. There’s an art to the fulsome apology. Maybe you’ve seen the list online: never use the word “but,” listen to the person you have wronged, allow space and time for forgiveness, and move forward together in healing.

“If only he would say he was sorry, it would fix everything.” How many times has someone said this to me in the midst of a broken relationship? Just this week, I sat with a man I know whose longtime friendship has ended – or at least been interrupted – because one party to the conflict will not own up to their wrongdoing. But the one who feels harm is never looking for only two words: “I’m sorry.” What they really want is to be heard and seen, to know that the harm has been truly acknowledged, that the regret is real, that this reflection has brought learning.

That is not easy. To begin with, to apologize to someone you have wronged and travel along that path, takes vulnerability, self-awareness, and courage, especially since the ending isn’t clear. How tragic it is that saying sorry, which requires such strength, is so often seen as weakness.

This is one of those sin-heavy Sundays, a word, as most of you know, I tend to avoid. That’s because it usually gets used to point fingers, and to level blame, or to shut the doors of the church to one kind of person or another.

But our three readings this morning take us on a journey of sorts about our wrongdoings, how to process them, how to repent them and move on.

In the first reading, we hear Peter reminding the people what happened to Jesus and telling them that they have been offered forgiveness. But they have to take a step in that healing process: they have to acknowledge their mistake, and admit what they did wrong. “Repent, therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,” Peter says.

In the second lesson, we are asked to consider what constitutes a sin, and what constitutes a righteous act. “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” And then we are cautioned: 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous.”

And when we come to the third step in this morning’s reading, having been told about our failings and impossible responsibilities, we receive the comforting embrace at the end of the road: Jesus comes to the disciples, eats with them, and reassures them. What’s more, he urges them forward yet again, telling them to spread the news of the gospel, a message of repentance and forgiveness.

Wrestling with what’s right and what’s wrong, and when and where, and that the answers might be different depending on the timing and context of the question is the challenge of the moral life, the Christian life as followers of the gospel. We often imagine - or perhaps we just hope - that truly moral people reach a place where every deed they perform is righteous, where they always do their best, and their conscience never wavers with a doubt. Of course this is not true.

The truly moral life is one wise enough to see the constant exchange between repenting our mistakes and forgiving others. When we don’t see what we have done wrong, we become more likely to repeat our mistake; if we pass by someone in need of our help, and we never consider it again, we aren’t likely to stop for someone the next time it happens. We would, in fact, just keep walking by, on our own steady course. Instead, Jesus calls us to live life in stops and starts. We stop to repent. We move forward forgiven and forgiving. Again and again. We cannot vow to do the right thing, if we never admit when we are wrong.

This is why the gospel puts such a high value on repentance. It requires us to think, to pause, to reflect, to have a conversation with God. If you are admitting your part in an argument, you don’t just say sorry and shrug. Repentance requires an examination of what caused the fight - what was really behind it, what steps led to it, and why it escalated.

Repentance is the path to wisdom. If we see a bully - adult or child - and we do nothing, repenting, even after the fact, it’s too easy to say: I will step in the next time. Most likely, if that is as deep as you go, you will not, in fact, step in next time. Repenting is a process of thought and an examination of action: “Why didn’t I step in?” we need to ask. “What circumstances deterred me? Was it the people watching? Was it the nature of the bullying? Was I worried about myself?”

Finding those answers is what moves us forward - it makes us conscious of the things to watch out for, the pitfalls to be mindful of. It gives us the courage to do something different the next time. Perhaps we realize that the other witnesses felt the same as we did; or that the cost to ourselves was really very small; or that even if there is a cost - like detention or anger from the bully - we could handle it.

So you have repented - you have answered those questions. Why should forgiveness come next? How many times do we beat ourselves up about our own mistakes: why didn’t I do something? Why did I do that certain thing? Why didn’t I stay quiet? Why didn’t I speak up? If we have thoughtfully repented, we find it is easier to move on to forgiveness - the kind that Jesus speaks of, in which we are then motivated to try again.

The art of saying sorry is the practicing of faith. Because we are not perfect. Repentance gives us pause, prompts a state of reflection. It leads to forgiveness, for ourselves and for others. It allows us to begin again. Repentance isn’t the posture of the sinner. It is the habit of the faithful.

That is why it comes as a deliberate two-step in the gospel: Repent and Forgive. Only then do we begin to acquire the wisdom to be righteous - a journey that never reaches its destination. But surely along the way, we become more accepting of ourselves and others, more likely to learn from our mistakes, and less likely to walk on by those who are in need.

Amen.


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