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The Words We Long To Hear

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Pastor Julie Reuning-Scherer

I recently heard a TED talk by Dave Isay, the creator of Story Corps.

You might have heard one of these heartwarming interviews on public radio on Friday mornings. Dave Isay opened the first story corps booth in 2003 in grand central station.

His idea was to create a quiet place where people could honor someone they cared about

by listening to their story. Each story was recorded and catalogued with the library of congress, and also given to the interviewees. The idea caught on, and now there more than 100,000 people in all 50 states have recorded SC interviews. It's the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered. A lot of people talk about crying when they hear a Story Corps interview. That’s because the booth somehow creates a safe place for people to say the things closest to their heart. Dave Isay said that in his experience, people want to say three basic things:

Thank you.

I love you.

I forgive you/ please forgive me.

In Gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus on the cross. Luke does not dwell on the physical suffering of the experience; he simply states that “they crucified Jesus” Luke describes instead the humiliation Jesus suffered at the hands of the leaders, the soldiers, and the criminal. He was mocked as king and messiah, people yelling at him to save himself if he was the Chosen One. In cruel irony, a sign was hung above his head reading, “This is the King of the Jews.” In his final moments, however, offered the words of acceptance and love that everyone wants to hear.

Jesus asked God’s forgiveness for the people executing him;

He forgave the sins of the repentant criminal on the cross, promising him eternal life.

It’s as if the bloody hill of Golgotha became a story corps booth.

How did Jesus do it?

Most of us, though we long to hear those words, I forgive you, or please forgive me,

cannot muster the strength or act of will to forgive ourselves or others.

Something inside us resists; the injury is too great be erased.

Something inside us shouts: this is not right!

Our moral outrage prevents us from forgiving others: they do not deserve it.

Guilt and a deep sense of unworthiness prevent us from forgiving ourselves: we don’t deserve it, either. But when you look at Jesus on the cross, you do not see a show of strength or a great act of will. You see broken bones and bloody brow. You hear the labored breath. The smell is shame and embarrassment.

This is not strength, at least not in the way we usually think of it; this is utter vulnerability.

It is from this place of vulnerability and need that Jesus forgives.

Jesus could be righteous judge, but instead we see him as criminal.

Jesus could be king, calling the shots, but we see him lay down his desires in favor of God’s.

In his weakness and his suffering, Jesus has direct access to the kingdom.

We could chalk up Jesus’ ability to forgive to his being a unique human being—he is, after all, the son of God and we are not. But isn’t there a way in which all of us, when we forgive, operate from that same place as Jesus did? In order to forgive, we make ourselves vulnerable in some way—we take a risk.

One of the things Dave Isay says about the Story Corps interviews is that it takes courage

to share our hearts’ deepest longings to be appreciated, loved, and forgiven.

The paradox of forgiveness is that there is strength in our weakness.

The strength is not ours to manufacture; it comes from the Source of all strength and goodness— from God it comes from Jesus, who has direct access to the kingdom.

Forgiveness is like the final exam of the Christian life—it calls upon all the spiritual resources we have. And so it is important to remember Jesus’ compassion for the second criminal,

the one who defended him.

There are those of us who are hard on ourselves because we are not able to forgive.

We expect ourselves to be able to master the final exam by sheer will.

We feel like a failure when we cannot.

But notice: the criminal doesn’t make a great act of contrition; he simply asks: Jesus, remember me. And notice Jesus’ response- no judgment. No word of criticism.

Just compassion. Just promise: today you will be with me in paradise.

I come to the conclusion that forgiveness is more in the asking than in the doing.

It’s more connecting with the Source than trying to be good. It’s recognizing our need for peace, and being given permission to say what is on our heart and hear what we long to hear. Today is Christ the King Sunday. The learned people who created our lectionary chose this passage from Luke to show us what kind of a king Jesus is. Jesus’ kingdom is about forgiveness. His leadership is about forgiveness. His promise to us who need his compassion for ourselves and others is that we will be with him, not sometime in the future, but today.

Right now.

And in him there is no more fear, no more guilt.

In him there is what we long to hear:

I love you. I accept you. I forgive you.

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