Douglass Blvd Christian Church

an open and affirming community of faith

n open and affirming community where faith is questioned and formed, as relationships are made and upheld. 

Filtering by Category: Forgiveness

Sermon Podcast: "The Trouble with Forgiveness" (Matthew 18:21–35)

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01, Rev. Penwell preaches a gospel of forgiveness.

There are no easy answers.

Maybe that's the good news.

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"The Trouble with Forgiveness" by Rev. Derek Penwell

Sermon Podcast: "Treat 'em Like Gentiles"

Here's this weeks's sermon podcast, "Treat 'em Like Gentiles" delivered by Rev. Derek Penwell:

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Treat ‘em Like Gentiles (Matt. 18:15–20)

We live in a society that’s grown increasingly permissive. That’s not news to you, right? Scandals in politics, in the church. Corruption. Violence. Treachery. You stay out of my business, and I’ll stay out of yours.

We’ve come a long way down some very undesirable roads, both as a nation and as a church. With the media and liberal preachers forever expounding on the virtues of “tolerance and diversity,” we bought into the lie that it doesn’t matter what I do, as long as nobody gets hurt. And the logical conclusion of such an argument is that nobody (and I mean nobody) better tell me how I’m supposed to live. How I choose to live my life is my decision, it’s between God and me. Butt out!

Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. There was a time when the needs of the community superseded the demands of the individual. But to say that today is to be labeled a socialist. There was a time, however, when the church had authority, and that authority meant something. And with all the permissiveness in our culture, it doesn’t seem too outrageous to think that the church might move to regain some of that authority. It has to do something. The church can’t stand idly by while everything deteriorates. There has to be accountability somewhere.

"You Give Them Something to Eat"

Returning from the church's mission trip to Casa Hogar children's home in San Luis Potosi, Rev. Derek Penwell delivers "You Give Them Something to Eat," a sermon based on Matthew 14:13-21.

Loaves, fishes, transactional equity, and Al Sharpton. Hang on tight!

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"You Give Them Something to Eat" by Rev. Derek Penwell

The Gift

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:7-15).

Do you pray?  I don’t mean when it’s your turn at the supper table, or when someone calls on you in Sunday School class.  Do you pray?  What do you say?  Is it hard to pray?

Prayer has been addressed for so long as a formal thing that is unlike anything else we do during the day.  We expect that prayers follow some kind of standard of length and prettiness; that is, we figure that the longer and lovelier the prayer, the better it is.  And the better the prayer, the more chance we will have of God hearing it and answering it.  Of course, this view of prayer makes it almost a magical incantation.  Which is to say, you have to find the right words in order to yank God’s chain hard enough to get anything done.

Jesus, on the other hand, heads us in a different direction.  Jesus tells us to pray simply and directly.  One doesn’t have to heap on the words for God to hear it—God already knows what you need before you ask.  Prayer is honest communication between us and the one who made us, and who watches over us.

Prayer is not a tool to manipulate God into doing what we want.  Prayer is the foundation of the relationship between God and humanity.  It isn’t designed to convince God to forgive us, or to take care of us.  God has already promised in Christ to do that.  Prayer is a way of allowing us to see our need (for a “Father who art in heaven”, for forgiveness, for bread, for aid in facing trials and temptations, etc.), of admitting that we couldn’t live without God’s grace.

And maybe that’s why Jesus tacks on the saying at the end about forgiving our brothers and sisters who have trespassed against us.  Because if we can’t see God’s grace in forgiving us so that we might forgive others, then we’ll never experience our bread, our trials, or the kingdom of heaven as a gift from God.  If we never get the picture that God’s forgiveness of us frees us to forgive other people (people that the world says we have a right to hold a grudge against), then we don’t have a clue about the rest of what’s involved in being a Christian.  How can God forgive those who have no idea what forgiveness is, or that they even need it?

Prayer is not a mystical formula, or a flowery show of devotion.  Prayer gives us a sense of the majesty of God, and to what great lengths God has gone to show us mercy.  It gives us understanding about gratitude and about whom we depend upon for even the most ordinary things in life.  Perhaps, most of all, prayer allows us to see that God lost in a Son in God’s desire to reconcile—even with those who have done us wrong.

Just Desserts

I received a call this morning that someone had broken into the church.  The caller told me that the police CSI people were dusting for fingerprints and taking DNA samples from the blood that the thief left behind after breaking the security glass in three of the offices—including mine.  The person(s) stole a laptop from my office, as well as one of the security cameras and the hard drive that kept the security footage from the administrative secretary’s office.  It happened on Christmas day.

Today was Sunday, and I had the day off.  However, I came in just before worship let out to survey the damage.  As the parishioners filed out, they were roundly denouncing the display of insensitivity demonstrated by breaking into a church.  I commented that whoever broke in at least had the sensitivity not to vandalize the place.  That would have been much worse.  Then, channeling the priest from Les Miserables, I said what (I guess) sounded like the Christian thing to say: “I hope the person who stole our stuff needed the money for food.”

Nods of chastened agreement.

“Unfortunately,” I continued, “I suspect that the needs were more pharmaceutical than gustatory.”  (Actually, I didn’t say gustatory.  That’s a bit much—even for me.)

More nods of agreement.

It struck me later, however, that, though I had gotten past my initial response (anger), my secondary response was scarcely better.   Implicit in my righteous sounding sentiment was something I complain about when I hear it in the comments of others.  Basically, what I said was, “I might be able to summon up forgiveness, if I know the person really needs it.”  That is to say, I’m happy to forgive folks who can rightly claim mitigating circumstances.  (“Excuse me, but I seem to have run over your Bassett Hound.  Please forgive me; my brakes went out.”)  In other words, people who need to be understood, not forgiven.  But out and out no-goodniks?  No luck.

This need to dispense love, help, forgiveness only to those whom we think deserve it is a problem for people who work with folks in trouble.  We find ourselves wanting to help those in need, but we want assurances that we’re helping people who really need it.  And, for the most part, this is not a bad impulse.  Sometimes our attempts to help those who say they need it serve only to make matters worse. (Giving money to a substance abuser, for example, is like throwing gasoline on someone who’s already on fire.)  Nevertheless, as is often the case when my kids start a sentence with “Dad can I?” the first answer that comes out of my mouth is a preprogrammed no.

But my no to the need of others, starting with my children, probably ought to be more thoughtful.  While it is true that sometimes saying no is the most loving thing to do, saying no as a reflex action betrays the enormous yes that the Christian faith tells us Jesus offered all of us.  Whatever else Jesus said, he certainly didn’t hold out for loving, helping, forgiving only those who could muster a persuasive enough case to convince us they deserve it.  Those who claim to follow him need a much wider embrace, a much more nuanced account of love, help, and forgiveness than that.

None of this is to say that I believe we ought to turn a blind eye.  When it comes time to press this case legally, I will most likely support prosecution.  What I am saying, though, is that maybe I ought to be less concerned with what people deserve than with figuring out the most constructive way to love them—whether they deserve it or not.  Because, Lord knows, I could use a little of that myself.