Der Vasken's Sermon on February 3, 2019

Feb 5, 2019

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to these beautiful words from an ancient prayer of our Church.  "...For wherever forgiveness reigns, sin is banished; for when the hand of God is close by, nothing is impossible."  [St. Gregory of Narek - Prayer #49]

Aren't those comforting thoughts?  Last week I came across these words from one of the greatest saints of the Armenian Church.  These words are part of a prayer written by St. Gregory of Narek about 1,000 years ago.  This humble giant of an Armenian saint, you may remember, gained the attention of the Christian world a few years ago when the Pope of Rome accepted him as a "Doctor of the Church" back in 2015 for his spirituality and prayerful ways. St. Gregory wrote the famed "Book of Narek" or "Book of Lamentations" as a prayer to God.  When he finished writing this book, he referred to it as an "encyclopedia of prayer for all nations."  His book is a collection of ninety-five prayers that are rich in imagery, subtle in the use of theology, based very clearly on the teachings of the Bible and all about opening ourselves up when communicating with God.

And so I had this book open on my desk last week and I came across these powerful words of what is labeled "Prayer #49."  "...For wherever forgiveness reigns, sin is banished; for when the hand of God is close by, nothing is impossible."  These words from the Book of Narek seem to come from another world.  They describe a world very different from the world we know and from the way we tend to live in it.

In today's Bible reading, Jesus says something that I'm sure St. Gregory had in mind when he wrote this prayer book 1,000 years later.  He says:

  • "Love your enemies;
  • Do good to those who hate you;
  • And bless those who curse you."
This has always been a challenge for people to accept. They are tough words.  Forgiving people, who have wronged us, has never been a popular teaching of Jesus. Right?  It's hard to do that but it's essential for spiritual health.  He says to look at forgiveness as strength and as a gift from God.  When we hear the words of Jesus in this Bible passage, they sound like they come across like a description of weakness, but He is telling us that forgiveness is a sign of strength. A forgiving person is a person who has grown spiritually.  And so how we forgive people and interact with people and react to people plays a role in our spiritual development.

Let's look at this a little closer.  The easiest thing for any of us to do is to react to something or someone.  We do it all the time as we react to people who "rub us" the wrong way.  But as Christians, more is expected from us.  We are encouraged to respond to the world around us and not simply react to it.  Reaction is automatic.  Think about the people who push our buttons all too often.  They trigger an almost automatic reaction from us.  A Christian response takes thought and strength and the desire to do the right thing. So when we keep in mind our Christian dignity, when we walk through life aware that we are followers of Christ, we can respond from a position of strength and not react from a place of weakness.

One of the greatest spiritual gifts we have been given is the strength to forgive.  To show someone forgiveness is to show them the fact of God.  Remember the dying words of Jesus on the Cross: "Father forgive them," He said.  He was talking about those, who were crucifying Him and those, who turned away from Him.  "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do, " He said.

A forgiving heart is a heart that walks with God. May we all grow in our relationship with our God so that these words become easier for all of us to put into practice.  "For wherever forgiveness reigns, sin is banished. For when the hand of God is close by, nothing is impossible."  I posted these words on Facebook last week and I have to tell you, I was amazed by the response.  People were reaching out to me--calling, texting--because it resonated with them in some personal way.  Forgiveness is an issue many of us struggle with every day more than we realize.

Hopefully, today we go home thinking about where we need forgiveness in our lives and who from our past do we need to forgive so that we are no longer burdened by something they did and we keep paying the price.  People like this don't hold a grudge; the grudge holds them and their faith can help them let it go.  

  • Where in your life do you need forgiveness?
  • And who from your past might you need to forgive?
Something worth thinking about.

Amen.