The Joy of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
June 12, 2016
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 6C

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

My Friends:

jesus-feetOne of the first questions that Roman Catholic friends often ask me about the Anglican Communion is whether or not we have “Confession” in the Episcopal Church.  They—along with many Episcopalians—are quite surprised when I tell them that we do indeed have sacramental “Confession,” otherwise known as the “Reconciliation of a Penitent.”  It is one of the many rites included in our Book of Common Prayer in both Rite 1 & 2.  And while there are no traditional “confessionals” in our churches these days —those fabled, purple-curtained boxes for the confession of sins—we do have the opportunity, at any time, to avail ourselves of this individual, sacramental act.  The rule in the Episcopal Church concerning “Confession” is that “all may; some should; but none must.”  In other words, the “Reconciliation of a Penitent” is an option for those times in the spiritual journey when we feel called to unburden a heart broken open by sorrow and guilt over sin, and when we long to experience the overwhelming gift of God’s real forgiveness and offer of a new beginning.  And while we may no longer recognize a distinction between so-called venial and mortal sins, there are times in the spiritual journey when we urgently need godly counsel spoken in the name of Christ and his Church.  The “Reconciliation of a Penitent” is an exchange between God and us sinners in which we renew our covenantal relationship with God, broken through our blindness and failure “to love God with our whole heart,” and “to love our neighbors as ourselves.” (BCP)  And so, it’s not at all uncommon for a penitent to feel an enormous sense of relief and joy and gratitude over the repair of this primary and cherished covenantal relationship with God.  These emotions signal the true gift of a new beginning made possible by the grace of our God of steadfast love and mercy.  The ancient rabbis taught that God gave the Torah to humans, not to angels, and that the greatest name of God is “mercy”!

The joy of forgiveness and thanksgiving for reconciliation are poignantly illustrated by the extravagant gestures of the forgiven woman in this morning’s episode from Saint Luke’s Gospel, together with Jesus’ parable of the forgiven debtors. Continue reading

Freedom from Sin

March 16, 2016
Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent
John 8:31-42

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” – John 8:31b-32

pharisees-question-jesus_largeThe Pharisees’ response makes it clear that they understand Jesus to be speaking of an exterior freedom:  “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.”  But Jesus is speaking of an interior freedom, one that has to do with being released from sin:  “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin… So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

I think we all know from experience that sin – be it our own or of those around us –  weighs us down and hinders us from being the people God would have us be.   Sin turns the colors of our life into a uniform grey, it flattens out the otherwise variegated texture of our lives.  Sin enslaves us.  Jesus offers us release from enslavement: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”  Continuing in his word, being his disciples and knowing truth sets us on the path to freedom. Continue reading

An Evil Generation

Sermon for Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Wednesday in the First Week of Lent
Luke 11:29-32

jonah-in-nineveh-jon-3In this evening’s gospel lesson Jesus – using unusual phrases such as “the sign of Jonah” and the “Queen of the South” and the “people of Nineveh” – makes the point to his listeners that “this… is an evil generation.”   Why Jesus would say that “this… is an evil generation?”  It would be much easier for us to hear words from Jesus about mercy or forgiveness or love.  But in this evening’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is quite clear that “this… is an evil generation.”

To better understand why Jesus might say that “this… is an evil generation,” it may help to recall that everything in Scripture is written for our benefit, to let us know how much God loves us.  One of the loving things God does is to prick our conscience.   Continue reading

Redemption from Sin and Death

Sermon for Sunday, February 22, 2015
Lent 1B

At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death.   The Genesis reading is part of the flood story, which wiped out all humankind save Noah’s family. The lesson from 1 Peter speaks of Christ suffering for sins, and how he was “put to death in the flesh.” And this morning’s Gospel lesson introduces the personification of sin himself, Satan, who tempts Jesus in the wilderness.   At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death. But if I look more closely at this morning’s readings I begin to see that today’s readings are not so much about sin and death as they are about redemption and life. Continue reading

Healing the Trauma of Sin

Sermon for Sunday, March 9, 2014; First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7Romans 5:12-19Matthew 4:1-11Psalm 32
Listen here online:

This morning I’m not going to talk so much about sin as I am going to talk about talking about sin.   So often, sin is something we don’t talk about – at least not much – which is a loss because the “grammar” and “vocabulary” surrounding sin contain great capacity for healing.

But I don’t want to begin there.  First, I want to go back to November 11, last Veterans’ Day.  Last Veterans’ Day, NPR told the stories of several different veterans from several different wars.  Though all the stories moved me, the one that touched me most was the story of Coast Guard veteran Joe Williams, who was part of “Operation Tiger,” a dress rehearsal off the coast of England for the Normandy invasion.  Williams had been in a troop transport off the English coast preparing to practice landing several thousand troops when German patrol boats, moving under the cover of the pre-dawn darkness, surprised the drill and launched torpedoes at the heavily-laden landing crafts.   Another veteran described the chaos:  “A flare broke over our head, over our ship,” and “I said, ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna get it.’ And apparently we didn’t. It must have gone under us… because [our boat] was a flat-bottom boat. I looked to the stern and saw [another boat] get torpedoed.”  “The torpedoes tear into these vessels,” remembered another veteran, “and literally blow them apart…  They all catch fire and there’s complete carnage.”   Joe Williams recalled seeing the scene for the first time clearly as the sun rose over the water:  “When we got back and the light broke, you could walk across the dead bodies in the water.  There was 700 of them killed.”

It was awful tragedy.  What struck me most was the fact that, for nearly 50 years, Williams – following orders given to all the survivors – never spoke about Operation Tiger: not to his family, not to his friends, not even to his wife.  Continue reading