“Father, forgive them!”

Gettysburg Good Friday Community Worship 30 March 2018
Luke 23:32-34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!”

“Father, forgive them!”

There are two places where the forgiveness of Jesus on the cross becomes most real to me in my life as a pastor. The first is when I lead a Bible Study at the Adams County Prison; the second is when I sit with members of the AA group that meets at our church.

With individuals from these two populations I experience the brokenness of Jesus on the cross , as well as the breathtaking, awesome, forgiving spirit flowing from this broken man.

I’m not going to use my short time here talking about how we need to be more forgiving as was Jesus (that’s the ongoing work we all need to do each day); rather, I’d only like to offer a simple insight into the heart of Christ Jesus.

In the throes of his death and agony, beaten and bullied, scourged and spat upon, surrounded by a crowd of brutes, Jesus says, “Forgive them, Father.”
The teacher whose attitude toward sin was relentless, yet who overthrew the ancient understanding of rigid sin; the sacred man who condemned the mere intention to do evil, yet was not only called to be, but actually was “ a friend of publicans and sinners.”

Compassion for others and joy over their repentance, take priority in the mind of Christ. Jesus’ gentleness with sinners flowed from his ability to read their hearts and to detect the sincerity and essential goodness found there. Behind people’s grumpiest poses or most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their dignified airs, coarseness, or sneers, behind their silence or their curses, Jesus saw a child of God who hadn’t been loved enough and who had ceased growing because those closest to that individual had ceased believing in him/her.
Behind each one’s strength is hiding a fallen person in need of redemption, a person precious in the eyes of God because of the unique treasure any and all fallen individuals is meant to be in time and eternity.

In so many of the stories Jesus told during his three years on earth, they all come to the climax on the cross in the words we hear recorded by the Gospel writer Luke today: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” In this simple line we glimpse God’s joy in finding us again. In this one line we discover that this joy is capable of submerging all the evil we can commit. In this one line we realize we can finally stop obsessing about the past that ties us up in knots over guilt, keeps us awake at night, and turns us to alcohol or drugs.

On the day of my ordination my father said to me: “Mike, remember that it is impossible to overestimate the worth of anyone.” I’ll never forget those profound words from a very wise man: “It is impossible to overestimate the worth of anyone!”

My Dad’s words fly in the face of our shriveled humanity that has a shrunken capacity for receiving the rays of God’s love. My Dad’s words fly in the face of our tendency to underestimate the worth and value of any one person, any one group of persons, most especially those who are persecuted, shunned and violated in our world today because of race, creed, sexual orientation, gender or economic means.

I’ve learned this from my Dad. I’ve experienced this from the men at the prison and the individuals in AA, and I deeply believe it because these are the words I hear from Jesus on the cross, words of genuine embracing of all of humankind.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” These words come deeply from the heart of a dying Jesus, and because of this one line, may we never again question or doubt the limits and excessive abundance of God’s mercy and love! Amen.

[This sermon was given as part of a Gettysburg Good Friday service where various pastors from the community each shared a short message on one of the Seven Last Words of Jesus.]

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