Sunday, April 22, 2012

“I’m sorry”. Really?

An incident happened on my recent flight, one that I thought might be an interesting lead in for today’s reflection.

Most airline passengers prefer to be seated either on a window seat or an aisle seat. I’m one of them. It creates for me a kind of a comfort zone, however short-lived and limited it is. I only have to worry about the person either on my left or right. 

This time, I was seated on an aisle but the relative comfort zone I was hoping to have wasn’t there. 

There was this lady who was seated about five rows in front of me and she would frequently get up to visit the tail end of the plane presumably to get to the lavatory. And when does and passes the row where I was at, she would hit my arm and shoulder; even after I have moved inward so as not to obstruct the aisle. This happened quite a few times actually and each time she did it, she’d say “I’m sorry” and I could tell, off the bat, she really didn’t mean it.

“I’m sorry”. Really? Have you had a similar experience of people telling you “I’m sorry” but you just know they really don’t mean it? Quite honestly, there had been those occasions when we have done similarly and said “I’m sorry” but we really didn’t mean it. It didn’t come from the heart. In other words, the feeling wasn’t there.

It’s similar to the kind of nonchalant “I’m sorry” that happens when a parent reprimands his child and tells her “Say sorry to Grandma” and to which the child obliges by saying “I’m sorry” and then does her thing again. Our very own granddaughter Kloey does that, occasionally.

So you get the picture? And that kind of “I’m sorry” could get annoying mainly because we had been taught to mean what we say.

Putting this in a different context, we are taught to feel sorry or to say that we are sorry for the times that we had offended not only the God who expects us to be what He created us to be but also the rest of the created humanity. The language that best describes this is “to be of contrite hearts”. That’s when we truly feel the remorse for having committed actions that make our relationships with God and our fellow creatures go awry.

And while we might be tempted to take it lightly, as in that lady’s or that child’s nonchalant versions of “I’m sorry”, it is in fact imperative for us to be of contrite heart, to beseech the God of mercy for His forgiveness and to mend broken relationships by all means possible.

In our First Lesson for today, we are reminded of this need to seek out for that healthy alliance with God. From the Book of Acts, we read the following: “Repent, therefore, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”

Repent. Be sorry. Have a contrite heart. Seek out His forgiveness. Return to God. These are what are expected of us in the event that we falter from our calling to be God’s people and fail to be missional about our baptismal covenant. We are to rise beyond the mere formality of telling our God “I’m sorry.” We need to seek out someone’s forgiveness when we say, “I’m sorry” as well as offer it when someone says, “I’m sorry” to us.

Seeking for forgiveness is more than just saying you are sorry – it’s about being different and living in a whole new way.

We often tend to think of God’s forgiveness as simply the wiping clean of a slate; as though our actions are simply x-marks on our spiritual blackboard, a kind of running tally of our accomplishments and our failures. We draw up two columns; one for the good deeds we have done and another column for the not-so-good actions. As is often the case, our “bad deeds column” would get a little too many, and so we seek out God’s forgiveness so that they can be erased. 

And in a certain sense, that’s not entirely false. There’s some truth to it. God’s forgiveness gives us a kind of a “make-over”, a fresh start, and a chance to turn back the clock and begin anew.  And for that, we should be truly grateful.

However, forgiveness is so much more than that.  Jesus bore our sins not simply so that our sins would “disappear” but also so that our relationship with our God would be mended, healed, restored and strengthened. No longer would our failures to love or our unfaithfulness permanently create a wider chasm between God and us. Jesus’ saving act changed all of that. And therefore, it’s probably more correct to say that a profound kind of reconciliation is really at the heart of true forgiveness, one that holds out for us the possibility of an intimate communion with our God. 

During this season of Easter, we are invited to reflect on and wrestle with exactly what Jesus’ death and resurrection means for each of us.  In faith, we believe that Jesus died so a broken world might be healed, he died so that the gap that had grown between God and his beloved children might be bridged, he died that we might be redeemed and saved. Because of this reality, all of creation has been reconciled and created anew.  And in a personal sense, each one of us has been reconciled.  I’ve been made new just as you have.

So, now what?  Now what do we do?

Over the next several weeks we will hear passages from the Acts of the Apostles, passages that reflect some of the challenges faced by the early Christian community. You would then notice that their stories about how they coped up with their faith expectations are very similar to ours. Indeed, a lot is expected from those who value their decision to follow Jesus.

Struggling with faith expectations revolves around the issue of “What is the Lord asking of us?  What is he asking of me?  What’s the best way to follow him?  What does it mean for him to be your Lord or my Lord?” These are questions that the post apostolic faith community must have wrestled with and these are the kinds of questions that we, not surprisingly, are wrestling with as well. Come to think of it, that seems like an awful lot of “what”.  Yet, if we focus too quickly on the “what”, we might be stepping around a more important and profound question, the “Who?” “Who was I created to be? Who is my most authentic self? Who does God want me to be? Who did God die for me to be?” 

When we begin to ask those questions and sincerely long to embrace whatever answer God chooses to give, then we’re on the path to real reconciliation, real transformation and real change.

My dear friends in Christ, rest assured that Jesus’ perfect and selfless act has made possible the forgiveness of our sins.  He took them upon himself and rendered them powerless through the power of perfect love. Our virtual chains have been broken. We had been set free. The victory has been won. That is the continued Easter message we hear.

What a gift, indeed!  Yet, the gift does not end there.  Jesus is offering so much more: new life, abundant life and everlasting life – full of purpose, meaning, joy, beauty, and peace.  Our world has never been the same.  We all have been changed.

So when we say, “God, I’m sorry”, please, mean it. And by doing so you affirm your need to be reconciled with him and become the loving person God created you to be.

Peter had issued a good reminder: “Repent and turn to God.” Each time we seek God’s forgiveness, may we have the courage to take that next step of embracing the renewed and transformed life God offers. Then, like those early disciples, may we have courage to allow our new-selves transform the world, and help make it a place teeming with peace, hope, generosity, kindness and love.

Shall we then do better than just say “I’m sorry”?

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