“FALL SERIES: Welcoming Doubt…Building Faith
What is the Nature of God’s Forgiveness?”
Isaiah 43: 22-28 & Luke 23:32-43
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church ~ October 8, 2017
She was a ‘good little girl’; she dreamed of, one day, becoming a ballerina. But through a cruel twist of fate, Traudl Junge’s dream was not realized. When she learned about a prestigious job vacancy in the German chancellery during World War II, she entered a typing competition and to her surprise, she was chosen to be the personal secretary of one Adolf Hitler. In her memoir “Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary”, she wrote "I was twenty-two and I didn't know anything about politics, it didn't interest me." And so, from December 1942 until April 30, 1945 when she heard the gun shots of Hitler's suicide in his Berlin bunker, Junge conversed every day with one of the worst psychopaths in human history.
In the years that would follow, Junge would be wracked by guilt for her complicity in the Nazi atrocities. She writes: “I admit, I was fascinated by Adolf Hitler. He was a pleasant boss and a fatherly friend. I deliberately ignored all the warning voices inside me and enjoyed the time by his side almost until the bitter end. It wasn't what he said, but the way he said things and how he did things." In the following decades, Junge struggled to make peace with her past. In 2002, she published her memoirs in the book: “Until the Final Hour”, and gave ten hours of interviews for the documentary film about her life called “Blind Spot” (2002). In her cameo appearance in the film “Downfall” (2004) about the final days in Hitler's Berlin bunker, she lamented, "I never thought that fate would take me somewhere I'd never really wanted to be." The tragedy of Traudl Junge was not only her three year association with Adolf Hitler ~ how many naive, patriotic twenty-two year old kids could have resisted that job offer? Her tragedy was that, after Hitler’s death, for fifty-seven years she remained trapped by her past and was unable to forgive herself and to know forgiveness from God.
On this thanksgiving weekend, we gather together in a beautifully decorated sanctuary ~ and much appreciation to the UCW and Brenda Persiani for taking this on, once again! And we take time to give thanksgiving for the many things in our life which God blesses us ~ health, comfort, family, love and the list goes on. Yet as we take our thanksgiving inventory, isn’t the forgiveness that God offers to us something that we should count among our thanksgivings? This morning we move into our second of the various topics of doubt and wonderings that people raised back in that spring service. The most predominant question raised by people was that dilemma of God’s presence amidst human suffering and pain, which we explored over the past two weeks. And the second most popular was the consideration of the nature of God’s forgiveness, which we will explore over these two weeks. I must say that I delight at the timing because for us to place God’s forgiveness in our thanksgiving ‘horn of plenty’ along with food, family and the like seems so very fitting. This morning we examine a distinctive quality of our God that is filled with pure grace, that has the capacity to fill one’s life with joy, and has the capacity to transform one’s life. This morning we consider how God’s very nature is that of forgiveness. After WWII, Traudl Junge’s life was filled with over one-half of a century of pain and suffering over this lack of awareness. And I wonder how many of us, myself included, need to lift up this nature of God’s way in our lives as well. Do you know God’s forgiveness?
Our first text comes from the second, of the three, sections of Isaiah. We spent some time last Sunday with ‘Second Isaiah’ as we examined God’s deepest desire of seeing the Israelites, then held in Babylonian captivity, to come home. God yearned for them to come home and live in unity as they once had in the past. In the passage, God is offering them the purest sense of forgiveness ~ and in fact, God defines what forgiveness means. “I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins”. God is cleaning up the messes made in the past ~ the transgressions of the past are being “blotted out”. The past is being restores. In fact, God is going one step further. Not only are the messes of the past being cleaned up, God is erasing the divine memory and wiping the slate clean ~ “I will not remember your sins”. Coming before God’s forgiveness is about having the past restored, cleaned up, and ~ in fact ~ forgotten, so that we can start again. God is offering the chance for a new beginning, hope for a restored future, an opportunity for God and Israel to begin again. What would that mean for you to have a new beginning? a restored future? a clean slate?
One of the most significant parts of this passage, I would suggest, is found at the beginning: “yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel!” How many of us would be guilty of not “calling upon God” and seeking forgiveness, restoration and hope in those areas where we have gone astray? Just call on God and know that forgiveness will be offered, know that new beginnings will be found, know that the promised land of light and hope will be in the tomorrows God offers! Christopher Seitz, professor of Old Testament at St. Mary’s College in Scotland encourages us to view God’s forgiveness as an extension of God’s creation. We remember back to the two Genesis accounts where God created life and order from chaos. Creation does not end there. He encourages us to see God’s forgiveness as part of God’s ongoing creation slowly unfolding in the world. The passage concludes by referring to our first ancestor who sinned and those who proceeded offered their transgressions, yet God offers deliverance and restoration and is rebuilding us into a new creation. God’s continuing acts are ongoing acts and hopes of creation. Part of God’s ongoing creation is found in moving away from the practice of ritual animal sacrifice. As we read in the text “I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense”. As we move ahead in the history and ongoing creation of Israel, God’s desires become ones of grace, kindness and justice. As Seitz puts it, “the God of Second Isaiah and the gospels of Jesus is only moved by acts of tenderness and devotion”.
And that moves us into our second text, as we examine Luke’s version of Jesus’ passion narrative. The way of God that we see revealed in Jesus is about forgiveness. Jesus words on the cross “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” reveal a God who seeks mercy, restoration, and peace even when we see the deep darkness of our humanity revealed. Many of you have been in my office and know that I have a number of crosses on the wall. Some have commented that I have some that are crucifixes, commenting “but we are not catholic, why do you have a crucifix on your wall?” I have a crucifix on the wall because it reminds us of God’s forgiveness, that even after meeting the darkness of humanity, the darkness that would place God’s Son on a cross, God would still offer us forgiveness and invite us to ‘be with me in paradise’. One of the things Protestants lost 500 years ago in the Protestant Reformation was the sacrament of confession and the pronouncement of forgiveness. While I’m not ready to become a catholic priest, I’m sad that we don’t hold confession and forgiveness with the same sacramental quality we do with communion and baptism. So, whenever we worship, you will notice that there is always a component of forgiveness and confession contained. I haven’t installed a confessional booth yet … but you never know.
Now, there is a second component to forgiveness, which we will focus upon next week. And that is how we respond to this nature of God. Forgiveness of our transgressions has as much to do with God’s character as it did with Israel’s desire (and as it does with ours) for health and restoration. But for our first section, I wanted to focus predominantly on this nature of God. So, in case you are wondering, part two will continue next week…
But as we come to an end, I would like to get back to Traudl Junge. In, what I think, was a poignant coincidence, Junge died of cancer the evening that the film “Blind Spot” premiered at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival. Junge sufferred for 57 years over her past. She took early retirement due to severe depression. Yet , it seems that she made peace with her tortured past in her final days. Othmar Schmiderer, the producer of Blind Spot, was among the last people to speak to her. He quoted Junge as saying: "Now that I've let go of my story, I can let go of my life." So too does God invite us to "let go of our story," to embrace and then move beyond our past in confident expectation of God’s gracious future. Forgiveness is ‘for’ / ‘giving’. It is a gift ‘for’ / ‘receiving’ from God. It is pure grace a gift of God given to each of us as creation unfolds.
May we count our blessings on this Thanksgiving weekend, and may we count among them the priceless gift of God’s forgiveness.