Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Good Friday 4/10

          “Father, forgive them.”  No real surprise there, not coming from Jesus anyway.  From Jesus we expect forgiveness.  Now if what happened to him was happening to us we know that we wouldn’t be able to say “Father forgive them,” not in the midst of it all anyway, but this is Jesus.  We expect him to be better than us, we count on him to do better than us and he comes through, he delivers with this cry for forgiveness.

          “Father, forgive them” isn’t surprising; what makes this appeal for forgiveness interesting though, is the rest of what Jesus says, “Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they are doing.”   For they don’t know what they are doing; that is a temporary insanity plea.  Ishpeming will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Anatomy of a Murder this summer, the book and the movie in which John Voelker, Otto Preminger, Jimmy Stewart and the rest of the cast made famous a case involving a plea of temporary insanity; irresistible impulse I think they called it.  But here is Jesus, from the cross, making this same plea on behalf of the world that has sentenced him to death and is now carrying out the sentence.  “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

          Jesus wasn’t making this appeal only on behalf of those who were directly responsible for what was happening to him, the chief priests and scribes, Herod and Pilate and the soldiers.  He was asserting the insanity of the dominant culture of his time, a culture which he consistently challenged during his ministry.  He challenged the religious rulers for their failure to understand the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law.  He challenged them by hanging around with, even eating with those thought to be unworthy and unclean.  He touched those afflicted with illness, disease and demon possession, crossing religious and ethnic boundaries to do so.  He challenged the religious leaders by including rather than excluding. 

He challenged the political leaders by talking about a different kingdom, the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God where the mighty are put down from their thrones and those of low degree are exalted, a kingdom where the rules of judgment are changed, where the unwelcome become welcome, the unworthy become worthy.  He challenged the social structures of the day by associating with women and tax collectors and all manner of those thought to be sinners.  He told stories about all this, stories in which welcome and grace and forgiveness figured prominently so that new life and new opportunities became available, stories where the world’s usual power structures were no longer so powerful and its “you get what you deserve” ethic didn’t apply. 

In this appeal for forgiveness from the cross, Jesus made his final defense not on his own behalf but on behalf of those he came to save.  He played the temporary insanity card, declaring insane the culture and the world that he had challenged in the three years of his ministry.  As we meditate on these events 2000 years later we can only hope for the same plea to be made on behalf of our culture and world, because it’s still pretty insane out there.

We still crucify the way of Jesus preferring to live by the insanity of this world where we worship idols like money and prosperity and youth and military power and the flag and sex and sports and entertainment.  And it’s not just them, out there; it’s us too.  In the church we crucify the way of Jesus by deciding that a lot of what he said sounds good but it doesn’t really work in this world so that church just becomes a vehicle to make sure that when I die I go to heaven; or we become very selective about what we hear from the teachings of the Bible picking a verse here or there to make a case against those we find most objectionable choosing not to remember that those were the people Jesus was hanging around with and besides didn’t he say something about Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?    

We crucify the way of Jesus by making his way and the way of the Bible conform to our preferences and our way of living rather than hearing it as the challenge that it always is.  We see Jesus only for the personal salvation he offers, but we miss the fact that the kingdom he preached wasn’t just the heavenly hereafter, but that it could be revealed here in this world, as we live according to his teachings. We still don’t know what we’re doing.  The world is still insane and each of us is part of the insanity.  But at that moment when the world was at its worst, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” and he still says it because the world still needs to hear it.

When they do surveys asking people why they go to church, the answer for many is that they need to hear that they are forgiven.  Exactly what that means for each person probably varies a lot, but there is that need to feel a sense of forgiveness…because forgiveness means another chance.  Forgiveness means life can go on.

Stories of forgiveness and second chances are at the core of the biblical story.  There’s judgment and consequences too, but the God of the Bible is forever giving second chances to people who don’t deserve it.  Jesus himself told parables of forgiveness and grace, the Prodigal Son is perhaps the best known; but in this call for forgiveness from the cross, Jesus may provide the best parable of undeserved forgiveness; the best, because in this one, you and I become the main characters.  If we dare to make eye contact, Jesus looks at each of us and as he looks at us, we hear his words clearly, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”   

The power of these words is that they condemn us and forgive us at the same time.  We need to hear both parts of that but we can hear it with the assurance that if Jesus can offer forgiveness from the cross, we’re never outside the reach of that offer.  Our human ability to forgive may have limits, but Jesus’ divine forgiveness is always available.  Jesus’ cry from the cross though is also a call to end the insanity.  We want to hear the words of forgiveness, but we also need to hear the “for they don’t know what they are doing” part.  But do we really want to end the insanity?

There is plenty of evidence that says we don’t, 2000 years of not getting the message being the biggest piece of evidence.  It’s hard to unlearn habits and ways that we have found pretty comfortable for a long time; it never gets any easier to really hear and live the challenge of Jesus. Light has come into the world, but we prefer darkness; sanity has come into the world, but we prefer insanity.

But…where forgiveness is spoken and lived, insanity can’t win because with forgiveness the cycle of idolatry and fear and vengeance and retaliation ends.  Jesus’ words of forgiveness from the cross transformed insanity on that first Good Friday as God’s love was revealed in that moment of absence and pain.  His words of forgiveness continue to transform brokenness.  When we hear his words and when we speak them and live them, insanity is overcome and new life, sane life, lived in Christ, becomes possible.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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