Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Allah Al-Ghaffur, Part I

A sermon from our sister Karen, who ministers in Morocco, that she preached in that heavily Islamic nation on September 11. A moving call for shocking forgiveness in the memory of great tragedy. Thanks, Karen.

And He alone is truly forgiving,
all embracing in His love,
in sublime almightiness enthroned,
a sovereign doer of whatever He wills.
The Qur’an, Sura Al-Buruj 85:14-16, tr. Asad

As I mentioned last Sunday, the readings we’ve heard from Matthew 18 last week and this week are part of a collection of teachings on forgiveness.

As I sat down to plan worship for tonight and looked at the date, it struck me that there was great poignancy in the fact that we are invited tonight to call ourselves to forgiveness on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001.

I personally cannot utter that date without feeling sick in my gut, both over the events of the day and all that has transpired since, an escalation of enmity – bombings and beheadings, Afganistan and Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Casablanca, May 16th 2003, Madrid, March 11 2004, and London, July 7 2005 – How many names, how many dates to go down in infamy?

And for us, en terre Islam, as the French say, Christians living in the Muslim world, there is a particular poignancy. I invite us tonight to experience the distress of the call to forgive in this post-9-11 world by invoking the name of Allah Al-Ghaffur, God the forgiving one.

It may surprise us Christians to learn that Allah is named “The Forgiving One” 97 times in the Qur’an. I think (though I am not sure so don’t quote me on this), that this is the third most common name for God found in the Qur’an, right after Ar-Rahim (the merciful) and Ar-Rahman (the beneficent).

We Christians tend to think of God being portrayed in the Qur’an as a God of judgment who simply weighs good deeds against bad ones and then sends souls off to the destination indicated by the scales of justice – paradise or hell...

God is the forgiving one, the root word Gh –f- r meaning to forgive or to cover, conceil, or veil, as in to cover sins so that, according to Islamic tradition, they cannot by seen by any, “even by the angels”. Sound familiar: “Love covers a multitude of sins,” we read in 1 Peter. So, in Islam, Al Ghaffur is the perfection of forgiveness, the One whose forgiving demonstrates excellence, completeness and perfection of forgiveness.

Now I can’t help but think of a Lyle Lovett song when I think of God’s capacity to forgive. Maybe you know it. It’s called “God will.”

Who keeps on trusting you When you've been cheating
And spending your nights on the town
And who keeps on saying that he still wants you
When you're through running around.
And who keeps on loving you When you've been lying
Saying things ain't what they seem?
God does, But I don't. God will, But I won't
And that's the difference Between God and me.

I love the song. [I first heard it at Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty, by the way ...] It so blatantly states what most of us believe – that there’s a limit to what we should forgive. Certainly that was what Peter thought. Should we forgive a brother or sister as many as seven times, he asked the Lord (seven being the number of perfection, completeness in Hebrew thought.) And then, of course, he is taken aback, as folks so often were, by Jesus’ response, “Not 7 times, but 70 times 7”: Perfection in forgiveness to the nth degree.

Now, going back to Lyle Lovett, I believe we need to make a little distinction here. Like Lyle, and Peter, I believe there are limits as to what we should accept with respect to behavior of others toward us. We should not simply accept to be abused over and over again saying that is what forgiveness requires. We are called to say no to abuse and to injustice – the Bible doesn’t call on the poor to just sit back and take it when greedy, unjust rulers exploit them.

That limit, however, is not something one can calculate – when is a relationship beyond repair – it’s not a matter of getting the right mathematical equation to determine that. Don’t think Jesus meant we should learn to keep score up to the magic number 490. So there may come a time when a Christian may say to one asking for forgiveness that trust has been shattered and the relationship cannot continue. That’s a painful reality. However, even if we get that point, perhaps particularly when we get to that point, we still have to forgive.

We may be called to separate ourselves from the one who has hurt us and keeps hurting us, but we will still, brothers and sisters, have to learn to forgive him, to forgive her.

by Reverend Karen. BUT WAIT! There's more...


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