Say you’re sorry

Feb 22, 2015 Lent 1 Sermon: Matthew 18:15-35    Practice Discipleship: Forgiveness

Here is a link to the video I reference heavily in the sermon:

Video of the sermon is right here: 

I love Louis CK. He is a comedian who has a tv show and he loves to do bits around stuff that make you uncomfortable because that’s where the important stuff of life is. It was only as I was preparing this sermon that I realized he’s the perfect comedian for the season of Lent. The theme song for his show contain these – and only these – words set to a bluesy, harmonized funky melody: Louie, Louie, Louie, Lew-E Louie, Louie, Louie, Lew-I, Louie, Louie, Louie, Lew-E, Louie, Louie you’re gonna die.

I bring him up today because there is an episode from his show that has he and his 2 daughters, both under the age of 10, shopping in a super market. A woman loudly talking on her cell phone shoves herself in front of Louie and knocks some stuff off the shelf and swears loudly and then is gone. Louie does nothing but catch the boxed goods she knocked off the shelf. Seemingly influenced by this encounter, the younger sister, Lilly intentionally hits her older sister, Jane. Immediately, Lilly insists it was an accident and then protests her father’s insistence of an apology by lying on the floor and yelling that it was an accident and that she will not say that she is sorry.

Louie insists, “Say you’re sorry – tell her you’re sorry.”

I’m not sorry, says Lilly.

Yes you are, says Louie

Jane pipes in, “she doesn’t have to.”

“Yes she does,” says dad.

Then he launches into this beautiful and utilitarian description of how to say you’re sorry. He says, “It’s not easy to say sorry, but you have to do it. All you gotta do is make the sound – it’s just a sound, push the air out of your body through your face and say it – sorry, sorry, sorry.”

Lilly starts to push air through her body and our her face and she manages to say, “I’m sorry” and actually sound like she means it.

Her sister says thank you.

Now, it should end here. Because that’s a nice ending, isn’t it? But it’s not. The loud lady on the cell phone returns and this time bumps pretty hard into his youngest daughter, Lilly without a backward glance, without saying sorry.

Lilly, just having learned a valuable lesson right there in the grocery store isle can’t believe the woman didn’t stop to say that she was sorry.

Then Louie, in typical hyperbolic story telling fashion, chases down the rude woman and insists that she apologize for running into his daughter, even explaining he’s trying to teach them how to navigate this kind of stuff.

As he interrupts her never-ending cell phone conversation, she says, “Who do you think you are? Please don’t hit on me right now, I’m trying to live my life.”

He explains about the apologizing and she responds “What is your problem? Are you trying to tell me what to do right now?”

Louie persists, “Can you just say you’re sorry? Not to me – to her.”

Then Louie goes to the store manager, explains he’s trying to teach his girls.

The manager apologizes and then confronts the lady and insists that she tell the little girl she’s sorry. “Who are you, talking to me like that? I didn’t mean it. I won’t apologize.” says the unrepentant lady.

The next scene is of the woman being arrested for assaulting a minor, with mild mannered Louis still simply saying, “I just need her to say sorry.” To which the cop says, “You wouldn’t say sorry- what’s wrong with you?”

She yells at Louie, “This is your fault.”

It’s then that Lilly steps forward and from her cute Cindy-Lou-Who voice she teaches the woman how to say sorry, just as she’s been taught. “I know it’s hard to say sorry. I didn’t like it either. You just make a word. Push the air out of your face. Just say sorry. Please try.”

The woman says that she’s sorry and Lilly says, “It’s ok. I know it was an accident.”

The woman breaks down, sobbing and his hauled out the door to jail.

End scene.

We need practice, don’t we? And not “practice makes perfect” practice. But just keepin’ on keepin’ on practice. Trying it again and then trying it again. Standing in front of God and everybody and saying “I messed up. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” is difficult. Asking a stranger for that is hard. Asking someone you love for that is hard. Louie is right…it’s not easy to say you’re sorry, but you have to do it. All you gotta do is make the sound – it’s just a sound, push the air out of your body through your face and say it – sorry, sorry, sorry.

Wait, but how many times!? Peter asks what we’re all thinking. I mean, there’s gotta be a limit to forgiveness, right?

And that’s just more proof that we need more practice. And Jesus makes time today to teach his followers how to love other Jesus followers. Because if people are going to be known as lovers of Jesus, well then, people will watch especially close how we treat each other.

[We are called to grow together as disciples: to forgive, to teach, to love.]

It’s one of the reasons we developed guiding principles, a purpose statement and the covenant you received today. To help us practice loving each other so that we’ve got a shot at loving the world. Yet, we know it’s not fool proof. We’ll screw it up, just give us time.

I’m not sure if you know this, so I’m going to tell you. River of Hope is filled with hypocrites. River of Hope is filled with sinners. At some point, this church, this gathering of people, is going to disappoint you. A mistake is going to be made. At some point, someone from this community will do something that will hurt you. River of Hope is not a utopia. We don’t all think the same things. It might be easier to pick up and leave when the going gets tough.

But my great hope is this: that you’ll stick around to see what God does with the fertile ground of sin. Stick around to practice forgiving. That’s why we do it every week: we confess our sin and are offered forgiveness. We come to the table and we get to experience that forgiveness and grace through bread and wine. These 40 days of Lent we will fast from this practice, creating a hunger to hear public promise of forgiveness of sin. Remembering Jesus without bread. Remembering Jesus in the wilderness, fasting and praying.

What happens to you when you don’t stop long enough in your life to feel remorse, to take responsibility, to say you are sorry, to ask for forgiveness? What happens to your heart and your life if you act as if you are blameless and entitled? Or that it’s not a big deal? Or that your cell phone somehow excuses your behavior to ignore other people? Well, that’s just it, you forget about other people. You don’t show them the time of day let alone love or offer them the forgiveness of God continually, as we are instructed to do today.

That’s what Jesus worries about – what happens to other people.

So we practice here. Sometimes we know the words by heart. Sometimes they are new. Sometimes we mean what we say. Sometimes we are distracted and don’t mean what we say. We just say the words. Which is sort of the point of practice. Just say the words. Push the air out of your body and through your face, just say you are sorry. Because these practices impact our hearts and our lives.

Because just saying the words opens up space for God to work. For God to muck around in our muck and to change it, to transform it, to give us a new future that is not defined by the past but is transformed by it. Writer Anne Lamott says these 2 things about forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”


“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

The king and the servant in today’s story? It’s you and me – both holding power to forgive and be forgiven. Both holding responsibility to forgive even when they don’t deserve it.

And we begin to channel the disciple Peter again, but wait, what about…

Our logical minds see exceptions to this forgiveness rule. War crimes and cold blooded murderers, ISIS and Hitler – I mean, there must be a loop hole, right?

I want to say this: If you are in an abusive relationship: forgiving your abuser to be abused again is not what God wants for you. Forgiveness is not about being a doormat-its about walking over the doormat into a new future.

Brian Fitch Sr. was convicted for the murder of Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick. He is condemned to life in prison without parole. The police officer was shot during a routine traffic stop in West St. Paul last summer. As Fitch was led from the court room, he shouted obscenities, blaming others for his sentence. In the midst of his diatribe, Officer Patrick’s widow, Michelle, said “God bless Fitch.” Speaking slowly and between sobs, she continued: “I hope he can come to a realization of what he has done. He has taken so much from us. He didn’t need to. I just want to bless him and hope that he realizes what he has done. Amen to him.”

I don’t know how forgiveness works, folks. But I do know this:

it is God who finally works out the miracle of creating a future where there was none before.

it is God who transforms us, restores relationships, creates life out of dead relationships.

God does not want us to poison our own hearts and lives through our clinging to the past like it’s our only future. God will work out the forgiveness where you just can’t.

So, let’s practice again, shall we? Let’s push the air up through our bodies and out our mouths and just say it.

I am sorry.

Please forgive me.