I can hear it now. Brendan and Holli are not going to be fans of the opening clause of the Collect for Proper 19: “O God, because without you we are not able to please you…” Certainly, they will raise smart objections to this clause. It can be used in very damaging ways, to be sure, both towards those who do not profess the Christian faith, and even more dangerously, toward those who do, but with whom we disagree. As was the case in last week’s Gospel lesson, it would be easy to use this Collect to excommunicate everyone we don’t like because if what they are dong upsets us they can’t possibly be in a true relationship with God. I get that.
But on the other hand, it raises for me a much more helpful question than “what displeases God?” Instead, I’d like to ask “What pleases God?” It seems to me, in what is probably more Calvin that I’d like to admit, that engaging in activities that are pleasing to God are as good a way as any to figure out if I’m in right relationship with God. This Sunday’s Gospel lesson seems to offer an obvious check mark on the “what pleases God” list. Forgiveness.
Forgiveness pleases God. Not just forgiving someone once or twice or even seven times, but forgiving as many as 77 or 70 times 7 times. Truth be told, we’re to forgive our neighbor as often as God forgives us: always and without restriction. The best part is that if forgiveness pleases God, then it totally undercuts that bad reading of the opening clause of this week’s Collect. Rather than being an excuse to walk away from those who aren’t us, it is a call back into relationship. If we are with God, then we are a people who forgive again and again and again.