I remember the day the space shuttle Challenger blew up in the sky, 73 seconds into launch.
Do you remember where you were?
It was January 1986, and I was in high school English class.
The principle interrupted classes with the announcement.
Seven astronauts were on board, including a school teacher, and all perished.
Another man remembers the day, too.
His name is Bob Ebeling.
He was one of the engineers who worked on the rocket launchers on the Challenger.
Bob and his colleagues knew that the temperatures forecasted for that fateful January morning
were unseasonably cold.
Freezing temperatures would make the seals of O rings brittle,
causing burning rocket fuel to leak out and cause an explosion.
Bob and his colleagues repeatedly contacted their supervisors to warn them to call off the launch.
But officials from NASA rejected their prediction and launched anyway.
Ebeling carried with him the guilt of that decision for the next 3 decades.
In fact in an interview I heard in January on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion he said,
“God shouldn't have picked me for that job.
But next time I talk to him, I'm gonna ask him, 'Why me? You picked a loser.' "
The interview broke my heart.
Ebeling had resigned his engineering position shortly after the Challenger disaster due to depression.
And here he was at age 89, still shouldering the weight of guilt.
Ebeling’s story is a poignant one, because it shows the human need of forgiveness.
Many of us do not have as a dramatic stories as Ebeling, but we nonetheless carry with us
the should-have’s and the would-have’s about the things we wish we could have done differently.
How many times have you replayed in your mind a set of events, still looking for a different outcome?
But it’s in the past, and cannot be undone.
And so you are left with ghosts of the past, endless blame game, and good no answers.
This is the state in which we find the disciples in our Gospel lesson.
They were haunted by the events of the past week: Jesus’ arrest, his gruesome death,
and the strange news about the disappearance of his body, still played upon their minds.
How did it all go so wrong?
What could they have done differently?
Maybe if I had just… if only we could have…
Can you imagine their guilt? they were the ones who had left Jesus to die alone.
Confused and afraid for their lives, they closed themselves behind locked doors.
But Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
With a word, Jesus eased their should have-/could have’s.
The doors of their hearts that were locked in guilt were sprung open.
Jesus’ forgiveness opened a new gift for them to share:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”
I think about Bob Ebeling again when I hear this story, because he didn’t get that word of peace.
NASA never contacted him after he resigned, even though it was known that Ebeling had been right
and that he had tried to stop the launch.
Without a word of acknowledgment, he lived out Jesus words: his ‘sins were retained.’
But after the interview I heard, Ebeling started to get mail.
He got letters from listeners who were engineers, telling him he had done all he could.
His former boss called him, reminding him that if he hadn’t raised the alarm
NASA never would have even considered calling off the launch.
And finally, a former NASA official wrote to Ebeling.
"You and your colleagues did everything that was expected of you," he wrote.
"The decision was a collective decision made by several NASA individuals.
You should not torture yourself with any assumed blame."
That was the word of peace that Ebeling needed.
He is on hospice care for prostate cancer, but his heart is lighter than it’s been in thirty years.
To the listeners who wrote him letters he said, “Thank you—you’ve helped ease my worrisome mind.”
And you could hear the lightness in his voice instead of the pain.
We have an awesome power in holding onto or releasing wrongs.
It isn’t just Jesus who can ease guilt with a word of peace; all of us can.
In the newspaper this morning was a story that adds a new chapter to a story
that many of us have been following since November when a man shot up the Meriden mosque.
It was after hours and so no one was hurt, but our congregation joined the outcry against this act of hate;
many of us attended a service the following week at the Berlin Mosque as a sign of our solidarity.
The new chapter is that this week, the shooter, Ted Hakey, apologized at a gathering of mosque members.
He is a neighbor of the mosque, and says he acted out of fear and ignorance.
“I wish I had come and knocked on your door, and if I spent five minutes with you,
it would have made all the difference in world.”
the Muslim community publicly forgave Hakey shortly after the bullet holes were found.
That initial forgiveness, plus subsequent conversations, led to Hakey’s change of heart.
Now he pledges to help the muslim community bridge the gap in understanding,
so that others do not act as his did.
Jesus’ gift of forgiveness has the power to reshape the world.
And so we must all take seriously this power in our lives
and our responsibility to walk the path of forgiveness.
In the Lutheran church we offer corporate confession and absolution in worship at specific times
throughout the year;
I also extend the invitation to anyone with a heavy heart about any matter
to make an appointment with me for conversation and a private rite of confession.
In that time I listen to you, hear your story, and then lead you through a short series of prayers
in which you may speak directly to God about your feelings.
And best of all, when it is all done, I have the privilege of saying God’s words of release to you:
In the name of Jesus, I forgive you all your sins.
But honestly, the walk of forgiveness is a daily practice.
Notice that when Jesus gives the disciples the power to forgive sin, he does so at the same time as giving them the Holy Spirit.
This walk of forgiveness is something we do not do alone.
It is empowered by the Spirit’s work in us.
That work has many facets, but first among them is being like the disciples
who experienced Jesus’ forgiveness before being charged to offer it to others.
This is the first place to start: to imagine yourself in passages like these,
and listen for Jesus’ word of peace to you.
Can you really have done anything worse than the disciples?
Jesus’ forgiveness is available to you each and every day.
As you experience Jesus’ forgiveness, then it becomes possible to forgive others.
I think that is why in the Lord’s Prayer we pray:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Our forgiving others is linked to our being able to know our own need for forgiveness
and that God has already forgiven us and set us free.
In God’s love and forgiveness, we can begin to learn to live in our own skin,
and have a gracious attitude with others.
“You’ve helped me ease my worrisome mind,” Ebeling said.
Then he smiled, raised his hands, and clapped them over his head.
He might be dying of cancer, but he is a happy, freer man.
Ted Hakey will serve a year in prison, but he is grateful to be able to begin to make amends
with the people he once feared
and to join them in building a society of acceptance and understanding.
That’s the power of forgiveness.
That’s the power Jesus shares with you.
It is the power that changes the world.
Hartford Courant, Sunday April 3, 2016 “I Just Ask For Your Forgiveness”