March 1, 2020

Begging Dimitri's Pardon

Do you ever experience the internet as a rabbit hole? I don’t mean “rabbit hole” literally (obviously)— I’m talking about it in the figurative sense, like in Alice in Wonderland— a weird place or situation that you seem to fall into, and find it very difficult to find your way back out. For example, last week’s sermon: I was doing my due diligence by visiting the California Dried Plum Board’s website, only to discover that after almost twenty years, they’d changed their mind and decided that dried plums could once again be referred to as prunes. After several steps in between, I naturally made my way to the Wikipedia article on the African nation of Malawi, then somehow found some books on gutenberg.org by a guy named A. Huitt Verrill. And this, brothers and sisters, is why you pay me as your half-time pastor.

Anyway, the point of this is to say that I finally wound up on YouTube viewing a clip from the early days of television. The clip in question was from a series called Perfect Strangers, a sitcom that aired from 1986 to 1993. The main characters are Larry— played by an actor named Mark Linn-Baker, whom I haven’t heard of since— and Balki—played by Bronson Pinchot. This helps explain how I ended up at this clip after looking at books on gutenberg.org. I’m not sure of all the steps in between, but Bronson Pinchot is now a reader of audiobooks. I love audiobooks, and he’s just about my favorite narrator. And so I must’ve encountered the title of some book that reminded me of something I’d heard Bronson Pinchot read, then decided I needed to see him in the form I was first acquainted with: namely, Balki on Perfect Strangers.

"Balki, I don't mind sleeping on that
side of the bed. I mind
arguing about
sleeping on that side of the bed!"
In case you don’t remember, the premise of Perfect Strangers was that Larry, a young guy fresh out of college, moved away from his family in Wisconsin to the big city of Chicago to live on his own for the first time in his life. But no sooner does he move into his own apartment than there’s a knock on the door. He answers it to find a guy about his own age dressed very strangely and speaking with a weird foreign accent. It turns out that it’s Balki, a very, very distant cousin, fresh off the boat from the Mediterranean island of Mypos, where Balki had been a shepherd. He’d heard that he had relatives in America, and he finally found one of them in Larry. Though Larry’s against it at first, he finally lets Balki move in.

It’s only a one-bedroom apartment, however, so Balki has to sleep on the sofa bed in the living room… which sets the stage for the clip I found on YouTube. In this particular episode, Balki has a friend name Gina, whom he knows from his citizenship class. Gina is pregnant, and her husband has to go out of town on business. Balki doesn’t think she should be alone in her condition, so he invites her to stay at his place. Cousin Larry, though young, is very curmudgeonly, but with Balki’s naïve weirdness as his moral compass, he usually ends up doing the right thing. So he lets Gina have the bedroom, which means he has to stay with Balki on the sofa bed. After the requisite silliness over who gets which side of the bed, Balki and Larry finally settle in to sleep. But when Larry turns his head toward Balki, he suddenly finds his nose in the tail-end of a stuffed toy that looks like a sheep.

“What’s in my face?” Larry asks angrily.

“Dimitri,” says Balki. “He always sleeps with me.”

“Not tonight,” says Larry. Then, like a complete jerk, he grabs Dimitri and drops him on the floor.

Balki gets up and kneels by the bedside. “I say my prayers now,” he explains. “God, bless cousin Larry and Gina and the new baby, and please watch over Dimitri, who’s sleeping on the floor for the first time in his whole young life.”

"What's in my face?"
After Balki jumps back into bed, Larry obviously feels a little bit guilty, so he reaches down and puts Dimitri back in the bed. “Balki,” he says, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not the one you threw on the floor,” Balki says with tears in his eyes. Which forces Larry to pick up the stuffed sheep, and say, “I’m sorry, Dimitri. Please forgive me.”

So there we have an example from 1980’s television about what Jesus was talking about when he taught us the Lord’s Prayer. Repentance is more than just saying, “God, forgive me.” If we really want to turn our lives around, then we must go to the source.

"Not tonight."
After teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, the only explanation Jesus provides refers back to the part about the forgiveness of debts: If we want God’s forgiveness, then we need to practice forgiveness toward our neighbor. Balki realized this when Larry asked his forgiveness for throwing Dimitri on the floor: Larry couldn’t really be whole by asking for forgiveness from anybody other than the injured party. It wasn’t Balki, but Dimitri who was hurt by his actions, so asking Balki for forgiveness wasn’t going to accomplish what was needed. Larry had to go to the source—to the injured party—that is, Dimitri— in order to be forgiven.

"Please watch over Dimitri, who’s sleeping on the
floor for the first time in his whole young life.”
So it with us, our neighbors, and God. Jesus wants us to know that the freedom of being forgiven is really only possible if we practice it among ourselves before we approach God. If I secretly steal my neighbor’s property, then ask God to forgive me, what good is that? I must first return my neighbor’s property, admit my wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness, then turn to God.

The key ingredient here, of course, is the granting of forgiveness. My neighbor also needs the freedom of the gospel, and holding an eternal grudge against me will interfere with her or his own relationship with God. They didn’t ask to get embroiled in this situation, but that’s the nature of life. They still have a choice to make: Hold my sin against me, or forgive me. The former will get in the way of their relationship with God, and the latter will set them on the road to freedom.

I'm sorry, Dimitri. Please forgive me."
This is what we ought to think about as we go through the Lenten season. Having a private relationship with God that ignores our neighbors is no way to prepare for the freedom of Easter Sunday. So Lent isn’t just about “getting right with God.” If we pray the Lord’s Prayer and take it seriously, then any season of renewal should involve getting right with each other as much as getting right with God.

Today’s psalm is about the bondage of sin and the freedom of forgiveness. It’s mainly about asking God to forgive us. But before we pray it, let us give some thought to those situations that have imprisoned us in the past, and how we might either ask for forgiveness from— or grant forgiveness to—other people in order to approach God for God’s forgiveness.
—©2020 Sam L. Greening, Jr.

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