THE POWER AND PROBLEM OF FORGIVENESS: Really? (When forgiveness is hard)
Reinbeck UMC 3/11/18
From the sandbox and school yard; to the work place and the family, forgiveness is a critical part of human relationships. None of us gets through life without hurting someone’s feelings, stepping on someone’s toes, or breaking someone’s heart. Likewise, none of us gets through life without having our feelings hurt, toes stepped on, or heart broken.
There are some big stories of forgiveness. The man who forgave his son for hiring a hit man to kill the family. Corrie Ten Boom forgiving the Nazi guard whose abuse led to her sister’s death. The spouse who forgives infidelity and the marriage is saved. Do you remember my pastor friend who forgave his father’s murderer and took him into his own home after he was released from prison?
Most forgiveness is not that dramatic. One child taking a toy from another. One child pushes the other down on the playground. A son or daughter wrecks the family car. A misunderstanding between friends or spouses. Perhaps they are the training grounds for those times in life when we face bigger hurts. They are mistakes, and misjudgments, and oversights but you know what? They are still hard. Forgiveness is just really hard. Let’s talk about some barriers to forgiveness today.
If you have heard the first three sermons in this series you know that
• The source of all forgiveness is God’s grace.
• Unforgiveness will kill us physically, emotionally and spiritually (especially if we pray that dangerous prayer Jesus taught us… “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.)
• And you know that forgiveness is a process
o Recognize that they are a child of God
o Don’t expect them to make it right (give up our claim to justice)
o Change our attitude toward them
o Until we can pray for God to bless them
If you missed them you can read them on line through our website.
Why is forgiveness so hard? It is such a good thing. If we release them, we will be set free from our anger, our need for revenge, our anxiety about them. We can be set free from so many negative things. We can release them from the prison of the past and at the same time we are set free too. If forgiveness is so good, why do we hear Jesus’ teachings to forgive, and look and God to ask, “Really?” Because it is hard. I can’t fix that. But we can address a few barriers to forgiveness.
The first barrier is simple WE SIMPLY DON’T WANT TO FORGIVE.
Let’s face it. On one level we tend to think it would be good if we could hate someone for what they did to us and still have the blessings of God, still be filled with the Spirit, still walk in joy every day, still radiate the love of Jesus, and still have our prayers answered. We’d much prefer if we could just have our relationship with God insulated and encapsulated so we could treat other people any way we like. Jesus says, “No deal. You can’t have it that way.”
Let’s take a look at page 5 of our pew Bibles if you will. Starting with 5:43
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Sometimes that’s the way we want it isn’t it. At least some times we want to be left alone in our anger and hatred. Sometimes we just want to be angry at them and feel sorry for ourselves. Some people find that they get more attention if they can be the victim. Some people have such high expectations that they can’t stand others who don’t live up to those expectations. Others are just vindictive and like holding the power of unforgiveness over others. But Jesus continues I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; … skipping down to verse 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
You see, Jesus won’t accept our resistance to forgiveness.
The ultimate example… and I can’t even wrap my head around this… the ultimate example comes in our second reading today. Jesus has been betrayed by one of his closest friends, unjustly arrested, falsely convicted, whipped, taunted, spat on, nailed to a cross, and was hanging there gasping for breath …and with one of his last breaths says what? “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” How could he do that? Jesus knew the power of unforgiveness to kill and the power of forgiveness to set people free from the death of guilt and shame. He chose forgiveness for all of us. “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
The icing on the cake comes in the prayer Jesus taught. Back in chapter 6 of Matthew. Jesus essentially put an end to the discussion about forgiveness. Verse 12 says. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” And verse 14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
NO doubt, NO wiggle room. NO escape clause. No matter how much you like to bear a grudge Jesus says “do whatever you have to do to get over it and Forgive.
If we get past the wall of our own resistance, there are other barriers.
One is that sometimes there is no apology, no acknowledgement of the hurt, no repentance, nothing. If you forgive someone who doesn’t believe they need forgiveness, they may just look at you funny… or they may punch you in the nose.
We would like to have some justice. We would all like to hear the other person acknowledge their wrong. We would all like to hear an apology, but that is not one of the steps in forgiveness. Step two, in fact, is to specifically give up our claim to justice. Give up any expectation that they will take any steps to make it better.
Let’s step back for a minute.
The source of all forgiveness is God’s grace. What do we have to do to receive God’s grace? Nothing! By definition grace is unearned, undeserved, and has no strings. Refusing to forgive for lack of an apology is a string. And therefore, the forgiveness that follows an apology might be called cheap or easy forgiveness. An apology makes forgiveness easier, but it isn’t necessary.
Did Judas come running to Jesus and apologize while he was on the cross? Peter? the guards? Pilate? No. No one asked to be forgiven How could Jesus forgive. GRACE.
Get in your mind one of those situations where there is no apology. We all have 1 or 20 in our lives. How does it make you feel? Take your pulse do you feel you pulse going up? Your blood pressure? Your anxiety levels? Most of us probably do.
Is that the way you want to live? Even though you might burry it most of the time, what is it doing to you physically? And what is it doing to you spiritually if you don’t forgive that person.
Even if there is no apology, we have to forgive for our sake and God’s. Forgiveness is not just for the person who wronged us. Remember forgiveness sets us free.
Just like Jesus, we have to forgive. Father forgive them even though they don’t admit to doing wrong. Father forgive them even though they don’t know the full extent of what they did. Father for give them even though they deny doing anything wrong. Father help me to forgive. I release them from the prison of the past. Please set me free of my pain, anger, resentment, hatred, set me free from this hurt. Set me free from the prison of unforgiveness I have built for myself.
I Corinthians 13, says “Love keeps no list of wrongs.”
To love our neighbor means to forgive just as we have been forgiven... no matter what.
The last barrier I want to address is repeat offenders. They never seem to change. The example that comes to mind is the alcoholic who is remorseful when they are sober, but they are so owned by the alcohol that they keep repeating the very behavior that hurts those close to them.
It might be someone who gossips, a spouse who is unfaithful or anything else that happens over and over.
Our first reading for the morning from Matthew 18 lays out a conflict resolution plan for Christians. If we work through the plan and they still continue to sin… they continue to hurt us… Jesus says to treat them “as a gentile and a tax collector.” How did Jesus treat Gentile san tax collectors? Let’s see… he healed them, he forgave them, he loved them, the treated them the best he could, and maybe better than they deserved. So, to treat someone as a gentile or tax collector is to treat them with grace and love even though they may not reciprocate.
Peter steps up and asks, “When is enough, enough? You know I have my limits and at some point, I’m just going to throw the person if the lake.” Jesus says, no… there is no limit to forgiveness. There is no limit to grace. You must forgive …what does he say 70 times 7 times. How many is that? 490? Are you likely to keep track of 490 offenses? No. Am likely to write down every time you hurt me. No. I think Jesus point here was to chose a number so big that we would lose track and have to start over so I can keep track? I don’t think Jesus expects that we will ever get to 488, 489, 490 OK you’re cut off no more forgiveness for you. He chooses 7 because 7 is the Hebrew number for completeness and perfection (both physical and spirit
Jesus is really saying you must forgive completely … until you have lost track of how many times you have forgiven.
Jesus says forgive… whether we want to or not, whether they apologize or not, whether they change their behavior or not. It is hard… Who knows better then Jesus who forgave me of my sins and you of your sins. Jesus knew it was hard, but whatever barriers we face… we forgive because we have been forgiven.
Now, Jesus doesn’t say it, but I have to clarify a few things
• Forgiveness does not mean approving of what someone else did.
• Forgiveness does not mean pretending that evil never took place.
• Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for other people’s bad behavior.
• Forgiveness does not mean justifying evil so that sin somehow becomes less sinful.
• Forgiveness does not mean overlooking abuse.
• Forgiveness does not mean denying that others tried to hurt you repeatedly.
• Forgiveness does not mean letting others walk all over you.
• Forgiveness does not mean refusing to press charges when a crime has been committed.
• Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the wrong that was done.
• Forgiveness does not mean pretending that you were never hurt.
• Forgiveness does not mean that you must restore the relationship to what it was before.
• Forgiveness does not mean that you must become best friends again.
• Forgiveness does not mean there must be a total reconciliation as if nothing ever happened.
• Forgiveness does not mean that you must tell the person that you have forgiven them.
• Forgiveness does not mean that all negative consequences of sin are canceled.
FORGIVENESS DOES MEAN THAT YOU RELEASE THE PAST SO YOU CAN HE SET FREE TODAY.