Sunday Sermon, 14 September 2014
Forgiveness — Rev Rodney Duncan (Long Bay Baptist Church)
Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
William Barclay writes. Hope you are impressed that I am starting with a quote from good Presbyterian!!! “We owe a very great deal to the fact that Peter had a quick tongue. Again and again Peter rushed into speech and his impetuosity drew from Jesus teaching which is immortal.”
On this occasion he asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has wronged him. He suggests that maybe 7 would be generous response. We need to note that Peter, in asking this question, is not expecting rebuke but praise. He is expecting Jesus to say: “Excellent Peter. You go to the head of the class. You get A+.” According to Jewish law, Peter had the right to think that he had done something good. Scribal law clearly read:
“If a man transgresses one time, forgive him.
If a man transgresses two times, forgive him.
If a man transgresses three times, forgive him.
If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him.”
What Peter has done is to take this law of limited forgiveness, multiply it by two and add one,and then sit back with a smile on his face and say: “Now how is that for being a great guy?”
And he surely must have been taken aback when Jesus said you must forgive seventy times seven. These numbers like “seventy-seven times” or “seventy-times-seven” are metaphors for “as often as forgiveness is needed and sought after.” Jesus’ challenge to Peter, to all his disciples, in the first century and in the next twenty centuries, was to find it within themselves to offer the gift of forgiveness, no matter how many times it took. Did we really get that?
For as long as we have breath, we are to forgive. And then Jesus tells the story of the servant who was forgiven much, But who then refused to forgive another servant who did not have nearly as much to repay. And he finishes the story with some very strong words about forgiveness. He says we will suffer greatly if we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us. And the Lord’s Prayer also says: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” If we expect God to forgive us, then we need to forgive others. I would like us to think about forgiveness.
First of all four things that forgiveness is NOT! It is not forgetting. Maybe that surprises you because we often hear the phrase: “Forgive and forget” But the bible never says that we should forgive and forget.God can do it. We’re not God – we can’t.Too often we feel guilty because we remember a time when someone hurt us, and because we remember it we think we have not forgiven them. But that may not be the case. Forgiving is not forgetting.Thankfully few of us have had an experience like Helmut Thielicke, a survivor of the Nazi regime. Thielicke proclaimed that: “One should never mention the words ‘forgive and forget’ in the same breath. No, we will remember, but in forgiving we no longer use the memory against others. Forgiveness is not pretending the event never occurred, or that it does not matter,and there is no use pretending otherwise.The offence is real, but when we forgive the offense no longer controls our behavior. It is not acting as if things were just the sameas they were before the offence . . . they will never be the same.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. We do not forgive with our memories. Neither do we forgive with our feelings – our emotions. Forgiveness is not: Feeling better! If we are honest sometimes we would feel better if we could hurt them back. It would seem fairer. Memories and pain will return – we will feel it again – forgiveness is not feeling better. Neither is forgiveness going back into a bad relationship. I knew a girl who had left home because her father had abused her. She hated him. We talked and prayed about her need to forgive him,and one day she rang me quite excited and told me she had been able to tell him on the phone that she loved him. But that did not mean that I would suggest she could go home. Sometimes a relationship can begin again, but sometimes it cannot. And forgiveness is not trusting. Sometimes forgiveness can provide the basis to rebuild trust,but not always.
And even when it happens it may be a long process and that is O.K. SO please do not feel guilty because you still remember, you still hurt, you are still suspicious of the person who has wronged you. That does not mean you have not forgiven them. So if that is what forgiveness is NOT – Then what is it? Forgiveness is giving up the desire to punish or to see another punished. It doesn’t deal with justice or fairness guilt or innocence. It simply means we will not play at being God in another person’s life.
We will leave it to God to judge and punish. So when someone hurts us, or someone we love, forgiveness is giving up our desire:
to have them ‘pay for it’,
to have them suffer the consequences,
to have them get what they deserve.
It is when we don’t give up that desire that we get infected. That the root of bitterness forms, grows and destroys us. Forgiveness is, contrary to the normal reaction, Desiring good, and not bad, for the person you are forgiving. Secondly, forgiveness is an act of kindness and grace that has nothing to do with whether the person deserves it or not. It does not mean that you approve of their behaviour- that what happened was ok. It does not mean that the other person should continue to behave in a bad way. But it does mean that you have forgiven them even when they do not deserve it.
On October 2, 2006 a gunman broke into an Amish schoolhouse (The Amish are a christian group in America) And then he shot and killed five young girls and then himself. It was a horrible, evil tragedy. But the Amish community not only honored and buried their daughters.The families then offered their condolences and forgiveness to the shooter’s widow and children left behind by this awful event.Fully half of those in attendance of the shooter’s funeral were members of the Amish community. And as they offered their condolences to the widow and her children, they also gave to the gunman’s family a portion of the offerings that had poured into their community in memory of their children. The evil of the act was never condoned. But the forgiveness poured out from a hurting community to a hurting family was complete and amazing.So what does forgiveness do? First, it breaks the cycle of blame and pain. If people refuse to apologise – to say sorry – And people refuse to forgive. Then blame and pain go on and on.
And relationships break and get torn apart. Philip Yancey shares a negative example of this from a novel. In “Love in the time of Cholera” the author portrays a marriage that disintegrates over a bar of soap. It was the wife’ job to keep the house in order, including the towels, toilet paper and soap in the bathroom. One day she forgot to replace the soap,an oversight her husband mentioned in an exaggerated way. “Ive been bathing for almost a week without any soap” But which she vigorously denied. Although she had indeed forgotten, her pride was at stake, and she would not back down. For the next seven months they slept in separate roomsand ate in silence. Even when they were old and placid they were very careful not to bring it up for the barely healed wounds could begin to bleed again as if they had been inflicted only yesterday. How can a bar of soap ruin a marriage? Because neither partner would say “Stop – this cannot go on. I’m sorry – forgive me”
Over such trivialities lifelong relationship crack apart. Only forgiveness can halt the destruction. But when you say ‘sorry’, and when you forgive then relationships start again, and get stronger.
On the first anniversary of our going out together Nicola and I went to a movie called “Love story” It’s byline was “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” That is absolute rubbish.Love is being able to say “sorry” and being able to forgive. Secondly, forgiveness frees us from the prison of resentment and hate. Someone has written: “The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we refuse to forgive others, then we are only imprisoning ourselves and causing our own torment.” An old Chinese proverb offered some wise advice: “the person who seeks revenge should dig two graves.” In other words, an attitude of unforgiveness is ultimately an unforgiving death sentence.
Keeping and maintaining an unforgiving attitude, an entrenched stance of hatred and vengeance, only leads towards one’s own spiritual death. Being “unforgiving” towards others is, ultimately, being “unforgiving” towards one’s self. The “second grave” our personal vengeance digs is for our own sense of peace and fulfillment.
Neither will be possible as long as “revenge” and not “pardon is the card we carry. Just last week I heard about a man who has rejected becoming a Christian for an interesting reason. It is because he hates Robert Mugabe so much. He says that if Mugabe repented on his deathbed and God received him into heaven that is so unacceptable that he will not become a Christian. And we all know that Robert Mugabe is not affected one little bit by this man’s unforgiveness, but he is certainly hurting himself. People who will not forgive do not have peace in their hearts, They often get sick and depressed.
Remember, unforgiveness, hate and resentment often don’t hurt the person we are not forgiving, but they certainly hurt us. Thirdly, forgiveness allows us to determine our own behaviour. When we are mad at someone, when we get angry,when we are resentful, then we are allowing that person to determine our behaviour instead of making our own decision as to how we will act.
A man in New York was walking with a friend when he stopped at a ‘shoe shine’ stand to get his shoes cleaned. The shoe shine boy was unfriendly and rude,but the man was generous and polite to him. After they had walked away, his friend said to him: “Do you always get your shoes shined there?” The man replied. “yes”. So his friend said: “Why go back to that boy when he is so rude to you?” The man replied: “Because I will not let HIM decide how I will behave!” Finally, forgiveness reflects the character of Jesus. Someone has said that the key the forgiveness is the middle syllable – for GIVE ness.
Forgiveness is the gift we give to those who do not deserve it. We do not forgive because of anything the person has done, and not because their being sorry has ‘earned’ forgiveness.When you have been deeply hurt, the other person being sorry does not take away the hurt, but you still give forgiveness because that is what Jesus does. When Jesus stood before Pilate and Herod,and when he faced the mocking crowd, he uttered no insults, he made no threats. When they swore at Jesus, he didn’t swear back.When they whipped him, he didn’t relatiate. When the soldiers pushed the crown of thorns on his head, he didn’t curse at them.When they drove the nails in his hands and feet,he didn’t threaten them. When those standing there spat at him, he didn’t spit back.
When they swore at him, he didn’t swear back. In fact, in the face of hate and rejection, he offered love and forgiveness. We forgive because we have been forgiven.We release others because Christ has released us from our sins. Love covers their sins because Christ’s love covered our sins. Once we understand the depth of our own sin, then we will forever be motivated to get involved in the process of forgiveness.
In Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, Jean Valjean served a 19 year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread in order to feed his sister’s family. Finally, he is set free. A Bishop is the only one who will befriend the embittered man. Valjean rewards him by stealing some of his silver. He is caught red-handed by the police.The next morning, they knock on the Bishop’s door with Jean Valjean in tow. They were ready to put the scroundrel in chains for life. But the Bishop does the complete opposite of what the police,and Jean Valjean expected. He cries “So here you are– did you forget that I gave you the candlesticks as well?” The power of the bishop’s act defying every human instinct for revenge and justice,changed Jean Valjean’s life forever. He extends grace to an orphan child and raises her as his own.
He forgives the police man who wanted to put him back in jail. Interestingly, as Jean is transformed by forgiveness, the policemean is consumed by revenge,and ends up committing suicide.Finally Jean Valjean dies,holding in his hand the two candlesticks that the bishop gave him. What is it that so completely changed this embittered man? He learned to extend mercy,because mercy had been extended to him.
Friends, every time you enter this sanctuary you have a symbol of the forgiveness that has been extended to us. It is the cross. Accept the grace that is offered to you this morning and then,in the name of that One who has forgiven you a debt which you cannot possibly repay, extend grace to others. Forgiveness is possible because forgiveness flows from Christ to us – and then to others.Having been forgiven so much, at so great a cost, can we not forgive those who have disappointed and hurt us? Whatever forgiveness costs us,and sometimes it does cost us a lot,It can never cost us what it cost Jesus, when he hung on the cross.When someone hurts you and you are finding it hard to forgive,try this.
Picture them in front of the cross of Jesus. How does he look at them, how does he see them? Can you begin to look and see with his eyes? I would like to finish with a short meditation I have written:
I would never have believed she would say that about me: Blatantly untrue and she knew it.
But I’ve thought of a suitable response! BUT is that what Jesus would do?
I really trusted him – lent him the money, sure he would pay us back. Well – I won’t be so gullible another time!
Dont’ want to see him now – I stay well away.
BUT is that what Jesus would do?
All my other friends got invited to her party – Seems to me like a deliberate snub.
My birthday’s coming up and two can play at that game.
BUT is that what Jesus would do?
My friends all had parents who were there for them;
Mine always seemed to have something more important to do.
Well now I’m independent I don’t them anymore!
BUT is that what Jesus would do?
He was hunted down by his own people, abandoned by his own friends,
cursed, beaten and nailed to a cross.
He could have called on a legion of angels to save him,
Called down fire from heaven to devour them:
BUT in his pain and agony, he cried out.
“Father, forgive them!”