By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
September 14, 2008
Read: Matthew 18:21-35
Today’s topic is forgiveness. It’s a tough one. I think it’s safe to say that we have all been in a position where we were hurt or injured by another’s actions and forgiveness proves to be a difficult act. Even Peter recognized that difficulty when he asks Jesus how often he should forgive another member of the church. Peter thought he was being very generous by offering 7 as a number. At that time, Jewish law stated 3 times, so 7 was above and beyond. Jesus, though, comes back with 77 times. In other words, Jesus is saying, don’t count, don’t keep score. Keeping track of someone else’s sins is not how I want you to spend your time. Keeping track and judging another person is not how to truly live your life.
Last week we heard about letting go and not holding on to the hurt and woundedness. The same idea applies to being able to forgive. Earlier in Matthews gospel, Chapter 7 opens with these words: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you sa to your neighbor, “let me take the speck out of your eye, while the log is still in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
And in our reading from Romans today: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
Someone once said that “Forgiveness means it finally become unimportant that you hit back”. So, in order to be able to forgive someone else it requires a personal healing. How do we do that? How do we heal the wound?
A friend shares this story:
A number of years ago I was hurt badly by someone. Words were said to me that were so ugly I was dumbfounded. It took three years for me to forgive the person
who said them. For the first year, those ugly words ran in my head almost
non-stop, like a background program running on my computer.
They ran hot and angry and pulsing and strong. I couldn’t even think of forgiveness, at this point.
The second year, I was able to think to myself, “at some point, I’m really gonna have to let this go, and forgive the person.” But I wasn’t ready to let it go yet. The words were starting to lose their power, but they were still held together by my cooling, but still-present, anger.
In the third year, and yes, it really did take that long, not only did I know that I was going to have to forgive the person his words, but that the time would shortly come when this would be possible. I still carried the ugly words in my head, but they were becoming fragile.
As my anger faded, the words began to crumble. Finally, after three years, one day they fell to dust. I was able to sweep them aside, toss them out, and forgive without reservation.
One wonders if we might actually feed off of our hurt. It gives us something to do every day. It becomes our connection with like-minded people. Holding onto past hurts becomes an identity.
It’s emotional clutter we don’t choose to get rid of, much like the junk sitting in our garages is stuff we don’t choose to get rid of even though we can’t park the car in there because of it.
Is there more clutter in our lives than we can store, and is it time to clear some of it out? I know at least one compulsive hoarder. I don’t understand why she keeps what she does and can’t move in her own home. The experts start the clearing process with one piece of paper, so let’s start small. Let’s start by picking up the anger at our brother or sister and deciding where we’re going to put it. Is it trash? Then get rid of it. Now, what about that insult from Aunt Mary or the fury with the neighbor kid who spray painted your garage? Which pile does that go into – the keep pile, the fix pile, the give away pile or the throw out pile? One item at a time, clearing out space so we can breathe. We deserve to be surrounded by emotions that serve us in productive ways.
Here is another illustration: Picture yourself dragging a dead body around by its arm—kind of over your shoulder so it’s leaning on your back trailing behind you. Like a sailor carrying a duffel bag. As you drag it along everywhere you go it impedes your walk. Causes you to stumble every once in a while. It seems heavier and heavier the longer you carry it around. You check up on it from time to time to make sure it’s still there. Yep, there it is. And then picture, as time goes on, that this dead body starts decomposing, rotting, stinking. Putrid decay. Because it’s on you this decay starts getting in you as well. You start resembling what you’ve been carrying because it has become a part of you. It’s absorbing you and you’re absorbing it. You also can’t pick up and do something else fully because your attention, strength and energy are already being used.
This is a friend’s picture of holding onto offenses and the people that “done us wrong.” And it’s a good one.
Forgiveness is about much more than just saying “I’m sorry” and acting like the offense never happened. Forgiveness is about mending broken relationships. It’s about healing unhealthy relationships. It’s about reconciliation and redemption and restoration and renewal.
Forgiveness is rarely a single act. It is more often a process. In fact, immediately prior to Peter’s question about how many times he should forgive, Jesus has just outlined a very detailed process for forgiveness and reconciliation within the church-remember last week? And nowhere in that process or in the parable of the unforgiving servant does Jesus suggest that forgiveness means that we don’t hold one another accountable for our actions.
In fact, he implies just the opposite. When we offer forgiveness, we do so in the hope that it will be a step in building up a relationship. The master in the parable forgives the servant because he cares about him. He is moved by the man’s predicament and has compassion.
Likewise, when we forgive one another, that forgiveness is supposed to be the basis for building a new or renewed relationship. Forgiveness is not saying the offense never happened. It did. Forgiveness is not saying that everything is okay. Everything is not okay. Forgiveness is not saying we no longer feel the pain of the offense. We do. Forgiveness is saying “I still feel the pain, but I am willing to let go of your involvement in my pain.” Forgiveness is an attitude of faith whereby we are able to turn over to God the business of how the other guy is doing. God is the ultimate judge. We can let go of the clutter and the dead body.
Forgiveness is saying, “I’m okay, and I am willing to let God deal with whether you are okay, and I am willing to let go of my need to be the instrument of correction and rebuke in your life.”
Building a relationship is a lot more difficult than letting someone else say “I’m sorry” and then replying “OK, I forgive you.” And it’s a lot harder than bearing a grudge or seeking revenge. But, in the long run, forgiveness is a lot more rewarding than those options. For, through the process of forgiveness, one not only gets rid of an enemy, one also heals oneself and possibly gains a friend.
When Jesus forgives us, He does it totally, completely. Like the story of the king and the slave today. He showed mercy and released, or forgave, the man a huge, huge debt. But the servant held on to it, like the clutter, like the dead body, and was not able to forgive another who wronged him a lesser way—a much lesser offense.
When we fully accept God’s forgiveness we become a new creation in Christ Jesus. And when we sin again and turn to Him with repentant hearts we are instantly forgiven and He puts it in the sea of forgetfulness. Never ending forgiveness.
So the next time someone ‘does you wrong’ think about Jesus Christ and begin the process of healing. We have received the ultimate in gift in Jesus Christ. Accept the gift and pass it on. Live life knowing how much you are loved. A cherished child of the living God. Amen.
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