Bible Reading Selections on Forgiveness
L: How many times shall I forgive those who sin against me?
P: [There is no limit].
L: I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your co-worker who asked you for mercy? Forgive others from your heart."
P: If we forgive, we will be forgiven.
L: For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive your sins.
P: But if we do not forgive others their sins, our Father will not forgive our sins.
L: Christ gave us a new command… As he loved us, so we must love one another.
P: People will know that we follow Christ if we love one another.
L: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
P: Where do we find strength to forgive so much so often?
L: Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. When you pray, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins."
ALL: If we forgive, we will be forgiven.
Blending of passages lifted from [Matthew 18:21-22,32-35] [Luke 6:37c]
[Matthew 6:14-15] [John 13:34-35] [Colossians 3:13-14]
[Mark 11:24-25] [Luke 6:37c]
Message “The Forgiving Formula”
Many of us read and believe the Bible, strive to submit to God’s will, and are supported by His gifts and blessings in mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual strengths – so that we may succeed in being faithful to Christ’s teaching. Yet we still stumble and fail and unintentionally, or sometimes even intentionally wound others. We live in a world that often harms us, inducing us to impatience, anger, revenge, and other infuriating feelings that we are tempted to act out in improper ways. On top of that, evil attacks us persistently seeking our failure at every opportunity.
Some days, prayers may feel like we are speaking into a telephone after the call has dropped. Words knock against a blank wall, bounce against the ceiling. Nothing comes back to show that we've been heard. There may be several reasons, many reasons -- but the one we’re focusing on today, the reason that concerns us for today’s topic is if we have committed some sin against another or God that blocks our connection with him. The Old Testament prophets warn what happens when we do not deal with these failures effectively.
Sin Separates from God
Surely the Lord can still save. His ears are not stopped up. He can still hear [prayers]. But your [sins] have separated you from your God. Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2, (NIV & MSG combined)) God asks, “Why should I forgive you? You wander off and leave me, taking up [priorities and taking after pleasures] that are not even gods. Yet it is I who satisfy your deepest needs. Should I not take serious measures? (Jeremiah 5:7,9 (adapted from NIV, MSG combined)) “We’ve been contrary and willful, sinned and rebelled; and [God hasn’t] forgiven… He covered himself in a thick blanket of clouds so that no prayers could get through. Examine the way we are living, return to the Lord and reorder our lives under God. Let’s lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven and [confess], (Lamentations 3:44,40-42) Go up and down the streets of [the city]. Search the market squares. See if you can find one person who does what is right and tries to live a true life. God wants to forgive that person… He disciplined [the city] but they refused correction. Hardheaded, they refused to change (to repent). (Jeremiah 5:1-3 (NIV & MSG combined))
Sin Separates from Others
When we fail to effectively deal with these walls that separate us. When we do not receive God’s correction and forgiveness and try to live as he desires, it will lead to failures with others as well, and that will result in increasing divisions among people.
Yet the very heart of the Bible story from beginning to end, as was hinted at by the prophets even in these texts; is God’s determined desire to restore his creation and re-unite his people with himself and with each other -- God desires that his children get along, that we make the most of our community life together as a place of wholeness and healing; and that revolves around the life of love and forgiveness.
This is why L: Jesus taught us to pray P: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
This interwoven connection of relationship with God and relationship with others is why Jesus tells us that if we remember (even in the worship service) that if someone has something against us, we are to drop what we are doing, and to go and be reconciled, and make things right. Then come back and work things out with God. Even if an old enemy accosts you, don’t lose a minute. Make the first move and make things right. If you wait for them to make the first move…, you’re likely to end up [without any reconciliation]. (Because they will be waiting for the first move too) and you’ll end up imprisoned, spiritually if not literally. (See Matthew 5:23-25a (NIV/MSG))
We are to have a spirit of compassionate forgiveness toward those who have trespassed against us, whether or not they recognize their error, or confess their faults, or desire to change their ways. There is no justification for continuing to cherish our grievances and hang on to our hurts. Most of us know already that harboring our hurts does more damage to us than it does to the person who hurt us.
Forgiveness is not: Mere words
While that mental concept is easy in theory, we must also take care to not short-change the process that gets us there. Children’s Time gives a good example of how we can start the process and learn the process – sometimes you have to think you “got to” before you can get to the point where you feel you “want to”. But I want to talk about the place where we want to be – which is to want to reach out and to want to forgive. And that takes more than just simple words. We want it to penetrate to the heart. In some cases, involving deep pain, it is hard enough to even think the words, much less feel and believe them. But sometimes we take on the concept and we force a quick forgiveness as if it were a legal, rather than a spiritual transaction -- and we do not allow ourselves or others the chance to deal with the deeper pain and the process of grief. But then having said the words, we think we are done and so we move on and we don’t deal with it and we have this wound that never heals.
Forgiveness is not: Insincere
If we short cut the process, our forgiveness may end up not being sincere. There is a parable in Matthew 18 of the servant whose master forgave him a tremendous amount of debt. The servant then turned around and refused to forgive another servant who owed him a pittance (just a little bit). Some say this character did not understand what he got when his debt was forgiven. He did not see the pain he caused to his master. He did not see that the debt as his fault. He wasn’t sorry for it. All he saw was a wonderful relief from a terrible circumstance he was in. He took his forgiveness for granted.
And so not understanding what he received, when his co-worker asked for a small mercy from him, he could not relate to that person’s struggle, he had no compassion for him, and he was not gracious to him. All he could see was his own loss, what he was owed and didn’t get. -- Just as when he was on the other side, all he could see was his own circumstance of debt and could not see the pain he was inflicting on the master.
A lack of willingness to forgive others reveals an insincerity in asking for divine forgiveness; and when it is done in this method, it is sought not as a regret of wrong actions (as it ought to be) -- but it only seeks an escape from unpleasant consequences. (If I say I am sorry, then he’ll get me out of this). It is a mathematical formula thing rather than heart-felt “I shouldn’t have done that in the first place” thing. And by the way, if this is why and how we seek forgiveness, we are much likely to repeat the bad behavior again.
Forgiveness is not: Earned
It is an escape this servant may have well felt he had earned by his great use of words – how eloquently he expressed his need to the master – he earned his freedom from debt by his great “begging ability”.
But true forgiveness is not about saying the right words (only), or even performing the proper external actions (only). Acts of forgiveness without the spirit of forgiveness becomes a form of works righteousness (I’ve earned it), or self-righteousness (See how forgiving I am, I am better than everyone else), or it becomes a legalistic self-punishment (I feel bad because I’ve done wrong, and so I am going to punish myself and keep making myself feel bad about it forever); all these venues somehow are trying to earn our “begging ability” to relieve ourselves from the circumstances and free us from the consequences – rather than seeing forgiveness as a grace that God freely and lovingly gives us – not because we deserve it, but then it also goes on -- and that we, in turn, should desire to give to each other.
Forgiveness is not: About feeling better
Sometimes when we do something wrong, we can be racked with guilt – and that is not bad – if we do something wrong, there should be something inside of us signaling the error so that we can know to make it right.
We may discover a ritual, event, or process that will make us feel much better. Such rituals and moments can be therapeutic moments, even holy moments – very important. But forgiveness is not exclusively about recovering from our own bad feelings. It is more than that. Paul describes the difference in 2 Corinthians where he says that worldly sorrow brings death because, as one bible study says, it is only a self-centered sorrow over the painful consequences of sin; whereas godly sorrow is about the sin, the failure committed, and drives us to God in earnestness, and eagerness, and alarm, and longing, and concern to make things right so that our hearts are again innocent and pure. (See 2 Corinthians 7:9b-11) Do you see the difference?
Forgiveness is not: Strictly legal
This passage clearly indicates that God’s forgiveness is not only about a heavenly judicial act which sets us free from condemnation (as an end in itself); nor is it ultimately a legal obligation that we have to offer each other. Forgiveness is not about feeling the right feelings, saying the right formula of words, doing the right things, making restitution or reparation, or even fulfilling a spiritual law; although it may well include all of these things by the time we are done.
Forgiveness is: love reaching transformation restoration renewal reconciliation
Forgiveness at its best is an expression of sincere love that reaches out in the brokenness that failure has brought to a relationship. It doesn’t try to “undo” a past that cannot be undone, but reclaims us, and reshapes us, and restores us, and frees us from that past and leads us to new future possibilities - to the best we can be, and relationships to the best they can become within our power, which admittedly, sometimes, the best way to have a good relationship is to not be close to somebody because it is harmful. We should not go (back) into a relationship that continues to be abusive or makes us doormats – that is not what relationships are. But within whatever our power can be, we make a relationship as peace filled as it can be -- enabled to experience God’s overcoming love that can re-unite humanity and fill us with hope for a glorious future of shalom – (that contented peace that comes with the wholeness of a full and blessed life).
This kind of healing takes time, requires discernment, and ultimately requires a willingness to learn. The corporate Christian family, our life together, is an ongoing group activity of learning to love and live together in increasingly healthy ways.
If innocent Jesus can hang on a cross as cursed, and as a criminal – because the world is so broken by sin, our sin -- and he can look at those who put him there for political gain, or religious preservation, or because they were following orders, or following the crowd, or having participated in the world’s brokenness that results from not following God’s ways -- and while hanging their in agony, he calls on God to forgive them for sending him to this torturous death – and he does so because he understood that they didn’t really understand what they were doing. If he can do that -- in love -- for people while they were yet willful sinners, then it only seems natural that we who follow him should be able to strive to learn to forgive others in hope of the world he came to recreate.
It is a learning process. Jesus himself gave a great example. Pastor Ed Myers relays it in a blog: we all mess up… [even] our friends, our family, and those closest to us … wrong us in some fashion.
Christ went through the miserable passion (his suffering) and death on the cross, then he rose and appeared to them, to the one who denied him (Peter) and to the others who ran for the hills when he was arrested. Does he show up with revenge on his mind or a least some bitterness, or disappointment or frustration or an “I told you so”? He could have held on to their sins, but he didn’t. He could have waited for them to say they were sorry. But he didn’t. He took the first step. His first words to them in that room to these deniers and deserters are “Peace (Shalom) be with you.” We translate it “peace”, but shalom means “completeness, soundness, well-being.” It’s like he is saying, “We’re okay. We’re going to make this work. Our relationship is healthy, and I truly wish you fullness of life.” He took the first step to mend their broken relationship. He forgave. That’s our model. Then his next words were, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He is the model! Then he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. (and then he said) If you forgive anyone’s sins, they will be forgiven…” (See John 20:21-23)
The formula for forgiveness is summarized for us -- forgive us… as we forgive others…. Love others, as Christ loved us… That’s what we are to imitate. Simple in principle, hard to live out. Let’s pray.
Prayer Lord, you remind us that you have given us so many times – too many times to count. You remind us that while we tend to bring conflict and separation to our relationships, you insist on bringing shalom – and now you want to bring shalom to this vindictive fearful world through us.
And so, Lord, all that you made is good. Yet we still find ourselves in this imperfect world and we confess that the sin in our lives separates us from your will and your ways. Forgive us Lord, for choices contrary to your purposes, for refusing to live by your guidance, for failing to trust that your ways are for our own well-being. Give us the power through your Holy Spirit to turn from our willfulness and trust you alone for our rule of life.
Renewing God, for all that is broken in our minds and bodies, we ask your healing. For all that is amiss in our choices and our relationships, we ask your forgiveness, for all that works against life and blessing in our hearts, and in the world, we open ourselves to your transforming grace. Heal us, forgive us, and make us new. We trust in your infinite grace and your offer of forgiveness and healing. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Closing Hymns # 390 (to tune of Amazing Grace) Forgive our Sins...
Closing Hymn # 666 Shalom to You