by Rev. Bob Clark
September 10, 2017
Text: Matthew 18:15-20
Just a few years back, a man from Hardeeville, South Carolina went down to the Jasper County Courthouse. There he filed a deed restriction. Until I read about this I didn't know such an animal existed. The restriction barred the sale of any part of his 1,688 acre plantation to anyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line - or anyone named Sherman.
It seems that more than a century before, General William T. Sherman's troops burned every building on this man's property. Of course, this southern chap wasn't even born then. But, regardless, he vowed never to let his plantation fall into Yankee hands again. NOW THERE'S A MAN WHO KNOWS HOW TO HOLD A GRUDGE.
Unfortunately, he is not alone.
Over the past several weeks - ever since the dark days in Charlottesville - grudge holding has surfaced once again from the depths of our American experience, and we are about as divided as I have ever known us to be. I take that back. I remember the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Troops had to be sent in to protect our citizens from each another. I also remember, not in person, but through studying, the vicious conflicts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries between Labor and Management involving brutal conflicts including murder itself. Then how about the actual history of what non-native Americans did to the indigenous peoples of this land? Other than the tribal peoples, we are all immigrants. None of these conflicts are dead and gone. They have been smoldering just below the surface, and it doesn't take much these days to fan them into flame.
Today we are a nation in serious need of healing, and an integral part of the Christian ethic of healing and wholeness is FORGIVENESS. Our Lord taught us that before we can be forgiven, we must forgive others.
When we say in The Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us," we are actually saying, "Forgive our sins, God, BECAUSE we have forgiven those who have sinned against us." Understood this way I do believe there are a lot of "Christians" who need to remain silent when we come to this phrase in The Lord's Prayer.
Our Lord Jesus did not remain silent about the need for forgiveness. He taught it, and he actively demonstrated it in his own ministry. This emphasis on forgiveness distinguishes us from every other religion on earth.
I cannot help but feel that the Marshal Plan after WWII, whereby we helped our former enemies rebuild their economies, could not have happened except by countries influenced by the teaching of Jesus.
Imagine how different our world would be today if after the Second World War people living in Allied countries could not have forgiven the people of Germany, Japan and Italy. Think how broken our world would be. In fact, those countries are some of our closest allies today. The inability to put the past behind us is one of the key hindrances to peace in the Middle East in our modern world.
Now hear me loud and clear on what I am about to say. To forgive does not require that we forget. In fact, forgetting our real history is extremely dangerous. To remember something accurately is to vow to never let it happen again.
· Like 9/11
· Like what racism, hate and white supremacy actual did to people of color in our society.
· Like the atrocities the Nazis actually did to Europe's Jews.
· Like what we Americans did to Native Americans.
· Like Pearl Harbor.
Five years ago, when Amber and I spent a week in Hawaii we visited the War Memorial at Pearl Harbor. It was a sobering experience for us. But what really surprised me were the numbers of Japanese people there soberly and somberly remembering. To remember something accurately is to vow to never let it happen again.
Forgiveness needs to happen between the nations and peoples of this world, but also between individuals. And usually, FAMILIES are involved.
I know a few people who had really great parents and fantastic childhoods - my wife Amber for one, and once I got to know her folks, I loved them too. Lyle and Gwen Johnson must have been terrific parents. Each of their 5 kids thought they were the favorite.
But most of us remember less than perfect upbringings, which meant that if we were going to be healthy adults, sooner or later we were going to have to forgive one or both parents.
I once had the idea of starting up a "Dysfunctional Family" greeting card company. My favorite card was a Mother's Day card that simply read, "My therapist and I send you Mother's Day greetings!"
About 20 years ago there was a letter submitted to advice columnist Ann Landers. It went like this:
Dear Ann, I've suddenly become aware that the years are flying by. Time somehow seems more precious. My parents suddenly seem old. My aunts and uncles are sick. I haven't seen some of my cousins for years. I love my family, Ann, but we've grown apart. Then my thoughts turn to the dark side. I remember the feeling I've hurt, and I recall my own hurt feelings and the misunderstandings and unmended fences that separated us and set up barriers.
I think of my mother and her sister, who haven't spoken to each other in five years. As a result of that argument my cousin and I haven't either. What a waste of precious time.
Wouldn't it be terrific if a special day could be set aside to reach out and make amends? We could call it "Reconciliation Day." Everyone would vow to write a letter, or make a phone call and mend a strained or broken relationship. It could also be a day on which we would all agree to accept the olive branch extended by a former friend. This day could be the starting place. We could go on from here to heal the wounds in our hearts and rejoice in a brand new beginning. Signed, Van Nuys.
Ann's response was this: "This is a great idea! I propose that every year at this time we do just that. We celebrate 'Reconciliation Day' and pick up the phone or write a letter that will bring joy to someone who might be in pain."
I don't know that anything ever came of this idea, but it certainly is a great idea - particularly with regard to our Gospel Lesson for today. Jesus says in Matthew 18:15 "If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over "
Forgiveness and healing - the former is the action, the latter is the result.
To forgive someone is to intentionally reach through the junk between you to take their hand in yours.
To not forgive is to reach through the junk to choke them, only to realize it's your own throat you've got in your hands.
I conclude this message with a story about Corrie Ten Boom. She often thought back on the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. She was a committed Christian, but how could she ever forgive the former Nazis who had been her jailers? Where was love, acceptance, and forgiveness in a horror camp where more than 95,000 women died? How could she ever forget the horrible cruelty of the guards and the smoke constantly coming from the chimney of the crematorium?
Then in 1947 Corrie was speaking at a church in Munich, and when the meeting was over she saw one of the most cruel male guards of Ravensbruck coming forward to speak to her. He had his hand outstretched. "I have become a Christian," he explained. "I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?"
A conflict raged in Corrie's heart. The Spirit of God urged her to forgive. The spirit of bitterness and coldness urged her to turn away. "Jesus, help me!" she prayed. Then she knew what she must do. "I can lift my hand," she thought to herself. "I can do that much."
As their hands met it was as if warmth and healing broke forth with tears and joy. "I forgive you, brother, with all my heart," she said. Later Corrie testified that "It was the power of the Holy Spirit" who had poured the love of God into her heart that day.
Friends, I don't know any other way true forgiveness can take place. We turn our hurt over to God. We ask God for the ability to forgive.
In our lesson today, Peter thought he was big-hearted. "How often should I forgive someone who has sinned against me," he asked. "As many as seven times?" After all, he was being generous; seven times went beyond what the rabbis asked. "Forgive three times, but not the fourth," taught the rabbis of his time. Peter multiplied what they asked by two and added one more time of forgiveness for good measure! But in Jesus' eyes it was not enough.
Jesus knew that unless Forgiveness is total and unlimited, healing could not take place. Jesus knew that the person who cannot forgive remains a prisoner. And, Jesus knew that there is only one place where forgiveness may be found. And that is as true today as it was then
Is there someone you need to forgive?
A member of your own family perhaps? A spouse, a sister, a brother, a parent?
Perhaps it is someone you work with.
As a wise funeral director once said to Amber, "Everyone's got something, you know."
Do not delay. Bring it to the Great Physician. Bring it to the throne of Christ.