Forgiveness/Healing (part 2
by Rev. Bob Clark
September 17, 2017 - Lake Storey
How Do We Forgive
Before I preach this message, I want to give special thanks to a spiritual mentor of mine, The Rev. King Duncan, for much of its content and some powerful illustrations.
We pick things up today where we left off last Sunday. If you weren't in church, the point of my message was that we, as Christians, are called by Christ himself to be forgiving people. Forgiving is the action; healing is the result. And, I ended my message by urging us all to be healers.
Simon Peter's question to the Lord was a sincere concern. He wanted to know exactly what the Master expected out of him. The prominent Rabbis of the day were teaching that one should forgive his brother three times. Three strikes and you're out! Was that enough?
So, he asked Jesus this question: "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" He actually felt he was being very generous.
Some of us would like an answer to the same question.
Forgiveness is a big problem in our lives.
There are persons who have wronged us, and it is so, so difficult to let go of our feelings of anger, resentment, and even hatred.
So, this morning I want to deal with the question HOW DO WE FORGIVE, and of course, a bit on WHY DO WE FORGIVE?
Forgiveness is a redemptive act that is essential to our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. It is simply not enough to "act civil" to a person who has wronged us - to "let bygones be bygones."
We must move from our hurt to reconciliation, or else we leave an open wound that is not allowed to heal. But how? How do we forgive?
Let's start by asking, WHY PEOPLE DON'T FORGIVE?
Remember Herman Melville's gripping story of Moby Dick? The Skipper of the ship was the cruel, obsessive, vengeful Captain Ahab. He hated Moby Dick, the great whale with a terrible passion. Every waking hour he was consumed with the question of how to destroy this leviathan that had crippled him. Soon we see that it is not the whale that is the victim of Ahab's hatred, but Ahab himself. In his obsession, he kills everything around him - the whale, the crew, and finally himself.
How could anyone let rage get so out of control?
We have just experienced rage out of control in Charlottesville - residual rage going all the way back to our terrible Civil War.
Why do we find it so hard to forgive?
Obviously, the first answer is that THE PAIN IS TOO DEEP.
As a boy, C.S. Lewis, the great British scholar and Christian apologist, was deeply hurt by a bully of a school teacher. The hurt was so deep that he had difficulty forgiving, and this troubled Lewis. However, near the end of his life he wrote this to a friend: "Only a few weeks ago, I suddenly realized that I had at last forgiven the schoolmaster who had so darkened my childhood. I had been trying to do it for years, but each time I thought I'd done it, I found that it had to be attempted again. But this time I feel sure it is the real thing."
Many of us can identify with Lewis's feeling.
It may have been a teacher, or a friend, or a parent, or a sibling, or a spouse - but somewhere along the way someone has hurt us so deeply we can still feel the pain.
For some the pain is so intense that it is simply easier to cut that person out of our lives than to forgive him or her. This is one reason it is so difficult to forgive: the pain is too deep.
Of course, PRIDE also gets in the way of forgiveness, as does a mistaken sense of principle. We think to ourselves, "This will teach him a lesson!"
Then there are family members and friends who may encourage the estrangement: "You surely are not going to forgive him after what he has done to you, are you?"
They probably mean well, but they don't understand our need for healing. Forgiveness is the action; healing is the result.
Pain, pride, other people - these are usually the reasons we don't forgive, and, our inability to forgive can have devastating effects on us. It can shorten our lives, poison our memories, weaken our relationship with God, and even afflict our own feelings of self-worth. This is in addition to the damage to the relationship with the person we cannot forgive. We pay a high price when we choose to hold onto resentment, anger and hatred. But how do we let go?
WE LET GO, FIRST OF ALL, BY RECOGNIZING THAT FORGIVENESS IS A GIFT FROM GOD.
We have been forgiven, and thus we are able to forgive. This is the recognition that changes everything.
Jesus follows up his answer to Peter with the parable of the unforgiving servant who owed his Master 10,000 talents, which was a huge amount of money - about 15 years of wages to a laborer in that day. He begged the Master to be merciful, and the Master forgave him the entire debt, which means the Master paid the price himself. Subsequently, this forgiven servant went out and collared a fellow who owed him 100 denarii - about a single day's wage. He refused to be merciful and had the man thrown in jail. The contrast is striking.
Of course, Jesus is not talking about one man in one particular time and place. He is talking about you and me.
We have been forgiven by God. We are sinners saved by grace. This is what the cross on Calvary is all about. It is about the forgiveness of an enormous debt that we have received - every one of us.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."
Forgiveness: We have been and are forgiven in and through Christ Jesus. Therefore, we are able to forgive.
What we see on Calvary is a perfect representation of the loving heart of God. If we can see this, it can be a powerful antidote to our feelings of resentment over wrongdoing by others. When we remember just how much God has forgiven us, then we are enabled to forgive. When we forget this, then forgiveness gets stuck somewhere inside us, and the wound remains open.
SECONDLY, WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE THAT FORGIVENESS IS THE MOST POWERFUL WITNESS WE HAVE TO THE ACTIVITY OF GRACE IN OUR LIVES.
When we can forgive another who has wronged us, it tells the world that God is alive and at work.
C.F. Andrews gives a moving testimony to the power of forgiveness in his book Christ and Prayer. He tells how each evening his family would gather for prayer, led by his father. One evening just before their prayer circle, his father learned that a man who he regarded as a friend, and who he had entrusted with managing his property had just robbed him of his entire estate. It was a crushing blow - one from which the family would never fully recover. Nevertheless, in the family circle that evening his father prayed so lovingly, so compassionately, for all those who had wronged him in his life, that something happened in the heart of his little son, C.F. Andrews. He wrote in his book, "That night my soul was born!"
Forgiveness is a gift from God that needs to be passed on to others. It is the most powerful WITNESS we have to the reality of God's grace in our lives.
FINALLY, WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE THAT FORGIVENESS IS A POSITIVE ACTIVITY ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY TO THE HEALING AND WHOLENESS OF OUR HEARTS.
Forgiveness is not passive resignation to a bad situation. We do not shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, there's nothing else to do. I might as well forgive." There is little healing in that kind of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a positive, joyful activity in which we change from seeing ourselves as victims to seeing ourselves as victors. Forgiveness allows us to move from weakness to strength, from inadequacy to affirmation. Forgiveness allows us to experience within our own lives the power and presence of the indwelling Christ.
In the motion picture of the Life of Gandhi, there is a scene in which a Hindu father whose son had been killed by a Muslim, comes before Gandhi in great grief and remorse. Out of a sense of retribution he had killed a Muslim child. He now kneels before Gandhi asking how he can get over his guilt and regret. Gandhi, who is gravely ill, tells this man that he must go and adopt a boy and raise him as his very own son. The request seems reasonable. But then come a requirement:
In order to find inner peace, the Hindu man must raise the boy to be a Muslim.
Overwhelmed at such an inconceivable thought, the man leaves Gandhi's room in total disarray. Later, however, he comes back and kneels before Gandhi's bed. He now understands. He must take the hostility from his heart and replace it with love.
That kind of forgiveness is more than passive resignation to a bad situation.
By the grace of God, we can use forgiveness as a positive, creative force bringing light into a darkened world. Nobody does that kind of thing better, of course, than God. Who could imagine 2,000 years ago that the symbol of the Christian Church would be a hangman's noose, an electric chair, a guillotine? These analogies may be necessary for us to keep from being too sentimental about "the old, rugged cross."
The cross was a terrible thing. It was a symbol of suffering and shame.
Humanity nailed God's own Son to a cross. What utter brutality! What unspeakable evil! Yet God turned that cross into the means by which you and I can find our salvation. This is what God can does with forgiveness.
What can you do?
Is there someone you need to forgive? An unfaithful spouse? An overbearing parent? A friend who has stabbed you in the back? An employer who has taken advantage of you? An institution of government, or of culture, or even of religion that has done harm to you?
I know there is pain. There also may be pride, and principle and other people to consider.
The most powerful witness we have to the action of the grace of God at work in our lives, however, is the ability to forgive others. As we forgive, we heal not only the wounds of a broken relationship, we find healing for wounds inflicted in our own hearts by anger, hurt, and resentment.
God has forgiven each of us for every soiled thought, act, and deed of which we are capable. Can we not forgive one another? Three times? Seven times? Yes, even seventy times seven? Christ says, "Yes!" Amen