Pastor Anne: Lessons on Forgiveness, part 2

Steps to Forgiveness, part 2Luke 6:27-28, 15:11-32
St. Paul UMC 8-12-12

We began a series last week on Forgiveness and I spoke about the Colorado shooting at the movies and the victim who forgave him and wanted to pray with him. While we were in worship, there was a shooting in Wisconsin at Sikh temple that killed six. The son of one of those killed said dad would tell him don’t put out a fire by throwing gasoline on it.
Our world is never at a loss for pain and brokenness. Even the smaller things of our days add up- little slights or irritations to large hurts that leave us feeling dirty at the end of the day.
The power of forgiveness is needed in a world of violence. Jesus leads us in another way than responding to violence with violence. The way of forgiveness is made possible by the generous mercy of our King through Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday, Peny talked about being a good friend and a bad enemy. You may know people who you would not want to get on their bad side. Maybe at times we have been that one. And revenge can feel good at first until it adds to and spreads the damage.

During Olympics, I always feel encouraged to be more fit. Dont you see more people at the gym? Of course, I will never be close to these world class athletes.
I think of Jesus as the gold medalist and master of forgiveness. And he invites us to join his team and train with him. I think each person has a limit to how kind and forgiving they are on their own. Like me, you may know non-Christians that are good people and kinder than some Christians. I believe that faith has made me better and more forgiving than I would be on my own.
I have some old friends who try live with right morals, generously and lovingly. I find recently the sin of world and the meanness of people has pushed them to their limits. They have become angry, reactive and bitter. I know that when I don’t lean on Jesus, I am right back to that same place with them, shaped by the world. But when I go to Jesus for help and trust him, I have other choices. The Holy Spirit offers a way of peace and freedom. I hope that they might glimpse and come to know the more that God has for them
94% Americans surveyed in nationwide Gallup poll said it was important to forgive. In the same survey, only 48% said they usually tried to forgive others. I found that funny and sad and believable. It is like eating right and exercising, a good idea but only so many actually do it.
Like anything, forgiveness takes learning and practicing to get better at. It is not of our world, but a gift of God’s spirit to grow in.

Today we will be using the parable of the prodigal son, also called the parable of the two sons ot the lost son, to look at some steps to forgiveness through these characters.
The first step to forgiveness is to Face your Pain and we look at the oldest son. He shows up later in the story angry at his father for receiving the younger brother back and celebrate. He has been obedient to his father, doing what was expected and feeling like a slave. Not doing it out of love or desire to be like his father. The father has never given him a calf to celebrate with his friends. The older son has been obedient but maybe he also was focused on his inheritance, what he would get when his father passed on? Maybe bitter and angry thoughts had been stewing all these years and crowded out his openness to his father’s love? Isn’t that how Satan works, to twist and magnify things to turn us away from each other?
The father answers his son “all that is mine is yours.” It does not seem that this son who feels like a slave has known this generous loving father.
As we face our pain, acknowledge your pain and what you are upset over. Often we may try to gloss over or ignore things. “It is not that big of a deal”, “they are just that way”, “it is alright”.
What did you lose? It may be expectations, dreams whether realistic or unrealistic. We may have lost our pride and been embarrassed or even someone we thought was a trusted friend.
Name how it affects your life and health. Unforgiveness can show up in our life when we notice that we are avoiding people or situations, afraid or our health is affected.
Step back and describe things objectively, without excuse or blame. We live in a very multicultural part of the world with a variety of cultures and values different from our own. Look at what happened objectively and do not assume a motive or intent. The smallest misunderstandings can unconsciously lead to much worse.
When we are unforgiving, we are the lost one, like the older son. Last week we talked about how sin is our tendency to choose words, actions or inactions that separate us from each other and God.
Scott Peck, the author of a popular book, The Road Less Traveled wrote about community– “The first response of a group seeking to form a community is most often to try and fake it. The members attempt to be an instant community by being extremely pleasant with one another and avoiding all disagreement.” This false sense of harmony never lasts.
This parable is often referred to as the prodigal son. The word prodigal means recklessly extravagant. The younger son was recklessly extravagant spending his inheritance on fast living. I want to suggest that the father is the prodigal with recklessly extravagant love to the most undeserving including us, will we celebrate w/him?
Our next step is Growing in Compassion and we look to the father.
Through studies, it is found that forgiving leads to
1. less anger and hostility;
2. increased feelings of love;
3. improved ability to control anger;
4. enhanced capacity to trust and handle situations
5. freedom from past events controlling us;
We meet the father who is full of compassion and is watching for his younger son. We do not hear how he felt when his son asked for the inheritance, basically wishing him dead. Or how it affected the family to sell off things or what neighbors were saying because you know they would know what happened. What we know is that this father sees his son at a distance and instead of waiting for him in the house to hear what he had to say, runs down the road (You know that people would have seen this and wondered what was going on!) in an undignified prodigal reckless love way.
The father restores his son and celebrates and is generous even before son asks forgiveness. I think during those years between the father had already chosen to release his son from his debt.
As we grow in compassion, we must first Choose to obey God and forgive. In Colossians 3:13, it says forgive as the Lord forgave you out of obedience to God. We forgive by faith, not because we feel it or are justifying their actions. We do it because of Jesus and what Jesus did for us.
Next we are to Pray for them. Luke 6:28 says pray for enemies, bless those who curse you. We are to grow in empathy to where we wish them well instead of seeking revenge or hoping they suffer.
When we pray, you are offering to be open to the Holy Spirit to change you. Often we want prayer to change others or the situation. We are part of the situation and our prayer invites God to change us. For us to grow in compassion and be less defensive, open to God’s love and be a vessel for His love to others. To become more like Jesus
The Message translation says, “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.” Later in 6:32 it says if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. Let enemies bring out the best in us and turn our energies of prayer towards them. What an amazing thing!

The final step is to Know Your Own Need for Forgiveness that we see in the youngest. This is what really fuels fire of extravagant mercy.
We see the youngest son who has wasted his life and inheritance on wild living. Did he care how it would affect his family or their reputation in their community? It does not seem like it.
The turning point for this young man is in verse 17 where it says he comes to himself recognizing his father’s love and that his father’s servants were treated better than he was now. He was so hungry that pigs were fed better than him.
It begins with recognizing the reality of sin in us and the world. We spoke last week about our part in breaking relationships intentionally or unintentionallly with others and God.
Abundant power of God’s love and forgiveness to restore, patching and making things right. We looked at the parable of the unmerciful servant and the king who forgives his servant of huge and impossible debt that leads to us becoming generous and forgiving much smaller debts.
Often we associate forgiveness with weakness. Or we view forgiveness as an almost saintly quality that only people like Ernie might have but not the rest of us and certainly cannot be learned. We often look for the miraculous healings and resources provided. I think broken relationships being restored is truly miraculous.
Lastly, we are to have God’s perspective and not human. In Mark 8, Jesus is speaking to his disciples of his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection. Peter scolds him and tells him not to talk that way. “Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” By forgiving we let God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We are to think God’s thoughts not human, not the world’s ways.

I receive a newsletter on Christian peacemaking. It said, “Biblical peacemaking is at its core a recognition that even in the midst of an argument where we have a lot to lose and where our opponent may be entrenched in sin, the most important thing we can do is to bring glory to God through our conduct. It is an act of faith that out of this peacemaking witness, God can do things far beyond upholding the truth or vindicating us, though he will also do both these things eventually. The ‘thing far beyond’ that peacemaking makes possible is redemption–especially of those trapped in sin.”
Generous mercy and abundance of our heavenly Father gives us the freedom to forgive. Years ago I was at Nene Bautista’s father’s funeral. During the service the grandchildren started to come up and speak about him. The first one said that she was his favorite. After that each of the grandchildren came up and claimed to be their grandfather’s favorite with their own reasons. It was funny and said something about this man.
I want to tell you that you are God’s favorite! There is more than enough love to go around. It is this that empowers our forgiveness. Turn to your neighbor and tell them, you are God’s favorite! You have been given the generosity of his mercy and forgiven of great debt!

Everett L. Worthington, Jr. said, “If I hold a grudge because I’m angry, I feel strong. But to set that anger aside takes real strength.” We can only do it with God’s help.
Because you are God’s favorite, lavished with an abundance of his love and mercy, you can forgive w/God’s help. Look on your sermon notes and notice there are two lines with spaces to fill in. First is the “Person I forgive _____________” and then “I am forgiving them for _______________”. Whenever I preach on forgiveness and I ask people to think of someone they would rather not see or has hurt them, that when they think of it it makes them tense up and their mind starts spinning remembering, most of us have one. That is the person to write down!
Maybe you don’t want to write it down or write it so nobody sees you and then stuff it into your pocket or purse. That’s okay. You may be working on it, just open to the thought and still not so sure but name it and let’s be intentional. This is a beginning.
Forgive and forget is not in the bible. Next week we will be looking at Myths and Barriers to Forgiveness. The week after we will look at Forgiveness and Reconciliation because even if we do forgive, that may not lead to a relationship again.
Let’s grow together towards God’s community of mercy.

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