Pastor Anne: Lessons on Forgiveness, part 3

Myths and Barriers to Forgiveness, part 32Samuel 12:7-14, Eph 4:25-27
St. Paul UMC, 8-19-12

During these last 2 weeks we have been looking at Forgiveness – something that is much needed in the reality of the human condition and differences.
If you go online and google “forgiveness quotes”, there are a lot of sayings about forgiveness.
“I don’t forgive people because I am weak. I forgive them because I am strong enough to know that people make mistakes.” And not just mistakes, things happen and people are different, and we offend each other intentionally and unintentionally.

We began by looking at the power of forgiveness thru the parable of the unmerciful servant who is forgiven an impossible debt to repay. It is expected that he would be compelled to forgive much smaller debts in response to the King’s abundant and generous mercy. C. S. Lewis, a Christian author and theologian said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Last week we looked at steps to forgiveness and heard from Everett Worthington, a professor in psychology and clinical psychologist specializing in forgivness. “If I hold a grudge because I’m angry, I feel strong. But to set that anger aside takes real strength.” It helps to think that forgiving is strong thing to do and not weak as the world tells us
Finally I saw a quote from Oscar Wilde, the author, who said, “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” It is true that sometimes even if we want to or are trying to forgive, we also still want a bit of revenge.

The reality is that forgiveness feels like we are losing , vulnerable, helpless or out of control. There is a song on Christian radio called Losing by Tenth Avenue North. Let me share some of the lyrics with you.
“Losing” by Tenth Avenue North (song)
But still I wrestle with this
To lose the pain that’s mine
Seventy times seven times

Lord it doesn’t feel right
For me to turn a blind eye
But I guess it’s not that much
When I think of what You’ve done.
This is love. This is hate.
We’ve got a choice to make

Oh, Father, won’t You forgive them?
They don’t know what they’ve been doin’
Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losin’ (oh no)

As much as we believe that as Christians we are to forgive others as our Lord forgives us. And that we have and continue to be given God’s great mercy on our impossible debt, it is still a big challenge to forgive. Today we will look at a few myths and barriers that get in the way of obeying and trusting God with this big work of forgiveness.

Myth 1: I have not forgiven unless I forgive and forget.
I hear this so often and know that it torments people. I thought I had forgiven but I cannot seem to forget. The words of forgive and forget are not from scripture but from William Shakespeare. In King Lear he writes, “Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish.” He has similar words in other writings of his.
Truth: Forgiving is to remember it and release the hurt. Do not allow it to overcome you.
In John 20 we see Jesus appear to his disciples for the first time after his death and resurrection. He speaks to them and shows them his hands and side. Thomas the disciple says he will not believe Jesus is back unless he touches his hands and side himself.
Jesus’ scars identify him as uniquely him, the one who they have followed, saw suffering, die and is now resurrected. At communion we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, suffering and hope, that through Jesus we too will conquer death.
Our memories are a part of us. Through forgiveness, we take away the negative hold it has on us. We all have moments when strong memories get triggered and we may feel it again. Just as we remember positive memories of our loved ones, likewise painful moments can be triggered by the most random moments. And we can bring those back to God to be released again and again. Wouldn’t it be just like Satan to torment us to think we had failed at forgiving by bringing these memories again and again?
When we forgive we can pass on our story and not keep nurturing the pain that went with it. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom 12:21

Myth 2: Forgiving means what they did is okay.
Truth: Forgiving does not excuse the wrong, consequences still remain.
We heard a passage from 2Samuel 12:7-14 about King David, a man after God’s own heart. Let me share with you some of the back story from the chapters before. The King does not go to war but send his army out to war. While hanging around the castle, he sees Bathsheba, a beautiful woman bathing. He summons her to him and has sex with her, later finding out she is pregnant. Her husband is not just some guy in the kingdom but one of the king’s faithful mighty men. The king tries to cover up his adultery by inviting Uriah home but Uriah is too noble to do so. The king then sets Uriah up to be killed and then later marries Bathsheba.
The prophet Nathan challenges King David and he repents, knowing that his actions were wrong and primarily separate him from God.
Psalm 51 is David’s prayer in which he says, “Cast me not away from thy presence, take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” David knows what this looks like because that happened to King Saul before him. King David’s relationships with God is restored, but the consequences of his sin play out among his family and children. This can be read in the chapters following.
A more recent story is in 1981 when there was an assassination attempt on the Pope. Years later the Pope met the man in prison and forgave him. He still remained in prison for his actions.
Forgiving does not release any legal debt they have legally or consequences of their actions.

Myth 3: I can’t forgive because they have not admitted they hurt me.
Truth: Forgiving is about giving up your right to hurt them back.
Romans 12:18-19 “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.”
We are to entrust this person and what happens to them to God. To not forgive means that we continue to expect payment and wait for them to pay. This puts your life on hold in the waiting.

Myth 4: Forgiving means my relationship with that person returns to what it was.
Really this is magical thinking, expecting that when we forgive everything will go back to what it was before. Things have already changed. It is too late to go back.
Truth: Forgiving means accepting what happened and that things are different.
Forgiving does not change others. They may stay the same. They have free will just as we do.
You may never fully understand or agree with how the other person felt. Some of us like to make sure that we all understand or agree. That may not happen either.
Forgiving may not include reconciliation. Reconciliation is a two way thing. We will talk about that more next week.

I think of unforgiveness as the amount of grudge and resentment we hold over an event. It prevents rebuilding a relationship with God and others. Sometimes we don’t forgive self, feeling bad about we did or did not do.
May seem unfair that the focus is on us since we are the ones hurt but the reality is we cannot control what others do or do not do. The good news is that we are not trapped if the other is not willing.
Greatest Barriers to forgiveness- Hatred and bitterness that leads to self-righteous pride.
As I studied I found that there is much written in scripture about this. This tells me it is a common struggle and they go together. I hope you will take some time to look at these verses this week.
When we focus on or even enjoy our hating because we think they deserve it, we live in darkness.
1John 2:9-11 “The one who claims to be in the light while hating a brother or sister is in the darkness even now. The person loving a brother and sister stays in the light, and there is nothing in the light that causes a person to stumble. But the person who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and lives in the darkness, and doesn’t know where to go because the darkness blinds the eyes.”
Hatred can blind us. Being hurt can lead to unconfessed sin, not trusting God and wanting our own way. We are focused on the one who hurt us.
Or we can wallow in our bitterness and focus on our sorrow. Lamentations 3:19-26 reminds us that in the midst of bitterness, we can have hope in the Lord and wait on his unfailing love. Now this is already after a couple of chapters of lamenting! Can we reach that point of remembering and being reminded even in the midst of bitterness to hope in the Lord?
Hebrews 12:15 “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people.” When we are bitter, we keep detailed accounts of wrongs. As many of you gardeners know, roots absorb and store nutrients and water in the roots. We hold on to that bitterness. It can be so easy to justify payback and that it is right to feel this way.
Ephesians 4:31-32 “Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” We are reminded again to put away bitterness and anger in response to the kindness and forgiveness of God in Christ.
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:3-5, 7
Have you felt like your bones wasted away from your groanings? The words are a familiar song from years ago. Pride and denial leads us to hide from God and others. God reminds us that he wants be our hiding place, our place of safety.

Ephesians 4:25-27 “Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.”
Last week we talked about being objective about what happened and investigating. Do not sin in your anger, do not give devil a foothold! It is okay to angry, just do not sin in it. I think of a door cracked open and Satan forcing a toe or shoe in there to try and get further in.
When we focus on ourselves or others and not Jesus, we nurture anger and bitterness and not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness and being forgiven is to be an ongoing way of life.

Last week we talked about the steps to forgiveness – Acknowledge your pain, grow in compassion and know our own need for forgiveness. Thomas Moore teaches, forgiveness comes in its own time, but we create the conditions where forgiveness can occur. How will we nurture the conditions for forgiveness to happen?
Here is a wonderful quote from Mother Teresa:
People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Again at the end of the sermon notes is a place to write the name of someone God is prodding you or you want to forgive and a place to write what you are forgiving them for. I know some of you have not written anything down but it is engraved in your mind. And we need to be intentional and work together towards this. This is a big job. Jesus offers us the power to forgive and walk in new freedom.

I have seen people not forgive and it leads to avoiding places and situations or getting emotional at the sight or hearing someone’s name. It changes people’s mood or activity. When we do this, we give that person control of what we do and how we feel. Take it back. Give up your control and entrust them to God.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. ~Paul Boese
Let me end by showing this video called “Signs of Forgiveness.”

Lord, you know we need your help. We are broken and fragile. You know the person or situation on our hearts and minds. We want to release them to you. Heal the wounded places in us. Guide us with your peace and your power that we might live in your freedom and love. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

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