Pastor Anne: Lessons on Forgiveness, part 4

Forgiveness and Reconciliation, part 4Luke 19:1-10, 2Corinthians 2:5-11
St Paul UMC 8-26-12

We have been talking about the simple and complicated work of forgiveness. Forgiveness takes a lot of practice and can take a lot of time. It is not easy but heavy, deep and tender work that goes to the heart of who we are and our egos, our life in the world and with Christ.

Years ago a woman at a church I served at asked me to speak to her son, a young man, who had joined with his friends to start a business. They were doing well. At some point, the others outvoted him to sell against his wishes. They then reformed and started a new business without him. He felt betrayed, hurt, stunned and disrespected. Later they asked him for his forgiveness. He refused. He felt they were not truly repentant but just wanted to get off the hook. They were all Christians. They badgered him that as a good Christian, he should forgive. He started his own business by himself. Speaking to him years later, he still seemed very unfree.

Humans are so creative. We can even use forgiveness to batter each other.

We began this series on Forgiveness with the Power of forgiveness. We looked at the parable of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven an impossible debt to repay by an incredibly generous and merciful king. Next we looked at Steps to forgiveness using the parable of the prodigal son also known as the parable of the two sons or the lost son. We need to face our pain, grow in compassion and know our own need for forgiveness.

Last week we considered Myths and barriers to forgiveness with the story of King David and Bathseba. Forgive and forget is not in the bible but Shakespeare. Jesus’ wounds stayed with him as scars that he had overcome and not been overcome by. Forgiving does not excuse consequences of actions. Forgiving is not a magic reset button that returns relationships to as they were before. Whether we offer or receive forgiveness, sometimes we think this.

Cheap grace is forgiveness without requiring repentance. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship or the cross. We often talk about the grace of God is free but it is not cheap. It came at the cost of the life and suffering of Jesus Christ. The grace of JC is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus. We are to give our whole life to him.

We often offer cheap grace because we want to move on quickly without the hard work of a new relationship and transformation. We deny the reality of suffering and pain. We deny our participation intentionally or unintentionally. It is uncomfortable to confront and challenge. We are confused when things are same and disappointed thinking that forgiveness did not work.

Scott Peck, the author, wrote about false community when we fake being pleasant and avoid disagreement for a while. This false sense of harmony never lasts.

That brings us today to Forgiveness and Reconciliation. We look to the story of Zaccheus, the chief tax collector of Jericho. Let me tell you about tax collectors of that time. Zaccheus and any of his tax collectors could stop someone and assess fees for their cart, wheels, the animal pulling it and things in it. He would then send in what he owed to the Roman government, the occupying government, since they were not an independent country. Whatever he had collected extra, he could keep. You can see how easy it was for them to cheat. Probably everyone in the crowd had been cheated or had a friend who had been cheated by them.

The story begins with Zaccheus wanting to see who Jesus was. He did not expect to talk to or be recognized by him. He just wanted to see him. Now Jericho was not a small village with a few families but a trade town with lots of people. Scripture says that because of the crowd, he could not see. So he climbs a tree. Can you imagine a richly dressed man with expensive robes climbing into a tree? I can imagine others seeing him and laughing, making fun of him and certainly not helping!

Then we here that Jesus looks up, seeing him and says “Zaccheus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” It is urgent and immediate. Zaccheus hurries and is happy to welcome him. But remember that there is a crowd and we are told that all who saw grumbled. Have you ever been in a crowd when the whole crowd grumbles? It is quite a sound! And it is a scary sound if you are the one being grumbled at. Today it would be like Jesus going to be a guest of mafia members, gang leaders or maybe crooks like Bernie Madoff.

Zaccheus is publicly humiliated before this crowd. He could have run away and hid or said never mind, forget about it. What he does is that he does not deny that he is a sinner. First he says he will give half of his possession to the poor. And if he has defrauded anyone, (surely people were muttering and laughing then because of course he defrauded people) that he would pay them back four times the amount.

In the Old Testament it was required that if you had robbed or wronged someone, you were to pay them back the amount plus 20%. If you had stolen sheep, you were to repay them with 4 sheep. If you had stolen an ox, you must repay with 5 oxen.

Zaccheus offered to give half of all he had to the poor and pay back those he cheated 4 times as much. Did he give all he had? Before this story, was the story of the rich young ruler who Jesus asked to give all he had to the poor and ends up going away sad. And the Pharisee and tax collector who pray and the tax collector is found to be more faithful. We find the unexpected faithful and unfaithful. In verse 9 Jesus says of Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Signs of repentance are when we reorder perspectives and priorities, fruit of the Spirit is evident. We know that salvation is not by works. We also know that when people meet Jesus, our life radically changes.

JC loves it when the lost come back. We saw that with the parable of the two sons. The father celebrates at return of his son. Do we celebrate with God?

Just before this story people praise God for the blind beggar who is healed as Jesus comes into town. They are not cheering for Zaccheus. Imagine if you have lived with this crook for much of your life. It would be hard to believe he had really changed. You would want to wait to see if it really lasts.

Here is a challenging question. What criticisms would people make of you as to why Jesus should not go to your house? What would be your response?

Would we like Zaccheus, want to make whatever changes necessary and more to have Jesus come to our house? Something changed in his heart and life to give away most of his possessions.

Worldly sorrow means feeling sad because you were caught doing something wrong or because you must suffer the unpleasant consequences of your actions. But Godly sorrow means feeling bad because you offended God. It involves a change of heart, thinking, and behavior.

We have the perfect example of this these past weeks with our local baseball players. Two caught taking drugs and put on suspension. Bartolo Colon with the A’s and Melky Cabrera with the Giants. The crazy part is that Melky Cabrera even tried to get out of it by having a fake website that made it seem like he had accidentally taken the drugs. That of course was traced back to him and he finally gave in. I thought what was interesting too was that people would say they were some of the best players and would be a loss. Of course, they were on drugs!

2Corinthians 2:5-11 follows a situation where the Apostle Paul has been publicly insulted and humiliated. The person has been punished. Paul is saying the damage is more to the community than to him personally. The man has been punished enough, it is time to forgive, comfort and love the one who has repented. Paul says do not overwhelm him with guilt. He is repentant. The instruction was about making the community take responsibility for the health of the church. Do not give Satan an opening to trick and divide. If he had not been corrected or they continued to pour on the guilt, it would have given Satan entry to build walls between the people and with God.

We look today at Steps to Reconciliation. It is the mutual rebuilding of a relationship

• We have been talking a lot about Forgiving or Releasing someone for a fault or offense, renounce your anger or resentment. It means we choose not to hold onto their debt to us.
• Repenting is Genuine sadness for past actions or sin and turning away from it. Zaccheus has begun and others will be watching for his ongoing change.
• Reconciling is choosing and risking to relate again. It will be hard work and what will happen is unknown. But we choose to be open to the other and a possible relationship again.
• Trusting is growing Confidence in someone’s integrity, character and truthfulness. We are not to keep beating them up with guilt but grow in extending love and forgiveness and being forgiven.
• Finally Restoring is building a new relationship different from before. It may be similar but will probably not be exactly the same.
We may go back and forth and up and down. We may stop anywhere along the way. The reality is people and relationships can change over time. A relationship may not last for a lifetime.

Author Bryant H. McGill said, “There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.” When we forgive, we love God and we extend love to them, whether you like them or not.

Journalist Robert Quillen wrote, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Reconciliation is risky, hard work that takes time and commitment. When Lance and I got married one of the pastors who presided at our wedding talked about the marathon work of marriage. I was not sure I liked it then and have found that it is a good description of the ongoing work that goes into a good relationship.

Let’s go back to where we began in the power of forgiveness. There are two realities in the world. First is the reality of sin in the world and in us. This is our tendency to choose words, actions and inaction that separates us from each other and God. Those divisions, walls and bricks are just collecting.

The second reality is the Power of God’s love and forgiveness to restore and mend separation. It is God’s love and mercy that makes us able to go beyond our own limited ability to love others.
I spoke a few weeks ago of Nene’s father. At his funeral each of his grandchildren got up to speak of him and said I am Grandpa’s favorite. It said something about him and who each of these grandchildren were to him.

Turn to your neighbor and say, “You are God’s favorite!” Now turn to your other neighbor and say, “I am God’s favorite!” We are God’s favorites, abundantly loved by our generous God!
Earlier I challenged us that even in the midst of an argument where we have a lot to lose, the most important thing we can do is to bring glory to God through our conduct. I find that challenging each time I read it or think about it. At that moment of challenge, instead of thinking about being right or vindicated or my pride, can I bring glory to God through my conduct? Maybe not at the moment, but prodded later by the Spirit. With God’s help.

Rev. James Forbes, a nationally known preacher says we get better at forgiving and being forgiven when we come to understand that we “have had to make withdrawals from the bank of grace many, many times.” I just imagine God’s big atm machine and making those withdrawals.

This is the fourth and final week of this series as I bring your attention to your sermon notes and the space on it at the bottom for the name of the “Person I am forgiving” and also to write, “I am forgiving them for”. This may be burned on your minds and heart by now. I hope this has been an opportunity for you to move deeper in your awareness of yourself, God and others.

Let me add one other question to that today. Can we be reconciled? Reconciliation takes forgiveness, repentance and mutual risk towards something new. Maybe they are not repentant or you are not. Maybe there has been forgiveness but unwillingness to risk and work on it. Maybe it is just not the time.

Last week I shared a great quote from Mother Teresa. I will end with just a few lines of it again.

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
Forgive them 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.”
― Mother Teresa

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