Missionary Susan Valiquette shares this video of World Communion Sunday at Inanda Seminary in Durban, South Africa.
Missionary Susan Valiquette shares this video of World Communion Sunday at Inanda Seminary in Durban, South Africa.
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
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.