490 - On Forgiveness
Presented on July 24, 2016 at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Sacramento, California
The Lord said to Abraham, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know."
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."
"And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us."
Or, as we say it here at Bethany, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive our sinners."
I was raised in the Episcopal church, were we asked God "to forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive our trespassers…"
The concept is the same. Either way, we goofed. And if we are asking for forgiveness for ourselves, what right then do we have not to forgive the one who goofs against us?
That first part - "Forgive us" - is easy. The second part - "As we forgive others"? Not so much.
Yet, we are told by Christ to forgive those who sin against us. And to emphasize how important this is, in case we are tempted to skip this part of the prayer, what is the next line? "Lead is not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." These two statements are not part of a check-off list:
Be forgiven? Done.
Forgive others? Done
Don't be lead into temptation? Okay
Delivered from evil? Got it.
No, each of these prayer-tasks is related directly to the other. One follows the other. "Forgive us. And give us the strength to forgive those who do us wrong. And keep us from skipping that last thing we just said." Oh, and lying and cheating and stealing and blaspheming too. But most immediately, help us to forgive.
But this is not a "one-shot" calling. Forgiveness is mentioned 64 times in the New Testament. I think Jesus meant it. I mean, keep in mind - these are HIS words! The Lord's Prayer, as we know it today, is a direct descendent of how Jesus told his disciples to pray. He could have included many things - just read the Sermon on the Mount - but THIS is what he wanted most of us in our prayers. To worship the Father, pray for sustenance, ask for forgiveness, to forgive others and keep us safe.
But it's okay to forgive once and if the sin is repeated, THEN we can get 'em, right?
From Matthew 18:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seven times seventy times.
I'll give y'all a minute to do the math.
And even then, once you have forgiven some… "Finish estoria!" That's it. Don't bring it up again. "Hey, remember when I forgave you for that thing you did? Well, now I need a favor and I wanted to remind you of that." It's done. Move on! Do you think Jesus went back to get revenge on the Roman soldiers who crucified him? From Luke 23:
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” You know who else Jesus would have forgiven. Judas! JUDAS! A name synonymous with betrayal. And if Jesus can forgive Judas, how petty are our hurts that we can't be forgiving too?
And not just your neighbor who may have slighted you, but I tell you… Well, actually, Jesus tells us:
"I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
So to be clear, who do we forgive? Everyone. EV-ER-Y-ONE!
Paul's letter to Romans, in chapter 12, tells us "If your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink."
But wait a minute! That's a lot of work. I didn't sign up for work - I'm here for eternal salvation and Jesus' love and punch and cookies after church.
But being a Christian - actively working to live God's work - is not for lightweights. I've said it before - living Christ's work is not for sissies. You can Nam Miyoho Renge Kyo if all you want to do is sit and wait for good things to happen. But in this church, we earn that which is freely given and we earn it by doing the good work that Jesus asks of us, both spiritually and practically.
Paul's letter to Ephesus tells us, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
But does this mean we just let everything go? Not exactly, for Jesus instructs us that “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them."
We have to create a culture of forgiveness. We must make it a habit. We must forgive ALL things all the time. This is far from easy. Chances are we will need to forgive someone before we get home from church today. Hell, we may not make it the Social Hour without needing to forgive. In fact, some of you may want to forgive me for saying "Hell" just now.
In the prayer that we read in Scripture today, the proper translation from the Greek is that Jesus says "Abba," not as in "Father," but as in "Daddy." Creator God is Jesus' Father. We are all Children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus. Hence, we too should pray to "Abba." No, not that ABBA, but the Creator God/Father of Jesus "Abba."
If we are to live in a word of Godly forgiveness, we must first recognize a Creator God who loves us as a Parent loves a child. We make mistakes. WE drop plates. We scratch the car. We lie. We say hurtful things. But of the thousands of things we can do wrong as children, how many of those ar unforgiveable? As children, we are forgiven. As adults, we must forgive as we continue to be forgiven.
I was privileged to experience a great act of Christian charity. I was asked to serve as a reference to someone who was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of a young man. I'm going to use the made-up names of David and Stephanie. I was allowed to sit in during the penalty phase of the trial for Stephanie, who had been driving. She it a patch of black ice, which caused the car to go off the road, injuring Stephanie and killing David. During this phase of the trial, David's Mother was speaking.
"David was my best friend," she began. "He and I did everything together. We ate dinner every night together, we went on Mission Trips together. I will never love anyone more than I loved David."
"Uh oh," I thought. "This does not bode well for Stephanie."
"I met with Stephanie," David's Mother continued. "We walked together and we talked. I know Stephanie is not a bad person and she did not intend for this tragic accident to happen. In closing, I see no reason why Stephanie should be punished any more than she already has."
I was stunned - never having witnessed such an enormous expression of Christian love. This woman lost her child at the hand of another - and forgave that person.
Forgiveness is the coming together of the spirit and the word. May we live a life that is filled with the love of Christ, so that we may learn the habit of forgiveness. And may we forgive, so that we may continue to know a life filled with the love of Christ. Not once; not twice; but seven times seventy times and more.
As we recessed from the service, Cathy Sapunor posted the following, which generated as much interest as the sermon itself:
F is for forgetting trespasses daily
O is for overlooking faults of others
R is for releasing the replays
G is for grace when stumbling
I is for inner peace when letting go
V is for vulnerability which brings openness
E is for erasing mistakes and starting again.
N is for not returning negativity
E is for embracing freely
S is for showing sincerity
S is for seventy times seven