This is yet another sermon that was inspired by someone I met on the internet. The issue and motivations are self-explanatory.
The sermon this morning comes from Matthew 18:21-22 and Luke 17:3-5
Matt 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Luke 17:3-5 So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, `I repent,' forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
Last night while I was on the Internet, as I am almost every night, I was talking to one of my friends who is going through problems in her marriage. I have become a sort of de facto counselor for this woman, as I have for several other of my friends.
But last night, she told me she had been looking through my web page for a particular sermon subject and couldn't find it. She said she wanted to find a sermon on forgiveness. I told her I had one that I preached early on in my ministry, but that it wasn't very good because it was so personal in nature, born out of a situation with someone who used to be a very close friend of my family.
When I asked her why she wanted such a sermon, she said she wanted her husband to see it because it was something that he needed to work on. That he held grudges forever, and this was part of the thing that was causing trouble in her marriage. I said fine, but I asked her, what about her issues of forgiveness. Because it's fine to look at someone else and say what they need to do, but often we need to do the same things ourselves.
To give you a little background, this woman is in a marriage that is quickly deteriorating into a violent marriage. I don't think she has been physically abused, but I think it is coming. Already he has been mentally abuse towards her, calling her very verbose and insulting names. He sounds to me like one of the husbands you see on the Jerry Springer or Jenny Jones show. Extremely jealous and possessive and taking things too far.
So I told her last night that maybe she was the one who needed to learn how to forgive. Now, don't get me wrong. I do not think she should stay in this marriage, no matter what her Catholic priest may tell her. I think domestic abuse is one of this countries more serious problems, and no woman should stay in an abuse relationship. No man for that matter, since I have come to realize that one of my very good friends is an abused husband.
However, it is my opinion that once this couple breaks up, how will she handle it. How do people of divorce handle their spouses, especially when there are children involved. To be honest, most do not handle it well. Most think they do, but they don't. What happens in cases of divorce, or like any other area of life where there is an argument or conflict between two people, they don't learn how to forgive.
I know someone who has carried a grudge against me for almost 8 years. Now, while I will not claim total innocence in this particular situation, I will say that it all began out of a misunderstanding. Someone heard something they shouldn't have then misinterpreted it. Therefore, for the last 8 years, this person has carried a grudge against me.
I thought about her last night. Then I thought about all of the people I maybe have not forgiven in my life. The people who I view has having done me wrong at one time or another, and I wondered if I really had forgiven them for what they had done. The answer, I discovered was no.
I realized last night as I searched through the scriptures that I myself have a problem with forgiveness. We like to boast in these instances, "I'll forgive but I will never forget" but to be honest, that is a cop out. That is an attempt to hold on to the feelings that you feel justified in having. It is an attempt to say, well, I'll remember it in case they do it again.
Maybe the most profound statement that came to me in the last couple of days came to me from the woman who is sponsoring my trip to Iowa next month. Last fall, her younger brother was murdered in an instance of gang violence. By her own admission her brother was not a saint and was probably into some things that he shouldn't have been in. But in terms of the young men who murdered her brother, she said and I am paraphrasing, "If I don't forgive them, will God forgive me?"
And I sat that the computer, because again, this is while I was on line, and I was stunned. I sent her a message saying I was the preacher and I should be making statements like that. However, that statement struck me as not only odd coming from someone who has lost a relative to violence, but it also struck me for the truth it contained.
In the two sets of scriptures that we read, we see Jesus directly addressing the point of forgiveness. In both instances, Jesus is before his disciples and he is talking with them and teaching them. In the scriptures found in Matthew, Peter asks how many times should a person forgive another person. Now, while the New International Version says 77 times, other translations say differently, and the most accurate translation I believe in this case can be found in the King James Version when Jesus' reply is 7 times 70. So for those of you who are bad at math, that is 490 times, which is a lot of times to forgive someone. So think about it. According to Jesus, and according to which translation you follow, you are to forgive someone at least 77 times, and maybe as much as 490 times. That takes is a lot, no matter which version you subscribe to.
Then we have the scriptures in Luke. Again, Jesus is talking to the disciples, and tells them that even if someone sins against them seven times in one day, if each time after they sin they come back and repent, or apologize, you are to forgive them. Again, that is a lot of forgiving. And it takes a lot of character to be able to forgive.
Forgiveness is one of those things about the Christian faith which people really have trouble with. We can forgive the little things, but the big things give us more problems, as well they should. But being a forgiving Christian is not as hard as you think. Because there are blessings involved in issues of forgiveness. We must remember that several times in the New Testament we are instructed to forgive our brothers just as God has forgiven us.
That, my brothers and sisters, is the key. If God can forgive us for all of the sins that we have committed against him, why can't we forgive others for what they have done to us. If Jesus can say to us "Repent and be healed" then why can we not forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters. If we truly follow the example of Jesus, then we understand that while forgiveness is not easy, it is necessary.
Time and time again, God has given us second chances, third chances, tenth chances, 490th chances. And each time, God reassures us that he loves us and that he is with us. Each time, no matter what, no matter how often we come to him and repent of our sins, he forgives us. No conditions, no strings attached, but we are forgiven. It is the grace that God has for us, coupled with his love and his mercy that enables him to love us in spite of ourselves and in spite of all the things that we do. God forgives us because God is a God of love and a God of kindness and a God of mercy. God forgives us because it is in his nature to do so. God forgives us because he is God.
As we are in the Lenten season, let us also remember the biggest example of forgiveness that can be found in the Bible. Jesus, being killed upon the cross, in the type of pain that no one has experienced for or since, giving his life for the sins of the world, looks at his detractors and proclaims, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." The ultimate example of forgiving. Jesus was hanging on the cross, two thieves next two him, and he forgives the Romans for killing him. Now, one might say that it was easy for Jesus to forgive because he knew he was coming back. Jesus knew the outcome. And therefore, his act of forgiveness was made easy by that knowledge, and I disagree with that.
Remember that while on earth, Jesus was a man and was subject to all the trappings and frailties that men go through. Jesus was on a mission and the ultimate goal of that mission was to save the world. But no man wants to go through what Jesus went though, whether you are the son of God or if you are the Son of Michael who lives down the street.
But to take time to pause, to ignore your own problems and forgive someone for being horrible to you, that shows us how much love one man can have for another. It shows us what we can do if we are truly committed to loving one another and being in love and charity with our neighbors.
Because technically speaking, according to the rules of the A.M.E. Church, and according to the edicts of God, you are not supposed to take communion if you have not forgiven your brother or sister for having wronged you. And there was one time in my ministry where I was so upset with a particular minister, that I refused to take communion from him. But we play fast and loose with the rules regarding communion and I would never be one to deny anyone that sacrament if they came before the altar to take it. But the fact remains that Jesus did not forgive the people who killed him just to make an example of himself. But he forgave and taught forgiveness because it is, was and will always be necessary.
There will always be someone who will do something against you. There will always be someone who will make you mad. There will always be someone who will commit a serious sin against you. But by refusing to forgive, by holding on to your anger and your own fault feelings. By holding on to that part of you that just wants to stay mad. By holding on to that part of you that is the furthest removed from God, you will be blocked from the true blessings of God. You will be blocked from enjoying all of the love that God has to offer and all of the blessings that are in store for you.
By not forgiving someone, what you are actually doing is letting them infect your spirit. You are letting them control how your spirit handles things. But by giving it up, forgiving them and asking God to forgive them, by remembering that Jesus told us how many times we are to forgive, you come closer to your true self, come closer to God, and enable yourself to receive untold blessings.
Believe me, I know forgiveness is not easy. It is not something that you can become accomplished at overnight. It takes practice and prayer. Because if you pray for God to help you with your issues of forgiveness, then He comes in and begins to make it a little easier. But you have to be sincere in your desire to make forgiveness a part of your personality. You have to be sincere in getting closer to God in that matter. You have to be sincere in follow the example of Jesus.
Because if God can forgive you for all the things that you have done, why can't you forgive someone else? If God can forgive you for the times when you didn't go to church, when you broke one, or all of the commandments, if God can forgive you for doing all of the things that no one else knows that you have done, what makes you so special that you can't forgive someone else?
We can forgive and we can learn to forgive. God helps us to forgive. Jesus died so that we might be able to forgive. You are alive in part because of the forgiveness of someone. We live and we love, and in that is forgiveness.
So release your anger. Release your hate. Whatever you feel toward a person is not as important as you think. Yes, you can forgive and not forget. But if you dwell on it, and if you are not sincere in your desire to forgive, then it will be all for naught.
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