A sermon preached
Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
"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 times seven” (Mt 18:21-22)
1. Called to Forgive
Every morning a man stares out the window
as he eats his breakfast corn flakes.
He does this for 18 months or so.
Then one day he jumps up excitedly -
turns to his wife and says
“There – see - the postman? –
he has left the garden gate open again for the 490th time –
tomorrow I’ll get him back!”
there is in object lesson in not taking the Bible too literally –
Jesus of course is not really saying
we have to forgive 70 times 7, 490 exactly –
he is saying poetically that we must be prepared
to keep on forgiving for as long as it takes.
Forgiving can sometimes be quite easy –
· If someone does something only once
· If they are genuinely apologetic,
· If it was clearly a mistake
· If the offence is relatively small and has no long term effects.
But in other cases forgiving can be really hard –
· When the offence is repeated over and over again
· When there is no sign of remorse
· Where the act is deliberate and calculated to hurt,
· Where the results are seriously hurtful and long lasting
personal life map may be littered
with hurts and offences committed against us -
the tiny ones we may take in our stride -
but here and there perhaps
there towers over us an Eiger of unresolved hurt –
which is not so easily conquered.
forgiveness may only be reached
via a long & arduous journey.
you have forgiven the one who has hurt you,
you are not free of them –
they continue to dominate your life
through your bitterness and anger and resentment.
Desmond Tutu refers to a cartoon showing
three US ex-servicemen standing in front of
the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington DC.
One asks, “Have you forgiven
those who held you prisoner of war?”
“I will never forgive them” replies the other.
“Then” says the third,
“they still have you in prison, don’t they?”
[No Future without Forgiveness, Rider 1999 p.220]
2. To forgive but not to forget
Jesus calls us to the challenging but liberating task of forgiveness.
So we are called, not to forget. but to forgive.
I am very
much aware that we have members of this congregation
who have been the victims of major abuse or violence,
or who carry around huge emotional scars.
And I am sure there will be others here who carry those scars
and haven’t yet been able to share the pain with others.
that is you,
you will know that talk of forgiving and forgetting is plain stupid –
you’ll never forget – it is part of what you are.
learn to forgive those who have hurt you,
You may even learn to remember without pain,
but to suggest you could forget about it is to trivialize the event
and to encourage you to deny part of what you are.
· Today is the anniversary of 9/11:
You can’t ask parents of children killed in the Twin Towers to forget
Not can you can’t ask parents of children killed by
British and American bombs falling on Baghdad to forget
· Today is also Race Relations Sunday:
You can’t ask those subjected to sustained racial abuse
and institutional racism to forget about it
· At our District Synod yesterday we debated a new report on
Domestic Violence (it is on the Methodist website).
You can’t ask a woman who has been scarred
by her husband’s emotional and physical abuse
just to `forget it and get on with her life.
to put things right is not to forgive and forget,
push things under the emotional carpet –
Rather we need to learn not to forget but to remember creatively –
to accept and deal with our hurts
At Dachau there is a museum which is a permanent memorial
to the horrors of the concentration camp there.
Over the entrance to the museum
have been inscribed words of Santayana –
“Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it”
is still a big post Holocaust issue for the Jewish people -
but however we deal with forgiveness, it should not involve amnesia.
wrong doers is not to ignore and forget evil –
let alone condone it
recall and put centre stage the evil,
acknowledge it for what it is, say that we will not accept evil –
yet nor will we let it rule and embitter our lives.
And that may sometimes pave the way to reconciliation.
On Racial Justice Sunday it is good to recall
the quite extra-ordinary work of the post apartheid
“Truth and Reconciliation Commission”
chaired by Desmond Tutu in S Africa.
It is an amazing example of the potential power of forgiveness.
Over and over again victims and members of the security
testified, heard what each other had to say –
often reliving quite horrendous scenes
of electric shock torture and other nightmare memories.
Tentatively participants tried to put themselves in each
and work their way to offer and receive forgiveness
Never underestimate what miracles God may work.
3. Reconciliation may not be possible
not everyone in that process
managed to offer or receive forgiveness
whatever our situation, there will always be times
when sadly mutual reconciliation is unachievable,
when a victim cannot escape from bitterness and resentment,
or when perpetrator is unwilling or unable
to share in a new and creative relationship.
sadly often the case
for the victims of domestic violence.
have been such a victim,
you may learn to forgive your abuser
and release yourself from the grip of bitterness and revenge.
does not necessarily mean
you can return to the relationship.
and Reconciliation are about putting things right,
not pretending they never happened
and reverting to former patters of evil and abuse.
And it is
not part of the Church’s job
to send people back to unreformed abusive relationships
in the name of “forgive and forget”
if all that really means is the unaltered resumption of abuse and pain.
Sometimes we have to settle for less.
Do you remember how Jacob and Laban
meet together and make a covenant together with God –
but plainly they are still deeply suspicious of each other –
at the end of the story they go in opposite directions
but ask God’s blessing on each other.
our flawed and sinful world,
where it needs two sinful people to effect a true reconciliation,
sometimes that must happen.
4. God’s Forgiveness
leave you with a story from Trevor Dennis –
who often tells stories which are variations on Biblical themes –
It reminds us that when Christ says 70 times 7,
he only asks us to follow his Father’s example –
and that in forgiving,
we merely give to others what we have already received.
of a son who took his half of the inheritance
and went off on his motorbike to live in a far country (actually Clapham)
– you know the Biblical version of the story well.
Finally he is broke and sets off home.
His father sees him coming from afar and rushes out to greet him:
“As he approached
him, the Father cried out,
My son, my son, you’re home!
And went to fling his arms around him.
But the son walked up to him and dealt him a vicious blow to the jaw
and kicked him into the ditch,
and marched on to help himself to the rest of the father’s estate.
He did not look back.
Had he done so, he would have seen his father crawl out of the ditch,
and he would have seen too the empty embrace
and the lips still moving in silent words of blessing”
[Trevor Dennis, Speaking of God, SPCK 1992 p. 90-92]
O Lord we thank you that you forgive our sins time & time again
Give us the strength we pray to do likewise.