Thank you Nancy and Randy for leading us in worship. Thanks Linda for the photos.
Forgive Us Our Debts
"Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." We say these words every Sunday, and yet often forget that there is a string attached. God offers to forgive us - as we forgive. That's a hard bargain. The problem is that we are fickle in our forgiveness.
We tend to hold grudges and seek revenge. We take retribution and even the scores. What about the relative who wrongs us or whom we have wronged, so that we come to church with angry or guilty thoughts? What about the co-worker who torments us or uses us until we could scream or retaliate?
Matthew says, "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." Such an idea is alien to our world. We want to hit back when we are struck. We want to hurt others when we are hurt. It's very hard to be kind when others are cruel, hard to love when others hate.
Ask anyone who believes in non-violent protest - it's hard!
Again from Matthew, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of Your Father in Heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." There must be a limit to what we can endure. Perhaps we can forgive a person once, maybe even twice, but if he still abuses us and misuses our trust, what then?
Forgiving others doesn't always seem realistic. Even forgiveness carries with it a temptation to be self righteous. We may forgive someone and burden him forever with a debt of gratitude to us. That is the time when we seek God's forgiveness for our pride and ego. We expect His full forgiveness for our sins, but deny full forgiveness to others. We need to learn what it is when we say in prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we have also . forgiven our debtors." If our own forgiveness depends on our ability to forgive, then we are on shaky ground.
There is a universal longing, a hunger, in every human soul for forgiveness; both to be able to give, and to receive it. In one of his stories, Ernest Hemmingway tells about a young man who wrongs his father and he runs away from home to the city of Madrid.
Out of great love for his son, the father takes out an ad in the Madrid newspaper, "Paco, meet me at Hotel Montana, 12 noon, Tuesday. All is forgiven, Papa." Now Paco is a rather common name in Spain, and so when the father gets to the hotel, he finds 800 young men waiting for their fathers.
We long for forgiveness: to be able to forgive and to be forgiven. If that is so, why is it so hard to forgive? It wasn't any easier for the first followers of Jesus; not even for the disciples. It's a dog eat dog world out there; not a dog forgive dog world.
I love the way Jesus took the opportunity to teach the beauty of forgiveness to His disciples. As with so many of the stories of Jesus, the parable of the debtors arose out of a question that was posed to Him. Peter and the disciples gathered around Jesus and Peter asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" I think Peter may have sincerely thought he had it figured out when he
calculated the number of times we should forgive. But Jesus startled them with His answer, "Not seven times, but seventy times seven." That's 490 times. The point Jesus made was don't count, Peter, just forgive.
Forgiveness is a word we both love and hate. When God forgives our sins, it's like he presses the delete button on His Heavenly computer. And when He forgives, He doesn't send our sins to a temporary recycle bin just in case He needs to remind us of them. They're totally removed from the hard drive! That's what we love about the word forgiveness. But there's a facet of forgiveness that's more difficult for us to deal with, and that facet arises when God asks us to forgive those that trespass against us.
The reason we struggle so much with forgiving others is because it runs contrary to our human nature. When someone offends us, we, instinctively, resent it, and all too often, we end up retaliating. That's the nature of sin taking over; and forgiveness is contrary to that. Remember the words of Shakespeare, "to err human but to forgive is divine."
You have probably heard someone say, or maybe you've said it yourself, "I'll forgive you when you say you're sorry." This isn't God's way. He says, "I forgive you." Now will you accept my forgiveness by confessing and repenting?" If we wait for a confession before we can forgive, we will probably be waiting for a long time. The way that you and I are to relate to people who have wronged us, is that we should act like God toward them. We should forgive them, not because of who they are or what they have done, but because of who God is, and what God had graciously done. Always forgive, for it is a symbol of strength, and never apologize for forgiving, because that is a symbol of weakness.
It's not easy for us to give up our right to be hurt, to be angry, to seek retaliation, or to hate the other for what they have done. You may have had some terrible things done to you by someone you loved and trusted, and they hurt you and broke your trust. You may have lost a great deal because of someone's actions. Here is forgiveness: when you feel that someone is your enemy or when you simply feel that you or someone you care about
has been wronged, forgiveness means; resisting revenge, not returning evil for evil, grieving at the calamities of others, praying for their welfare, seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you, and coming to their aid in distress. All these actions point to a forgiving heart. And the heart is all important. Jesus said in Matthew 18:35, "unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
The Bible tells us the story of Joseph whose ten brothers first planned to kill him, and then, because they lacked the fortitude to do it, they sold him as a slave to traders who then sold him to an Egyptian. Joseph went from slavery to prison and then to a place in Pharaoh's court, finally to being in charge of all Egypt second only to Pharaoh himself. When famine drove his brothers to Egypt, Joseph had his enemies in the palm of his hand. He toyed with them for awhile, to see if they were still evil, and just before he reveals to them that he is going to forgive them, we are told he wept so loudly the whole palace heard him. We aren't told why he wept, but I imagine it was because what he was about to do was hard and painful. By society's standards, he had the right and the power to have them killed, but instead he embraced them; not an easy thing to do.
We all know that it's not an easy thing to forgive, but God in His grace gives us the power to do it. We are able to forgive because God is in charge, and because He takes the things that were meant to hurt us and uses them for good, IF we let Him!
There are reasons why God commanded us to extend forgiveness. Believe it or not, God isn't trying to persecute us; He's trying to bless us. God wants us to forgive. An unforgiving person is prevented from having spiritual rest, is hindered from meaningful worship and is impeded from revealing prayer. You simple won't be able to shake a constant inner gnawing if you bear grudges and refuse to forgive.
Another reason for forgiving someone is told in the Book of James. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." Did you know that modem medicine has discovered that a bitter spirit can seriously affect our health? Doctors tell us that unforgiveness disturbs the nervous system, hinders the digestive process and eventually one falls into depression. That's not to mention how unforgiveness sours our disposition and distracts from our work.
But here's the beauty of forgiving others. When you forgive, God allows you to radiate His divine nature. You become more like your Creator and it's the crowning jewel He places upon your life. We are able to forgive in the light of God's forgiveness. Jesus lets us know that if we refuse to forgive, then we really haven't grasped our great need for forgiveness. God has forgiven us again and again, and so, in our pride, we haven't truly
repented. But when we have our eyes on the cross, and the pain and suffering that Jesus went through in order to forgive us and cleanse us from our sin, it can appear pretty minor to forgive those who harm us.
Forgiveness is an act of faith, because we are saying if there is any punishment that is needed, or any giving of mercy, God will look after it. We forgive those who have hurt us, because God commands it, because our own forgiveness hinges on it, but also because it's the right thing for us. When we refuse to forgive, the bitterness grows like a cancer within us and it eats away at us, causing stress and illness and great lack of joy. The only
therapy for this cancer is the surgery of forgiveness. When we refuse to forgive, we allow the sin that was committed against us to haunt us twice; once when we were first sinned against, and again by keeping us from receiving God's forgiveness. We need to stop the pain and forgive.
Before I conclude, I want to give you a couple of tips on how to avoid an unforgiving spirit. First, don't be easily offended. So what if Aunt Sadie didn't call you when you were sick. And if she did know you were sick, maybe she had her own problems that you didn't know about. Or maybe no one noticed your new hairstyle. Just be thankful you have hair. There are 1001 reasons to get offended in life. You can avoid offenses when
you concentrate more on God's Word than when you concentrate on the offences.
Secondly, you can avoid an unforgiving spirit by realizing how important forgiveness is to the Christian faith. Remember, it's the crowning jewel of your faith. And it reflects a genuine work of grace in your life. Let us pray together the end of the Lord's Prayer, beginning with 'forgive us our debts.'
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.