A while ago, I was looking over some new ideas for a series of sermons. Sometimes I look at what other churches are doing and this title kind of jumped out at me: “You Make Me Crazy!” The series was about relationships that stress us out.
Have you ever thought or said those words? Now who would be saying words like that? And to whom? Normally, we’re too polite, true?
There’s an old saying that goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Notwithstanding what’s going on in politics (and global relationships) right now, the people that generally make us craziest are the people closest to us – in our families and even in the church, where relationships are supposed to be great. We get frustrated when they’re not great, or not what we think they should be.
Jesus comes to bring reconciliation with God and a new level of relationship with each other. But it’s work. Hard work sometimes. These days, I think we make it too easy to give up instead of work things out.
This morning, we’re going to look at some words of Jesus that reach us where we live: our ability to tolerate and forgive other people, especially Christians, especially people we know in the church. What was it Jesus said? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
We just learned that our next-door neighbors, who only bought their house a few months ago, are selling it. They fixed up a few things and they are “flipping” the house to sell it for a profit. God would like to “flip” our lives, change them for the better, through the power of forgiveness.
Matthew 18:21-35. Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church* sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven* times.
23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents* was brought to him;25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;* and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.”29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt.31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?”34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt.35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister* from your heart.’
You know this guy Peter, right? He shows up a lot in the Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament. One of that small group of people God used to create the Church, the community of believers.
Remember his occupation? Peter was a fisherman, one of the least likely people to be a spiritual leader. Among those first followers of Jesus, Peter was the “Alpha dog,” the one with something to say, the natural leader. Quick to take charge. Not easy to be around for some people. And in those two verses, you get a little picture of another little piece of Peter’s personality.
It’s a scene from one of the Jesus movies (Jesus of Nazareth), and it’s not hard to imagine. Jesus is invited to the house of Matthew, who is a tax collector. Maybe Peter has had a bad experience with Matthew, or maybe he just doesn’t like tax collectors, which is easy to understand in that time and place. Jesus should know that Peter doesn’t want to be anywhere near Matthew. So Peter refuses to come in and he’s angry with Jesus for putting him in this spot.
Right before Jesus goes inside to the party, they have this conversation outside the door: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”’22
Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)
How much of our lives do we spend working out the tension of relationships! The party is going on, people are laughing, maybe Jesus has turned a little water into wine, maybe a nice Cabernet, and everybody is having a good time. But Peter is on a slow burn outside the door. And he’s talked a couple of other disciples into staying outside with him. “You going in there? I’m not going in there.”
Jesus positions himself near the doorway and motions for the party crowd to be quiet – he wants to tell a story. And so he tells his parable about forgiveness and the consequences of unforgiveness– loudly enough so that Peter can hear it from the other side of the doorway.
There might have been a few at the party who understood Jesus to say that even they can be forgiven. They think, “Wow, even me. I thought I was untouchable.” There are a lot of people who think they can’t be forgiven. But Peter heard something else. He knew at that moment, that his grudge was a burden. His grudge was an illness. His grudge was keeping him from being complete. He needed to be with Jesus.
He realizes: “If I’m going to be with Jesus at that party, I have to learn to live a different way.” The moment of his release comes when he lays the burden down, steps inside the house, and embraces Matthew. Who’s writing this story? Matthew. And the way Matthew remembers it, it was the presence of Jesus that made this miracle happen. Oil and water, but Jesus in the lives of these two people made a relationship happen.
So, let’s think about forgiveness. Think about the last time you offered forgiveness to someone. A time when you were able to let it go, whatever it was. Was that hard to do?
Think about the last time you needed forgiveness – and received it. Doesn’t forgiveness feel good?
Life is too short to hold grudges, and this is one of the common-sense things that God would love for us to know. Forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, and mercy are key teachings in the Bible, and important for all of us to know. Important for all of us to experience. An attitude of forgiveness reflects the image of God; it is key for God’s people. Somehow, I think you know that. Forgiveness is an important key to living a healthy life, period.
Forgiveness is actually the subject of scientific study. University researchers have been studying not just the psychological effects of forgiveness, but the physiological effects as well. You’ll find the health effects of forgiveness listed on the website of the Mayo Clinic. Achieving forgiveness isn’t just God’s will for us; it’s actually proven to be part of a healthy lifestyle, like exercise and not smoking!
Picture this: a young volunteer steps into a lab, sits in a chair, and puts on electrodes that measure heart rate, etc. In a moment, she thinks about a hurt that has been done to her and dwell on it for 16 seconds. At the sound of a tone, she escalates her thoughts to nursing a grudge and making the offender feel horrible. Another beep, and she shifts gears to empathize with the offender. Then finally, she imagines ways to wish that person well. She may not know it, but she’s taking the advice of Jesus to “love her enemy.”
The study shows that we are drawn toward holding grudges because it makes us feel like we are in control, and many times, we stop there. But there is greater control and better health all around when we actually grant forgiveness, when we let it go.
These are the keys to forgiveness; it starts with a test.
Empathy for the Offender. What was it like for that person as he or she was growing up? How do you think they learned to interact with people?
Did the offender come from a home where there was conflict or abuse?
What was happening in the person’s life at the time he or she hurt you?
Can you see the person as having worth simply by being a member of the community? (or the church?)
Having thought these questions through, you choose to apply forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a legal pardon.
Forgiveness does not assume the other person will change.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. It only takes one person to forgive; it takes two to reconcile.
Forgiveness is a process. Forgiveness is not often simple, linear, fast, or even complete. Anger can often remain after forgiveness.
Forgiveness acknowledges pain. You will never truly forgive if you haven’t honestly acknowledged how wrong the person was to hurt you.
Let’s not be naïve here; this is actually a very difficult thing to do. There are very difficult things to forgive. There are many stories of amazing wrongs that human beings have done to each other. You know some of them from reading the newspaper. You know some of them from reading history. You know some of them from reading the Bible. You know some of these stories because you have lived them personally. But through faith, God does what seems to be impossible.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was such a thing as a “grudge-ectomy?” You come to the doctor, who diagnoses your problem. Holds up the film and says, “There it is, you can see it right there.” Points out this black little spot. Schedules you for surgery the next morning. Afterwards, you wake up, feel a little sore, but better somehow. Your grudge is gone.
It’s not exactly the same, but God does do a kind of spiritual surgery.
God diagnoses the problem: [Slide 14] “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23) We all are capable of offending God and others.
God sends the medicine in the form of Christ, who says, among other things, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Now, Jesus was being crucified when he said this. God is in the business of forgiveness and has had experience in forgiving personal pain. Jesus was speaking truth beyond that moment: we often don’t know what we are doing and are always capable of acting in a way that hurts other people.
And then to the church, God says through the apostle Paul, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
Forgiveness is freedom. God call us to a lifestyle of forgiveness. Unload the burden. Give it to God. Let God in. Let God forgive through you. Feel the grace of God flow.
O God, you are so loving and forgiving, and these are muscles we just don’t use as much as we should. We don’t exercise our ability to forgive enough. You give us the command to confront behavior we don’t like; that’s hard, but we do it. Give us also the capacity to forgive. It’s harder to forgive, Lord.
Lord, we need the change of heart that comes through faith in you. We trust that through your Spirit, you will be able to help us become the people we should be. Help us show Jesus to each other and families, our neighbors, our world, and especially to each other in your church. Amen.