Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Right Time to Forgive

When to Forgive
Matthew 18:21-35
Sept 11, 2011
Rally Day

    This week we start “Feasting on the Word” and the word for the day is “forgiveness”  It may not appear to be the best appetizer -  because when we have been injured, insulted, messed with / messed up, lied to or laid into - maybe the first thing we think of is not “Oh.  I bet a little bit of forgiveness would be good right now.” 
We we’ve been hurt or pained by the deed of another, what’s the dish we want to feast upon?  Revenge!  The dish best served cold. . . . 
    So my hope this morning is that I can give you just a little taste of how sweet forgiveness can be.  That when you leave here this morning, you will be inclined to order it up off your life’s menu and make it part of the feast we share in God’s Word.
    So when is the right time to try forgiveness?
    When is a bad time to forgive?  When all you want is the way things used to be.  Evil changes things.  As our nation observes the 10th anniversary of the devestating attack of 9/11, we acknowlege that our world has changed.  Americans don’t feel invulnerable, like we did before.  We know our lives, our peace, our economy our place in the world is fragile.  There isn’t always a happy ending to heroic stories.  The first responders who headed up the stairs and into the fire on that life changing day gave their lives for others taught us a hard lesson that takes time for us to digest.  Things have changed.  America has had a rough ten years growing into a new understanding of our new place in the world.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  But I am hopeful that we are strong and resiliant and that we care about each other enough to make the adjustments we need to once again lead the world toward a brighter future.

The trespasses and debts we owe each other also change our relationships and change us.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean going back and believing in the fairy tale even stronger.  It means letting ourselves and our lives be transformed by God so that we can see and deal with what is - not what we wish was. 

    When is a bad time to forgive?  When you misunderstand the nature of forgiveness and think it means you have to continue being abused.  God doesn’t want you to be crushed, for your spirit to be broken, for your body to be injured.  And if you think that forgiveness means you have to continue in a relationship that hurts you or someone else, then don’t forgive until you figure out that forgiveness means doing things differently.  . . .  Forgiving someone doesn’t mean letting them hurt you.  It means loving them and loving yourself enough to hold them accountable and quit being part of abuse. 
    When it a bad time for forgiveness?
        when you haven’t ever accepted forgiveness  
            if you are carrying around a load of guilt and shame and the mistakes that you have made seem to close off your future.  When you can’t imagine that anyone, especially God, could love and cherish you because of all your shortcomings, faults and failures. 
    If you have never accepted the grace of God, and allowed God to open up new possibilities, new hope and promise in your life,  If you have never woken up in the morning and prayed, “Thank you God.  Another chance to live a better life.”  Then maybe it isn’t the right time for you to forgive.  Maybe it is the right time for you to go to God and accept the grace and love and second/third/forth seventy seventh chance holds out to you though Jesus Christ his Son.  If it is the time to be forgiven - to say “Yes” to the cross which redeems the failures of the past and makes possible a beautiful future - then do that first.  Get the guilt gone.  Believe in your own forgiveness. 
THEN you will be able to forgive others.

So when IS a good time to forgive? 
    When you are ready to let go of the pain of the past, while holding on to what it can teach you.   Forgiveness means giving up any thought that someday the person who owes you is going to pay you back.  Forgiveness mean the books are never going to be balanced.  Forgiveness means never getting even.   Because better than getting even is getting free.

    When you are ready to get healthy in your body and soul.  It's been documented in many a medical journal as to the ill effects that arise when forgiveness is withheld, how when people decide to stew and wallow in bitterness and anger their blood pressure is negatively affected as is the lining of their stomach and their entire cardiovascular system.   (sermon by Richard Zajac at
    To be forgiven by God is to become a new creation.  Jesus is pretty clear, and the whole of scripture is pretty clear, that you can’t get transformed with out letting go of what ever ties and bonds keep you hooked into old behavior, old patterns, old life.  Be new!

Latest Newsweek magazine, as part of its coverage of Sept 11 Anniversary, featured an article by a 17 year old named Nicholas Lanza, who, as a seven year old, watched the TV in horror as the Twin Towers, where his mother worked, collapsed.   In the days after the tragedy, he was the subject of a documentary film called “Telling Nicholas” about how the family finally broke the news to the boy that his mother was dead.  Nicholas’ world fell apart that day.  He became withdrawn, angry, depressed.  For years he struggled with the horrible pain of his loss and the aftermath. 
    " . . . .The summer before high school, I went to a church camp. It turns out that it was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. You see, I was still carrying thing that was wearing me down and leaving me broken.
During one service, one of my good preacher friends and a few other ministers gathered around me, and they began to pray for me. My preacher friend told me that it was time to let everything go. Throw it all away. For a moment, I didn’t know what was going on; all I could see was this blinding white light. A voice began to say, “You belong to me, my child. You shall no longer be burdened with these chains that you wear about you. You are free.”
    It was then that I realized I was in my own prison, bound with the thick iron chains of depression, wrath, unforgiveness, and—the thickest and strongest of all chains—my own mother. I can recall being deathly quiet for several moments. Then words came into my head. They weren’t really spoken, but it was as though they were there all this time: I love you. Now go and tell 5others the same.
After I was redeemed at the church camp, I had a new desire. I wanted to be able to tell bin Laden that I forgave him for the hideous crime he committed against me. When I heard that he had been killed in the spring of 2011, I was crushed, because that dream would never come true. Forgiveness is essential to really moving on from any tragic happening. I came to learn this through studying the word of God, prayer, and real-life experience.
Looking back, I see just how hate-driven and how mentally distorted I was. Is this what everyone else affected by 9/11 feels? I couldn’t tell you. Do they need to be that way? Absolutely not."
When is the right time to forgive? 
When you have accepted God’s forgiveness and are ready to live anew. 
When you need to let go of the pain that holding a grudge causes you. 
When you are ready to get healthy in body and soul.  
This is the time to taste forgiveness.  My prayer is that as a nation, as a church, and as individual members of the body of Christ we may come to Feast on the Word of forgiveness.

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