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    Sep 16, 2017

    Pentecost Proper 19A, September 16-17, 2017

    Passage: Matthew 18:21-35

    Preacher: The Rev. Joan Mason, Rector

    Series: Rector

    Category: Weekly Sermon


        This is the second week in a row that we are hearing from the Gospel of Matthew about what to do when we have conflict with others.  Today’s message focuses on forgiveness.  Whenever I preach about forgiving others, there is one exception that I would like to make clear, and so let me state it up front.  If you are in an abuse situation, (whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, or verbal abuse), the Lord is not asking you to forgive the abuser so that the abuse can continue.  Forgiveness can only occur once you are safe from the abuse.  If you are in this situation, please do not wait.  Talk with me or with a professional counselor right away. 

        Now having made clear that exception…. we return to our Gospel which commands us to forgive one another for the things they do or say that hurt us.  This is tough.  It’s not easy to forgive and forget.  We can’t pretend the pain’s not there or simply erase the memories.  So how exactly do we learn to forgive? 

        Corrie ten Boom was a prisoner in one of Hitler’s concentration camps. She often thought back over the horrors of that place wondering how she could ever forgive the former Nazis who had been her jailers.  After the war, in 1947, Corrie was speaking at a church in Munich.  When the meeting was over, she saw one of the cruelest guards of that camp coming forward to speak to her.  “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said.  “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”  He thrust out his hand to shake hers.  She didn’t move.  She, who had preached so often of the need to forgive, kept her hand at her side.  Corrie was stunned by her own response.  She thought she had overcome the hurt and hate inside her.  She was able to preach forgiveness to others.  But now when she was confronted by this person, she could not forgive him. 

        So, she prayed, “Jesus, I cannot forgive this man. Forgive me.”  At once in a wonderful way that she was not prepared for, she felt forgiven.  Forgiven … for not forgiving him.  At that moment, her hand went up, took the hand of her enemy, and released him.  In her heart she freed him from his terrible past.  And she freed herself from hers.  Corrie said she discovered that day the most remarkable thing.  When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He gives the love itself along with the command.  (The Hiding Place, sixth printing 1999, p215).

        Fortunately, most of us have not had to practice forgiving on a level like Corrie ten Boom.  But make no mistake: Each of us is involved in the ministry of forgiveness.  This is a command for the Christian believer; a way of life; a life-long calling.  The trouble with forgiveness is that we’re not very good at it.  It doesn’t come naturally to us.  It has to be learned.  William Willimon writes:  “The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. The natural human qualities are vengeance, retribution and violence.  It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to bite back when bitten.”  We are not born with the ability to forgive.  (Pulpit Resource, Vol 24, No.3, Year A, 1996, p44).

        It is precisely this unnatural aspect of forgiving that makes it so beautiful an act when learned faithfully and given lovingly.  It’s no wonder that Jesus spends so much time teaching his disciples to forgive others; commanding them, telling them stories about how to forgive, and emptying his life with the words on his lips, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Jesus knows that forgiveness is a vital component of our spiritual well being.  The Greek word for “forgive” actually means “to release from one’s grasp,” like opening your hand to release a bird.  Forgiveness is not something that just happens.  It is something that we have to do – we have to be willing to release it.  Like Corrie ten Boom, we turn our hurt over to Jesus, and we ask for (and receive from Him) the ability to forgive.

        Maybe there is a relationship in your life where forgiveness is needed.  Just take a moment and think about that.  Is there someone you need to forgive?  As you approach the Lord’s Table in a short while, bring this name to the feet of Jesus.  Ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to give you the ability to forgive, and allow the love of Jesus to flow through you.  He commands us to forgive people who hurt us because forgiveness, it turns out, is something even better than getting even.  It is the way we are set free.