Pastor John Ortberg tells a humorous story about an umpire in a softball league in Colorado. One day, during the off season, this unfortunate umpire got stopped by a police officer for speeding. He pleaded for mercy. He explained to the policeman that he was a good driver and told why this particular day he had to be in a hurry.
The officer didn’t buy his argument. “Tell it to the judge,” he said.
When softball season rolled around, the umpire was umping his first game. Guess who was the first batter to the plate? It was the same police officer who ticketed the umpire for speeding. They recognized each other. It was awkward for the officer.
“So, how did the thing with the ticket go?” the officer asked as he prepared to swing at the first pitch.
With a menacing look on his face the umpire replied, “You better swing at everything.”
You’ve heard it said that revenge can be sweet? Well, it sounds like that umpire was all set to get his revenge, by calling every pitch a strike! You’ve also heard it said that those who laugh last laugh best. Boy, I cringe when I hear people say that. Another saying that I cringe when I hear is this, “I don’t get mad, I get even.”
Hey! Any one of those can be responses to someone who has hurt us, or done us wrong. Those certainly are choices we can make. But are they the right choices? Will they really make us feel better? Maybe. But not likely.
I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that these choices – getting revenge – getting even – holding a grudge –they don’t really satisfy at all. There’s only one choice that works – and that is the choice that we by nature – most often – turn to last. And that choice is – forgiveness.
Now, you already knew that I was going to say that. Since this is church, and I am a pastor – you already knew that. But sometimes, it’s so hard to do. We’d rather hold a grudge. We’d rather get even.
And that feels good, doesn’t it! Yeah – maybe! But let me tell you – in the long run – it doesn’t work.
So – how do you forgive someone who has hurt you? How do you overcome the pain and the hurt – and reconcile with someone who has done you wrong? That is what our lesson for today is about. How DO we go about forgiving – when forgiving can be so very hard to do?
Let me tell you how. First it’s a choice. Then it’s a process. First it’s a choice. Then it’s a process.
I have to confess that I used to think that if we are to forgive, we must also forget. I have come to change my mind about that. No. I would say that forgiveness does not mean forgetting. So forgiveness does not mean, “Ah, forget it. No big deal.” Well, yeah, maybe it was a big deal! Neither does forgiveness mean, “Hey! It’s okay man. It’s okay.” No.
Forgiveness says, “I’m okay. I don’t know if you’re okay or not with what you said or what you did. I’m going to leave that between you and the Lord. But I’m no longer holding a grudge, nor do I want to get even.”
That’s not easy to do. So when we do forgive – or when we are in the process of forgiving – just where does that ability – that desire – that power to forgive come from? Let me suggest that it comes from God. Would you agree with me with that? The power to forgive comes from God.
Think about it. How else do you explain the forgiveness that the Amish community showed to the killer of five of their schoolchildren back in 2006? Do you remember that? Or more recently – the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The families of the victims openly declared their forgiveness of the man who killed their loved ones. Amazing! Where did – where does – the strength and the courage – AND the love – come from that enabled these grieving family members to forgive? The power to forgive comes from God.
Let me tell you something about this God who gives us the power to forgive. One of the chief characteristics of the God whom we serve and worship is that He is a God who forgives. In fact God wants to forgive – He is anxious to forgive your sins. AND He wants you to know that your sins are forgiven. And that’s why every weekend – at the beginning of every worship service – you hear me or Vicar Dave say to you – on behalf of God – that your sins are forgiven.
AND remember that YOUR forgiveness comes at a cost. It’s not just a waving of the hand, and God saying, “Ah, forget it.” No. YOUR forgiveness cost God something. It cost God the life of His Son Jesus. Forgiveness is something that we want. It is something that we need. It is something that we gladly accept. But please realize, that your forgiveness has come at great cost.
Now here’s the problem. Today’s reading tells us what the problem is in the parable about the unforgiving servant. Here’s a man who had been forgiven a ridiculously large debt by his master – who then refuses to forgive a fellow servant who owed him not so much. And because of the servant’s unwillingness to forgive after he himself had been forgiven much – well – it doesn’t end up well for that servant. The clear meaning is that God has forgiven you much – in fact, God forgives you everything. And the implied therefore is this. Therefore – since God has forgiven you everything – God’s great desire is that we learn to forgive a brother or a sister from the heart – the same way that God has already forgiven us.
Or – as we pray in the Lord’s prayer – “Forgive us our trespasses – our sins – as we forgive those who trespass – or sin – against us.” Last year when we had the sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, you heard me say this. In fact, you hear me say this quite often. The Lord’s Prayer is a dangerous prayer to pray. Are you ready to pray that prayer? To ask God to forgive you the same way you forgive others?
Having said that, let me repeat that I know that forgiveness is not always easy. But it is the best choice to make among the others that focus on revenge, or holding a grudge for the rest of your life. So first it is a choice, and then it is a process. Sometimes – quite often in fact – it takes time – maybe even years. When Jesus told Peter to forgive 77 times – and some translations suggest Jesus said 70 X 7, or 490 times – either way – Jesus did not mean literally 77 or even 490 times. Listen! Jesus isn’t standing there counting. “1,2,3,4,5,6,7…77…490. Ok. Now you’re done.” No. What he’s telling us is this. “You are forgiven. Now, you also must forgive. No matter how many times it takes. No matter how long it takes.” First you make the choice. Then you turn it into a process.
Let me tell you something. Even though forgiveness sometimes with some people seems to be an impossible thing to do, I want you to know that it is still possible. Even when it takes a long time.
And I know that some of you are struggling with a situation where someone’s done you wrong – or hurt someone you love – and you’ve not yet been able to forgive them – YET! Well, if that’s where you’re at today – let me tell you something else. Not only is forgiveness possible, it is highly desirable. And let me tell you why.
You see, here’s the problem. Who are you hurting when you refuse to forgive? You know the answer to that, don’t you! You’re hurting yourself. What happens when you say you can’t forgive? You’re rehearsing – you’re reliving – that pain, that hurt, that resentment over and over again. And you certainly are NOT hurting the one who hurt you when you don’t forgive – or darn it – when you absolutely REFUSE to forgive. You’re only hurting yourself. And unless you are a person who likes to torture yourself like that – then let it go. It’s over. Let it go. Why do you want to relive those feelings of resentment and anger – over and over again?
So you see what Jesus is saying? Jesus recommends forgiveness because forgiveness is good – for you! Not just for the person who needs to be forgiven, but for you.
Listen! Study after study after study show that there is a link between forgiveness and better health. How about that! Better health through forgiving!
- When we hold a grudge – or refuse to forgive – bitterness and resentment build up like toxins – like poisons – in your body. So you get a physical benefit to your health when you forgive by letting go of those toxic feelings.
- There is a psychological benefit. People with angry, bitter thoughts – become angry, bitter people. If that’s the kind of person you want to be – if you’re happy being bitter and angry – then by all means. Go for it. Refuse to forgive.
- Listen! Forgiveness is the only power which can stop those recurring, painful memories.
- And quite frankly – when we forgive from the heart – there is a real good chance that the relationship that has been broken will be restored. Good chance of that happening.
I don’t know if four out of five doctors recommend this or not. Probably five out of five. Anyway, I am here to tell you that forgiveness is a key to a healthy mind and heart, as well as for the relationship you have with that other person. Forgive someone who has done you wrong and maybe you’ll sleep better at night. Forgive yourself and maybe you’ll sleep better at night. Forgiveness is the best thing you can do for your body and your soul. Now – you just think about that for a while.
The key to understanding what it means to forgive is to remember that God in Jesus Christ has already forgiven you.
So you’ve been forgiven. By God – you’ve been forgiven! And you probably even know what it’s like to be forgiven by somebody else! It’s what we all need.
I want you to know that you are forgiven. By the grace of God – you are forgiven. The most powerful recognition that we have been touched by the presence and the power of God’s grace – God’s undeserved love and favor in our lives – is the ability – the power – the desire – the choice – to forgive others.
How do we forgive? First it’s a choice. Then it’s a process. So – try praying for that person who has hurt you. After all – you hear me say this all the time – after all, you cannot stay mad at someone for long for whom you are praying. Well – as long as you’re praying the right way.
That’s forgiveness. First it’s a choice. Then it’s a process – a process that includes giving to that other person the same grace that God has already given you.