Preach // 630 TRINITY // Lord’s Prayer series // Forgiveness
Have forgiveness stations – Vit C tablets and water – response
Matt 6:12 & 14-15
& Math 18: 21-35
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
I’m going to start today with a story. It is told by a lady called Corrie ten Boom. During the second world war her and her sister were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp because they had helped Jews to escape. The conditions were appalling, the treatment of the prisoners inhumane, and her sister Betsie died in the camp.
After the war Corrie began to speak publicly about her faith and how God had been with them both in the camp – you can read her story in her book ‘The Hiding Place’, really inspiring though heart breaking.
So she recalls when she was talking in Germany in 1947 at an event, sharing about God’s forgiveness…
(Story taken from Guideposts)
“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin.
This man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out:
“A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand.
I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”– again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.
And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
Corrie ten Boom’s is an amazing story of forgiveness, having seen unspeakable pain, mistreatment, inhumanity, torture, her own sister dying.
But it is that same power of forgiveness that we all need every day, for the things that can seem trivial, and also the things that consume us entirely.
When we pray forgive us our sins we say ‘as we…have forgiven those who sin against us…’
We hope to act as God acts towards us – as Christians that is part of what we aim for, to grow more and more, bring transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
But of course it isn’t always that easy is it?
How many of you have had situations where it has been hard to forgive someone else? probably all of us.
Some of us will even today be holding on to unforgiveness – because when we are hurt, it is painful and we don’t always want to let go of that pain, or perhaps we can’t. We feel justified in our pain don’t we? What that person did was wrong or hurtful or too damagingfor us to be able to take a step towards forgiveness.
Why should we let them get away with it?
But, just as we get hurt, we hurt others. Even when we don’t mean to, when we are trying to do the right thing, or perhaps we do, do it deliberately. We ALL need forgiveness.
When we forgive we are aiming to emulate the behaviour, the character of God.
In the passage we heard the parable of the unmerciful servant. We hear of the man who pleads to be forgiven and promises to pay it all back
and the master forgives him.
A great debt and he lets him go,
not just giving him what he asks for – the time to pay it back and his family to be freed –
but he actually cancels the debt.
That is a picture of the abundance of God at work in our lives. Going so much further and giving so much more than we can ask or imagine
And yet the servant in the story doesn’t seem to really grasp this gift.
He seems entitled, he doesn’t understand the generosity and mercy of his master. He goes straight out and demands back what another owes to him. He has behaved in the way that his master had every right to do to him but didn’t.
Such a contrast in the way the two men behave.
And doesn’t it seem to us, so unjust that this man who had a huge debt cancelled then won’t do the same to one who owes him?
Just as God forgives us, so we need to forgive those who sin against us.
But it’s tough isn’t it?
In our own human mind we want things sorted out our way. We want people who have wronged us or hurt us, to say sorry,
to accept what they have done wrong and yet that won’t always be the case.
There will be people in our lives a bit like the servant who can’t see what they have done wrong, or don’t care, or won’t say sorry.
Eph 4:31-32 tells us:
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We need to learn to let go of it, into God’s hands.
A wise woman said to me this week, If you go looking for what you need in other people, you will always be disappointed, Instead, look for it in God and he will see you through.
We like nice and tidy resolutions, but life is messy! People are messy and that’s why we need the constant truth of Jesus in our lives. Jesus who forgives all.
Did you know it is not just good for you spiritually to forgive but there is evidence that it is medically better for you too! According to the Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins medical centre in the US, unforgiveness CAN cause physical and mental health conditions.
And forgiveness can bring Improved mental health, Less anxiety & stress, Lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, it can lower the risk of a heart attack; improve cholesterol levels and sleep…
You know the bible tells us in Psalm 139 that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and that God knit us together in the womb. He knows how we work! He knows that if we are not healthy spiritually it can affect us physically too. It can take us over.
God wants us to be released from pain and hurt, and to live in love and freedom with him.
And he can do that for us
In Ezekiel 36 God talks, through the prophet Ezekiel, to the nation of Israel and says that they will be restored –
even though they have wronged God so many times – you can read about the Israelites all through the OT, always running away from God then coming back, then going away again, it’s an ongoing cycle!
But here in Ez 36 God speaks an amazing picture of forgiveness over them:
24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God
It’s an amazing picture, especially when you consider how many times the Israelites have turned form God. And yet it is the same picture for us, of a God that wants to gather us to him, to bless us and pour his favour on us.
I love that line:
I will remove from you, your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh
Isn’t that what Corrie ten Boom asked when she asked Jesus to:
‘supply the feeling’ ?
She needed her heart to be transformed, to be able to truly forgive the guard, from within and to mean it.
Jesus can do that for us if we need.
But it can be so hard can’t it…?
Video clip: Nadia Bolz Weber
What is forgiveness is a way of wielding bolt cutters and snapping the chain freeing us from it?
Do you need that tonight? Freedom? To be badass
Wield those bolt croppers
Even NBW needs it though – we all do
Nadia Bolz Weber, shares in her book Accidental Saints her own need of forgiveness and how a friend helps point her back to Jesus. Here’s something she shares about forgiveness…
how she turned to a friend.
she reached out for my hand and said, “Nadia, Jesus died for our sins. Including that one.” Including that one. Including every one. It feels like a strange and abstract thing to say. “Jesus died for your sins.” ..
But when Caitlin said that Jesus died for our sins, including that one, I was reminded again that there is nothing we have done that God cannot redeem. Small betrayals, large infractions, minor offenses. All of it.
what happens at the cross is a “blessed exchange.” God gathers up all our sin, all our broken-ass junk, into God’s own self.
In Corrie ten Boom’s story, she goes on to share how despite her amazing encounter with Jesus and the guard, even then she could not say that forgiveness came easy to her. She talks of a time when some close friends betrayed her trust, and night after night she would cry out to God, asking him to help her forgive. She says:
His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.
“Up in that church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the ringer lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final clang and it stops.
“I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”
There is more to the story you can read up on…
The point being that:
Forgiveness isn’t always a one time thing, we have to go on forgiving sometimes, go on asking God for help,
Seventy times seven Jesus says…
And in fact the Lord’s prayer is a prayer that we can and perhaps should pray daily
It is an integral part of Anglican liturgy. It covers all the bases that we need in a day which also means we most likely need to forgive and be forgiven most days…
Jesus assumes that we will need to ask for forgiveness not on one or two rare occasions but very regularly. This is a sobering thought, but it is matched by the comforting news that forgiveness is freely available as often as we need it. There is, however, a condition, which remarkably enough is brought right into the prayer itself: we ourselves must be forgiving people. Jesus takes an extra moment afterwards to explain why. The heart that will not open to forgive others will remain closed when God’s own forgiveness is offered
I wonder Is that the crux of it? Not that it’s a deal so much: you forgive and then I will – like you first!
but more that God knows that if we can’t allow ourselves to forgive others, then our heart just won’t be capable of receiving that amazing gift from God for ourselves?
A bit like NBW saying: that we seek to cut ourselves off from the harm done to us. Freeing our hearts from that pain, freeing ourselves to receive love from God?
I wonder if that strikes a chord with anyone here?
And you know I stand here this week one who to be honest needs to take this lesson for myself. Because someone wronged me a few weeks ago, someone close to me, and not just wronged me but my family. I like to think I can take it on the chin if something is aimed at me but when it is my kids, I want to go into fierce mama bear mode! I don’t want to forgive this person, I am annoyed and upset with their actions, I want them to apologise for what they did. And yet they don’t feel they need to. They don’t think they have done anything wrong.
So I can wait for them to do so, until I am 87, they aren’t going to say sorry. So what do I do? Do I stay angry? Not talk to this person? Be indignant about what they did? (current state of affairs)
And here I am standing up tonight and talking to you about forgiveness.
The irony of that has not been lost on me this week as I prepped this talk!
Anyone would think God has a plan, because I know I can’t stand here and say that we all need to forgive, when I am not willing to do it myself and to follow Jesus teaching, when I also know I have been forgiven many times. MANY times!…
I am at this moment just like that servant…
But I know what I need to do, I need to pray as Corrie ten Boom did, Jesus, supply the feeling! Change my heart…
So tonight, I am making a choice and I want to encourage you to do the same. To make the choice to let go of unforgiveness in our lives, let’s not let another night go past with the sun going down on any anger or bad feeling.
Now look, I know that sometimes we can’t resolve the things we need to with those who have wronged us – they are long gone, dead, too painful to face them. But we can share with Jesus. He can bring us that freedom and release that we need with his holy bolt croppers – I liken that image!
And tonight we have a chance to bring to Jesus the situations that we face.
Let us seek to let go of pain, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Let us seek to cut ourselves off from the harm done to us.
Let us seek to have our hearts freed from pain, freeing ourselves
And be open receiving love from God
Do you need that tonight?
Now I know that these things can be hard. So I want to help you make the first step. So I’m going to pray but we have an action we can all do to step towards forgiveness. And it might be that, kit might be that tonight you still feel you cant actually forgive but you are willing to try, or to take that first step.
So you should all have a tablet. Now this is something we do in our prayer spaces in schools where we think if something we need to let go of and as we do we put the tablet in the water and watch it fizz as if the anger or bitterness of unforgiveness is fizzing away, as if God is taking it away.
We have various water stations around the place at the back and fin south aisle – as we pray and worship in a mo I want to encourage you to have the courage to take a step towards forgiving tonight, towards freedom for yourself.