Today we're going to explore one of
the most unique blessings of our Christian faith, forgiveness.
And our scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke lends itself
very well to a discussion of this heart-transforming blessing.
Today's scripture reading speaks of
forgiveness from three different perspectives. The first is
our willingness to seek forgiveness from someone we've
wronged, like the prodigal son, or lost son, did in seeking
forgiveness from his father.
The second is the relationship between
both brothers, and the need for the older brother to forgive
the younger brother for what he did to the family. And the
third is the need for the younger brother to forgive himself
for treating his family the way he did.
I don't know about you but I find it
easy to understand and accept the idea that God will forgive
me of my sins if I ask. But I find it much more difficult to
ask someone else to forgive me, or to forgive someone who has
hurt me, or even to forgive myself when I've hurt someone
else. This to me seems more difficult. Why is this?
When we ask God to forgive us we can
do it in the privacy of our own hearts, no one else needs to
know, it's a matter between God and us. We humble ourselves
before God, and no one else is around to see us.
On the other hand, as humans we often
times view forgiveness as a weakness, and therefore don't want
others to view us as being weak and vulnerable.
But in reality forgiving requires
courage. It's easy to hold a grudge, we don't have to speak
with the person, we can avoid people, and in holding a grudge
we don't have to openly humble ourselves, we can maintain our
tough exterior, maintain our so called dignity, while our
insides are falling apart. Holding a grudge isn't that hard,
I've been there and done that myself.
Now asking for forgiveness, or
forgiving someone is hard work. The ability to forgive
requires strength; it's not a weakness. Look at what God went
through to forgive us. God sacrificed his son, so we could be
forgiven and reconciled to him. Forgiveness takes sacrificial
courage sometimes, to make things right.
When we've done wrong and hurt
someone, we ought to apologize to the person we hurt, tell
them we're sorry and ask for their forgiveness. It's not
always easy and it's certainly not a given that the person we
hurt will forgive us. But as Christians we ought to seek the
forgiveness of others as we seek forgiveness from God,
otherwise the wound left because of the hurt, will become
scared and won't be completely healed.
Now receiving forgiveness from God, or
others, doesn't mean we've been given a clean slate to go and
intentionally sin and hurt again. This is cheap grace, or
cheap forgiveness, and there is no such thing. Forgiveness
requires heart-felt confession and repentance, and sometimes
Being forgiven also doesn't mean we
won't pay the consequences for our acts. If we kill someone
and the family of the victim forgives us, this doesn't mean we
won't pay for what we've done by going to jail. We're stilled
held accountable for our actions, but through forgiveness the
healing process can begin. The consequences we face, because
of our sin are numerous, some of the more dramatic include
broken relationships, losing a job, losing money, health
problems, and so on.
And forgiveness doesn't necessarily
make things right all of a sudden either. The process of
forgiving takes time so that reconciliation can take place.
Seeking and receiving forgiveness frees us from the past and
allows us to move on to reconciliation.
Now lets take a look at the two
brothers from our parable. The oldest son was faithful to his
family; he worked hard, and never disobeyed his father. The
younger brother demands his inheritance early, so his father
gives it to him, and then he runs off to be his own man. He
believes he knows better and sets off to sow his wild oats.
Over a period of time he squanders all
he has, and then wallows in a pig pen for awhile (which is the
lowest of low places for a Jew) until he decides to return
home to a father who, as it turns out, receives him warmly,
and to a brother, who pretty much says, "you've got to be
kidding." "My brother runs off with 1/3 of the inheritance,
spends it all, comes crawling back home, and my father
receives him like a war hero returning home from a great
Place yourselves in the shoes of the
older brother for a moment. You have a brother, a sister, or a
friend who does you wrong, or just up and leaves to go off to
do their own thing. Then out of the blue they up show back in
your life, unannounced, and when other friends see them they
seem happy. You have deep feelings about what this person did
to you, and others seem happy that they've returned.
Many of us have experienced a time
when somebody has hurt us, maybe something happened this
morning, maybe last week, or maybe many years ago. We didn't
deserve to be hurt, but we were, and the feelings of pain,
betrayal, or disgust are still there. Maybe the feelings don't
surface all the time, but they're still there, in the deep
recesses of our hearts, and they will remain there until we
My best friend from elementary school,
junior high, and high school did something to hurt me about 18
years ago when we were in our early twenties. It wasn't
anything physical, it was simply excluding me from something
very important. In the grand scheme of things it certainly
wasn't a huge deal, but nevertheless it hurt me greatly.
After the incident we didn't speak or
see each other for 15 years. He evened moved to another part
of the country and I never knew it.
About five years ago he called me, and
initially all the feelings I'd felt many years before began to
surface, they had never really gone away. They still existed
in the deep recesses of my memory and soul.
Some say time heals everything, but
time by itself does not heal. And this was apparent in the
experience I'm sharing with you. Time along with forgiveness,
is actually what brings about healing and reconciliation.
Anyway, after our conversation I was
able to forgive him, and when I did, it was as if a giant
boulder was lifted off of me. I never realized what a burden I
had been carrying around like this heavy sack I entered the
It wasn't like I thought about the
incident all the time. As a matter of fact years had gone by
before I remembered the incident again. But yet the burden
still sat there festering, just waiting to surface again,
until I dealt with it in the only way that would lead to
My friend and I now communicate on a
more regular basis, our relationship is not like it once was,
but we now at least have a relationship, and I would say we
Are you carrying around excessive
burdens, like this sack, burdens that weigh you down, guilt
that saps you of energy, because you haven't forgiven someone
who has hurt you?
Forgiving is possible, it may not come
easily or quickly, but we can free ourselves from the memories
that bring us deep hurt and bitter sorrow, and in the process
begin to heal the wound, which continues to throb until it's
confronted and dealt with.
Forgiving is not a moment of
tear-filled reunions, it's a process, a journey of the heart,
a journey that sometimes takes a lifetime.
Old folk wisdom tells us to "forgive
and forget." But this wisdom really isn't sound advice. We may
be able to forget the small offenses, those things that are
easily forgiven on the spot. But major offenses are another
story. Only when we forgive, can we put these memories behind
us, not to forget them, rather put them behind us so we can
move on. Suggesting we forget those things that hurt us can
also be dangerous, because we may open ourselves up for a
repeat occurrence. We learn from our past, if we forget the
past we run the risk of making the same mistakes again, or we
open ourselves up to being hurt again. For example, this is
why the child of an addict who has never faced the damaging
effects of addiction ends up becoming an addict themselves.
Remembering can be a painful task and
must be handled with care, but in order to forgive we must be
willing to remember and confront our pain.
Also know that forgiving is not
something you can do for someone else. It's not even something
you do because you should. Forgiving is something you do for
yourself. Forgiving is one way of becoming the person we were
created to be - and fulfilling God's dream that we live lives
of wholeness and happiness. We need to forgive so we're able
to move forward with life, so that we're able to live whole
and happy lives.
An unforgiving wound binds us to a
time and place someone else has chosen, we're held captive in
the past with old feelings. But forgiveness is our ticket to
freedom. Now lets be clear that this ticket to freedom doesn't
mean we agree with the wrong that took place, and it doesn't
mean we simply accept it. It means we acknowledge what as
happened, we recognize we all are sinners and will make
mistakes, and that we no longer have to hold on to the hurt,
as if it were meant for us, or that somehow we're to blame.
Now lets look at the brother who
squandered his inheritance and returns home ready to do
whatever was needed to live with his family again. As he
journeyed home he was worried about the reaction his father
and family might have.
From our scripture reading we know
that he rehearsed what he would say to his father when he saw
him. He knew he had done wrong, and somehow he wanted to make
things right, but wasn't quit sure of the reaction he might
get. He was returning home to ask for forgiveness and was
willing to face the consequences of what he had done, even
offering to work as a hired hand for his father.
When we harm or do wrong we ought to
seek forgiveness from others, and in the process we ought to
be willing to forgive ourselves as well. Some find it
difficult to forgive themselves even after they've received
forgiveness from God, and from the person they did wrong to.
Some just wallow in their guilt, feel
they're worthless, and can't let go and move on. But what we
do with our failures and our mistakes is important.
We all will make mistakes, but if
instead of forgiving ourselves we put all of our mistakes, our
failures, and sin in a sack, like this one, we get so loaded
down with guilt we don't know what to do.
I'm sure if we could do things all
over again, we would do things differently, we'd be a
different person, we'd be more patient, we'd watch what we
said, we'd turn the other check instead of slugging someone,
we'd talk rather than pull a trigger, we'd resist temptation,
we'd get married first, we'd run with a different crowd, and
on, and on and on.
But we can't! What we did cannot be
undone. The past is the past and we have to recognize this
So what can we do about all of this
baggage we're carrying around? What can we do with this sack
of stuff, this guilt and sin?
Your psychotherapist tells you to talk
about it. So you drag this sack of misery into their office
and begin unloading it one mistake at a time. And this is
helpful; it feels good to talk about things openly. But when
the hour is up you have to repack the sack and take it with
you, your doctor doesn't want it.
Your friends tell you not to feel bad,
"everyone makes mistakes." Feel-good-seminars say, "don't
worry be happy" and get you all juiced up, until the smoke
clears and you again see who you are behind the fake happy
face. The sack of stuff is still there.
So what are we to do?
The Bible says "If we confess our
sins, God who is faithful and just and will forgive us of our
sins and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John
1:9) Facing our failures head-on before God, before those
we've hurt, before ourselves is the only way to begin removing
the pain we feel.
This isn't always easy, but if we're
to live a life of wholeness and happiness, receiving the grace
of forgiveness is an essential part of our lives. Forgiving
and being forgiven is a gift from God. Will you receive it?
Read other messages by Pastor Wade