The Grace of Forgiveness

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 deep sacrifice.

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 battle."

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 address them.

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 sanctuary with.

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 healing.

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 friends.

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 truth.

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