Forgiving is one of the hardest graces we give and live. Sometimes we get so focused on the practice of forgiving, we lose track of forgiving as a grace. This message shared with Mt. Zion Church was offered in the hope of helping us all reclaim the hope and promise of forgiveness brings into our lives.
At the first ever session of a long ago, far away confirmation class, I made the mistake of asking: What must we do before we can expect forgiveness from sin?
After a long, awkward silence, a confirmand raised his hand, and said: I’m gonna say… Sin?
He had a point.
You don’t sin, you don’t need forgiven. And since, we’re human we all sin sometime, which means that getting forgiven is a bit like getting socks for Christmas. You need them, but honestly, not every pair of socks you own has holes in the toes, and I'd prefer you'd not gift me like they do.
But, truth be told, socks wear thin, sure as we sin. And, when it comes to sin, there’s always plenty of that around. You only have to look as far as the people who…
- just made themselves welcome to crowd into the house without even asking, or the people who…
- pushed and shoved and packed themselves around the house, trampling the grass and the petunias, who never noticed, or cared about the four guys carrying a paralyzed man to see Jesus, or the way…
- those same four guys, without permission, carried the man up onto the roof, and without a thought for his safety,
- dug up a hole right above where Jesus was preaching, and lowered the man down, interrupting his sermon,
- or the way, some folks came to judge Jesus in or out of their lives…
…there is so much going wrong here, there is so much to be put right here, Jesus begins with a forgiving.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.
Get up. Take your mat. Walk home.”
And when he does, I’m thinking…
Lord, give me socks for Christmas.
Forgiving sets us free.
All kinds of people have said that…
Lewis Smedes wrote: To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover the prisoner was you.
Bernard Meltzer wrote: When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
Desmond Tutu wrote: Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.
Forgiving sets resentment aside, so we can move on well together, Forgiving declares the score settled, so we can hope better for each other, Forgiving decides yesterday over and done, so we can live this day with each other.
Forgiving sets us free. Forgiving is a great gift to receive, which is why it’s so hard to forgive.
We have our rights…
- a home was invaded,
- no one noticed him,
- a roof was torn up,
- a life was endangered,
- Jesus was interrupted,
The teachers of the law had a point. Sin wrongs God. What you do to hurt me, hurts God worse. You just can’t decide to forgive a foul. God made rules for putting things right, and one of them is: God and only God can forgive sins, and who is Jesus to do that?
You know how it goes: Ask an obvious question, get an obvious answer, which is Jesus saying: I want you know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, by telling the paraplegic man get up and walk home.
But, even that was not that.
The teachers of the law were right. God made rules for putting things right, and because one of them was that no sin is forgiven without the shedding of blood, Jesus sheds his blood on a cross for the forgiveness of every evil, even yours and mine.
But, even that is not that.
On Easter, the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:16)
That’s a little scary.
It’s a little scary to imagine myself not being forgiven by the soul I doused with coffee while serving a dinner. When we all get to heaven, will I have to go to finishing school?
What if I forgive the crabby neighbor, who complains and shames the grace out of me every time we cross paths. You know the kind: the neighbor who can’t imagine asking God to forgive anything they’ve done? If I forgive that neighbor, will my neighbor be my neighbor up in heaven?
It's all enough to get me praying…
Forgive me Lord, for failing to forgive.
And while you’re at it…
Forgive me my forgiving Lord,
I knew not what I was doing.
Forgiving could use a few rules.
It’s A Forgiving…
If forgiving is only for the asking, and if forgiving is only for the giving, then the only rules might be: ask, and God will forgive you, forgive, and God will put things right.
Because, whether you are asking forgivng, or, whether you are giving forgiving, forgiveness has already been found, and flows down like a mighty river from the cross, flows into every corner of our life, and invites us to rise, take up our mat, and walk into a God made life.