The second most difficult thing in the world to do is to harbor anger and pain.
This week, I read the story of a woman who had refused to forgive. As John van de Laar tells the story:
Whenever a visitor came for a cup of tea or coffee, she would pour the drinks and then reach for an old and battered plastic sugar bowl. Then, apologetically, she would tell her story of the beautiful bone china bowl that her mother had owned, but that her sister had taken when her mother died and they divided up her possessions. She had never forgiven her sister, and had turned her bitterness into a daily routine that kept it fresh and growing.
Is it a source of anger and bitterness that causes us to lash out in fear?
That is what forgiveness is after all. It is letting go of the pain. It is releasing the anger. It is refusing to allow what has happened in the past define your future.
|Photo By: Alex Bruda|
As I have talked about many times in these messages – my own extended family is trapped in a pattern of unforgiveness. I, myself, find it extremely difficult to let go of that pain and imagine a future of mercy and love. Even when I find myself getting close to the point where I can, something else happens, another wrench thrown in, that makes saying, I’m sorry and I forgive you, that much harder.
And yet, over and over again, I find these words in the scriptures that say: Forgive.
Proverbs 17:9 – He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats or haprs on a matter separates even close friends.
Matthew 6:14 – If you forgive people their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Mark 11:25 – And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgiven him and let it go, in order that your Father who is in heaven may also forgive your own failings and shortcomings and let them go.
Luke 6:37 – Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
from Romans this morning: Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Or the even more difficult passage from Matthew: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Forgiveness is the most difficult thing in the world to do, and yet over and over and over again, the scriptures command us to forgive.
Because without forgiveness, there is no life.
Without forgiveness, there is no hope.
Without forgiveness, there is no future.
And we are not talking about the people who hurt us here… we are talking about ourselves.
You see, if debts always have to be paid and sins must always be punished, then there is no hope for us.
And there is no hope for our communities.
You see, a family does not work without forgiveness.
A marriage falls apart without forgiveness.
A church cannot survive without forgiveness.
Even a nation will find itself spinning out of control if revenge and justice are the only goals that it seeks… if it cannot find ways to compromise and show mercy and yes, even forgive.
Left to our own devices, we do not have the strength to do the hard task of forgiveness.
But in the midst of remembering the events of September 11th… in the midst of grieving the destruction and loss caused by four hijacked airplanes and grieving the death and destruction cause by the cycle of revenge that came afterwards… we also take time to remember the events of 2000 years ago.
You see, that is when our ability to truly forgive was realized.
On the cross, looking out on a world of brokenness and destruction, facing his tormenters in the eye, Jesus Christ called down forgiveness and not vengeance. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
Our future was forever changed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The wounds that we caused were forgotten. The sins we committed were forgiven. The debts of the past were canceled.
The most powerful stories that I have heard in recent days are the ones in which loved ones recounted the conversations they had with loved ones who were trapped high above the ground in towers one and two of the World Trade Center.
Today, as we remember, let us forgive… and let us imagine together a future in which God’s peace truly reigns.