Summary: PENTECOST 17 - YEAR A - A sermon on the need to forgive.
John Paul II began his papal ministry with no fear of going out in public. That is until violence struck on May 13, 1981. While holding his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope was shot twice by Mehmet Ali Agca, an escaped Turkish convict. After surgery, the Pontiff remained in the hospital for 3 weeks, and his assailant was sentenced to life in prison. Two years after this incident Pope John Paul visited Mehmet Ali Agca in prison. When he emerged John Paul explained, "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned." The following day, a local newspaper headline read, Why Forgive?” If the reporter had been a good Christian he would have remembered: We forgive because God has first forgiven us. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Jesus took our sin, our wrongs, our guilt, and claimed them as his own. In that act of Redemption Christ gained for us forgiveness for all time. So we forgive because God has first forgiven us.
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it! Sounds almost too good to be true. Forgiveness is wonderful when we are on the receiving end. But forgiveness becomes extremely difficult when we are the ones expected to forgive. It’s one thing to forgive an act of sin, it’s another thing to forgive the one who sins against you time after time after time. No one wants to be the carpet that everyone walks over. Peter knew this dilemma, probably all to well, so he came to Jesus and said, "Lord, if someone sins against me, how often should I forgive them? As many as seven times?” But Jesus answered, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.” Now wait a minute, doesn’t that seems a little excessive? Seventy seven times! We might as well never stop forgiving. Right! You’ve got it. Hey, hold on now! Where is the accountability? When does a person suffer the consequences of their behavior? Why in the very moment that they are forgiven. You see, to be forgiven we must first die. Die to self and to our selfish, sinful interests. Die with Christ on the cross of Calvary.
For while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. And when we repent, when we confess our sin to Him, Jesus takes our sinful nature, our depraved mind, our broken being, our shame-filled soul, and puts it to death with Him on the cross. Then from that moment on Christ begins the work of transforming us back into His image in which we were first created before sin corrupted us. We call this Sanctification, which is the ongoing work of forgiving and cleansing, forgiving and cleansing, again and again. Transforming us a little more each day into the image of Christ. So in Christ we were forgiven, and in Christ we continue to be forgiven. So Peter, We forgive because God has first forgiven us and has gone on forgiving us again, and again and again. Those who cannot learn to forgive as God has forgiven us, are unable to receive that very forgiveness which God is offering them. As George Herbert has written,
“He that cannot forgive others
breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself,
for every man has need to be forgiven.
When we are unable to forgive we will become an imprisoned soul We may assume that we are hurting the other person, but in reality, we are only hurting ourselves. Pat Umberger puts it this way:
"The moment you start to resent a person you become their slave. They control your dreams, absorb your digestion, rob you of peace of mind and good will, and take
away the pleasure of your work. They ruin your spirituality and nullify your prayers. You cannot take a vacation without them going along! They destroy your freedom of mind and hound you wherever you go. There is no way to escape the person you resent. They are with you when you are awake, And they invade your privacy when you sleep.
So if you want to be a slave, harbor your resentments. But if you want to be free, then God says we must forgive. As Corrie Ten Boom once wrote, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that this prisoner was you.” So we are to forgive because God has first forgiven us. And if necessary we are to forgive again and again and again But what about the really big sins? We may be able to forgive our spouses coming home late again and again and again. Or pardon our children when they bicker and tussle over childish concerns, again and again and again. But what about the sins that are truly criminal in our eyes, rape and murder and acts of terrorism. That is not so easy!