Summary: It takes a big person to forgive.
It Takes a Big Man
Woodlawn Baptist Church
August 28, 2005
I don’t know if you are familiar with whom Elizabeth Barrett Browning is. If you’ve been to any of the weddings I’ve conducted you have heard me use some of her poetry. Elizabeth was raised by a tyrannical father. It is said that when she married Robert Browning, their wedding was held in secret because of her father’s disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened!
It would be hard enough to live with a parent’s disapproval, but to receive that sort of blow would be extremely disheartening. As you look back over your life, even considering your present circumstances, what is the worst anyone has ever wronged or hurt you? It would be foolish to ask whether you have ever been hurt because none among us lives in a vacuum. To be alive and interact with other people is to subject ourselves to hurting and being hurt.
It may be that in your marriage your spouse has wounded you deeply. He or she may be taking great advantage of you, or perhaps has caused you some very deep wounds that you’re not sure you can ever forgive. Some of you carry the wounds of abusive parents: parents who through verbal or emotional, maybe even physical abuse inflicted wounds that to this day you carry around, adversely affecting all your relationships. Perhaps even to this day you’re still trying to live up to their expectations, striving to please them, hoping that one day you’ll be the favored child that you never could be growing up.
More and more people, even some of you, are expressing hurt from children or grandchildren who have rejected your upbringing. You have poured out your love as best you know how, given counsel, agonized in prayer and wept frequently, only to be rejected again and again. Maybe it is a child who turned away from your biblical values and is living a life of shame. Perhaps you made some mistakes, didn’t spend time with them or were too harsh on them and have tried and tried to make up for lost time, but now they are keeping you at arm’s distance and it hurts deeply.
Deep wounds come from many places. Some of you know what it is like to be wounded by a former pastor. Good years were spent working together in ministry, building lives together, building the Lord’s church together, but you feel betrayed. Some of you are carrying around deep wounds that you’ve never gotten over. All it takes is for a name to come up and you get all knotted up inside. It may be some other spiritual leader. A trusted youth pastor with loose lips breaks your confidence and you are hurt. A brother or sister in the church shoots off at the mouth something that you offered in confidence, and your trust is broken.
When I first began working as a youth pastor, a young girl and her boyfriend told me about their struggle with sexual activity. They had been sexually active, but knew that God wanted them to stop, but it was difficult. They wanted help. I didn’t know what to do or say, so that night I spoke with a man in our church and asked for help. He went to the girl’s home late that night and told her parents that she was going to burn in hell unless she married the young man. Needless to say those kids were extremely hurt over what I had done and have never returned to church.
The ways we can be hurt, the number of times we can be hurt, the depths of our hurt will vary, but the fact is that we all get hurt by those who are closest to us, for it is with those people that we have the most to lose.
A stranger cannot hurt you. He knows nothing about you, but your family and your church family can do much damage. The question in those times of hurting and woundedness is what will you do with that person? You see, it is not what you do with the wound that is so important as what you do with the individual or individuals involved.
That’s what I want to talk to you about tonight from this little book of Philemon. Really it is not a book at all. Instead it is a very personal letter written from one Christian brother to another, making a personal appeal for forgiveness and restitution. It is a test case if you will to determine whether Christianity, our faith in Christ really makes any difference in our personal relationships. If our faith in Christ cannot help us here, then it cannot help us anywhere.