Summary: Forgiveness is hard, but God shows us how and makes us able.
Do any of you remember the movie Love Story? From at least 30 years ago, starring Ryan O’Neill and Ali McGraw? It was a real tear-jerker. Spoiled rich young man at Harvard meets gifted beauty from the wrong side of the tracks... she dies, eventually, of some unspecified wasting disease that leaves her looking more ethereally beautiful as the hankies come out and the muffled sobs fill the theater. The reason I bring it up is because of its most famous line. You may have
heard it even if you don’t remember the movie. It was, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Well of course as we all know that is utter nonsense. What she meant was that she knew he was sorry even before he said anything. But what love really means is always being willing to say you’re sorry. How many of you have learned that this is the secret to a good marriage? Don’t worry about who was right, just say you’re sorry and work out the details later.
We all hate being wrong. And we hate being in the wrong even more. Not too long ago I was berating myself for having done something stupid and flippantly said that to err may be human but I was getting tired of it and would rather be God, because being God means never having to say you’re sorry.
Of course I know that I shouldn’t be flippant about such things, but I didn’t mean to be disrespectful of God, but of myself, and of the never-ending struggle it is to accept with grace the fact that being human means making mistakes. Sometimes really big ones. And of course if you stop and think about it, it’s absolutely true. The only person in the entire universe who never, ever has to say “I’m sorry” is God. And Jesus, of course, but since Jesus is also God it sort of goes without saying.
And so it’s something we all need to learn how to do. We all need to learn how to ask for forgiveness. When was the last time you had to ask someone’s forgiveness? What was it for? Was it for a careless word, a broken promise, what? Was it hard to say “I’m sorry”? Did you really mean it? Was it for a one-time offense, or was it for something you find yourself doing all too often? Incidentally, don’t forget that Valentine’s Day is this coming Saturday, it’s a great time to do some all-purpose fence-mending.
But it doesn’t go in just one direction. Just as frequently as we need to ask for forgiveness, we’re always in the position of having to grant forgiveness, as well. The people around us - our parents, our spouses, our children, our friends and co-workers - they’re all just as human as we are. Sometimes more so, if humanity is measured by the number of mistakes. When was the last time you had to forgive someone? How hard was it? Is it easier for you to ask for forgiveness or grant it?
Forgiveness is one of the things we Christians have to struggle with all our lives. For some of us, the struggle involves believing we have been forgiven. For others, the struggle comes in forgiving someone else. But we can’t get around it. It’s absolutely basic to the Christian life. The good news is that we start with God’s forgiveness of us. We don’t come to the table empty, trying to conjure up
forgiveness from somewhere in our own little souls, we come with God’s own forgiveness in our accounts to draw from. Is there something in your own life that you’re deeply ashamed of, something that you really aren’t quite sure God has forgiven you for?
It took me a long time to understand that God had forgiven me for the abortion I had when I was 25. For years I was sure that the reason I never married and had children of my own was because God was mad at me. But it doesn’t have to be that big a sin, that dramatic a transgression. I still cringe when I remember my little brother getting into trouble because I told on him when my Dad was in one of his periodic fits of anger, and Jeremy got punished a whole lot more than he deserved. Is there something still on your conscience, something that’s keeping you away from God?
Even harder, though, is learning to forgive one another. How can you forgive someone when they have seriously hurt you or someone you love? How can you forgive someone when they have lied or stolen or cheated or betrayed you? And how can you forgive someone who hasn’t repented?
Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as 7 times?" Jesus said to him, "Not 7 times, but, I tell you, 77 times.” [Mt 18:21-25] And then he told this parable: One day, a customer burst into the office of a bank president and said, “Please help me! I lost my job, my unemployment has expired, my credit cards are maxed out. I can’t