Summary: This is a sermon outlining six steps to forgiveness and is based on the story of the Prodigal Son.
“The God of the Second Chance”
Simon Wiesenthal was a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II. He suffered much at the hands of the Nazis but not as much as some of his friends and family who lost their lives in very cruel ways. One particular day Simon was taken away from his work group to speak to a dying SS soldier. The dying soldier wanted to confess his atrocities and sins to Simon. The soldier told Simon about specific instances when he had been ordered to kill Jewish families and complied. The soldier asked Simon to forgive him. The man appeared to be truly repentant of his sins and wanted to confess to Simon, who for him represented all Jews.
Simon was faced with a very difficult choice between compassion and justice. Simon decided to say nothing and left the soldier’s bedside. The soldier died sometime during the night. Simon was often haunted by the memory of the soldier and wondered whether he had done the right thing.
Simon’s choice wasn’t as simple as it sounds. The issue at stake wasn’t only whether Simon could forgive the soldier personally but whether he had the right to forgive him in the name of the victims who had died at the hands of the soldier.
What would you have done had you been in Simon’s place?
Are there limits to forgiveness? Why or Why Not?
What do you think Jesus would have done had he been in Simon’s place?
It’s much easier to talk about forgiveness than it is to actually practice it isn’t it? But forgiving other’s isn’t the only difficult thing to do, sometimes it’s just as difficult to ask for forgiveness for something we’ve done wrong.
The more I deal with people the more I realize the importance of forgiveness. In any relationship that goes bad forgiveness could have made a difference. Look at marriage, for example. When a husband and wife have an argument forgiveness is a must for the relationship to continue on. If either the husband or the wife won’t ask for forgiveness or extend forgiveness to their spouse then the relationship will be broken. That’s part of the reason there are so many broken marriages today.
How many of you remember the group “Chicago”? They have a song which I love called “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” In the beginning of the song the author tells us that the woman he loves has just informed him that they need to take a break from each other and in response to her words he says “It’s hard for me to say I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise you, but it’s hard for me to say I’m sorry.” Oh how the words of the song ring true in our own personal lives. It’s really hard to say we’re sorry. And because of that difficulty our relationships with the ones that we love are torn apart. This isn’t only true between a man and a woman, this extends to children, and friends, and to every relationship in life. When we hurt another person it’s so difficult for us to humble ourselves and admit that we were wrong and to truly ask for forgiveness. Sometime it’s even more difficult to forgive someone who has hurt us because we don’t want to trust them again. It’s much easier to build a wall and refuse to let them into that place that they once held in our hearts. Do you know why? Because we don’t want to be hurt again.
I believe that if you and I can learn to ask for forgiveness and grant it in exchange that the relationships that we are a part of can be transformed and we can experience the fulfillment and peace that God desires for us. I believe this because I believe that we serve a God who has modeled that forgiveness for us. We serve the God of the Second Chance.
Our story today is a familiar story. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son. You know it well. It’s about a rotten young man who one day demands that his dad pay up what he owes him and when he had gotten everything that he had coming to him and had succeeded in breaking his father’s heart he left not to be heard from for some time. This young man spent all his money living foolishly and when he ran out he discovered that those he thought were his friends were only interested in his money. He was forced to take a job taking care of a farmer’s pigs. The story tells us that this young man was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pigs food. And finally he woke up and realized that his father’s servants had it better than this. He decided to drag himself home and request a job as a servant. He knew that he wasn’t worthy of being called a son any longer. He also knew how he had broken his father’s heart. He never would expect his father to forgive him for that. Let me pause and ask you a question: how many of you have relationships like this with a child or someone else you love who has wondered off and broken your heart? How many of you have a relationship with someone you once cared deeply for who took your heart and smashed into a million pieces? I know that there are some of you here who know how this father must have felt. But here’s where our lesson and our challenge comes in. Because when Jesus told this story he knew how a person like this father would typically feel. He knew what it meant to be hurt, to be betrayed. And he knew how difficult it is for us, as human beings, to let go of that anger and resentment that we harbor against that person who has injured us. But he wanted to teach us something. He wanted to teach us what God the Father is like.