Forgiving, second round, by Pastor Noel

September 17, 2017   Proper  18A and 19A

If you read my sermon from last week, this is pretty much the same. I think the idea of forgiving is important enough for two postings. 

      Last week and next we heard from Matthew about life in the church. Even in the early church there were squabbles and differences. 

      Today we hear as Matthew explains about forgiving.

      I think these stories are in the wrong order. Forgiving comes before reconciliation.

      That’s how I’m going to talk about them.

      Peter asks, “should I forgive someone seven times?”

      He’s probably feeling rather righteous, because the rule was to forgive three times.

      Imagine his surprise when, instead of praising his compassion, Jesus makes the possibility sound impossible!

      “Not seven times, but seventy seven,” he says, or seven times seventy, in some Bibles.

      He ups the ante to be limitless, uncountable. He’s really saying, just keep on forgiving and don’t even bother to count.

      Well, that sounds easy, doesn’t it!

      Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, wrote “The Book of Forgiving.”

      Desmond was part of the team responsible for the forgiveness that brought peace to South Africa once apartheid was ended. 

      The Truth and Reconciliation Commission invited people from both sides of the conflict to tell their stories, and experience forgiveness. It’s hard to imagine that the atrocities committed could be forgiven, but they were. Tutu wrote about that in “No Future Without Forgiveness.”

      In this book, which is about communal and personal forgiveness and peace, Desmond and Mpho describe a four-fold path: Telling the story; Naming the hurt; Granting forgiveness; and Renewing or Releasing the friendship.       

      That is what Matthew is writing about in the gospel we heard last week. About being the Body of Christ, the church, even with disagreements and differing opinions.

      The Tutus write:

  • Everyone can forgive and nothing is unforgivable
  • No one is beyond redemption
  • We can choose the Forgiveness Cycle or the Revenge Cycle
  • In the Revenge Cycle we reject our pain and suffering and think that by hurting the one who hurt us our pain will go away
  • In the Forgiveness Cycle we acknowledge our pain and suffering and move toward acceptance and healing through the fourfold path.

      The fourfold path was the basis of the work of forgiveness and reconciliation that helped South Africa moving into peace. Matthew tells us how it can work in church.

      It is a good process when groups have hurt each other and want to able to live and work together, or when friends have hurt each other and want to move beyond enmity.

      In the Outline of Faith (BCP p 855) “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unit with God and with each other in Christ.”

      For this we need to be able to forgive, but we may have a wrong idea about forgiving.

      Do we think that by forgiving we are saying that what happened was OK; that the person who did it is OK; that it really didn’t matter, didn’t hurt us or cause any problems?

      NO! NO! NO! NO! all those are WRONG!

      Forgiving is about healing ourselves. First and foremost forgiving is about letting go of the hurt and pain to be at peace.

      Forgiving is about not being fed by the anger we feel toward someone or some event. 

      The other person may not even know they have hurt us. The event, an accident, for example, is inanimate and has no knowledge of our feelings. Think of 9/11, and the current hurricanes.

      When we stay angry at the other, that anger and that person or event are in control of our lives. So, (they say) to not forgive is like taking poison, and expecting the other person to get sick.

      When we forgive, we acknowledge that what happened was wrong and hurtful. We acknowledge that the one or ones who did it should not have done it, and may deserve punishment.

      When we forgive we are letting go of that hurt and anger and finding peace. We may not have the opportunity to talk with the one who hurt us, but that doesn’t matter. We heal and move on.

      Tutu writes, “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us they will hold the keys to our happiness, they will be our jailor.”

      And, to remember Jesus’ advice to Peter, it may take 77 times for us to be able to let go, little by little, until we are healed. Maybe 77 times a day! There will always be triggers that bring back the feelings, but we can learn to let go, and, finally, they are gone.

      So, that’s what forgiving means to me. Being at peace and letting go of pain and hurt caused by another, or caused by ourselves.

      And it’s usually harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others!

      But what if we want to keep the relationship with the one who hurt us? Then we move to another step, reconciliation and restoration.

      Reconciliation is harder work, as you can imagine. To be reconciled we must face and confront the one who hurt us, or the one we hurt, and come to an understanding that allows us to move on.

      We may move on together with a friendship restored, or move apart and, as the Tutus say, “release” the friendship.

      Forgiveness is always possible, because we are in control of our feelings and can find peace.

      Reconciliation is not always possible because the one who hurt us may not want to resolve the issue. If the hurt happened long ago, they may not be available.

      Matthew is calling the church, calling us, to live in the peace of God that is beyond our understanding. With God’s help, it is not beyond our capability, however.

      Reconciliation is wonderful because it restores the peace of God’s kingdom, but the first step always is to come to a place of forgiveness for ourselves, to restore God’s peace in us. Think of it this way—forgiving is internal, reconciliation is external.

      And remember these wonderful words “(God) has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness…As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.” (Psalm 103)

       Jesus says that if two or three agree, God will grant their request. He is not talking about prayer, (asking for that million $s) but about the forgiving and reconciling—or not! (that’s the “binding and loosing” rabbinic language he uses.)

      He is saying that if the group decides to end the relationship with someone, God will be in agreement. If there is a troublemaker who won’t be reconciled, let them go.

      I heard of a church where there was a person who was a real troublemaker in many ways, both in what he said and what he did. Folks pretty much ignored him because they thought church was a place where everyone had to be nice to everybody, no matter what. Well, one day this guy started throwing hymnals at people! They “released” him from the congregation and started their forgiving and healing, and prayed for his healing, too.

      Forgiving 77 times? Seventy times 7? Yes, if we need to—but the one time that brings healing and peace is the most important. May we all have that healing time.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details