The Necessity of Repeating our Forgiveness

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

15th  Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 5pm, 8am and 10:00am Church of the Ascension

Proper 19 RCL Year A 9/17/2017

 

Scripture Text:

Genesis 50:15-21

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13

Romans 14:1-12

Matthew 18:21-35

Sermon Text:

When I was growing up

It seemed a near constant experience

That when I would make a mistake

or hurt someone’s feelings

My mother or father, or teacher would command me.

“Say You’re sorry!”

 

So I learned to say I’m sorry,

to apologize for any mistake.

I imagine many of you had that lesson drilled into you

as well, when you were children.

But somehow missing in that experience

was the lesson that saying “I forgive you”

should follow as readily as saying “I’m sorry.”

Was that the same experience you had?

Or did people teach you the importance of forgiveness

as well as a child?

 

Not long after becoming a parent, teaching my

Children to forgive became important to me.

 

My daughters,

Being close in age, just fifteen months apart,

as you can well imagine,

love to play together,

and they often hurt one another’s feelings

inadvertantly, when they play.

They have always been each other’s best friends,

and no one can anger them more than they do each other.

 

From early on,

I thought it important to teach our daughters

forgiveness, as well as apologizing

So when Eva Jane and Annalise hurt one another,

I would say “tell your sister you’re sorry.”

and quickly to the other one,

“tell your sister ‘I forgive you.’”

 

At this point in their lives,

They seem to get it

that they have a duty to forgive one another

just as they have a duty to apologize

whenever they hurt each other.

I think teaching forgiveness

Is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

 

Because it is one of the most difficult lessons

For adults to learn.

As C.S. Lewis said:

“There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy.

We all know the old joke,

“You’ve given up smoking once;

I’ve given it up a dozen times.”

In the same way I could say of a certain man, “Have I forgiven him for what he did that day?

I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.”

For we find that the work of forgiveness

has to be done over and over again.”

 

Peter hears this truth from Jesus,

When he asks how many times he should forgive,

He probably thinks he’s being generous,

When he suggests seven times,

As that is more than twice the three times

That the Jewish law of his time required.

But when Jesus responds,

“I tell you, seventy seven times”

He sees the stakes are much higher.

 

It’s good practice to teach children

To forgive over and over again because

That is what we learn has to happen.

Sometimes, when the sin against a person is great,

That person has to express the intention over and over again, before the experience of forgiveness becomes real.

 

It can be especially difficult to forgive when the person

You need to forgive has not apologized,

Has shown no remorse,

Or cannot apologize.

This week I met a woman who shared with me,

The story of how difficult it was for her to forgive

Because the person could not apologize.

A few years ago,

Her husband committed suicide.

She of course experienced tremendous anger

At him, anger that was overwhelming,

Because of the selfishness of his action,

And because he wasn’t there to deal with the consequences

Or apologize.

Being a person of faith,

She prayed a lot, for him,

And for her ability to forgive.

Every prayer she said,

Was like an utterance of “I forgive you”

That was hoping to one day have heart behind it

But it didn’t feel like forgiveness yet.

Eventually, she said, some two years later,

She was in church, and she felt the forgiveness

She had desired come from her heart.

She said a peace like a cool sheet descended on her,

And relieved her hot anger.

Afterwards she started to experience

Deep compassion for her late husband,

Seeing his suffering in the scriptures she was reading.

But it took the repetition of her desire to forgive

For some years

To get to that place of heartfelt forgiveness.

Sometimes forgiving someone seventy-seven times

Is like that, repeating the desire to forgive

Until it becomes real.

The only thing necessary in that case,

Is to enter the path towards forgiveness,

And continue expressing the intention

Until it becomes real.

 

Sometimes forgiving ourselves

For something we regret,

Can be just as difficult,

Can take just as much repetition to become real.

I met another person this week,

A man,

Who said he still carried with him,

Some way he had hurt two people

A long time ago.

He said he prays for those two people

Every night,

And has done so every night

For the past forty years.

That is a long time,

But somehow the process of that repetition,

Has turned his remorse,

Into a loving action towards

The people he harmed.

And that repetition has brought healing

Along with love to his soul.

 

What we see when we have practiced

The repetition of forgiveness,

The entering the path of forgiveness

And then repeating the desire to forgive

As much as necessary,

Is something like the story of Joseph

And his brothers.

By the time his brothers asked Joseph

To forgive them for selling him

Into slavery all those years ago,

Joseph had had a long time to practice

Forgiving them without their remorse.

So when they finally ask him,

After their father had died.

He weeps from the heart,

And is able to express to them,

How he sees their actions as being

The source of great goodness that God

Has worked in him as a result.

That is not the early effect of forgiveness,

But of a forgiveness process that has been long

And grown mature.

That is the kind of thing that God

Desires from our process of forgiveness.

For God is always working good out of the evil

We do.

Yes, he wants us to see the good that he accomplishes

Which is only truly possible,

When we get to a place of forgiveness.

But he also wants us to be freed

From the bondage that we experience

To our anger and remorse.

That bondage to anger and remorse is like torture,

And without forgiveness it is impossible

To pay off the debt that keeps us

Subjected to that torturous burden.

 

Perhaps that is what Jesus was talking about

At the end of his story of the unforgiving servant.

Of course the obvious lesson there,

Is that the king forgave him the enormous debt

He owed, the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars, and so he could be expected to forgive the relatively

Miniscule debt of his fellow servant.

But the resulting imprisonment and torture,

While in the story seems somehow just,

Is not to teach us that God would withdraw

Forgiveness already offered,

But rather that the consequences of unforgiveness

Are fixed and unavoidable,

If we do not forgive.

 

So while we all know that forgiveness

Is not easy, nor is it something we only offer once,

It is essential for our well being.

It is so essential to forgive others,

And ourselves,

That we need to practice it over and over again,

Much like a child practicing saying “I’m sorry.”

We have to practice saying “I forgive you”

Towards others as well as ourselves.

When we do this, eventually our forgiveness will

Come from the heart,

And even better, when it does mature,

Our forgiveness will give us

Depth in our experience of the kingdom

Of heaven on earth,

We will start to truly see how God

Is turning evil into goodness.

And our forgiveness will be replaced

With deep gratitude.

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details