Ephesians 4:30-32 and Matthew 18:21-35
(Quoted scripture is New International Version)
When you were a child, what did you dream about being when you grew up? Did you dream about being a teacher, a nurse, an architect, an accountant, an engineer, a fireman, a police officer, or a musician, or something else? In America, there are numerous opportunities to become what we dream to be, if we have the passion and are willing to work towards achieving our dream.
What about people who are bound in the chains of addiction? What about people who grow up to be rapists and murderers? What do you think they dreamed of being when they grew up? You hear me say often, ‘We are in this moment in time whom we have been, the sum of all our life experiences.’
I agree with Desmond Tutu when he says, “People are not born hating each other and wishing to cause harm. It is a learned condition. Children do not dream of growing up to be rapists or murderers, and yet every rapist and every murderer was once a child.”
Desmond writes, ‘“Each of us has the capacity to commit the wrong against others that were committed against us. Although I might say, ‘I would never…’ genuine humility will answer, ‘Never say never.’ Rather say, ‘I hope that, given the same set of circumstances, I would not…’ But can we ever really know?”’
I told you the story last week of how Desmond’s father used to beat his mother in his drunken rage. Desmond writes that if he traded lives with his father, if he had experienced the stresses and pressures his father faced, if he had to bear the burdens his father bore, would he have behaved as his father did? Remember Desmond’s father was raising a family in South Africa where the native Africans suffered from oppression and abuse because of the color of their skin.
Desmond’s father has long since died, but Desmond has forgiven him in his heart. Forgiving his father, writes Desmond, has freed him to love his father and to heal emotionally and spiritually.
Desmond writes, – “Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice we make, and the ability to forgive others comes from the recognition that we are all flawed and all human.”
He goes on to write, “To forgive is grace. To forgive is a gift we give to ourselves. To forgive someone for the wrong they have done to you, takes honesty, open-mindedness, and a willingness to try. To forgive another does not depend on them and it is not for them. It is for you.”
“To not forgive leads to bitterness and hatred. Bitterness and hatred, whether projected on others, or stuffed inside of us destroys our human spirit. To not forgive affects our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.”
Psychologist Fred Luskin writes in his book, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, “In careful scientific studies, forgiveness training has shown to reduce depression, increase hopefulness, decrease anger, improve spiritual connection and increase emotional self-confidence.”
Research also shows that people who are more forgiving report fewer health and mental problems, and fewer physical symptoms of stress. Medical and psychological studies have shown that a person holding on to anger and resentment is at an increased risk for anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and is more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, ulcers, migraines, backaches, heart attack, and even cancer.
The reverse is also true. Genuine forgiveness, ‘heart forgiveness’ can transform a person who suffers from stress, anxiety, depression and physical illness, to a person healthy, both physically and spiritually.
Forgiveness is not weakness, it requires courage and strength. However, we may have to ask God to give us the courage and the strength.
Remember the Amish school shootings in 2007? In a one room school a gunman stormed in and shot 10 young girls, killing five, then killing himself. Do you think it was easy for those families to forgive the killer? No, it took courage and strength, the strength of God which they prayed for and received. People around the world have been inspired by the way the Amish expressed forgiveness toward the killer and his family.
Jonas Beiler, an Amish man and founder of the Family Resource and Counseling Center, says this about the tragedy, “Tragedy changes you. You can’t stay the same. But I found out in my own experience if you bring what little pieces you have left to God, he somehow helps you make good out of it. And I see that happening in this school shooting.”
“Because the Amish can express forgiveness, and because they hold no grudges, they are better able to concentrate on the work of their own healing.”
Forgiveness may not happen quickly. True ‘Heart Forgiveness’ may take time.
On the front of your bulletin you have a picture of Nelson Mandela who spent twenty-seven years in prison for opposing Apartheid in South Africa. Mandela is quoted as saying, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Desmond Tutu says of Mandela, “When people say to me what a waste that Mandela spent those years in prison, I say no, it was not a waste. It took twenty-seven years for him to be transformed from an angry, unforgiving young radical into an icon of reconciliation, forgiveness and honor who could go on to lead a country back from the brink of civil war and self-destruction.”
I have read Mandela’s book, Long Walk to Freedom, but I have not watched the movie which came out in 2013. One movie I did watch was Invictus, in which President Nelson Mandela is facing a South Africa racially and economically divided. He is able to unite the whites and the Africans behind the bid for a 1995 World Cup Championship in rugby. I recommend this movie.
Forgiveness does not subvert justice, it creates space for justice to be enacted, yet does not include revenge.
Jesus pardoned the thief on the cross, yet the thief died on the cross, the consequence of his actions. (Luke 23:39-43)
In 2006 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired a documentary series, Facing the Truth, that brought together victims and perpetrators of Northern Ireland’s violent conflict.
The perpetrators who came forward seeking forgiveness had already been tried, convicted and had completed their prison sentences. They had been punished for their crimes. Forgiveness does not mean the perpetrators do not suffer the consequences of their actions.
Desmond Tutu writes that even when the perpetrators of Apartheid were granted amnesty and immunity from prosecution in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings, their lives were changed forever with the confessions they made of their cruelty, callousness, and murderous actions. The perpetrators and their families suffered greatly when the truth was told.
Forgiveness is not forgetting, it requires a fearless remembering of hurt. Desmond writes, “Forgiving does not mean forgetting the harm. It does not mean denying the harm. It does not mean pretending the harm did not happened or the injury was not as bad as it really was. Forgiving requires giving voice to the violations and naming the pains we have suffered.”
Personally, I think the removal of statues which represent the civil war and depict America’s dark legacy of slavery, is a mistake. I believe we have to remember the wrongs we’ve done to one another, to prevent them from happening again.
Forgiving is not forgetting. It is moving forward in commitment to free ourselves from the chains of un-forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not easy. There is a contemporary Christian song titled ‘Forgiveness’ by Matthew West. In it Matthew sings:
“It’s the hardest thing to give away,
And the last thing on your mind today.
It always goes to those who don’t deserve,
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
Takes everything you have to say the word
It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you’ve got a right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying set it free
It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what its power can do
So let it go and be amazed by what you
See through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you
We have taken our second step in our journey to Heart Forgiveness. We have learned today that true Heart Forgiveness is not a weakness, it doesn’t mean that justice will not be served, it does not mean forgetting, nor is it easy, or quick.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:30-32 “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
The unforgiving servant in the parable we read last week and again today did not forgive another servant’s debt as he had been forgiven his and he was punished. Jesus says to us, “So my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
Next week we will continue on our path to ‘Heart Forgiveness’ applying Desmond Tutu’s Fourfold path of forgiving. Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship.
You have a prayer insert in your bulletin and some homework to do with the stone you picked up. Each of us has been hurt in the past or will experience hurt in the future. We are learning from The Forgiving Book by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu how to break the chains of un-forgiveness that will bind our hearts and souls, and experience true freedom through Heart Forgiveness.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
Reference: Tutu, Desmond & Mpho, (2014). The book of forgiving; the fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world. Harper-Collins e-books.
Note: Because this is an e-book, I cannot reference the page numbers of the quotes. All the ideas and some of the illustrations for this sermon series come from this book.
Prayer for our heart
from The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu
God forgives unconditionally
So can we
The thief of the cross still dies on his cross
But forgiveness will set his spirit free
And what of you and me standing on the
ground with our piles of hurts mounting
Will we die a thousand deaths before we die?
Yearning for revenge will we die of that thirst?
Will the rage that fills us be the stake on
which we burn?
Will we stumble over every resistance
placed in the way?
And stay stuck in the misery of it all?
Or will we take the chance that we might
break free by following this path where it leads
Past the whys and lies about how it cannot be
Here is our chance
Take this chance
Tracing the Myths
from The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu
1.Take your stone. Set it on a sheet of paper in your journal and trace around it, making five tracings of your stone.
2.Inside each tracing write one thing that forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not:
3.For each of these myths about forgiveness, call to mind an instance where that myth is holding you back from granting forgiveness
4.Think of the things you must give up or let go of in order to forgive, and write them in your journal.
5.Your list might include things like the right to revenge or the expectation of an apology. It might even include having to give up an expectation that the person who hurt you will understand the pain they have caused.
6.As you jot down this list, pause with each item and offer thanks for the ability to let go of what you do not need in order to forgive.