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Monday, August 23, 2010

Forgive Me for Forgiving?


The pastor’s sermon yesterday was his fifth in the series on the Lord’s Prayer, this time about forgiving—as you might as guessed from the title.
Turn in your hymnal to page 390. The name of the hymn is “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive.” Sing only the last verse, acappella, since the pianist went home for the day. What? You don’t have your hymnal with you? Oh, no—then you will have to take my word for what it says! The last verse reiterates that we ask for forgiveness from God “as we forgive.”
Shim Habte, our pastor, said to forgive is to give up forever any right to revenge.
This is a very hard sermon for some people to take to heart. It’s sometime difficult to forgive , unless you ask for God’s help. Hard, that is until you really realize just how much you’ve been forgiven. Remember the parable in the Bible about the unforgiving servant? A ruler told one of his servants who owed him 10,000 talents (a talent was equal to 15 years’ income for the typical worker) to pay up, or he would sell him, his wife, and his children. The servant begged for forgiveness, and the ruler was moved to compassion and forgave the debt. The servant then went out and found one of his fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarius (a denarius was the equivalent of one day’s work), and demanded what was owed. The second servant also begged forgiveness, but the first servant would not forgive, but had the second servant thrown into prison. The ruler was understandably upset with the first servant and rescinded his forgiveness.
Shim said that when we do wrong, it is our responsibility to ask for forgiveness, too. If we don’t what happens? We feel guilty (or defensive). Guilt is not a bad thing—if it leads us to repentance and the request for forgiveness. Which leads to transformation of our lives. But no one who refuses to seek or give forgiveness can experience God’s forgiveness. God has provided freedom from the guilt of sin for all who turn to God.
Pastor Shim, told a story of something that happened early in his ministry, when he was one of many assistant pastors in a very large church. One of the other assistant pastors, Matt, didn’t like Shim because of the color of his skin, or at least didn’t like that he was an assistant pastor, the first black assistant pastor they had hired. Matt was vocal in his objections, and another assistant pastor told Shim what was going on. Shim responded that wasn’t his problem, but Matt’s problem. The trouble was, that Shim didn’t let it go in his heart, so he went to Matt to talk to him. Shim told Matt he (Shim) heard about what Matt had been saying and asked him to stop, telling him also that he forgave him. Matt apologized, and the problem was resolved for both of them.
Unforgiveness causes broken relationships. When you are in a relationship with most people, you can move away from the relationship (drop a friendship, find a new job, ignore someone who is ignorant), but what about if it is within your family? What if it is your spouse or one of your children? It’s not so easy to move away then. And sometimes it’s so hard to forgive—so let God forgive through you. Pain is difficult to let go because it is a constant reminder. Say, “Lord, help me to forgive,” and live peacefully. I don’t know if anyone here has experienced the humiliation and the loss like this story.
Corrie Ten Boom lost her whole family in the German prison camps during World War II. After she was freed from the prison camp, she wrote the book, “The Hiding Place.” A man came up to her after she spoke one time about forgiveness, and he asked her if she could forgive him. She recognized him as one of the prison guards. She found she didn’t want to forgive him. Her hand froze at her side, she couldn’t raise it to shake his hand. She asked Jesus to forgive him through her. Finally, she said, “I forgive you for Jesus’ sake,” and shook his hand. He said, “Now I know you believe what you preach.” He became a believer because Corrie Ten Boom could forgive him.
Remember we are humans in the process of learning. We can learn to forgive if we practice forgiveness. We can learn it from our Lord and those he has transformed.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa. After he was released, he was elected president. He told his people he wanted no more revenge against white people, but that they should live in peace with their brothers.
What we need to learn to do is how to turn walls into bridges. That’s what God did for us through Jesus Christ—the wall that separated us from the Holy God became a bridge of invitation and reconciliation between us and God. As recipients of God’s compassionate mercy we are told to do the same for those who hurt us. Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
The answer to the sermon title Forgive Me For Forgiving?” I will forgive as a thank you to God for forgiving me for Jesus sake. To deny forgiveness for others is lack of gratitude to God and His Son, who made us recipients of Grace. Grace is unmerited favor of God—be like God by forgiving.

Shim Habte is the pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Willows, California
544 North Shasta Street
Shim's email:
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