Forgiveness in suffering
Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Our Strength and Our Redeemer – Amen
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
I have vivid memories of that tragic September 11 morning ten years ago today.
It was mid-morning and I was at work. Three of us shared an office and my colleague that often talked with a joke first, interrupted our three-way conversation by answering the phone and having a strange conversation.
He was being told about the attacks that landed on the first tower of the world trade center and when he got off the phone and told us we didn’t believe him.
Quickly he was on the internet searching for news and news seemed like a bad dream. Sure enough, there it was…
The first plane had blasted its way through the north tower, seemingly a terribly unfortunate failure of the airplane’s radar system that led them off course.
Then the second plane was in sight, crashing into the south tower.
It became clear that this was no accident.
The shock of such a horrible sight had not even set in when we heard the news stories about two other high-jacked planes, one crashing into the Pentagon, another into a field in Pennsylvania… Were there more?
Who was capable of such mean spirited destruction?
Little did I know then what would follow. Within a very short while internet traffic was so great that it become bogged down.
At the time Kelly and were working together, so we went out to lunch to a restaurant with lots of TVs so we could get some news and try to understand some of what was going on.
And yet it felt so surreal, in our media saturated culture, it didn’t feel like it had happened, it felt like it was something out of a Hollywood disaster movie.
The rest of the day, nothing much productive was done.
And when I got home, I remember going outside… on what was a beautifully sunny September afternoon… going out on the deck to where Madison, who was only two at the time, was… and hugging her and crying for a long time.
…Life felt much more precious in wake of such loss…
It has lessened over time, yet still every year on September 11, I feel the emotional disbelief, grief and fear that I experienced that morning.
And maybe the most dramatic thing that I felt was a breakdown in my fragile sense of peace, because this happened on North American soil.
Consider of those powerful emotions, Fear, Grief and Peace
Fear - Do you remember how afraid you were that day?
No one knew what was going to happen next, we didn’t really even know what had happened at first on that day
We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It just seemed like it couldn’t be real.
YET - Do not fear… be not afraid… fear not… worded different ways, it is probably the words Jesus repeated the most.
He said it to his followers the first time they saw him after he rose from death.
He’s not telling us that it’s somehow a sign of weakness or unfaithfulness to feel fear;
He’s assuring us that He is with us no matter what happens.
Grief – For many we express grief in tears - Tears are the communication of feelings so deep that we don’t have words for them.
Let them come. Jesus wept when He lost His friend, Lazarus
And He will give us comfort and His nurturing presence in these times, if we open ourselves to Him.
Peace – people are always saying “remember the good ol’ days...”
Well, conflict has always been with humanity – I remember in Grade 10 history my teacher telling us that in all recorded history, there has only been about 300 days total, cumulative, over all time, where the world has know peace
The world in Jesus’ time was also an unstable and dangerous world.
He didn’t promise to his earliest followers that he would change all that,
And unfortunately we don’t have that promise now.
He did promise then, and His promises endure forever – that in the midst of difficult times, that He gives us something rich and comforting and enduring… the peace of his presence.
Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
We Christians are not immune to Fear, Grief and instability of Peace
But in the face of those powerful emotions – we have the presence of our Lord Jesus
[Peter asked]How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Today, this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we are reminded of our Lord’s instruction to be abundant in grace and mercy
And one way that we may rationalize that tragic day or any tragedy is to follow the lead of Joseph
Remember Joseph, from Genesis – that is Joseph and the coat of many colours
Who was sold into slavery by his brothers – remember what he said:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)
I want to start by saying that God works in mysterious ways – ways that are beyond our understanding, this side of the life eternal.
And I do believe that in some situations God intends for us to go down a seemingly strange path – in order that a greater good is achieve through the journey – it is a valid theology, sometimes
We could look to the 1000’s of people that were mobilize in the wake of 9/11
Or consider how people came to ‘greater search internally’ for the priorities of life, post- 9/11
– But this is also a dangerous line of thinking for most situations
Because fundamentally God is good – when God creates… it is good… and for good
God does not create evil – evil creeps in – we turn away from God’s good blessings
God’s gift of ‘free will’ is often exercised away from God
And for some people much of their whole lives are turned away from God, so that they don’t even know the way home anymore
Perhaps an alternative way to understand tragedy is to consider our relationship to God like the workings of a GPS device
A Global Position System is a device which can locate you using a database of maps and a connection to satellites - locating you to within 5 feet
It is a cool gadget to have in the car – our trip to Nova Scotia this summer was aided greatly by both the GPS we had in the car on our phones
Now when I want to go to some place and have this little computer tell me the best route – I type in the desired location and it calculates the route from where I am
I am then given turn by turn directions – audibly and graphically
But let’s say that I think I know better – maybe one street has less traffic or there is construction or maybe I just think I know better - and I take a different route
The computer takes a moment - in our case says “recalculating route”
And a revised route is produced
If we have gone seriously wrong – it will say
“At the next opportunity, make a legal u-turn”
That is how God deals with us
God, as Joseph rightly declares, doesn’t create the problem
God sets out a path
When we stray from it, God adjusts and redeems the situation by giving us another way
And just like my driving example, sometime calls us to make a u-turn in our life
God is good and any evil is not of God – however, God adjusts… and turns the evil into something
However lovingly we act, there will always be people that want to hurt us.
God adjusts to the expressions of free-will with opportunities to love in the midst of suffering
[Peter asked]How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
It is important to remember, that forgiving another does not mean absolving them of responsibility.
To forgive another is to confirm that they have done wrong and are in need of forgiveness.
Mercy does not cancel out justice or the need for conversion, but it does open up a path of charity that encourages and promotes conversion and justice.
For the Christian in the world, we live in mercy and we long for justice, but we entrust final justice (final conversion) always to God.
As long as we believe in the power and mercy of God, we always hope for this.
Returning to the Gospel with, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, we hear the story of the master (representing God) who forgives the servant of his debt (the servant represents us).
A key message is that God forgives us not because we deserve it, but because God is merciful.
Yet, when that servant does not extend the same forgiveness to others, he gets himself into trouble, for he has not acted toward others the way the master acted toward him.
We are called to forgive those who sin against us.
We have probably heard this instruction many times and we can sometimes take it for granted.
It may be easy to apply to everyday situations: I will forgive you for leaving your dishes in the sink, being late to pick me up, forgetting my birthday, etc.
But in fact, these everyday situations are ultimately about developing an attitude of forgiveness that can define our lives.
With that kind of attitude, we are better prepared for the really difficult situations in life
On this day, where our memories are so full of the worst attack on US soil, our inclination may be simply to say that some things are too terrible to forgive.
Certainly, it is only human that we must often go through a period of anger, bitterness, and mourning. Perhaps, we will never forget some wrongs.
But there is great wisdom in Jesus’ words about forgiveness.
Our human experience tells us that when we hold on to anger and hatred, it eats away at us.
It can begin to change us and make us into persons we never wanted to be.
In some ways, forgiveness frees the one who forgives from carrying that burden.
We can let it go and entrust the burden to God who is better able to deal with it
The teaching on forgiveness is about being like God, who is merciful.
It is about recognizing something of ourselves in those who commit the greatest evils, for no one is free of sin.
Jesus is not urging us simply to be passive in the face of evil.
We must still work to protect the innocent and to hold those who perpetrate crimes against humanity accountable.
But at the same time we are called to forgive even while asking, in love, how we can move forward in truth and love.
Forgiveness requires that we address the situation in a positive and loving way, instead of with fear and hatred.
“An eye for an eye” – is believed to be the oldest of all laws
And a common mis-interpretation is applied that this is an Old Testament teaching and a is license to retaliate
It was in fact meant to limit blood feuds to an eye for an eye and nothing more,
Where vendettas would be settled by all members of the injured tribe against all members of the offending tribe for the injury of just one
“an eye for an eye” was not supposed to be permissive but to de-escalate the situation from the cultural norm
Additionally it was to be exercised by judges, removing the evil from the society
And historically it was never to be taken literally,
Instead it was intended, and when exercised in community by judges, to have financial implications levied, similar to what we have in modern society of fines and damages.
It was never to be administered by the hands of the injured person.
If you were to look at the whole of the Old Testament, you would find this ethos in many places: in Leviticus (19:18), Proverbs (24:29) and Lamentations (3:30) – all spoke of a message similar to Jesus’ teaching,
Jesus was merely correcting the misreading and misapplication that had developed
Our response to the situations that we face in the world can be greatly affected by our attitude from Holy Word – “An eye for an eye” or Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount ‘Do not resist an evil person’
The nineteenth-century novelist Leo Tolstoy, towards the end of his life, took Jesus’ teaching absolutely literally.
He believed there should not only be no soldiers, but also no police, no magistrates and no law courts.
He opposed organised government because it maintained itself through coercion, and he condemned private property because he believed that ownership was secured by force.
He opted out of the world altogether and ended his life unfortunately pathetically alone.
His writings on the subject had great influence on Ghandi, who believed in total pacifism.
Even today some Christians, like the Mennonites, opt out of almost all social control for reasons based largely on the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount.
This past week I came across the following press release:
New York Yearly Meeting Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Minute on observing the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks
Ten years ago members of al-Qaeda used four passenger aircraft as weapons to kill nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. The United States Government’s response was to answer violence with violence. In the ensuing wars, hundreds of thousands more people have been killed. New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) urges everyone to recognize this anniversary as an occasion to remember that there are always alternatives to violence and that there is a Spirit in every human being which responds with gratitude to these alternatives.
The Religious Society of Friends has always upheld the way exemplified by Jesus, who taught us never to return evil for evil, but to love our enemies and pray for them, forgiving them every offense. We confess that we, being human, do not always fulfill this high standard. Nevertheless, we continually strive to discern the guidance of the living God who loves unconditionally, and extends unlimited compassion, comfort, mercy, guidance, grace and revelation to all who ask.
We testify to the world that we disown all wars and fighting with outward weapons for any cause whatsoever. These are never necessary. There are no “just wars.” Among the weapons we renounce are the tongue and the pen, when these are used to provoke prejudice and hatred. Neither will we be silenced by fear when we are called to witness against evil masquerading as good. We seek to build a world in which a just peace is possible. We seek the strength to support and keep faith with those who suffer for non-violent acts of conscience. We live by the gospel of God’s love for all. Join us.
approved July 22, 2011
The Quaker’s press statement is certainly a very ‘clear and scriptural’ understanding of the teachings of Jesus
One man who followed his master’s example was Martin Luther King Jr. He endured unjust suffering as leader of the mass civil rights movement in the United States from the 1950’s until his assignation.
He did more than anyone else to break the appalling segregation laws. Dr. Benjamin Mays said this at King’s funeral:
If any man knew the meaning of suffering, King knew.
House bombed; living day by day for thirteen years under constant threats of death;
Maliciously accused of being a Communist; falsely accused of being insincere…;
Stabbed by a member of his own race; slugged in a hotel lobby;
Jailed over twenty times; occasionally deeply hurt because friend betrayed him
– And yet this man had no bitterness in his heart, no rancour in his soul, no revenge in his mind;
And he went up and down the length and breadth of this world preaching non-violence and the redemptive power of love.
We are called to live totally different lifestyle from that of the world around us.
We are called to be salt and light in our society.
‘To return evil for good is devilish;
To return good for good is human;
To return good for evil is divine.’
Remember this vital detail from our Gospel parable - Each and every one of us has been like the first servant who has received grace beyond measure.
As one preacher describes this man's situation, it's "something like saying that a lowly mail-room clerk owed the CEO of IBM a 'bazillion dollars.'
And yet when the situation to return mercy is presented – he jailed his debtor for a few days worth
The sins that I hold against my neighbour are so minuscule compared to the sins that God has forgiven us…forgive us each and every day
This may be a hard message to hear, but Jesus’ words today are challenging us in a big way.
When something that is dearest to us has been attacked, how will we respond?
The Gospel challenges us to consider what a Christian response might be.
Our response will have long-lasting implications on us as persons and as a society.
If we want to claim to be disciples of Jesus, there are certain things that are very clear:
Jesus spoke not of revenge or retribution, but of forgiveness, refusing to strike back, refusing to judge.
This is not easy to do, and it's not easy to preach, either, and yet it must be preached and lived out… we must, if we want to follow Jesus.
How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
We have been given Grace and Mercy abundantly by God
Our response is to go and do likewise Amen
 Challenging Lifestyles – Nicky Gumbel – page 106
 Challenging Lifestyles – Nicky Gumbel – page 116