This message was shared at Centerville United Methodist Church in Centerville, IN on Sunday, July 19, 2015.
During our time together, we will be exploring the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. We heard a short, but powerful passage of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. Jesus’ words indicate that our ability to forgive one another is closely connected to our ability to receive forgiveness. (Matthew 6:12-15)
Is there anyone here today who has nothing for which they need forgiven? Any sinless folks among us?
Let’s be honest, we all stand in need of receiving and extending forgiveness. If we are to be reconciled, restored into a right relationship with God and one another, it is essential that we learn to seek and extend forgiveness.
Randy Maddox, in his book Responsible Grace writes, “However extensive our spiritual transformation might be in this life, we still stand in need of God’s gracious pardon.“
When we talk about forgiveness, it is crucial that we understand the various dimensions of forgiveness. Forgiveness is both personal and communal.
Forgiveness is personal when we seek forgiveness from God and others when we are sinful, hurtful, and harmful. Forgiveness is personal when we extend forgiveness to others when they are sinful, hurtful, and harmful.
Forgiveness is communal when we realize that, collectively we have not risen to the bar Jesus has raised. Look at the Old Testament and you can find numerous examples of people seeking forgiveness on behalf of the entire community for acts of injustices, sin, hurt, and harm.
Forgiveness is communal when we seek forgiveness as the body of believers for not doing what Jesus has called us to…failing to extend love and grace to all people, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the least, the last, and the lost among us. Forgiveness is communal when we collectively extend forgiveness. Forgiveness is communal when God extends forgiveness to His people.
We heard these words from Jesus in Matthew 6 that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven; if we don’t forgive others, we won’t be forgiven. And, yet, in light of these words, we still find forgiveness to be a difficult process. For some, it’s easy to seek forgiveness from God…But it gets difficult when we need to seek forgiveness from our neighbor. It gets tricky when we need to extend forgiveness to our neighbor.
Some of our deepest wounds, our deepest pain, and our deepest hurts are caused by the words and actions of others. When someone causes us harm by their words and actions, we have a decision to make…we can let that hurt define us or we can let it go and move on.
When someone says something that causes us deep pain and hurt, we need to ask ourselves, “Does it hurt because it’s true?” If it’s true, then we need to make a decision to work on that. We need to learn from it and deal with it.
If it isn’t true, we need to decide that another’s untrue words about us will not define us, will not hold us back, and learn to let it go, shake it off, and move forward. (Yes, I just quoted the Frozen soundtrack and Taylor Swift in one sentence. Yes, I am ashamed! Please forgive me!) We have to decide that someone’s false words about us will not control us. We have to decide that our anger, disappointment and frustration will not rule the day.
We are called to forgive- it doesn’t mean that we forget…it doesn’t mean that we stay in an abusive situation…it doesn’t mean that we still won’t hurt or mourn, but it means we will no longer allow that hurtful word or action to define us and hold us back. Instead, we will choose to focus on what is true. We choose love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Here’s the truth- No matter who you are, no matter what you may or may not have done, you are a deeply loved child of God.
While we are forgiven, there are still consequences and repercussions. For example, if I practice the sin of gluttony (yes, over-consumption is still a sin) and abuse my body, I should not expect perfect health even when I repent and receive God’s forgiveness. I can improve my health, but there may have been some irreversible damage done. Or, let’s say I get pulled over for speeding on US 40. When the officer comes up to the window, I feel like I should be able to inform him that a ticket is not required because, just before he got to my window, I prayed, confessed my sin of not obeying the laws of the land and have received God’s gracious and loving forgiveness. It simply doesn’t work that way. There are earthly consequences to our words and actions.
So, forgiveness is personal and communal. Forgiveness is also something that is received and extended. When we receive the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we are called to respond by extending love, grace, and forgiveness.
John Wesley developed what we call the “via salutis” or “way of salvation”. Wesley talks about prevenient grace (grace which exists before anything else), justifying grace (which is the grace that provides forgiveness), sanctifying grace (deliverance by God from the plague of sin…that we might sin “less” while working out our salvation), and Christian perfection (perfectly loving God and one another).
In terms of our receiving and extending forgiveness, Wesley said that “God’s desire for our sanctification is a desire for love to become the constant ruling temper of our soul.” In other words, love for God and one another will rule the day…and we will no longer be drawn into sin. (This Wednesday at 10am, we’ll be exploring Wesley’s Way of Salvation through Scripture and song. You should join us!)
We are called to extend forgiveness as God extends forgiveness.
God is continually extending love and grace to a broken, hurting, and sinful world.
God’s love and grace requires a response – we either accept it or reject it.
If we accept God’s love and grace and receive forgiveness, another response is necessary. We respond to receiving God’s love, grace, and forgiveness by extending God’s love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone.
What do we need to be forgiven of personally and communally? Are there groups we are harming by our words/actions or our silence/inaction?
Who do we need to forgive personally and communally?
As the Colplay song “Fix You” is played, think about what you need to be forgiven and who you need to forgive…then seek, receive, and extend forgiveness. May God, through his love, grace, mercy and forgiveness “fix you” and me!