Sunday, 19 October 2008


I gave this message on the topic of forgiveness on September 11th 2005.
When Mehmet Ali Agcan shot and wounded Pope John Paul 2nd on 13/5/1981, it was the culmination of a lifetime of bitterness and hatred. He was locked up in Rome’s Rebibba prison. One late December day, two and a half years later, the pope in an act of Christian forgiveness sat for over 20 minutes in Mehmet’s cell holding the hand that held the gun.
The call of Jesus is to walk in forgiveness.
The power of forgiveness is amazing. It melts hearts.
We can choose to receive forgiveness or not. We can choose to forgive or not. The language of forgiveness and reconciliation is not primarily the language of the world. However as William Blake wrote “In Heaven, the only art of living is forgetting and forgiving.”
(a) It's not forgetting about something. Or justifying something. (Maybe he was right when he made that nasty comment.) That doesn’t deal with the issue of the heart.
(b) It’s not making excuses
(c) It’s not condoning that which is wrong. (Luke 17 v 3 says “If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him.)
(d) It’s not cheap or superficial.
A Sunday school class was being quizzed on the prodigal son. The teacher asked one youngster, “who was sorry when the prodigal son returned home?” The boy gave it a lot of deep thought then said “The fatted calf”
We have seen over the last fiveteen years or so many heroic men and women who despite suffering terribly have forgiven their enemies such as Gordon Wilson who lost daughter in the Eniskillen bombing and Nelson Mandela
(a) Forgiveness is a conscious decision. It often involves deeds and words. In Genesis we see Joseph forgiving his brothers who sold him into slavery. He tells them "I will you provide for you, because five years of famine are still to come. Then he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Joseph forgave them with deeds and words."
(b) Forgiveness is something that God does in our heart
My Wordsworth Concise English Dictionary describes forgiveness as “To pardon, to overlook”. If you forgive in your heart any grievance resulting from the act with which the other person wronged you is erased and disappears."
We can put forgiveness into compartments. We can forgive A but not B. But Jesus said in the Lords prayer everyone is to be forgiven. (In the NIV version Luke 11v4 “Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who sins against us").
The book Miracle on the River Kwai tells how for three years prisoners of war were tortured and ridiculed by the Japanese. Many died at their hands. At the end of the war some defeated Japanese soldiers were herded onto a train, without water on their way home. The ex prisoners of war came up to them and bathed their wounds and gave them their water from their rations to drink. Even in those extreme circumstances the allied ex prisoners of war forgave their enemy.
(a) Everything should be forgiven. During World War II, a group of Belgian teenagers were in a church together repeating the words of the Lords prayer. After they had said “Forgive us our trespasses”, they hesitated before going onto the next phrase as they were deeply incensed against those who had overrun their country and devastated so much of it. During the pause, a voice behind them said, "As we forgive those who trespass against us”. They turned and saw the speaker was the deposed King Leopold III of Belgium who had lost everything except his soul.
(b) We should forgive whether it is big or small. On the night of 14/11/1940 much of Coventry city centre was destroyed by Nazi bombers including the cathedral. A wooden cross was placed on the original altar which is now part of the approach to the new cathedral. Behind the cross is an inscription, “Father, forgive”.
(c) What people have done to us or omitted to
(a) We should forgive everytime. Oscar Wilde once quipped “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.”
In Matthew 18 v21-22 Peter asked Jesus how many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." The rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offend them-but only three times. Peter, trying to be especially generous, asked Jesus if seven (the ‘perfect’ number was enough times to forgive someone.) But Jesus answered “Seventy-seven” times, meaning that we shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive someone. We should always forgive those who are truly repentant, no matter how many times they ask.
(b) We should forgive now or ASAP before resentment starts festering inside you. The longer you leave it, the harder it becomes.
(c) It is the responsibility for us to act and not for the other person to come to us first
(a) Matthew 6 v14-15 "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you don’t not forgive men their sins, your father will not forgive your sins.”
Not to forgive is rejecting what Jesus did on the cross. A man said to John Wesley, “I’ll never forgive you." Wesley replied, “then pray that you’ll never sin.” If we confess our sins to God and forgive those who upset us, God will forgive us. This cycle of confession and forgiveness maintains our relationship with God.
(b) Proverbs 3 v3-4 “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, wrote them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man."
Bruce Olsen was called to minister to the Motilove Indians in the Columbia jungle. They shot him down with an arrow and kept him virtually as a prisoner with minimum food for a month and ill-treated him in many other ways before he escaped. But he forgave them, went back and a few years later most of the tribe were converted to Christianity.
(c) Unforgiveness breeds resentment, which breeds bitterness. When Ramon Naverez, a Spanish 19th century General and Prime Minister was on his deathbed, his priest asked him if he’d forgiven his enemies. Naverez replied, “I do not have to forgive my enemies. I have had them all shot.”
(d) Unforgiveness gives an avenue for the devil and makes us capable of anything.
“Revenge at first though sweet, bitter ere long back on itself recoils” Paradise Lost Book 9.
"Current medical research indicates that persons who are unforgiving are more susceptible to a variety of illnesses than are their more tolerant counterparts. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that type A personalities (long thought to be particularly prone to cardiovascular illness) are NO MORE LIKELY than anyone else to suffer heart attack or stroke. The culprit, researchers say now, is anger. Type A persons are in danger only if they carry around unresolved hostility. It is anger, not activity, that places a person at risk." (The Abingdon Preaching Annual 1996 - edited by Michael Duduit, page 307)
A woman who disliked a singularly obnoxious neighbour was put in a bad mood every morning when, standing at her sink fixing breakfast, she would see him driving off to work. Finally one morning she watched him drive away, and as the familiar feeling of resentment began to rise, she whispered to herself "He is a person for whom Christ Jesus died". That morsel of theological insight - applied to her neighbour - was the antidote to her resentment.
Dwight Eisenhower said “I make it a practice to avoid hating anyone. If someone’s been guilty of despicable actions especially towards me, I try to forget him. I used to follow a practice to write the man’s name on a piece of scrap of paper, drop it in the lowest drawer of my desk and say to myself, “That finishes the incident”."
(a) Forgiveness is an act of will. Think of all that God has forgiven you Luke 6 v 36 "Be merciful, just as your father is merciful." Colossians 3 v13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against each other. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
(b) You sometimes need God’s grace-the Holy Spirit to forgive. As CS Lewis said “everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
(c) We should ask God for the right opportunity to forgive. When a person doesn’t receive forgiveness from us, we need to pray for them.

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