Scripture Reading: Luke 17:1-10
Did anything in that video stick out for you? Did it invoke anything in you? It’s pretty amazing that people who have been hurt by someone else is able to forgive. Have you ever been hurt by someone? Have you been able to forgive?
It’s a tough question. We’ve all been hurt in some way or another. It seems like it’s just part of life. Some hurts are more severe than others. But regardless of the severity, it still hurts.
Many of you know I’ve started a course so I might be supervisor for student ministers some day. So I was in Halifax for a week taking this rather intensive course. Over the week we had the opportunity to practice on each other. Which meant we had to be prepared for almost anything.
We were coached to try and focus on key things, like changes in energy, or key words, or even just trying to trust our instincts. We were being challenged to not be afraid to “go deep”, that is to investigate emotion and feelings of the person we are supervising; to not be afraid to ask the tough questions in the moment.
Late in the week I was sharing a story as part of a practice session. I was being supervised by a lovely lady from Newfoundland. Again, we’re being told to not be afraid of digging into feelings.
There was a point when I briefly mentioned a connection to a time in high school when I was bullied. Well, she thought she hit the jackpot and started probing around this story. She was going after the emotions.
There was only one problem. There was nothing to dig into. Those memories mean nothing to me now. I’ve long since dealt with any pain from those days. And I kept telling her that. But she wasn’t buying it. She kept trying to dig in there and find the great “AHA!” moment. But there was nothing to find.
Finally our instructor jumped in and said, “I think he means it.” She finally relented and moved on with our session, which was good, because I really wanted her help with the issue I was bringing to her, not something from my past that has no bearing on what’s going on!
What’s the big deal with feelings? Sheesh.
I kid, but many, many, many people are carrying around some kind of hurt which would make a huge difference if they could just free themselves from it. I’m willing to go as far as to say most of you here, if not all, have some kind of past hurt you are dealing with. Maybe not on a daily basis, but it probably comes up once in a while. And while I may have dealt with the issues from high school, I know there are other things I will need to deal with at some point.
The hard part comes when we hear Jesus say we must forgive. There’s one point in scripture where Peter asks Jesus, “How many times do I need to forgive? Seven?”
What does Jesus tell him? “No seventy seven times!”
In other words, don’t ever stop forgiving! And you know that’s not going to be easy. Ever.
Not forgiving people is a huge problem. It’s a problem because Jesus commands us to forgive. What do we pray here every Sunday? “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus taught us that prayer, so we need to forgive.
Because this is a big issue, we’re actually going to spend a few weeks looking at the issue of forgiveness. Why we need to do it. How we need to do it. And who we need to forgive.
In the gospel of Luke 17:3-4 (NIV) Jesus gives this command.
“So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
You must forgive him. Wow. That’s not an easy thing to do! The disciples realize this, and so what do they ask Jesus to do? The very next verse gives us their response, “Increase our faith!”
Jesus then gives them an example to show them they already have enough faith, they just need to realize it and use it! That example is of having the faith of a mustard seed which allows you to uproot trees and dump them in the sea! We don’t have enough time here today to explore the deeper meaning of what Jesus is saying there, but simply, if you believe, then you have enough faith! He tells his disciples, they already have enough, so just do it!
Jesus then tells a parable about an owner asking his slave to make him a meal after a long day. And the servant doesn’t question him, he just does what he is told to do.
When we look at it in the context of Jesus telling his friends to do something (which in this case is to forgive), Jesus is simply saying, “When I ask you to do something, the proper response is to just do it.”
Jesus talks a lot about forgiveness, so why is it so important? I mean forgiveness is hard work! So what’s the point? I’d much rather go around and be bitter and angry at people who hurt me. Seems to me to be the much easier way to live my life than have to deal with real emotions and feelings about why I feel hurt. Isn’t it just easier to bury them down deep inside of me and not let them surface?
Sadly, the answer is “no!”
So how do we begin this process of forgiveness?
Jesus is asking us to forgive others. In fact, he is commanding us to do so. The disciples have come back to say, “It’s very hard.” and Jesus agrees.
Some people think that forgiveness is simply saying “I forgive so-and-so.” Well, yes, sort of. It’s where we need to start. We need to make the conscious decision that we are going to forgive someone. But a lot of people who do that first step they just stop right there, they don’t feel relief from the pain they carry. It’s still there.
There was someone who really ripped me apart publicly. I’m not going to lie, it hurt. Afterwards this person was all I could think about. For months he was occupying a place in my brain and wouldn’t get out. I’d go for a walk, it was like he was right beside me. I’d go to pray, he’d pop into my thoughts constantly. It was completely draining. I had said to myself that I forgive him, but things hadn’t changed. I didn’t know what to do. The God gave me an idea.
I started to pray for him. If I saw him I would smile and say “Hello!” and wish him a nice day. As I kept doing this something happened. The negative thoughts went away. I no longer felt anger and I was able to focus again.
Luke 6:27-28 says this,
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Imagine! God told me to do something that is right there in the Bible! Amazing!
I clearly needed to do more than simply say to myself, “I forgive him.” My thoughts needed action!
If God asks us to love our enemies, we need to ask ourselves, “What is love?” The answer is simple. Love is a verb, it’s an action. Forgiveness is a form of love, so forgiveness needs to be more than just thoughts and words to ourselves, forgiveness needs to be action as well.
God loved the world so much, what does it say he did in John 3:16? It says he gave his only son. God gave us his son so that we may be forgiven. God acted out his forgiveness as well.
There are problems if we don’t forgive others. It affects us in some obvious ways, but also in more subtle ways.
The first way unforgiveness affects us is physically. Not forgiving someone affects our physical, emotional and mental health. This is probably the more obvious affect on our bodies.
It’s exhausting to hold on to unforgiveness. It occupies our mind. It affects our bodies because of the stress. Did you know stress hurts your body?
For me, when things are stressful, my shoulders and neck get really tight. It can get so bad that it hurts just to try and turn my head at times. And I don’t think it’s just because I’m getting older. But it could be part of it. We need to watch for signs like these where stress may be showing up in our bodies. And then identifying the source of the stress. And it very well could be unforgiveness.
Scientific studies even show that these negative emotions release deadly toxins, negatively affecting your physical, emotional & mental health! It’s not good for you! So we should seek to get rid of all these negative emotions in our bodies, may of which come from the stress of not forgiving those who have wronged us.
Scripture even warns us about the affects of sin on our bodies. Psalm 31 says,
“For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.”
And in Psalm 38 it says,
“There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.”
The sin of unforgiveness is not a healthy one for us to carry, just like no other sin is good for us either.
Unforgiveness also hurts our spiritual health. Ephesians 4 gives us this warning, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
All sin gives the devil a foothold into our lives. You know what I mean by foothold? Think about door-to-door salesmen. What is the trick people like to do when someone tries to close the door on them? They stick their foot in so the door can’t close. That’s what sin let’s the devil do when we try to close the door to our spiritual lives. When we let sin in, we open the door and the devil can stick his foot in there and allow all kinds of nasty things to impact our spiritual health. So we need to get rid of the sin so we can close that door.
Sin also blocks us from being able to hear God in our lives. It separates us from God, and we should seek to remove any barriers to that relationship. We want to be as close to God as we can, don’t we?
The third impact may be the one we worry about the most. Sin impacts our children! Children watch us carefully, the pick up on our subtleties far more than we realize. If we hold a grudge against someone and refuse to forgive them, it not only impacts our own bodies and our own spiritual health, our kids pick up on the animosity and they learn from us. They learn our sin and will begin to practice it for themselves. Through our sin we are leaving the door open for the devil to enter into our children’s lives. They will learn bitterness and anger and how to hold grudges, and they will find themselves separated from God as well.
So if we are able to model forgiveness and healthy relationships, what are our children and grandchildren going to learn? Something to think about, isn’t it!
The final affect of this sin in our lives is that it impacts our eternal life with God.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells this the story of a man who owed the king the equivalent of 11 million dollars. The king called upon the man to repay him, an impossible task for anyone. So the man begged for mercy, and what happened? The king forgave the entire debt.
On the way home, this man ran into a fellow who owed him what amounts to nothing more than pocket change. Instead of sharing in the mercy and forgiveness he has just received from the king, he grabs the man and demands repayment immediately.
The king catches wind of what this man has done since he left his presence and calls him back. Here’s what he says, “’You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger [the king] delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.’ [Jesus adds] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)
Jesus is speaking to his followers in this parable. By believing in and following Jesus, we are forgiven for the sin in our lives, automatically, when we bring them before God, our Father. In receiving such a gracious gift of love and mercy, we must share it. We must be willing to forgive, because if we don’t, Jesus makes it pretty clear we have no place with him in eternity.
No Jesus isn’t talking to people who don’t know how to forgive, or new believers, or someone who is dealing with something pretty awful. Jesus is talking to those who flat out refuse to forgive.
So we see, unforgiveness, holding bitterness and anger in our hearts toward someone else, it’s not good.
We must learn to follow the teachings of Jesus, and learn to forgive others as our Father in heaven continually offers forgiveness to us.
Next time, not next week, since we’re having a brief service at 9am for Remembrance Day, but in two weeks, on the 18th, we’ll take a look at how Jesus inspires us to forgive as we learn to follow his example of finding new life by releasing the anger and pain through forgiveness.
Let us pray,
We know we all have something in our lives we cannot let go. Some pain or anger which limits us in our ability to know you and our Father in heaven.
And so we ask for your peace in our lives. The peace which comes from forgiveness and healing of broken hearts and weak spirits.
As we continue on this journey, may you walk with us, and may your Holy Spirit be ever present to us, because journey is hard. We know it is because you speak on it so often and so passionately. We will need your help. We know, when we ask, you will fill our needs, you will grant your Spirit, and we will never be alone.
Thank you for the reassurance of faith, and your love for us. We pray in your most powerful name. Amen and amen.