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On Forgiveness

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon given October 8, 1995
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA

In the two verses just before where today's Gospel lesson begins, Jesus tells us: ''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.'' Luke 17:3-4

Being a Christian was never meant to be an easy path. Oh, becoming a Christian is easy enough; a confession of faith, renouncing sin and so on. God's grace is freely given; all we have to do is repent and ask forgiveness, and there it is. But if we look back on the vows we took at becoming a full member of Christ's church, at confirmation or acceptance into membership, there is that one annoying line: ''...to promise according to the grace given to you to live a Christian life...''

Despite God's freely given grace through faith, there is that expectation that through God's freely given grace we will live Christian lives. Not for salvation mind you; we can't live a good enough life to merit God's grace. No, we are pledged to live a Christian life out of love for Christ, who said to us, ''If you love me, keep my commandments.''

Aha! Here's the rub: in most cases, despite the transformation brought about in our lives by our faith in Jesus Christ, it doesn't seem much easier to live that Christian life. In the past, some even gave up on the idea. In one of the more outrageous perversions of Christian belief, one heretical sect decided that the way to obtain more of God's grace was to sin more, so that they would receive more of the grace of Christ's salvation. Appealing as that prospect may seem, that's just not the way it works.

One of the reasons we gather as a congregation goes beyond the needs to learn and grow and worship: we are a mutual support group in this attempt to fulfill our promise to live Christian lives. As a mutual support group, kind of a ''Sinners Anonymous'', if you will, with God's help we must strengthen and support on another in our Christian lives. This is a ministry of the laity to each other. As a starting point for this ministry, Jesus gave us a new commandment in John 13:34: ''A new command I give you; love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.''

When we do not show this love for one another, we are failing in Christ's new commandment. Christ's church has no room for backroom politics, for whisper campaigns, for secrecy and deceipt—regardless of the reason. William Penn wrote ''A Good end cannot sanctifie evil means; nor must we ever do Evil, that Good may come of it.'' These types of activity are the antithesis, the very opposite, of how our relationship as Christian brothers and sisters should be conducted. In Romans 12, God speaking through the apostle Paul tells us how to relate to one another in the church: ''For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to the others. We have different gifts, according to the the grace given us.'' ...According to the the grace given us. That has a familiar ring to it! Paul goes on to say ''Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.''

If part of your body decides to rebel against your body and tries to take over, we call that a cancer. Cancer is an invasive scourge. We cut it out and then bombard it with radiation and chemicals to kill it, to eradicate every trace. We cannot do that with the body of Christ; we are bound to a path of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. This is what God expects of us. We all must forgive. Some are easy to forgive; there's no challenge there. As Samuel Butler said, ''We all like to forgive, and love best not those who offend us least, nor who have done most for us, but those who make it most easy for us to forgive them.'' It's the ones who sin against us seven times in one day that we really have a tough time with. ''Seven times in a day...''; seven is a very significant number in scripture that is sometimes lost on us today. It signifies completeness, so someone sinning against you seven times means that they have completely cut themselves off from you. Have any of us sinned seven times against our brother or sister? Maybe it's time for all of us to look at our role in our ministry to one another. Do we need to repent? Can we truly forgive one another? Look around you. Is there someone there you need to forgive? Is there someone you need to show repentance to?

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we have to do as Christians. First, it's hard to be sincere, but just as Paul tells us ''Love must be sincere'', so must repentence and forgiveness. When children learn to apologize to each other, they many times say ''I'm sorry'' because Mom or Dad told them to; learning to say it with this conviction and sincerity only comes with maturity and a real understanding of what it really means to be sorry. Just as we grow from a child to an adult, our faith must grow, so that someday it will be at least the size of a mustard seed, and will allow us to sincerely repent and forgive.

Secondly, it's a lot easier to condemn, to ''rebuke'', than it is to forgive. It is SO hard to put aside our anger when we feel we have been wronged! Again in Romans 12, we hear: ''Do not repay evil with evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath.'' To forgive someone, when what we really want to do is punch the blankity-blank in the nose, we really need to draw on our grace from Christ. ''According to the grace given you...'' That's what we pledged about living a Christian life, following the words of Paul. Just as our sinful natures cut us off from God, they also prevent us from being able to truly forgive one another. But we are not expected to do this on our own! That same measure of grace by which God forgives us of our sins is there to allow us to forgive others; I for one do not have it in me to forgive trespasses against me without this grace. We must draw on this freely given grace to forgive; forgiveness is the first step on the road to healing and reconciliation.

We must heal the hurts and we must be reconciled with one another before Christ's body at Wesley Church can be a sound, healthy body. Old hurts may subside to a dull ache, while new wounds are the sharpest, but in the case of all of those wounds we have given each other by failing to live as Christians, we must forgive before the healing can begin. Let's draw on the grace given to us to forgive each other. Remember, we are all parts of Christ's body at Wesley, with many gifts to share, but one sanctifying and healing Spirit that binds us in Christian love.

Let us pray:
Lord, open our hearts. Let your love flow into them and fill them to overflowing. Send us your grace in full measure, that we may pass the love and grace you give us to each other. Bind our wounds and heal our hearts, that we may be one body, one Spirit, united in faith to minister unto one another, and to spread the message of your salvation to Naperville and beyond. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Copyright 1995 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement.
Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
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