notre dame montreal

Sermon for Ordinary 24 Year A


By The Rev Charles Royden

Today the sermon is about forgiveness and if past sermons are anything to go by there will be people stopping me on the door saying things like,

‘It’s alright you talking about forgiveness but if you think that I’m going to forgive her…’

Usually people struggle with forgiveness because they think that it implies pretending that something in the past didn’t happen, or it implies condoning something bad. So this morning we will look at forgiveness and we will also think about some of these issues.

Forgiveness must be unlimited

First of all forgiveness must be unlimited.

Peter comes to Jesus and he asks about forgiveness and he is really sharp. He knows Jesus is into forgiveness and so instead of suggesting that we should forgive once, or twice, or three times, he really goes for it, he suggests no less than seven times !

It must be said that Jesus appears quite mean, because he takes Peter’s seven and doesn’t just make it a bit more, he makes it unimaginably more — seventy times seven. Jesus makes Peter’s attempt at generosity seem totally lame.

Seventy times seven means that there is no way that you can keep count, it would have to be unlimited. I once went to a restaurant which served on the menu, ‘coffee and unlimited fudge.’ After a while that was removed from the menu and it became just ‘coffee and fudge.’ I often wonder what episode caused that description to change and have the menu’s reprinted!

But with Jesus he really does mean unlimited forgiveness. Why?

Forgiveness is good for you

Forgiveness is about you, not the person you are having to forgive.
The Greek word for forgiveness is apheemei. It means “letting go.”

On a purely human level forgiveness is good for you. Forgiveness is much more beneficial to the one who forgives than to the one who is forgiven. Forgiving, letting go of feelings of revenge and retribution, is a potent healing act.

Research shows that holding on to anger increases your chances of a heart attack, don’t ask me how but the psychologists tell us that it also increase cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other illnesses.

Forgiveness however boosts your self-esteem and lowers your blood pressure and heart rate. Forgiveness also helps you sleep better at night and boosts a positive change in your attitude.

Studies have found that those who forgive no longer had feelings of anxiety and depression and felt better about themselves. Forgiveness "reduces anger, hurt, depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion and self confidence."

Forgiveness has healing power in the lives of those who utilize it.

Forgiveness means letting go of stuff which hurts us and that must be good. Do you remember the story of the trapped monkey?

They put coconut in a jar and the monkey reached into the jar and got the coconut and couldn't get his hand out. He pulled and pulled to try and get away but he couldn’t get his hand out. He wouldn’t let go and so he got caught.

So we have too must let go and set ourselves free. Forgiveness is letting go of the anger, letting go of the resentment and letting go of the hurt that lives within our hearts.

Forgiveness also should not be simply equated with forgetting.

Does this mean we have to forget?

Two men were talking about marriage. One man said,

“My wife and I argue a lot, and every time we argue she gets historical . His friend interrupted him, “You meant to say that she gets hysterical , didn't you?” The first man responded, “No, when my wife and I argue, she doesn't get hysterical; she gets historical . She drags up everything from the past and holds it against me.”

So can we forgive and forget? Should we ?

There is quite a lot of contradicting advice about whether we can forgive and forget. Forgiveness doesn't say, "it's like it never happened" -- that's amnesia. I suppose humanly speaking there are sometimes things which we can never put out of our minds, but forgiveness means that if we look back on them then they have no power to hurt us and we give them no power to hurt others.

The slogan “forgive and forget” is about denial. There are some hurts and scars from our past that need to be remembered.

If we don’t remember some of the hurts of the past and refuse to be victim to them again, then we stand to repeat our past mistakes. But, we remember the hurts of our past not to repeatedly play the role of victim or to hold the perpetrators hostage with guilt. Instead we are empowered to make wiser choices in the present and the future.

Remembering the hurts of South African apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that forgiveness draws out “the sting in the memory that threatens to poison our entire existence.”

Tutu says, “We must forgive if there is to be a future.”

Forgiveness does not require us to forget. What it does require is “release,” the release of the negativity and hostility associated with the past. Letting go.

Christ compels us to forgive so the desire for revenge will not poison our souls.

Forgiveness is not condoning wrong.

Forgiveness does not require us to forget, neither does it require us to ignore injustice or injury. Sin must be acknowledged for what it is both by the victims and the perpetrators. Too often, Christians equate forgiveness with passively accepting or ignoring wrong.

If we ignore the wrong and do not recognise sin for what it is, then we are dangerous people. So often the church has preached that forgiveness requires persons to be allowed second chances, this has meant that victims have been victimised.
This has been seen where priests have bee relocated away from churches where they have abused children.
It is seen when women are sent back to marriages with abusive partners.

Forgiveness does not condone sin, or ignoring wrong. Forgiveness insists that perpetrators confess, repent.

Forgiveness should not be equated with reconciliation, it takes two to be reconciled, it only takes one to forgive.

Today we are talking about us and what we must do, forgive. The behaviour of the one who is forgiven is quite a different story. If a person accepts forgiveness, then the assumption is that they know they are naughty, want to change.

Forgiveness is about you alone. Setting yourself free from the burden of the past.
Anger, vengeance these are things which burn us up. It was Gandhi, who said "an eye for an eye" leaves the whole world blind. Forgiveness on the other hand allows us all to let go and move on.

We forgive because we are forgiven

The forgiveness which we are concerned about today is not just about a psychological process which is good for us. For the Christian forgiveness has a completely different and spiritual quality.

We have no choice about whether to forgive, because we have been forgiven. As we realise the cost of forgiveness shown by Jesus, so we cannot be other than forgiving. Since we know immeasurable forgiveness, how could we possibly be miserly with forgiveness towards others?

There is a direct correspondence between our ability to forgive with our understanding that we too have been forgiven. As our souls are at peace with God, so we are at peace with others.

To be a Christian is to be somebody who knows they are forgiven, and to be a person able to forgive

You don’t just forgive because it’s good for you,
You don’t just forgive because the Bible tells you to,
You forgive because you have been forgiven.

As the writer of Ephesians puts it, "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).