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Forgiven and Forgiving
August 24,, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 5:23-24, 6:14-15; MARK 6:37

Are you a happy and joyful person? As happy and joyful you would like to be? Try forgiveness. Perhaps there is a grudge, a bad feeling, a load of guilt, someone you have not forgiven that is blocking your happiness, and preventing you from being forgiven. Perhaps you are unforgiving and unforgiven.

In an out-of-the-way cemetery an unmarked tombstone bears the single word, Forgiven. One word. I wonder who was forgiven and by whom? What happened that caused someone to leave “Forgiven” engraved upon his tombstone? The secret of that tombstone has long been buried. But one thing is certain, the need for forgiveness will always exist.

Ernest Hemmingway told a story about Paco who, estranged from his father, had run away. His father came to Madrid, and inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of a local newspaper: PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA. On Tuesday, over 800 Pacos showed up! 800 wanting to be forgiven!

June 16, last year, a terrible accident occurred at the Kids for Car annual charity event in Selmer, Tennessee. Troy Critchley, an Australian drag racer—now known as the Burnout King—was screeching the tires on his corvette when he lost control. Six people were killed and another 22 were injured.

In March of this year, Troy Critchley tearfully asked for forgiveness. After he pled guilty to 28 charges of reckless assault, he faced the victims' families and apologized for the immense suffering he caused. He said, “"It has caused heartache and suffering for my family also. I ask for the families' forgiveness and prayers, and I will pray for your families and loved ones and I will carry this with me for the rest of my life."

Darla Griswell, mother of two teenage daughters who were among the six killed, called the accident, “4.8 seconds of stupidity that completely ruined our lives.” She met privately with Troy and reported, “I got an apology from Mr. Critchley and I forgive him. He was crying. He was very genuine. I told him I knew he didn't come here intending on killing six people.”

The families of the victims and the injured agreed to a lesser sentence. His victims forgave him. He is forgiven.

We’re looking at forgiveness this summer in a series of messages. This morning: Forgiven and Forgiving. Jesus had some radical things to say about forgiveness; some hard things to say about forgiving. I wonder if we have really taken his words seriously. Jesus said there is an inextricable relationship between God’s forgiving us and we forgiving others. In fact, Jesus said you can’t have one without the other. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer Sunday after Sunday, do we realize what we are asking when we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we forgive.

Jesus could not be much clearer. Luke 6:37, “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” In other words, how you relate to others is part of your relationship with God. You cannot separate the two. How you relate to people is how you relate to God. God will forgive you, God will pour love into your heart as long as that love continues to flow out to others. When God’s loving forgiveness is blocked, and not allowed to flow through you to others; a dam of unforgiveness is constructed. God’s loving forgiveness is held in a reservoir which, without an outlet, becomes stagnant, stale, and smelly!

But, what do you do when you forgive someone, and the act is repeated again and again? What if the repetition is intentional, even malicious? Peter asked Jesus, "Do I forgive seven times?" Jesus answered, "You forgive seventy times seven times;" in other words, without limit. You continue to forgive because forgiving benefits you. The other person may or may not be affected by your forgiving, but your forgiving will certainly affect you. Retain your dignity. Don't allow yourself to be shackled with anger, bitterness and resentment. Don't give the offender the satisfaction of knowing you have been hurt. Forgive and let it go.

Also, what do you do when offenders do not ask to be forgiven? Maybe they are oblivious, don't have a clue you've been hurt. You forgive them anyway. You may choose not to tell them you are forgivng them, because they wouldn't know what you are talking about. By yourself, say out loud, “I forgive”, and let it go.

Also, how do you forgive someone who refuses to reciprocate or accept your forgiveness? Jesus addressed this issue in Matthew 5:23-24, “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Before you worship, before you receive Holy Communion, before you make an offering, go and straighten things out. Be reconciled. But, what happens if the other person is not willing to be reconciled, or ready to be reconciled? Jesus says, “Be reconciled.” You be reconciled. Do what you can to work out the reconciliation. Take the first step. Make an offer. Make yourself vulnerable. Forgive and ask for forgiveness. You have then done your part. You are reconciled. What the other person does with your offer is his/her decision, not yours. You have done what you can do.

The son of the Reverend Walter Everett was murdered. His neighbor, Mike, was on drugs, couldn’t sleep, had an argument with the pastor’s son, and shot him. Pastor Everett was in court when Mike was sentenced and heard him say, "I’m sorry for what I have done." On the first anniversary of his son’s death, the pastor wrote a letter to Mike in prison. In the letter, he expressed anger over the death of his son, but also appreciation for Mike’s remorse. He wrote, "As hard as these words are to write, I forgive you." Then he wrote about God’s forgiveness and the love of Jesus Christ.

The letter was received in prison. Mike was so startled by the return address, he refused to open it. He finally took it to a prison counselor who read it and urged Mike to read it. Tears started running down his face. Later Mike said, "When I killed Scott, I figured my life was over. But that night I knelt down next to my bed and asked God for forgiveness."

Mike was then put on parole. Pastor Everett’s endorsement helped convince the Parole Board to release Mike. Pastor Everett invited Mike to speak to his congregation, and together they taught the congregation a lesson in repentance, forgiveness, and the promise of new life in Christ. The pastor said, "I couldn’t offer forgiveness without the strength that God gives me. I also knew that I couldn’t go on living with the anger and bitterness that I had, and I had to do something."

I don’t know if I could be that forgiving. If someone hurt any of my children or my grandchildren, or my church, I don’t honestly know how forgiving I would be, but forgiveness comes from God who forgives us. Remember what we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiven and forgiving go hand in hand.

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris