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Happy? Try Forgiving
March 19, 1995

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

Are you happy? As happy as you would like to be? Try forgiving. Perhaps there is a grudge, a bad feeling, someone you have not forgiven that is blocking your happiness, and preventing you from being forgiven. Perhaps you are not only an unforgiving person, but an unforgiven person, and you don't realize it.

We're looking at some of Jesus' radical teachings in this series of sermons. This morning we look at forgiveness. Jesus had some hard things to say about forgiveness. I wonder if we have really taken them seriously. Over the years, I have preached and taught much about God's forgiveness, but I have not often pointed out what Jesus says is the inextricable relationship between God's forgiving us and we forgiving others. In fact, Jesus says you can't have one without the other. When we pray Sunday after Sunday the Lord's Prayer, 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! We in Merced are very grateful for flood control, but not when it is controlling God's love.

Perhaps you ask: What do I do when I forgive someone, and the act is repeated again and again? Peter asked Jesus, "Do I forgive seven times?" Jesus answered, "You forgive seventy times seven times;" in other words, without limit. Or, perhaps you ask: what do I do when the other person has not asked to be forgiven? How do I forgive someone who is unforgivable? How do I forgive someone who refuses to reciprocate or accept my 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.

I remember when I was fired from a church. I was a student in seminary, and Ellie and I spent our weekends working with youth in a church south of Chicago. We thought everything was fine. The youth, their counselors and teachers, and their parents were responding. They liked us, we liked them. Then, all of a sudden, the senior minister became cold and unresponsive. The chair of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, who had welcomed us with open arms, taken us out to dinner several times, and was very supportive, became cold. Something had happened. I asked the pastor what was wrong, and received no substantive response. We agonized over the deteriorated relationship with the chair of the committee and his wife, and decided to visit them. Ellie and I knocked on his door. He was surprised to see us, but could do no less than invite us in.

We sat down in the living room and asked, "What has happened? What have we done to hurt you? Whatever it is, we apologize and ask for forgiveness. What is it?" Can you guess their answer? "Oh, nothing is wrong. Everything is fine." Everything might be fine, but soon after I received the notice that I would not be asked to return the next school year. To this day, we don't know what happened. We offered reconciliation, and there was no response and no feedback. Some of the people told us that the senior minister was jealous of me, because a lot of people liked my preaching better than his! Jesus said, Get things straightened out or it will affect your relationship with God. But, all you can do is to offer to get things straightened out. Be forgiving and do all you can to reconcile. Then, leave it with God.

Forgiveness is a live issue in the Middle East. Reconciliation is absolutely essential between Jew and Arab, but there are bad feelings on both sides. How grateful we are for the great strides made between Israel and Jordan, and the beginning steps toward reconciliation of the Jews with Syria and the Palestinians. Our tour guide was a Jew, and from him we heard the Jewish perspective. We were also fortunate one evening to have a Palestinian visit with us and give us the Palestinian perspective. When he was two-years-old, his family lost everything they owned in West Jerusalem, and left the country as Palestinian refugees. Today he is an American citizen, working as a missionary in Israel on a tourist visa.

He is an interesting mixture. He is a Christian Arab who graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, which is Methodist in tradition. Both of our neighboring United Methodist pastors--John Motz in Atwater and Judy Robbins in LeGrand--are recent Asbury Seminary graduates. Alex Awad, the Palestinian, is a missionary supported by the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, who works with the Bethlehem Bible College, and pastors a Baptist Church for Palestinians in Jerusalem! How ecumenical! He is a Baptist by ordination, a Methodist by education, who is supported by our apportionments and Advance Specials to pastor a Baptist Church.

The political situation there is extremely complex, but let me oversimplify the issues as I understand them. The basic question is, "Who has the rights to the land?" The Palestinians say they were there first. Then, the Jews began emigrating from Europe to escape persecution, and pushed them out. But, the Jews feel Israel is their home. They were evicted by the Romans in 70 A.D. and 135 A.D. They had lived in Israel 1200 years. The Arabs arrived in 684 A.D. from Saudi Arabia. They settled in what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel where they are called Palestinians.

The Palestinians say they've been there since 684 A.D. The Jews say they've been there since 1100 B.C., except for the times they were dispersed. The Jews feel they have no other place. The few civilized countries who accept them, like the United States, would not allow large numbers of European Jews to immigrate during and after the Nazi persecution. The only home they have is Israel. The Palestinians resent the Jewish insistence on a Jewish state. The Jews feel they have no security unless they have their own state.

There have been several wars that have determined the present boundaries. Egypt and Jordan have reconciled themselves to Israel's presence. Syria is close to a settlement. The big problem is the Palestinians. The Jews feel the Palestinians did not need to flee and become refugees. In fact, many of them stayed in Israel where they are now citizens. Large cities in Israel like Nazareth are completely Arab. Most Palestinians and Jews are now ready to negotiate to decide the boundaries of the new PLO state. However, there are terrorists on both sides endangering the fragile compromise. As Alex Awad said, "Both the Jews and the Muslims need to control their fundamentalists."

The recent treaties are a miraculous breakthrough. Let us all pray fervently that Jews and Arabs will continue to learn to forgive one another, overcome their differences, share the land, and achieve reconciliation and peace.

Jesus said clearly that our relationship with God is inextricably intertwined with our relationship with one another. The relationships cannot be separated. Forgive one another, reconcile relationships with one another, or your relationship with God is jeopardized. The good news is that there are second chances, and third, fourth, and seventy times seven chances for change, forgiveness and reconciliation. Are you happy? As happy as you would like to be? Try forgiving.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris