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Having Trouble With Forgiveness?
September 18, 2022

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto


Ernest Hemingway 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!

Having trouble with forgiveness?  Based on my observations these past several weeks, our church has trouble with forgiveness. There are strained relationships here. Let’s face the fact that our church is in crisis.  I wonder how many have left our church because we can’t get along with each other? How many have left because of hurt feelings over what someone said or did and they couldn’t forgive them? They jumped ship rather than forgive. Some left because of what a pastor said or did. I have had people leave the church because of something I said. Forgive your pastors.  If you can’t do it in person, forgive in your heart. 

Think of the energy it takes to hold on to anger, hurts, disillusionment—energy that cripples, inhibits, strangles creativity and the ability to cope with life. I see a great deal of energy expended on either trying to find  personal forgiveness for ourselves, or trying to forgive others. As a result, people find themselves tied in knots, afraid to risk, afraid to be creative, uncomfortable with others and themselves, emotionally paralyzed, overwhelmed, suffocated, unable to move forward, and we don't realize that the need to be forgiven and/or the need to forgive is taking energy.

Sisters and brothers, our church is in crisis again! We have suffered crises before. In the 70s we lost half the church, but we survived. Let us now together not only survive, but thrive. We must get along. We need each other. Together we serve. “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord.” 

How do we turn the church around? How do we thrive? We begin with forgiveness. Who in do you need to forgive? Go up to them, or visit them, or phone them, “We need to talk.” And then say, “I forgive you,” and mean it! If they are unaware of what they did to hurt you, if they don’t ask for forgiveness, tell him/her/them how you have been hurt and how you feel. Confront the offender. Jesus gave us this principle in Matthew 18:15, "If someone sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." Sometimes the hurt is so deep an arbitrator, a neutral person, is needed. Jesus continued, "But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

Sometimes it is helpful to do something. When words are not enough, do something. In Roman Catholic tradition, the priest often gives the confessor something to do--acts of penance they are called. We Methodists believe in justification by faith, but still there are times when an act is called for. If you have hurt someone, if you have offended someone, an act of penance might be in order—take flowers, wash their car.

But, what if there is still no response? What if they don’t listen? What if they don't understand you, or don't want to understand you? What if they don’t change, and continue the behavior? What if they don't ask to be forgiven? Do you still forgive? “Yes,” says Jesus. Peter asked Jesus, Matthew 18:21-22, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." In other words, countless times. Jesus knew that you must continually forgive because unforgiveness hurts the "offendee" more than it hurts the “offender.” The one you end up punishing is yourself because the anger, bitterness, self-pity and revenge eat your insides, make you sick physically, emotionally and you’re no fun to be around.

Now, besides asking for forgiveness, who do you need to ask to forgive you for what you said or did? Are you uncomfortable to ask them to forgive you for what you said or did? Do it anyway!

Beyond the church, are you having trouble with forgiveness in your family, or neighborhood or workplace?  Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to ask to forgive you for what you said or did?

What is forgiveness? You've heard the advice--forgive and forget--but what if you can't forget? You can try to forget, but the more you try to forget, the more you concentrate, the more unforgettable it becomes. Forgiveness does not mean to forget. Matthew Fox in his book, Original Blessing, writes, "Forgiveness is another word for letting go." Being forgiven means to let go, let go of the guilt, let go of the memory, let go of the pain.

Forgiving others and being forgiven means to let go of the hurt. Let it go and let them be. Let them be whomever they have chosen to be. Let them be different. Let them have mannerisms which irritate you. Let them be obnoxious or obstructive. Let them be themselves.

You can't live another person's life. You can't manipulate, coerce, or decide for another person. You can only control yourself. You can only decide how you will live. You can't decide how someone else will live, but you can decide how you will live in relation to them. If you refuse to forgive, the bitterness, anger and hurt will cripple you, not them. Let them be themselves. Let the hurt go.

Yes, there is pain. Matthew Fox wrote, "Salvation is not a salvation FROM PAIN, but THROUGH PAIN." The cross of Jesus Christ, on which he painfully died, is our spiritual journey. On the cross, Jesus knew pain. He was not denied pain, but he lived through pain. It is not possible to escape pain. It is not possible to live your life without hurting someone else, nor is it possible to live your life without someone hurting you. 

Give the pain to God. Let it go. Trust God to accept your confession, forgive you, and give you the power to let it go. Then, put your energy into moving forward with your life. Act as if you are forgiven. Walk by faith as a forgiven person in Jesus Christ.

I repeat: Sisters and brothers, we are a church in crisis again! We have had crises before, but we survived. Let us now together not only survive, but thrive. We have dedicated leaders and workers who because of loyalty and love for our church, are outdoing themselves, but they can’t last forever. How do we thrive? How can we turn this church around?

Paul told us how in today’s Scripture lesson, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

Let us sing together, 

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord (2x)
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love 

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. 

© 2022 Douglas I. Norris