sermon on forgiveness

note: since i ad lib, this is just the rough essentials of the sermon i’ve been preaching the last two weeks

Revenge is such an empty action.

It is so easy to seek revenge: simply let your emotions control your actions so that you can “get back” at whoever hurt you. Whether anger or betrayal or sorrow, these emotions help you to function as you seek to fulfill your one purpose in life, or at least a purpose for your immediate future.

But revenge really is empty.

What do you gain? Temporary satisfaction at hurting another. And in the grand scheme of things, temporary satisfaction is really nothing you want to gain. Because once you get revenge, you may feel better temporarily but in the long run you don’t actually have anything to be proud of.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is much more satisfactory. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. The act of forgiving is never easy, nor is it a one-time only event.

Whether you are the one who was wronged or the one who did the wronging, forgiveness is a way to move forward. Forgiveness is the way to heal a broken relationship, and this will take time and energy.

Jesus knew what he was talking about when he told Peter to keep forgiving long after 7 times. People will always make mistakes and you will constantly feel pain, but giving up on a relationship is not the answer.

Peter in our story today must have been feeling at the end of his rope and ready to give up on a relationship.

But Jesus knew better.

Because 7 times 7 or 77 or any other number involving 7 is simply a lot of times to forgive. And many of us will lose count of how many times we forgive along the way.

Frederick Buechner puts it this way (in Beyond Words): “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another: ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend’…For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence.”

Forgiveness is not about getting even. Forgiveness is about letting the past actions not ruin the future. Instead of letting revenge keep us looking to the past hurts, we are required to learn how to move forward. This is not forgetting but forging onward.

The phrase “forgive and forget” is not what Jesus talks about in the gospel. Jesus doesn’t want people to forget the wrong, or to forget the pain, or to ignore everything and pretend as though it never happened. Forgiveness involves remembering, but more importantly learning to live with remembering. Over time and as you continually forgive, ideally your anger or betrayal or sorrow will lessen so that you can live a healthier life.

The focus is instead not on what was done in the past but on the future relationship. Forgiveness is a way to sustain and to rebuild relationships.

Because there are times when we hurt. There are times when people will hurt us and we will hurt others. There are times when we will remember the past and not want to forgive.

There are times when we will realize that each relationship is worth our attempt to forgive. And forgive again. And again. Until our entire relationship develops into a lifestyle that is full of forgiveness without counting how many times we forgive.

Forgiveness is not easy. It takes time and energy. Because like taking time for our physical wounds to heal, relationships and emotional wounds take even more time and energy.

But the healing is necessary and worthwhile, no matter how time-consuming or energy-depleting. The best relationships are those when we are able to learn and grow through the good times and the bad.

Instead, we learn to build a lifestyle based on that is gracious and grace-filled life as we both give and receive forgiveness.

A life that is able to receive God’s forgiveness as we forgive others.

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