Summer Preaching Series
July 21, 2019
“Forgiveness Is For Giving”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
The most miserable people in the world are those who have not received forgiveness.
We have done some terrible things in our life. Those who are not here, whose lives are outside of these walls, have done some terrible things, as well. When any of us, or any of them, do not know of forgiveness for such evil, life takes a terrible turn. Some have all types of physical problems – nerves, stomach problems, anxiety, some never get a full sleep. Some folks live in a terrible stupor of guilt. Every once in a while, due to unrelenting guilt, someone will decide that death is a better option than life and will end their constant pain.
Judas confessed that he had “betrayed innocent blood”, threw the thirty coins into the Temple, and took his life. He didn’t know forgiveness could be his. He lived and died with regret.
King David, the “man after God’s own heart” let his passion control his entire life. For a few moments of pleasure he destroyed another person’s marriage, eventually killing the husband and lived with a dark deceit. To all of this his body and soul was in constant anguish. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4) Life, before forgiveness, for David, was awful.
The most miserable people in the world are those who have not received forgiveness.
The most miserable people in the world are those who will not give forgiveness.
They live in hate, revenge, bitterness and anger. The worst things in life have happened to them and they cannot take the next step in life. That awful thing that occurred has ruined them, they live with resentment everyday that someone has taken their joy, their life today, and every day that is to come. Giving forgiveness? They are determined that it will never happen. And life is miserable and painful. There is a good reason that the Scriptures give this warning, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15) An unforgiving heart has a bitter root.
The most miserable people in the world are those who have not received forgiveness. And the most miserable people in the world are those who will not give forgiveness. And you might be among the most miserable because you don’t know of forgiveness for your sins, or you won’t give forgiveness to someone who has hurt you deeply.
Today is the sermon about receiving and giving forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we also have forgiven those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12) In order to make sure they knew that forgiveness indeed is for giving Jesus says a few verses later, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
But I don’t want you to be miserable, but, rather, joyous and at peace. I want you to be the receiver of God’s most amazing gift and I want you to make a choice to give that amazing gift – forgiveness. Forgiveness is for receiving and it is also for giving.
A few months ago in Manchester, England a guest at a restaurant received quite an unexpected gift from one of the servers. They had ordered a bottle of wine that was quite expensive – about $300.00 but were served one that cost over $5,700.00. You might think that that was the last night that that server was allowed to work at that restaurant, but that is not the case. A spokesman for the restaurant said, “It was a very busy night at the restaurant and [it was] a very simple mistake.” The server wasn’t fired even though he cost his boss over $5,000.00!!
The restaurant tweeted, “To the customer who accidently got a bottle of Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001 last night – hope you enjoyed your evening. To the member of the staff who accidently gave it away, chin up! One-off mistakes happen and we love you anyway.” That tweet produced more than 20,000 likes.
The most joyous people on earth are those who have received the grace of forgiveness. Judas couldn’t accept forgiveness from Jesus nor of his own self. But Peter, who turned his back on Jesus again and again, knew the joy of being cleansed. With his own personal experience in mind he wrote, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2:10)
If you don’t know grace, nor forgiveness, nor peace from God, God wants you to receive it. Paul would say, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) Here’s a word, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) Or, do you know this one? If not, put it to memory. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; and will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19) The most blessed, content, joyous people in the world are those who know that the blood of Jesus has made them at peace, fully forgiven.
And the most joyous, blessed people are givers of that same grace. Jesus says that it has to be that way, right? “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b)
But forgiveness is hard to give. Some 20 years ago I was visiting with Bill. Though he was not a member of my church, when I went to visit his wife, who was homebound, he’d stick around as we talked. Bill told me that he could not and would not ever forgive this one man who had injured him beyond repair. Bill’s son was murdered and then the murderer, trying to hide the deed, set fire to his son’s house with his son’s dead body inside. It was too much. He was bitter and angry and filled with hate for this person. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those whose sin against us? He felt that if he forgave him it would be approving of those awful actions of that evil man.
But the words of Jesus are true – If we do not forgive we will not be forgiven. Jesus in Matthew 18 (verses 21-35) tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. There was a man who owed about 20 million dollars to the king. But he couldn’t pay. And the king said that this scoundrel and his wife and kids, probably even the family dog, were going to jail for their rest of their life. But the man pleaded for mercy – forgiveness. And the king granted it. The 20 million dollars was erased from the ledger. He left a free man.
But on his way home he runs into a guy who owes him a few hundred bucks. He tells the guy that he’d better pay up. If he didn’t he and his family would go to jail. This man too pleaded for mercy. But this guy had none. He locked them all up.
The king heard about it and called that man in. “You wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy of your fellow servant just as I had on you? In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” Jesus then concludes the account, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)
How can you do this? How can you forgive your brother from your heart? Some of you have experienced the worst of things from others. You have been cheated out of money. You have been lied to. Abused – sexually, emotionally, physically. Someone has decided to make your life miserable. Forgive? Impossible.
Forgiveness is for giving. Even when it is hard. Even when the person who sinned against you doesn’t deserve it, we are told to forgive. Jeff Gibbs, Professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis writes, “There is an important spiritual distinction between finding it hard (or even for a time, being unable) to forgive and being unwilling to do so. There are times when all the disciple of Jesus can offer is a broken and contrite heart: ‘I know, Lord, what you require of me, I long to do it, but cannot, unless you help me.’” (Concordia Commentary, Matthew 1:1-11:1, Pg. 336)
You were not forgiven alone. And you cannot forgive alone. God forgave you in Jesus and by the very strength of God’s Holy Spirit you can forgive.
The most miserable people in the world are those who have not received forgiveness. The most miserable people in the world are those who will not forgive another. But the most peaceful, serene, joyous are those who know the forgiveness of God and give it to others.
May that prayer in the Lord’s Prayer change our life, “Lord, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.