Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

As I Forgave You

“As I Forgave You”

Jesus talks a lot about forgiveness. And perhaps this is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus - along with the loving your enemies part. Actually the two are pretty much tied together because often our enemies are our enemies because of something that needs to be forgiven. This idea that we are to ‘let someone off the hook’ by forgiving them holds us back from having a true relationship with people around us and it is a barrier to a true relationship with God. When we refuse to forgive someone the wrong they have done, or the wrong we perceive they have done - it is always there. It is like this little thing inside of us that never goes away - like a little pebble in our shoe that we feel each time we walk - it is always there, prickling a little bit just enough to keep it constantly in our mind. This person or this act that needs to be forgiven…
What scripture teaches us is that forgiveness has to begin with some self reflection. Scripture tells us that what we need to remember first is our own sin which is why in Presbyterian worship the prayer of confession is at the beginning of the worship. It is reminiscent of the story of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 - which by the way is the basis of Presbyterian worship - Isaiah is called to the throne of God where he is in the awesome presence of God sitting on a throne with angels flying all around him singing Holy, Holy, Holy and immediately Isaiah falls on his face and says I cannot be here for I am a sinner. Before God can relate to Isiah or Isaiah to God there is this moment where Isaiah realizes his sinfulness and admits it - and then the angel of God comes down and places a hot coal on his lips and declared Isaiah to be forgiven and it was then that Isaiah and God could communicate with one another. Our worship is structured the same way - we come before almighty God and sing and then we fall on our faces figuratively in our Prayer of Confession. Basically we say to God, - God I am a sinner and as a sinner I am not worthy to be in your presence. It is important for us to remember that because a big step in learning to forgive others is remembering how much we have been forgiven. In our worship immediately after we confess we are assured of our forgiveness. We come before God, admit we are sinners not worthy to be in God’s presence, God assures us of our forgiveness and then we are called to share that forgiveness with those around us. In Presbyterian Worship the ‘passing of the peace’; or what we call ‘Christian Greetings’ is right after the assurance of pardon to remind us that we have been forgiven and now we are called to forgive others by ‘making peace’ with one another. I realize this is a time for most of us when we just are able to shake hands and let each other know we care about one another - but in the theology of our worship it is strategically placed so that we can come before God in the rest of the service, all forgiven - we have been forgiven and we have forgiven those around us and now the slate is clean and we can begin afresh in the presence of God.
Forgiveness is an important and integral part of our worship because God realizes how important it is for us and our lives and our well being and in our relationship with God and with one another.
Jesus told the parable about a man who owed a great deal to his boss and went one day to his boss and the man told his boss this sob story and the boss forgave the man this huge debt. Then the man goes out and runs into another fella on the street. Now this fella owns the forgiven man a couple bucks - just a tiny amount. But the forgiven man has the new fella arrested and thrown into debtor’s prison for just this little bit. The boss finds out about it and is furious. He calls the forgiven man in and says “Look! I forgave you this huge amount and you couldn’t forgive this fella a couple dollars?” So the boss now sends the formerly forgiven man to debtor’s prison. And Jesus adds “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters
 from your heart.” That is pretty serious stuff. Notice the ‘from your heart’ - not just lip service but with all you are to forgive those who wronged us.
This story comes right after the disciples asking Jesus how often they should forgive someone and Jesus told them 70 X 7 times which in Hebrew tradition means ‘ as many times as necessary’.
Then Jesus puts right into his prayer - what we call the Lord’s Prayer - and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness is part of our weekly worship, forgiveness is part of our daily ritual of saying the Lord’s prayer, forgiveness is all through the stories of Jesus, and forgiveness is among the last words of Jesus as he is hanging on the cross - “Forgive them” Jesus says to those who have put him in this place of agony.
Probably my favorite forgiveness story comes from the Old Testament. It is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Going back to Abraham - the one God called to be the father of God’s people. Abraham had a son named Isaac and Isaac had a son named Jacob and Jacob had 12 sons…. Jacob actually had 2 wives - Leah who was the older sister and according to scripture not to pleasant to the eyes and Jacob’s second wife was Rachel who was the love of his life. Both Leah and Rachel had trouble conceiving children so Jacob’s first 10 sons were a mishmash of sons from Leah, Leach’s handmaiden and Rachel’s handmaiden. Finally Rachel conceived and had a son named Joseph and then a son named Benjamin with whom she died in


childbirth. Because Joseph and Benjamin were from his beloved wife, these two sons found favor in Jacob’s eyes and the other 10 sons were pretty much cast aside. Because Benjamin was the son born as Rachel died, he was sort of the 2nd favorite son and Joseph became the son with whom Jacob poured out all his love and blessing. You remember the story of Joseph and his beautiful colorful coat given to him by his father.
The problem came because Joseph was the ‘favored one’ Joseph became a spoiled brat and he would rub it in the face of his other brothers that he was the one his father loved. ‘Dad likes me better than you!” And the sad thing was the brothers knew this was true. Joseph would parade around in his coat and flaunt it in front of the others and then Joseph told the brothers that he had these two dreams where the brothers bowed down in front of him. Well, you can imagine how well that went over!
One day the brothers were out working and of course Joseph didn’t have to work like they did…. Jospeh went out to where they were working and the brothers who had had enough of this bratty spoiled kid captured him and sold him to a wandering caravan on its way to Egypt. Then they told Dad Joseph had been killed and their hopes were now that the object of his affection was gone, Dad would like them. Didn’t work. Jacob just sunk into a depression…
Meanwhile Joseph ends us in Egypt where through a series of events not of his own making he ends up in prison where he stays for many years until God finally rescues him and Joseph becomes the 2nd in charge of all of Egypt.
God gives Joseph the knowledge that a famine is coming and Joseph is able to prepare the nation for this devastation. Meanwhile, the brothers back at home are also suffering from this famine and they hear that there is food to be bought in Egypt so they go down to buy some food to save their family. Anyone coming to get food has to come before Joseph since he is in charge so imagine what Joseph is feeling when he sees before him his 10 brothers - Benjamin had stayed at home with his father. Joseph recognized them but they did not recognize Joseph.
Put yourself in Jospeh’s place. You are all powerful. You can pretty much do whatever you want with to repercussions. Standing before you are the brothers who sold you into slavery and caused you years of misery….. what do you do? Joseph can send them home to starve, Joseph can torture them, Joseph could even kill them. He had that kind of power. At the very least he could tell them what he thought of what they did to him.
But what does he do - he identifies himself and the brothers are terrified because they know what he can do to them and they figure they deserve whatever happens. And Joseph forgives them…… Not only forgives them but gives they oodles of food and then has his family moved to Egypt where he gives them the best region in all of Egypt, the land of Goshen, with beautiful green valleys and plenty of water.
Romans 3 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” I always like to pair this verse with Luke 12. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. We have been forgiven much, so much forgiveness is expected….
Forgiveness is tough. But there is no verse anywhere that says anything like, Forgive everyone except….. What Jesus does say in Matthew is ‘take the log out of your eye and don’t worry about he speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye.’
What all this means is this - each one of us has been given a huge gift, a huge get out of jail free card. There is nothing we can do beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness and that is wonderful! How great is that. You are forgiven……
Now, Jesus says, go out and do the same thing with those around you…… Amen.