"Forgiveness" - February 21st, 2021
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."
Message of Stewardship from Bob White
Occasionally when I'm over here at Little Brown Church doing some property committee projects, and they're usually under the close supervision of Rick Hall, property committee chairman, I have the need to go into the church office for one reason or another.
So I go in the church office and there's the desk and at the desk there's a credenza, or a small piece of furniture, and on this piece of furniture sits a cross. And this cross appears to be maybe a paperweight or a book end. But this cross holds, and I’m estimating, probably between a hundred and fifty, two hundred fairly recent prayer requests from the community.
As you know, people from the community come in here, they write out the prayer requests, they put it in a box here at the base of the altar, and then daily, Astrid takes those prayer requests and she takes them into the church office.
Don't tell Rick Hall this, but occasionally when I go into the church office, I take a few minutes and I take a few of those prayer requests and I read them and I pray over some of them. And they're really interesting!
For example, one day last week, I read one and it was two pages and I could not read one single word that was written. Some of them are written in other languages. Some of them are very direct and to-the-point such as, Dear God, I need to be married by next year. Amen.
And others go on for pages, seemingly providing history or justification for a certain prayer request. I say there's probably maybe 65% the authors are praying for themselves. Of course the other 35% the authors are praying for our world, environment, or family, or friends, all kinds of things. In fact, I even saw one recently somebody was praying for his enemy.
But out of all these prayer requests, there were two that really caused me to remember them. One was from a seemingly young female, and this young female just got out of a very physically abusive relationship with a former boyfriend. So she was praying to God to help turn her life around.
And there was another one from what seemed to be on behalf of a very large family, and the family patriarch was undergoing a major surgical procedure and there was some doubt he was going to live through that. But of course the prayer was to get him through the procedure and have this procedure cure him.
And the reason why I remember these two so clearly, and I wish I could remember the language, but these two authors were absolutely certain, no question asked, that somehow God would answer in some manner their prayer request.
The other thing that was really interesting to me is some of the language used and again how they were written which isn’t the case with a lot of these, it seems that these were not regular churchgoers. So to have two authors express that kind of faith and not be regular church attenders to me with very inspirational or uplifting, and challenged me to sort of see if I can strengthen my own faith.
But what these two prayer requests also reminded me of is that our churches are centers for the community. A lot of people for example coming here to pray or just to spend time with God and have some peace and quiet.
At Church of the Valley, perhaps they're coming for the food bank or whatever business is going on there. Just the fact that there are these two that are symbols of God and they're operating, they’re a source of strength and inspiration to the community. So thank you so much for your gifts.
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.
Pastor Michael's Sermon - February 21st, 2021
There's an old story that originated in Spain.
There was once a father and a son and they never were able to see eye-to-eye on anything. If the father thought that something was green, the son would insist that it was blue. If the son thought it was hot, the father would claim that it was cold. And not only did they disagree on almost everything but they would often argue, and the arguments many times would get very passionate.
The father and the son had basically become estranged from one another. It got so bad that the son decided that he couldn't take it anymore. And he said some terrible, terrible things to his father. Things that he really could never take back. He said some things to his father that hurt the father very, very deeply. And then the son ran away.
The father figured that the son was simply acting out. He decided that it was just another one of his ridiculous stunts. The father was sure that the sun would be back by nightfall. But the son didn't return. So then the father told himself that the son would definitely be back by the end of the second day, But nightfall came again and the son still hadn't returned.
Now the father was beginning to get very worried. So he began searching for his son. He looked everywhere that he could think of but he couldn't find him anywhere. Bot even his friends had seen him. But the father continued searching and the searching went on for weeks and then months.
The father had come to realize that all of the ridiculous arguments that he had had with his son didn't mean anything at all. What mattered was that he loved his son and he wanted him home. And then he got an idea.
He went down to the Madrid newspaper and he ran an ad in that day's edition. He made sure that the ad was very big so that the son would be sure to see it, and what the ad said was “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office on Saturday. I'm sorry. All is forgiven. Love your father.”
On that Saturday, 800 Paco's showed up to the newspaper office looking for forgiveness and love.
The need to be forgiven is something that many of us carry around with us.
To be forgiven for something is a gift that has the power to lighten a heavy burden. Even if we wish for forgiveness for something that is fairly small, the weight of not being forgiven can be a mighty load to endure. And as we all know there are things for which some will never be forgiven simply because forgiving isn't always easy.
As a matter of fact, forgiving can be very difficult because forgiving can feel like we're letting someone off the hook, like we're letting them get away with something or that we no longer see the wrong in what they did. Whereas not forgiving, well not forgiving, that provides an ongoing punishment for someone. It provides an ongoing reminder to that person that they did wrong. Not forgiving does not let them off the hook.
But here's the thing, very often if we are the one that refuses to forgive then what we do to the other person, we also do to ourselves. If we refuse to forgive, not only are we providing an ongoing punishment for the other person, but we also are providing an ongoing punishment for ourselves. Not forgiving provides a way for resentment and anger to set up shop within us. Not forgiving means that we get to walk around all day rehashing how we've been wronged.
Yes, not forgiving does indeed provide an ongoing reminder to the other person that they have done wrong, but it also provides an ongoing reminder to us that we have been wronged.
Today's scripture reminds us that God calls on us to forgive others and ironically reminds us that in the eyes of God to not forgive is unforgivable. So when we are in a situation that calls for us to forgive someone, we need to make a choice to do so. Not only for the other person but for ourselves as well.
There's an expression that we often hear. It's one that may simply roll off of
our tongues without us really thinking much about it. And that expression is “forgive and forget” - just forgive and forget! That's an interesting choice of words, I think. And I doubt that expression is even possible.
Forgiving someone is voluntary. As I said a moment ago, we choose to forgive. But forgetting? That's a different story.
We don't voluntarily forget. We don't make a choice to forget. I mean, I'm forgetting things right and left now as I get older but that is not voluntary!
As a matter of fact, very often the more we try to forget something the more we embed it into our memory. I think a better expression than forgive and forget would be forgive and stop thinking about it. Forgive and stop being controlled by it. Because that's what happens when we forgive. We release our resentment. We release our obsession. All those things that we hold on to.
Now there's another area of forgiveness that I think we should talk about and it's a very important area when it comes to forgiveness, and that is the idea of forgiving ourselves. Too often we can carry with us regret, embarrassment, shame for things that have taken place in the past. And mostly they are things that we really can't change. Some may be trespasses on others for which we have already been forgiven snd yet we continue to carry that burden with us, and we do so because we have not yet forgiven ourselves.
I believe that as hard as it is sometimes to forgive others, for many of us it is much harder to forgive ourselves because to do it we have to admit that we're not perfect. We have to admit that we make mistakes and we have to admit that we have the capacity to hurt others. And it's interesting that we may even ask God for forgiveness and still we don't forgive ourselves. When we are reluctant to forgive ourselves for something in our past, we need to remember that God has already forgiven us and has called on us to do the same.
As Bob White mentioned earlier, here at Little Brown Church we have something called the God box and throughout the day as people visit the church, people place their prayer requests in the box. And Bob told you many of those requests,
but I want to tell you that by far over the years the top request, the top two requests over the years have been one, health surrounding loved ones, and two, asking God for forgiveness.
And the range of things for which people ask for forgiveness is enormous. I've seen everything from “forgive me for telling a lie” to “forgive me for robbing that liquor store”. But what they all have in common is that they all are a request for God's grace. That is what forgiveness is really all about. Grace. Forgiveness is grace when it comes from God and forgiveness is grace when it comes from each of us.
When we forgive, we show grace. When we forgive, we emulate the grace that God has shown to us. And as it tells us in today's scripture, when we forgive, we allow ourselves to be forgiven as well. I invite each of you this week to search your soul, ask yourself is there anything that I am carrying within my heart that I need to let go through forgiveness?
Whether it be forgiving someone else or forgiving yourself. And if you find that you have been holding onto any kind of burden, let it go. Release it and allow yourself the gift of peace. Through grace, set yourself free.
Gracious God, we thank you for your forgiving heart. Allow us to follow in your steps by following in your grace. It's in your holy son's name we pray.