Thank you for sending me to General Assembly. I had a great time connecting with old friends, making new friends, making some contacts for our ministry, and renewing my call. We elected and installed a new General Minister and President to a 6-year term. If you follow me on Facebook, you saw pictures of Flat Sally and Flat Jesus participating in business, worship and fellowship. You also saw articles about the historic moment of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) electing a leader who is the first black female to preside a Mainline Christian denomination.
I had the opportunity to participate on a panel with 4 other clergy with mental health illness. The workshop was standing room only as clergy and lay leaders from across the nation wanted to know more about mental health in the church. We talked about the stigma of mental health illness in our culture and context and what the church can do to respond to and be welcoming of those with mental health illness.
On Wednesday, I went to Panera for lunch. It was a God thing that I had lunch alone that day, because I needed to be quiet to listen to an important conversation relevant to today’s message. As I was standing in line for lunch, I overheard 2 women talking behind me. One woman said she was ready for a divorce, like yesterday. She said she had tried to make it work but she was just done. The other woman said I’m concerned he might kill you. The woman wanting a divorce said me too. The woman wanting the divorce went on to talk about writing a will and what stipulations she wanted in it. She told her friend, “I’m telling you this in case something happens before I get my wishes documented.”
I’m going to talk about forgiveness today. I’d like to start by saying that forgiveness should begin from a safe place. That woman wanting a divorce should not try to forgive her husband or herself for their roles in what led to the end of their marriage until she is safely out of that dangerous situation. It is not a good idea to try to forgive someone who is currently hurting or intends to hurt you. Get to safety; then, work on forgiving.
The word forgive appears in the Bible 121 times; 59 in the Old Testament and 62 in the New Testament. Forgiveness is an important tenet of the Jewish and Christian faiths, but, definitely, so for Christians. Christianity is the only faith with the concept of grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. Other religions have forgiveness, but central to the Christian faith is not just forgiveness, but unearned grace, grace by faith, not deed.
If no other religion believes in a God who offers unmerited forgiveness, how much more are we expected to forgive than others?
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you.
I’ve always read this text with multiple layers. What we put out there, both God and others will return to us. AND, we should return what we receive.
Do not judge and God and others will not judge you. Do not condemn and God and others will not condemn you. Forgive and God and others will forgive you. Give and God and others will give to you.
God does not judge you so you shouldn’t judge others. God does not condemn you so you should not condemn others. God forgives you so you should forgive others. God gives to you so you should give to others.
I believe the word forgive is in the Bible so many times, because forgiving is so hard. Well, actually, the act of forgiving is easy. The work it takes to get to the point of offering forgiveness and the work it takes to continue to forgive is hard.
When we want to forgive someone, we first have to decide if we want to continue to be in relationship with that person, depending on the offense. Just because you forgive someone, doesn’t mean they continue to be in the position to hurt you again. It’s okay to no longer be in relationship with people who hurt you. You’re called to love people and that doesn’t mean you blindly allow people close to you that are unsafe; you can send them away with blessing without feeling guilty.
If you choose not to be in relationship with the person who hurt you, severing ties with that person still requires you to forgive that person to let go of the hurt they caused you. If you choose not to continue the relationship, forgiveness is the act of freeing yourself from the pain they inflicted.
If you choose to be in relationship with the person you need to forgive, there are 2 steps required: forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is not holding that offense against them anymore. Reconciliation is the act of restoring that relationship. In this case, I believe forgiveness is giving up hope in a better past and reconciliation is placing your hope in a better future.
I have been in counseling for 13 years. For about 10 of those years, I was working on forgiving someone alongside other work. I had chosen to remain in a relationship with someone who had hurt me. I didn’t want to lose the relationship, but I didn’t want them to get close to me. I held them at a distance. One day, my counselor said to me, “Are you going to forgive them or not?”
That was rather harsh, but a tough question I needed to be asked. I decided that I would finally forgive that person and reconcile that relationship. I thought I had forgiven that person because I remained in relationship with them. But, I realized, in that session, that being in relationship with someone is not the same as forgiving someone. And, I couldn’t really have a relationship with that person until I forgave them.
Forgiveness is no longer holding the offense against a person. It took me 10 years to forgive that person, because I needed to do things within myself to ready myself for a new and different relationship with that person. That act of forgiveness was easy. I just did it. I just decided not to count their offense against them anymore. I decided that my desire to be in relationship with that person was greater than the pain they had caused. But, the work leading up to forgiveness was hard.
Following forgiveness, I had to restore or reconcile that relationship. Fortunately, the person was very open to moving on in a new way. I still have triggers that remind me of the pain and I still have to remind myself that I am not holding that offense against them any longer. Forgiving is easy. Letting go of the past hurt and letting go of your need for justice is not easy.
Some of you know I have an estranged relationship with my brother. I haven’t spoken to him in 3 years. My parents are raising my niece and have visitations with my nephew because my brother abandon his children. My niece may be here next weekend, so please don’t give her the pity face or apologize to her for having dead-beat parents.
I don’t know that I can say my brother hurt me, but he hurt my niece and nephew. He did disappoint me. He is not the man I thought he was and that hurts. I know that I need to forgive him, accept that he is who he is and reconcile that relationship. But, I’m not ready.
I tell you these stories about myself to tell you that I know how hard it is. Leading up to forgiving and continuing to forgive are hard work. I don’t want to be Polly Anna about it and say, “you should just do it because Jesus did it for you.” It’s not that easy and I’d feel like a liar if I told you it was.
Take the time you need to work through the pain.
Do the work you need to do to let go of the pain.
Decide whether or not you want that person in your life.
Forgiving is really about you. You need to let go of the pain. You need to heal from the pain. You need to move on. The act of forgiveness is easy when you finally get to that point.
Forgive and you will be forgiven by God and others. God has forgiven you so you should forgive others. We as Christians are held to a high standard of grace because God has freely given us unmerited forgiveness. It’s hard work, but you can do it. It’s worth it.