4th Sunday in Lent 31st March

Matthew 6 : 12, 14 – 15

‘Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors, … For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins’.gus1

 Forgiving relationships are living relationships!

If we can’t forgive others, then we will never be able to live in healthy relationships with other people. This is true for all of our relationships. It is true in marriage, in our homes, in our work places and at leisure. If you are not forgiving, you are not living!
Why?  Because you and I are not perfect twenty four seven, are we? We say and do things that hurt others. Sometimes we are simply misunderstood. We don’t mean to hurt others, but we do inflict hurt on them.
It is the same with us. We are also hurt by others. Sometimes their intention is to hurt us. Other times we misunderstand them. Maybe we are just having a bad day. We are vulnerable, sensitive or touchy.
But the truth remains – we hurt, and we are hurt.

So without forgiveness, there is hostility, division and separation.

But where there is forgiveness, there is healing and reconciliation. Relationships can be restored and strengthened again. There can be hope for a better future through forgiveness.

We need to know that forgiveness is only possible because of Jesus.

Words of forgiveness happen to be the first words Jesus spoke from the cross!

Did you know that?  Jesus was nailed to the cross along with two criminals, and he is recorded as saying: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. (Luke 23:34) He came to establish a new way – the way of forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the heart of Easter. It is the purpose for which he came and the climax of his mission in the world.
We know Jesus died on a Roman cross. He was buried in a tomb and the entrance was blocked by a large stone and guarded by Roman soldiers. Jesus was dead!
But Jesus broke free from the tomb. He overcame death, and he appeared to people as the risen and living Lord Jesus.
The actions of Jesus were not just a moral example. He was God in human flesh, who came to extend his grace and forgiveness to all of humanity.

Forgiveness is at the heart of celebrating Easter.

Today we are challenged to truly understand forgiveness. Both how we offer forgiveness to others, and also how we receive forgiveness for ourselves.

  • Some of you will know the story of Nelson Mandela.

He was an anti-apartheid revolutionary in South Africa, mid last century. Because of his strong stand, he was unjustly and unfairly imprisoned for twenty seven years. Apartheid was a system imposed by the then minority white government of segregating races. Of keeping the predominantly dark skinned people separate from whites. It inferred that black skinned people were inferior to white skinned people.
Now we could understand that after being falsely imprisoned for those long years, a man may grow bitter and resentful toward such a cruel leadership that ordered his imprisonment. But Mandela wisely knew that forgiveness was the only way forward. He said: ‘We never heal until we forgive’. ‘You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy and forgiveness, than you will through acts of revenge’.
Mandela’s life was an amazing and wonderful witness to the power of love and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a choice we make in life.

It is a value we continue to live out. It is a daily attitude we put into practice, even when we feel wronged, and even if those who brought pain on us are not seeking our forgiveness.

Forgiveness really matters!  Remember how important forgiveness was for Jesus.

  1. Firstly, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his people how to pray.

It is from his teaching that we get the well known and frequently prayed ‘Lord’s Prayer’. It is significant that immediately after the Lord’s Prayer, he repeats the call to: ‘forgive!’  Now doesn’t that emphasize how important forgiveness is?
He adds this warning to his repeated call to forgive – For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’ (Matthew 6:14-15)

  1. Secondly, Jesus challenges us to see what our failure to forgive looks like from God’s perspective. (The parable of Matthew 18:23-35)

He tells the story of a servant who owes his master or king an outrageous amount of money – about a million dollars!  He has no way of repaying this debt. So he pleads for mercy and has the debt cancelled! But immediately after having his debt forgiven, he meets a man who owes him a small amount – only a few dollars – and demands that it be repaid in full. This man is poor, so, in the same way, he pleads for mercy. But his plea falls on deaf ears, and he is sent to jail until the meager amount is repaid.
In Jesus’ story, others see what has happened, so they complain to the king. Naturally the king is furious, so he has him dragged in to explain his cruel behavior, when he has been treated so graciously.
It’s a question we all need to consider. Every single one of us has been forgiven so much by a gracious and loving God. He is so good to us, he keeps on forgiving us when we turn to him for mercy. Whatever debt others may owe to us is by comparison minute! Therefore we should be ready to forgive, thankful that our God is so rich in forgiving us!

So why is it that like the unforgiving servant we struggle so much to forgive?

  • Well, we simply underestimate the amount we have been forgiven!

This is common, even for us as Christians. But the apostle Paul makes it clear that: ‘we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. (Romans 3:23)  The prophet Isaiah is less charitable, suggesting that in God’s eyes: ‘even our very best actions are like filthy rags!’ (Isaiah 64:6) So Paul is right to say: ‘we were dead in our transgressions and sins!’ (Ephesians 2:1)

  • Again, we are all probably suffering deeply from our own hurt.

Every one of us here will have our own story of being hurt by others. There will be people here today for whom forgiving another just feels impossible. You have been hurt, wounded and abused. The scars of those wounds run so deep that you feel the request to forgive is too great. The bible’s word for ‘forgive’ literally means ‘let go’.  Some of us may know we need to let go, but we don’t know how to let go. That’s how difficult it is to forgive. The point is this: ‘until we let go, we will forever be bound!’  It is an awful thing to be bound in your own hurt and pain.

When we truly understand the love of Jesus in forgiving us, we can begin to forgive!
Jesus is showing us that if we have been forgiven a great debt, we too can be led to forgive. Knowing we have been forgiven so much helps us to forgive others. Our capacity to forgive others is shaped by our experience of forgiveness. Look to Jesus!  For God, in Jesus, just keeps on forgiving us! So, as God forgives you, in the power of his love, forgive others, one person at a time.

Today is the opportunity for each one of us to make a fresh start.

Look to the cross of Jesus, and see that his forgiving love is for you. That means you can start be forgiving yourself. In Jesus, God gives you a new beginning and new opportunities every day.
So let Jesus give you the courage and the grace to forgive others. You may be surprised how better you will feel and how you will bring healing to our relationships with others.

Not only that – you will honour the God who in Jesus so richly forgives you!

Pastor Gus Schutz

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