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Pastor Ashley's Sermon - November 19, 2017
Six Words Every Relationship Needs
Part 2: I Forgive You.
“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Life is all about the relationship, and so is our faith. The Christian faith is not built on rules, it’s not built on rituals, it’s not built on being right – it’s built on relationships: our relationship with God, who invites us into the perfect communion that is God in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is about our relationships with each other because God has invited all into that relationship with God. The primacy of relationship is why Jesus told us the greatest command is to love God and love our neighbor. It’s why he said we’d be known as his followers by our love. It’s all about the relationship, and today, we focus on what it takes to have health and wholeness in our relationships; The six words every relationship needs. They are actually two sets of three words: I am sorry and I forgive you. Last week, we covered how to say a genuine, “I am sorry.” Today, we take a look at what our options are when we are the ones who have been wronged.
The Bible, and in particular Jesus, has a lot to say about forgiveness. It is a defining marker of who Jesus is…the one who has the authority and power to forgive our sins. And not only, does Jesus have the authority but he exercises it! He forgives our sins; Takes all our wrongs upon and within himself, retaining the scars of it all for eternity, and sinks to the lowest low we know, death itself. Takes all our sin and succumbs to death itself… and then bust both sin and death to smithereens with a love that is powerful enough to forgive and resurrect.
And we are called to follow in the footsteps of that powerful love, to imitate the One who forgives and brings life when and where it most seems lost.
Forgiveness is an important part of the Lord’s Prayer Christians pray every Sunday, “Forgive us our trespasses, or our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Essentially saying, we’re sorry for what we’ve done wrong, and we won’t hold it against other people for the ways they’ve wronged us. We are both seeking forgiveness from God and from those we’ve wronged, while we extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
Forgiveness has as much to do with our own health as it does the other person. This is why Jesus urges us to practice forgiveness. When we don’t our own hearts can get malformed. As Jesus says, “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”
It isn’t as if God’s upstairs turning off the spicket out of spite till we forgive, it’s that when we cling to a hurt, we are not in a place to receive the healing we need. None of us would sign up to cut ourselves off from God’s work in our hearts and yet, this forgiving of others is quite the stumbling block in our day-to-day lives. It’s just so much easier to hold a grudge than forgive.
Our grudges are easy to name and still affect everyday life. Protestants still hold grudges against Catholics even though Martin Luther’s original issues with the Roman Catholic Church are now 500 years old now! Like maybe we don’t need to be suspicious of one another anymore.
The south still holds a grudge against the north. I was taught to do so in my middle school history class. My own husband still gets swipes from time to time for being a “Yankee,” even though if you look at how we grew up and what our families are like; we are so similar, it’s crazy. Our grandparents all grew up on farms, our grandfathers serving in WWII in the Pacific; both breaking the cycle of alcoholism and abuse from the family they grew up in. It’s just uncanny how similar our family histories are.
And I don’t know how long we are going to, as a nation, hold grudges against one another based on political party affiliation, but it is devouring our integrity and morality. Our political parties are beginning to look like inner city gang warfare; Where we are all about retribution and territory. Whose wearing red and who is wearing blue and who controls what territory. Our blind allegiance to our “gang,” our political party is going to make our neighborhoods less safe and get us killed, whether that’s actual life or death, or spiritual death, or metaphorical, I don’t know.
These grudges we are holding as Republicans and Democrats are devouring us. It’s beginning to look like we are all ready to sell our faith in Christ just for our side to win and hold power.
I am going to give a specific, politically charged example here, so everyone take a deep breath. Now, a word of disclaimer, I am not and will not preach pro one party or anti/against another party from this pulpit; for God’s kingdom is above all things. So, my words come from an allegiance to Christ’s kingdom and not one, particular party.
As a disciple of Jesus, my heart and mind were shattered to pieces by the comments of the governor of Alabama this week in regards to the allegations against Roy Moore. She said she has no reason to disbelieve the women’s testimonies that Roy Moore tried to have relations with them while they were children, minors, but she will vote for him anyway because the thing that is most important is having a Republican in the Senate.
What I hear her saying is her belief that a pedophile is better than a Democrat. That’s how deep this grudge thing is between Democrats and Republicans. Fellow Christians are willing to write blank checks on Christian morality and integrity for the sake of a political party and this grudge we are holding against one another is doing great damage and harm.
Jesus holds us to a much higher standard than this. If you believe someone is hurting a child, you don’t need to be thinking about party lines, you do not need to be worried about what’s gained or lost for your gang’s territory. As Christians, we need to be thinking about Jesus’ statement that it’s its better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than place a stumbling block in front of a child. (Matthew 18:6, Luke 17:2)
We need to remember that whatever we do to the least of these, to children, to those without clothes and food and water; whatever we do to the strangers among us, whatever we do to those who are sick, whatever we do to those who are in prison, we do to Christ, himself. (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus will judge the nations, will separate the sheep from the goats, based on how we do or do not care for the least of these.
We Christians bemoan daily that we are not a Christian nation anymore. The practice of repentance and forgiveness could help us with that. These grudges we are holding against one another are more to blame for America no longer being a Christian nation, than whether we say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas.
This refusal to own our wrongs, to say, “I am sorry” and to work towards forgiveness is more to blame for us being a less Christian nation than any of the other trappings we get hung up on. It’s not acting like Christ that makes us a less Christian nation.
I am speaking to all of us: Republicans, Democrats, and the noncommittal Independents like myself. We gotta get it back together about whether Jesus or a particular, political party are going to be the central morality for our lives. Who gets top billing in our thoughts, words, and actions?
Without the ability to say, “I am sorry.” and “I forgive you” the path of life looks very bleak on both large and small scales; from nations trying to live together as one to individual neighbors and communities, to family units these are words we desperately need to reclaim for health and wellbeing in everyday living. We’ve got to ask Jesus, “Help me be like Elsa in Frozen!” We’ve got to “LET IT GO!”
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.
Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
What are we still carrying? And how can we lay it down?
Forgiveness is not easy. It’s actually really hard and it takes time. The deeper the cut, the longer it takes to heal. All of us struggle with forgiveness. It is true some people’s personalities do make it easier for them to forgive but all of us will encounter a hurt so deep that it’s hard to move past the desire for retribution or revenge. A hurt so deep, you take verbal swipes without being able to stop; its in your heart and out of your mouth before you know it. And if you are like me, then letting go of things that hurt me is easier than letting go of my anger towards someone who has hurt someone I love. That’s the forgiveness with which I struggle the most.
Forgiveness is a character trait we have to learn from God. We have to humbly place ourselves at Jesus’ feet to learn mercy. It’s like that pop song by Duffy from 2008, “I’m Begging You For Mercy.” We sit at Jesus feet, knowing our own inability, and say to Jesus, “Please, please, please teach me about mercy and forgiveness.”
It’s something we have to pray for God to work in us and in others. It’s not something we can force on ourselves or on others. We can’t force anyone else to forgive us or force them to forgive anyone else. That’s not going to happen. It’s also the case, we can’t force anyone to be forgiveable; we can’t wish or hold grudges so hard that it makes someone else be forgiveable. We, instead, pray for the miracle of grace to take root in our inmost being so that everything will one day stem from it.
It’s also important to realize that forgiveness and forgetfulness are not the same thing. Our actions have consequences. You can break the law and the person you’ve wronged can forgive you, but the consequences of your actions may mean you still go to jail. I can tell you something in confidence and you could share it freely, and I may forgive you, but the consequences of your actions may mean that I stop telling you things.
Forgiveness is not a pretending something never happened. It’s a recognition that something went wrong but it won’t forever derail us spiritually or emotionally, even relationally when possible.
Now, what do you do when someone has wronged us, but they haven’t come to ask us for forgiveness? A few options here: You can just keep holding onto the hurt feelings, you can keep that weight around, and refuse to let go of it.
1. Or, you can just let it go. We do this all the time. We realize people didn’t mean anything by it, or you’re never going to see that guy who cut you off in traffic again, or we realize that life’s too short to have all that hanging over us.
2. Or, you can skillfully and tactfully confront the person who wronged you to let them know they did. A word of caution here: most of us are not very good at doing this without practice. We usually confront people out of our own hurt and disappointment with them, out of our own anger and frustration, and we do so in a way that simply raises their defenses and makes it impossible for them to hear us. So, if you do this, you want to do it in a way that is disarming rather than confrontational. Again, just be careful with that one.
3. Another option if you’re finding it difficult to forgive someone, and this is honestly the best one. Pray for them. Just naming them before God, asking God to help us let it go, asking for healing in the fractured relationship, asking God to bless them even when we’re still sort of upset with them is the best, first step in practicing forgiveness. If that person is truly harmful, then the blessing you pray for them is not for wealth or good luck, the blessing we pray for them is for healing and wholeness that would restore them in such a way that they wouldn’t hurt anyone anymore and we pray that they will be blessed by not having the opportunity to hurt others. That they don’t cause more harm is a prayer of blessing for them.
I want you to all have some tools to take home with you so you can practice this stuff. On your way out, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the sermon. It has info from the Mayo Clinic about the health benefits of practicing forgiveness and several articles with practical steps in Christian forgiveness.
There’s no way I can preach one, and only one sermon on forgiveness. By the way, this week’s sermon draft had 22 pages of notes. That’s how challenging forgiveness is and how important it is in Christianity.
I hope you’ll take some steps in practicing the six words every relationship needs: I am sorry and I forgive you. Take them to Thanksgiving Dinner with your families, take them home into your marriages, to the interactions you have with your children, with your in-laws, siblings, with co-workers. Use these practices here at church. Don’t allow grudges and resentment to blindside you to truth. Make Christ your standard of living. If we are going to be safe, healthy, and whole, we need to be a people with these six words at the tip of our tongues.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness means different things to different people. Generally, however, it involves a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.
The act that hurt or offended you might always be with you, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help free you from the control of the person who harmed you. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.
Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you or making up with the person who caused the harm. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.
What are the benefits of forgiving someone?
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:
• Healthier relationships
• Improved mental health
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• A stronger immune system
• Improved heart health
• Improved self-esteem
Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?
Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.
Some people are naturally more forgiving than others. But even if you're a grudge holder, almost anyone can learn to be more forgiving.
What are the effects of holding a grudge?
If you're unforgiving, you might:
• Bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience
• Become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can't enjoy the present
• Become depressed or anxious
• Feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you're at odds with your spiritual beliefs
• Lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others
How do I reach a state of forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a commitment to a personalized process of change. To move from suffering to forgiveness, you might:
• Recognize the value of forgiveness and how it can improve your life
• Identify what needs healing and who needs to be forgiven and for what
• Consider joining a support group or seeing a counselor
• Acknowledge your emotions about the harm done to you and how they affect your behavior, and work to release them
• Choose to forgive the person who's offended you
• Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life
As you let go of grudges, you'll no longer define your life by how you've been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding.
What happens if I can't forgive someone?
Forgiveness can be challenging, especially if the person who's hurt you doesn't admit wrong. If you find yourself stuck:
• Practice empathy. Try seeing the situation from the other person's point of view.
• Ask yourself why he or she would behave in such a way. Perhaps you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation.
• Reflect on times you've hurt others and on those who've forgiven you.
• Write in a journal, pray or use guided meditation — or talk with a person you've found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend.
• Be aware that forgiveness is a process, and even small hurts may need to be revisited and forgiven over and over again.
Does forgiveness guarantee reconciliation?
If the hurtful event involved someone whose relationship you otherwise value, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. This isn't always the case, however.
Reconciliation might be impossible if the offender has died or is unwilling to communicate with you. In other cases, reconciliation might not be appropriate. Still, forgiveness is possible — even if reconciliation isn't.
What if the person I'm forgiving doesn't change?
Getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn't the point of forgiveness. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life — by bringing you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.
What if I'm the one who needs forgiveness?
The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you've done and how they have affected others. Avoid judging yourself too harshly.
If you're truly sorry for something you've said or done, consider admitting it to those you've harmed. Speak of your sincere sorrow or regret, and ask for forgiveness — without making excuses.
Remember, however, you can't force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever happens, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.
8 Steps to Forgiveness - Amber Penney
Forgiving someone who hurt you is never easy. But with God, it is possible.
1 Acknowledge the pain. Sometimes it's hard to admit you've been hurt because doing so intensifies the feelings. But you won't be able to work through the pain until you admit you're hurting. Tears are a pretty good indicator that something's wrong. So are feelings of resentment.
2 Think through the pain. Be honest about how you feel, even if you think you shouldn't feel that way. Admit that you don't like what happened or how you were treated and that it makes you sad or angry. Try writing these feelings in a journal or sharing them with a trusted Christian friend.
3 Put yourself in the shoes of your offender. Think about a time when you have wronged another person, maybe your parents, a sibling or a friend. You needed their forgiveness. Did that person extend forgiveness to you, or withhold it? How did it make you feel? When it comes to forgiving others, remember these words from Jesus: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you … " (Matthew 7:12).
4 Remember that God forgave you. If you're a Christian, you've admitted your need for God's forgiveness. Remem bering how he forgave you, when you didn't deserve it, can help you forgive others. You may not be ready at this point to voice your forgiveness to your offender. In fact, communication with that person may be impossible if, for example, the person is no longer living. That's OK. You can forgive someone without having your offender accept your forgiveness.
5 Remember that God commands us to forgive. When Jesus taught about prayer, he stressed the importance of forgiving others (Luke 11:14). And in Mark 11:25, he says, "If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him … “
6 Let go of the pain. Once you've gone through the stages above, refuse to hold onto your hurt. Don't replay the offense over and over. Allowing yourself to get sad or angry again and again will only cause you more pain. Determine that you are going to choose to forgive your offender. Your emotions might not agree with this decision. This is where prayer comes in. Tell God you want to forgive, and ask him to change your heart toward the person who wronged you. You may want to consider voicing forgiveness to your offender either vocally or through a letter. But again, if this isn't possible, it doesn't mean you haven't expressed forgiveness.
7 Continue to forgive. If the wound was deep, you'll probably have to forgive more than once. When memories of the wrong come to mind and you find yourself getting worked up over it, immediately go to God in prayer.
8 Pray for the one who hurt you. It may be impossible to restore a relationship with your offender. For example, you don't know where the person lives or contacting this person could be a safety risk. But you can pray for the one who hurt you. Ask God to reveal his love to your offender. Doing so will help you to release any remaining resentment.
Seven Steps to Forgiveness Posted on January 15, 2016 by Celia Wolf-Devine
“Nothing makes us so like to God as a readiness to forgive.” — St. John Chrysostom
What a blessing Pope Francis gives us in proclaiming a Jubilee Year of Mercy. We live in a fallen world; we wound each other constantly in small ways and in large ones as well.
Without forgiveness, the world quickly becomes hell, but forgiveness does not come naturally to us. Indeed, it sometimes seems humanly impossible.
God, in his mercy, breaks into this hopeless situation through the death and resurrection of his son to wash away our sins and pour his grace into our hearts — grace that can enable us to forgive as Jesus did.
Here are some practical suggestions to help the faithful let go of the past and focus on emulating Christ’s mercy:
At some point, we simply need to let it go. Ask God for a spirit of gratitude; this is a good antidote to brooding on wrongs.
3. Don’t involve more people than necessary. It is OK to have a confidante, but we shouldn’t go around discussing grievances with anybody who is willing to listen. This just leads to the sin of gossip, which Pope Francis has warned the faithful against, saying, “The person who gossips is like a terrorist who throws a bomb and runs away, destroying. With their tongue, they are destroying and not making peace.”
4. Ask forgiveness from others. When we have wronged someone, it is important to give them the opportunity to forgive and be free from the burden. Also, we should make some sort of restitution for a wrong to let the person who has been hurt know we are sincere in seeking their forgiveness.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. St. Thérèse of Lisieux makes this point eloquently in “Her Last Conversations,” saying, “What we choose to fight is so tiny. When we win, it’s with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small.” When we become embroiled in trying to argue, explain and justify ourselves, we lose our peace of soul. Better let the matter drop in silence. Thérèse was never afraid to speak the truth forcefully when duty required it, but she learned to choose her battles wisely.
6. Act for the person’s good, even when we don’t feel like it. Don’t
slam the door permanently. We must allow the person room to change while also acknowledging that ignoring bad behavior does them little good. Keep praying for reconciliation.
7. Make forgiveness a ritual at bedtime. Going to bed angry at the ones we love only weakens our relationships by allowing the
bitterness and anger to fester overnight. We should make it a habit to resolve the disputes — with our families, especially — before the end of each day.
The Secret To Forgiveness: Focus Within
A UMC.org Feature by Joe Lovino*
Forgiveness is hard. United Methodists know we ought to be forgiving people. The Bible instructs us, “As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other,” (Colossians 3:13), but that is often much easier said than done. Letting go of resentment can be difficult.
“Overcoming harm is not a comfortable process,” Joshua Bynum, Clinical Director of the Methodist Counseling Center in Boise, Idaho acknowledges. “It’s a painful one.”
Grudges happen when we avoid that difficult process, and offer no movement toward healing. The hurt lingers.
“No matter what harm has happened in my life,” Bynum continues, “resentment about it is never going to help me; not forgiving is never going to benefit me.” For those longing to come to a place of forgiveness, Bynum recommends two things. First, we should examine ourselves to identify the harm done to us. Then, we work to change that which we control.
What am I holding onto?
“The first step for me in anything that has to do with resentment or forgiving of others,” Bynum shares, “is to recognize your own physical feeling of discomfort associated with that person or situation.”
He often asks clients to describe the physical sensations in their bodies when they think about the person or situation that harmed them, rather than talking about emotions.
“The words fear, anger, sadness, and others, are symbols that represent or symbolize a physical feeling,” he explains. “My face gets hot. My hands get tense. I get a lump in my throat and a hollow feeling in my stomach or a tightness in my chest. Then I call that combination anger.”
Those sensations are unpleasant, so we avoid stimuli that bring them on. We dodge the person who hurt us. We refuse to think about what happened. We pretend, and say everything is okay when it isn’t.
“People aren’t trying to hold on to their resentments,” Bynum explains. “They are trying to avoid thinking about the things that give them a physical feeling of discomfort.” Forgiveness, however, requires entering those uncomfortable feelings to arrive at a place of healing on the other side.
What can I control?
“God created our brains in such a way that there is a process to doing this,” Bynum teaches.
“There is an internal confrontation that needs to happen with ourselves.”
When one holds a grudge, “the focus is very much on that other person,” Bynum explains. We want them to apologize, to show remorse, to recognize that they hurt us. Then we will forgive them, we say.
“You can never guarantee that another person is going to offer you all of the things you want so that you’ll be able to forgive them,” Bynum soberly advises. “I can’t make somebody else be forgivable.”
Bynum instead encourages us to turn our focus inward because “the only person who has any control over whether or not I let go of resentment, is me.”
Reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness to occur. This may sound like we are letting the other person off the hook. We’re not. Instead, we are choosing to turn our attention toward things we can change in ourselves and letting go of that which we cannot change in the other person.
“There are things I can do to forgive another person that include interacting with that other person,” Bynum explains. “I may be able to go and tell them why I have a resentment against them—what I feel they did wrong and what I’m trying to deal with—and maybe that would be helpful.”
Other times, however, that is not prudent or possible. The perpetrator may be a threat. A parent may no longer be living. The coworker may have moved on to another job. None of this means we no longer have an opportunity to forgive. “You can have forgiveness without repairing a relationship,” Bynum states.
Forgiveness is about addressing the hurt within, and that work is not dependent upon anyone but us.
You are a beloved child of God
Forgiveness requires a difficult, inward journey, but as people of faith we know God travels with us.
“When we’re in community with God, when the Spirit is at work, there’s no other place to look but inward,” Bynum adds.
It also helps during this tough time, to remember that you are one of God’s beloved children, especially when the harm tempts you to think otherwise.
Letting go of resentment is not easy. The journey can be long and unpleasant. A counselor like Bynum can be a helpful guide along the way. “It’s very difficult sometimes to do this work,” Bynum concludes. “That’s why it takes a little bit of time.”