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All Request Summer Sermon Series
Forgiving Those Who Hurt You
August 28, 2016
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

After a brief hiatus, we continue this morning on our all request summer sermon series. Today’s request comes from several people and hits at one of Christianity’s core spiritual disciplines – forgiveness. More specifically, how to forgive those who have no desire to reconcile with us.

Peter, after hearing Jesus teach for some time on community and forgiveness, injects the question on everyone’s mind – and I’m in Matthew 18 here. “Lord,” he asks, “if one of my fellow disciples sins against me, how often should I forgive them? Seven times?” Peter thinks seven forgivenesses is more than enough. But Jesus counters. “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Jesus goes on to tell a story about a king and his slave. The slave owes the king an impossible amount of money to repay – somewhere around $2 billion – but instead of selling the slave’s entire family to recoup a portion of the debt, the king forgives the debt and sets the slave free. After this, the slave is caught physically assaulting a fellow slave who owed him about $6,500, demanding immediate payment. The first slave is brought before the king, who revokes the forgiveness and sentences the first slave to torture until the debt is repaid.

A few moments ago we proclaimed Camden Norman to be a member of the family of God because he has been accepted through God’s grace and forgiven of his sins. Our identity as Christians comes from our forgiveness by God through Christ. Our mandate as a forgiven people is to forgive. “Forgive us our sins,” we pray, “as we also forgive those who sin against us.” Our forgiveness is not complete unless we also forgive.

So how do we forgive? We come home early from work and find our spouse in bed with a neighbor. We suffer short or long-term abuse from a family member. A drunk driver robs us of a person we love. A close friend says harsh words that never should have been said. An employer lays us off. Somebody borrows money from us and never pays us back. Life is full of hurt, pain and adversity. We can let it eat away at our souls or we can engage in the hard work of forgiveness.

First off, some things forgiveness is not:

  • Its not quick and snappy, something thrown out at the end of an argument because we’re supposed to be “Christian” and laced with “well I’m better than you” spite.
  • Forgiveness is not denying the very real hurt and pain caused by the very real sin.
  • Forgiveness is not going back to the way things were as if nothing had happened.

Forgiveness is also not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation requires the cheating spouse to acknowledge breaking the marriage covenant and for both spouses to work together to form a new, deeper, stronger relationship that accounts for the hurt and pain. Reconciliation requires forgiveness but we also can, and must, forgive those who will not, or cannot, reconcile with us.

So we come home and find our spouse in bed with the neighbor and, instead of accepting responsibility, our spouse shifts the blame back on us and makes no effort to honor the marriage covenant. Reconciliation is, at best, a distant possibility. How can we even think about forgiveness? What steps can we take to begin the hard task of forgiveness?

Forgiveness begins by taking care of ourselves. Other people’s sin has real world consequences in our lives. It can tear us down. It can hurt us physically. It can cause lasting damage to those around us. The first step towards forgiveness is to get out of harms way and build protective boundaries so the hurt does not continue. Unfriend on Facebook. Block phone numbers. Walk on the other side of the hallway. Only meet if there are others present. Walk away when old patterns repeat. Move out. Get a restraining order. Change the locks. Bring criminal charges.

A supportive community builds us up mentally, spiritually and emotionally. It helps us establish and maintain the healthy boundaries. Friends, family members, church members, therapists, pastors, support groups, lawyers, law enforcement can all be part of your supportive community. The journey toward healing, the journey toward forgiveness, is not one we can accomplish alone. Its too hard. There is too much risk of being pulled back into the cycles of hurt and pain caused by those who sin against us.

Third – and this is so important – we root ourselves in our core identity as forgiven, accepted, children of God who are loved by Jesus Christ. Our adversary’s power lies in their ability to define us, to turn us into their victim. But we are children of God. Embraced. Loved. Accepted. Chosen. Christ defines us. In him we find healing and strength.

Fourth, we pray for our adversary. Through our prayers for those who sin against us we break the cycle of sin, hate and fear they use to control us. Through our prayers, our anger dissipates and love returns. Through our prayers we begin to forgive.

We’ve forgiven someone when we genuinely wish for them to experience the fullness of Christ’s grace and love in their lives. We’ve forgiven them when their sin no longer has power over us, when we’ve been freed to live the healed, forgiven and renewed life available to us through Christ. We’ve forgiven them when we’re open to healthy, mutual reconciliation.

Finally, released from the power of our adversary’s sin, we live lives rooted in our core identity as forgiven, accepted children of God who are loved by Jesus Christ. We respond to the hurt, pain and suffering we’ve experienced with acts of grace, love, renewal and hope that bring healing to a sin bound world.

Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Abuna Elias Chacour. Abuna means “father” in Arabic and Elias Chacour is a revered priest in Israel and beyond. The church library has his book, Blood Brothers, which contains in much more detail his story of pain, forgiveness and world changing response.

Elias Chacour was born in Biram, Galilee, a Christian, Palestinian village nestled in the hills where Jesus walked. In 1949, as part of the creation of the State of Israel, the Israeli army destroyed his village. His family became refugees, seeking a safe place to raise their children. Supported by his family and anchored by his church, Elias Chacour began praying for his Jewish neighbors, ultimately healing his own hatred and bitterness toward them for what they had done to him, his family and his community. After becoming a priest, God called him to Ibillin, the Jewish city built upon the ruins of his hometown.

In Ibillin, Fr. Chacour realized a need to minister far beyond the few Christian families remaining in town. With the help of some nuns, he started a kindergarten in his apartment, sleeping in his car. Over the decades the kindergarten would become Mar Elias Educational Institutions, a Christian school enrolling 3,000 students from all religious backgrounds and spanning all educational levels including a trade school and university.

Fr. Chacour never minimizes the hurt, pain and suffering caused to his family and his community. Additionally, the State of Israel has never confessed the sin of destroying his town and displacing his family. They also don’t support his work in Ibillin. But their sin neither controls nor defines Fr Chacour. As a forgiven, accepted, child of God who is loved by Jesus Christ, Fr. Chacour responds to sin with acts of grace, love, renewal and hope, bringing healing to millions in Israel and around the world. As a forgiven, accepted, child of God who is loved by Jesus Christ, he had no other option.

Next week we end our All Request Summer Sermon Series with a community generated sermon on Noah’s Ark. In two weeks, Monique Cobbin will be filling this space with a report about her experience at Triennium.