The Power and Peril of Forgiveness

The Quest for a Well-Ordered Heart | New Hope Presbyterian Church | Castle Rock, CO

 This is a transcript from the March 31, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

We're doing a series, Quest For A Well-Ordered Heart. Does it spark joy? In this series that we've been doing we have been taking two disparate kinds of authorities if you will. Two people you wouldn't normally put in the same congregation, conversation, maybe not even on the same slide, Marie Kondo, the one who wrote the book about The Magic of Tidying Up and St. Augustine. What on earth do they possibly have together?

The Quest for a Well-Ordered Heart | New Hope Presbyterian Church | Castle Rock, CO

Actually they both have something in common and they're both trying to figure out what is it that makes life full of joy. Whether it is the way that you organize your house or whether it is the way you organize your life. Augustine is the one who talked about the need for a well-ordered heart, that we love the right thing in the right way in the right order or whether we put things together. It is all a way of pointing to and coming at the same thing that Jesus talked about. "That my joy might be in you and your joy might be full." That's what's at stake here.

The hardest place in the house to clean up? I wonder what that is for you. Is it the garage? Is it the basement? Yes. For a lot of us it is the basement. It's that part that we just don't go there. There's too much. In my study there is a closet, it's in the basement and there's a closet in the basement and I just don't go there, it's just too much. The idea of tidying up, that just causes dread when I think of that place. I say that because I want to ask you the question when you think of tidying up and reordering your heart, what causes the most dread? What's the area that would need the most attention? What's the place that you go, "Oh, don't go there."

I believe that for most of us, for many at least if not for you probably the person sitting near you, it has to do with that place where we store our resentments, our angers, our unresolved grievances. That's the place we don't want to go, that's the place that is the most disordered and it affects most of our life. Jesus says, "If you forgive others their trespass your heavenly father will also forgive you. If you don't forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

Boy does that put us in a panic. Boy does that put us in a panic because we just don't know what to do with that. We know the stakes are high, we know it's important, but we keep stuffing that stuff in the basement don't we? We keep not tending to it, don't we? There is this part of us on the one hand that knows, "This is serious, stop." The other hand goes, "I don't know what to do with it."

I talked about the connection between things that don't seem to match. When I was first reading Marie Kondo, I was struck by one sentence that she said-- I was struck, it's like the lights went on and because here's this person who is not talking about anything to do with my soul, having to do nothing with forgiveness and yet it's all connected when she says, "When we really delve into the reasons for why we can't let something go there are only two, an attachment to the past and fear of the future."

Last week we talked about the problem of worry which is that fear of the future and we try to live tomorrow's stuff today. Today when we talk about resentment, anger, the unresolved grievances, we're really talking about the stuff of the past that we just can't let go. It's all connected. It's all connected. This week what I want to do is I need a prop. Here we go [brings out a big box]. I want you to think about this is the stuff that's in the basement of your heart. I want you to think about this is one of those grievances, one of those resentments, one of those things that just won't go away.

When I asked, "What color can I use?" They said, "Use orange, nobody likes orange." Here it is the thing that nobody likes, the thing that nobody wants to deal with and yet as long as it's there, it keeps getting in the way. I want you to imagine the physical basement and every time it's there, if it's in the middle of the room and every time you have to walk around it every time because it doesn't have a place to go because you can't get rid of it, it impedes your traffic, it impedes the flow.

Now, put it in the middle of your living room. Put it on the top of your dining table. You begin to catch the emphasis and the importance of this issue. When it gets in the way of your conversations, when it gets in the way of the flow of every day life, do you have one of these? I do. I was reminded again this week just how much and how many of these I still have. I don't say that with any pride at all.

I have also begun to realize that this thing that I have between other people it doesn't just affect my relationship with that person, it gets in the way of every relationship. It gets in the way of my relationship with God. It gets in the way with how I live my future because as long as I am tied to this, I can't go very far. If I'm like most people, we got a bunch of these. Year after year we just keep sticking them in the basement of our heart. Year after year we keep thinking I got to get to that someday and we don't. It's imprisoning us and it's killing us.

Let me talk about the thing that we all say that we all know -- There are two issues that always come up when I talk about this and the first one is this. What if they don't repent? What if the person who did something wrong to me they don't say they're sorry. I don't have to forgive, I shouldn't have to forgive if they don't say they're sorry. Right? Sure.

In an ideal world of course that's how we would all do, but it misses the point of forgiveness because when we talk about forgiveness we have confused it. We have confused it with excusing. To forgive is not to excuse something, it is not to say, "It's all right. It doesn't matter." No. If you have to forgive, it means it really did matter and it's not all right. It means that the last thing we should do is dishonor the pain and the hurt that came with it. The last thing we should do is gloss over it as if it didn't matter. It matters. That's why it's still in the basement.

It's not the same as excusing neither is it the same as reconciling, those are two different things. If someone doesn't say they're sorry, that doesn't mean I can't forgive. It doesn't mean we can't reconcile. When I forgive that doesn't mean that we have to start exchanging Christmas cards. It doesn't mean we have to be friends. It doesn't mean that I have to keep going back to the same situation as if there are no boundaries.

How many times has the church missed this and sent people into hurtful and harmful environments again and again somehow convincing people that that's what God wanted them to do. It's not because forgiveness isn't the same thing as reconciliation. Forgiveness literally, literally the word picture that's in the Bible is this, it literally means to set aside. It means to set it aside so that it does not get in the way of me loving you. It does not get in the way of me treating you the way that I would want to be treated. It is setting it aside so that it no longer holds my future.

Now, it sounds simple but let me tell you what you're setting aside. You are setting aside your right to vindication and retribution. You're setting aside your right. It is a right if someone has harmed you. For someone to vindicate that it's vacating, it's forsaking. Another word that is used for forgiveness in the Bible, it is letting go.

It is setting aside your right for retribution and saying that will not govern my life anymore, that will not govern the way I live because when I wait for somebody to say they're sorry and to apologize before I forgive then I have given them the key to my future. I have given the key to my future to someone who's already hurt me. I'm saying it's up to you.

The wonderful thing about forgiveness is it's something that we can do even when people don't say they're sorry. It's a unilateral thing that we decide to do. That's why that picture on your bulletin this morning is so powerful.

The Quest for a Well-Ordered Heart | New Hope Presbyterian Church | Castle Rock, CO

That quote that to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discovered that the prisoner was you because this is holding us back. As long as we wait for somebody else before we do what we've been given to do, then we're stuck, and we are stuck.

The second thing: The second thing that always comes up and you may be thinking it already. When I say that the key to freedom is not vindication and not retribution to get out of that cell, but the real key has to do with forgiveness. The other thing that always comes up, what about Hitler? Somebody always pulls out the Hitler card, or the Idi Amin card, or some other just absolute atrocity in history and says, "What about that"?

Or they pull out the atrocities of their own life.

They'll pull out about the person who abused them or is continuing to abuse them. They're picking on the things that are just monstrous in life. That's a really good question. Let me tell you what's often behind it and it's not such a good question. Who do I not have to forgive? I'm looking for that line. Where do I have to go with that? How far do I have to go when we do that? We have just stuck ourselves back in the basement, haven't we?

We have said, "Well, then there are certain things that I really have to stay tied to because they're too big." This again is where I really appreciate some of the wisdom Marie Kondo.

If you read her book, if you're watching her show she always says don't start with the hard places. Don't start with the most emotionally charged, don't start with the basement, the closet in your study. It will discourage you. What you should start with is something small. Start with something easy. This is what I love about what Jesus is talking about because he has it with this word, trespass. This word trespass is different than even in the Lord's prayer that we just prayed.

This word trespass is not the big giant things where I intentionally do somebody harm or where I owed somebody a debt. This particular word of trespass that Jesus is using is fall to one side. The little thing, the things where we lapse, the things because we're human we do to one another.

Not because we're mean spirited, but just because we do that. Jesus says, "Start there."

Now listen, if you can't even forgive the people who've trespassed against you, the people who've fallen to one side, if you can't even forgive the guy who cut you off in traffic, "Oh my Lord, how is God ever going to forgive you? By the way, I believe that is the first-century hyperbole that Jesus uses, a teacher in those days will do that. I don't think he's saying if you don't, God won't forgive you because God already has forgiven you.

I think Jesus uses hyperbole like when he says, You know it's better to cut off your hand or gouge your eye out rather than being in bad standing with God. That's not what's being advocated. It's language, big language to get our attention and the big attention is this. Listen, if you can't let these little things go, how on earth are you ever going to get freed up from that stuff. The question is to start, but start small. This week don't go to your basement.

At least don't go to the closet in your basement if it's like mine. Start with the little stuff. What can you let go of? What can you let go of and allow someone that humanity of the person who cut you off in the traffic or said something to you again? Where can you help restore their humanity in their own mind and wish them well, you don't have to throw it at them. Wish them well and hope they do well that day. Start there because as we start there we start to get in a good habit.

We begin to realize that whether it's big or small, in the end, we don't get to take it with us. However, you envision heaven I don't think we get to take it, we won't get to carry our resentments and our grievances with us. At some point, we got to let him go and since Jesus's invitation to the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now and it begins now, why not start now? Start, start small but start.

As we do we begin to live into this wonderful promise of the most creative power given to the human spirit is the power to heal the wounds of a past we can not change. It begins with learning to forgive. As we forgive this week, may you know the joy that comes from being partners with God. As we redeem, as we restore, as we renew this creation, as we get to embody the amazing grace of God.

The Quest for a Well-Ordered Heart | New Hope Presbyterian Church | Castle Rock, CO