Luke 6:27-38 9th September 2004
27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' lend to `sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Yesterday it was reported that the chief of Russia's general staff in Moscow threatened to carry out a pre-emptive strike against terrorist bases throughout the world. This was in response to the massacre at Beslan. After the September 11th attacks the U.S.A. has waged war against terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, as we have seen in Iraq, this tactic of retaliation has led to further violence.
Someone once said that if everyone operated on the principle of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" the whole world would be blind and toothless!
As followers of Christ we are called to follow his way. As they crucified him he said "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." ( 23:34 )
Do we think that Jesus felt like he wanted to forgive those soldiers who had just hammered large nails through his limbs? His body would have been wracked with pain. The natural reaction when we face danger is 'fight or flight'. Jesus fought against abandoning God's way. Many would have abused the soldiers and spat at them. Even at this late stage in his earthly ministry there was the temptation to sin, to follow the way of the world and retaliate. Had he done this he would not been able to secure our forgiveness by offering himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. But Jesus forgave.
Jesus calls his followers to this different way. A way of love, generosity, mercy and forgiveness. It is not to be inspired by our feelings because we may forgive and find emotions rising up again, so we will have to forgive again until it subsides.
Corrie ten Boom told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept reliving the incident and so couldn't sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest.
"His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor," Corrie wrote, "to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks." "Up in the church tower," he said, nodding out the window, "is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there's a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn't be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They're just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down." "And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force - which was my willingness in the matter - had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: We can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts."
People who fail to forgive are storing up problems. This failure can lead to them being damaged mentally and physically, and being unable to move forward because this event from the past holds them back like an anchor.
If we, as Christians, are unable or unwilling to forgive this calls into question whether we have truly appreciated what God has done for us in Christ. There is a danger of thinking that we are excused while everyone else is forgiven ! We think that it is understandable when we sin and, therefore, we can be excused because of our circumstances, our temperament, or whatever. But when someone else does something wrong they deserve to be punished. Of course they can be forgiven assuming we think that they are contrite enough !
We say in the Lord's Prayer 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us'. This is not saying that we can earn our forgiveness which is a free gift from God through Jesus death on the cross, brought into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. It is saying that our forgiving others is a true reflection that we have fully appreciated the forgiveness that Christ has secured for us...
The art of forgiving is a spiritual grace every Christian should develop. Because this is so difficult to put into practice, I read of the following suggestions:
1) Begin by assuring yourself that
compared to Christ's suffering you haven't been seriously wronged at
2) Recall the many kind deeds that have been shown to you, perhaps even by the person who has harmed you.
3) List the benefits you have received from the Lord.
4) Thank Him for blessing you with His love and forgiveness each day.
5) Make an honest effort to pray for the one who has injured you.
6) Go even further by looking for an opportunity to help him.
7) If the offence is especially hard to forget, try to erase the memory by thinking gracious and generous thoughts.
8) Finally, before you fall asleep at night, repeat slowly and thoughtfully that phrase from the Lord's Prayer, 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us'.
Forgiveness is a refusal to copy what someone has done to us. It breaks the circle of violence, hate, and condemnation. It prevents the wronged person from sinking to the level of the one who has wronged them. It offers an alternative way forward. This was shown following the Enniskillen bomb.
On 8 November 1987, an IRA bomb ripped through the heart of the town of Enniskillen killing 10 and wounding 63 others. Forgiveness shown by victims' relatives effected a sense of reconciliation and were a spark for change.
The bomb went off on Remembrance Sunday, a day dedicated to Britain's war dead. Many of those killed and injured in the blast had come to honour soldiers killed in action. Loyalist paramilitaries were intent on retaliation but were stopped by the words of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed in the blast. "I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge,"... "Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life." He said he forgave her killers and added: "I shall pray for those people tonight and every night."
This forgiveness led to a change. The IRA lost world-wide support after the bombing and the local Catholic community put pressure on the SDLP to stop supporting Sinn Fein for local political posts. It was forced instead to support unionist candidates which helped build community relations.
God has shown us his undeserved favour by forgiving us, in Christ. He will give us the undeserved favour that we need to forgive others.