June 4, 2017: Reciprocity

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Matthew 6:9-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

In her book Forgiveness Is A Choice, Joanna North writes “When unjustly hurt be another, we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to resentment, but instead trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love.”

In Amish culture, there is a concept called Uffgevva. It is understood as “Forgiveness means giving up your right to revenge.”

There are lots of quotes and thoughts out there that try flesh out the idea of forgiveness

————We are reminded that forgiveness is not weakness.

Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.
- Mahatma Gandhi

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

————We are reminded that forgiveness is basic to the understanding of the Christian identity of love and grace

“If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive.”
- Mother Teresa

“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

————We are reminded that forgiveness is done as much for the offendee as it is for the offender.

When deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.
- Nelson Mandela.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
― Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
― Ann Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

————We are reminded that forgiveness is essential to moving forward with a new sense of hope.

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You're done. It doesn't necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…”
― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
― Lewis B. Smedes

“Forgiveness is the final form of love.”
― Reinhold Niebuhr

When Jesus talks about forgiveness, he doesn't mess around, He obviously believes that the act and attitude of forgive are essential to following the gospel.

Jesus indicates that we are called to forgive others because we are forgiven and as forgiving others is part of the reciprocity contained in our relationship with God. Jesus says that we forgive as we are forgiven and even seems to declare that we are not forgiven if we choose not to forgive.

Quote, “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.”

That’s pretty straight forward.

Later on in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter is having a conversation with Jesus about forgiveness. He asks Jesus the question, “how many times must I forgive someone who sins against me?”

Jesus’ answer includes a pretty amazing parable. This is a paraphrase of that parable.

A man named Jeb lived in a community where the ruler was just (depending on your definition of justice). The ruler had been kind with his subjects concerning the late payment of taxes and had even extended loans over time to many of the people in that community.

Circumstances required that taxes be paid and loans re-paid. The Ruler had given the citizens plenty of notice.

And when the date arrived, citizens of the community showed up at the courthouse and paid their debts.

Jeb showed up that day as well, but did not have the money he owed to the ruler. He plead his case and promised to pay when he could. The law permitted the ruler to sell all of Jeb’s possessions and use the funds to pay his bill. Further, the law permitted that Jeb, his wife, and his children could sold off to another ruler in another community and the payment used to cancel Jeb’s debt.

The ruler looked and Jeb and felt compassion for him and his circumstance. Though the debt was very high, close to astronomical, the ruler made the decision not only to spare Jeb in the moment, but to forgive Jeb entirely.

His debt was declared $0 by the ruler.

Jeb was elated. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. He was so thankful to the ruler for his kindness and mercy.

As he left the courthouse, he stopped by the corner pub to celebrate. “This round is on me,” he proclaimed with joy.

As he sat and drank, he noticed his neighbor Ethan, sitting at a back table.

Sometime back, within the last couple of months, Jeb had loaned Ethan some money to pay a small bill- a truly insignificant amount- a few bucks.

But as Jeb watched Ethan drink his drink for which Jeb was paying. Jeb grew angrier and angrier. His face reddened and he started to murmur to himself. “Why hadn't Ethan paid his debt? What's he trying to get away with?”

After a bit, Ethan finished his drink and began to leave the Pub. He walked right past Jeb and didn’t say a word. In the next moment, complete chaos broke out as Jeb jumped Ethan, threw him to the ground and started choking him. “Give me my money that you owe me you lousy so-and-so.”

Ethan sputtered and fought back, but Jeb clearly had the upper hand. Patrons of the pub tried to pull Jeb off of Ethan but Jeb fought on. “Give me what you owe me!” He yelled.

Finally, the community police arrived, arrested Jeb, and threw him in jail.

He appeared before the ruler the next day. The ruler heard the testimony from folks at the bar- that Jeb attacked Ethan over a debt Ethan owed.

The ruler looked at Jeb incredulously as Jeb hung his head in shame.

“Aren’t you the one I forgave a substantial debt yesterday?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And yet you are arrested for attacking a person, a friend, because he owed you just a little bit.

Since you can’t seem to grant others the little bit of forgiveness they need, I can’t imagine forgiving you your astronomical debt to me.

Therefore, I am rescinding my forgiveness of your debt. It is off to prison you go until all your debt is paid to me in full.”

The End.

Norman Cousins reminds us that “Life is an adventure in forgiveness.”

I would suggest that life is an adventure in both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness.

We celebrate the fact that God forgives by forgiving others.

It is often hard work to forgive, grueling work, humbling work, but as Rob Bell intones about following the teachings of Jesus,

“It takes quite a spine to turn the other cheek,
It takes phenomenal fortitude to love your enemy.
It takes firm resolve to pray for those who persecute you.” (unquote)

and to forgive, it takes boldness of character and the tenacity of spirit
-to give up your need for revenge,
-to hope for the best for even those who don't hope for the best you.

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Not really an option, is it?


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