Monday, May 3, 2010

Look! A Friendship Bracelet

April 18, 2010 Matthew 18:25-29

A FRIENDSHIP BRACELET! It’s not in the Bible exactly, but from everything I’ve read, they must have found one in a back corner of that empty tomb. For the scriptures have a lot to say about our relationships. The truth is that God seems to care almost as much about the way we treat each other as he does about the way we relate to him.

Just think about the Great commandment for a minute. Jesus said the greatest commandment; the one that all the others rest on is this: that we are to love God with all our being and that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we look at the cross we usually think about how God forgave our sins but that was clearly only the first step. For you see in forgiving us and restoring our relationship to God, he also made it possible for us to in turn to forgive everyone who has hurt us. I want to talk about that today.

Did you know that friendship bracelets date back to our Native American ancestors? According to indigenous tradition, the recipient of a friendship bracelet must wear it until the cords wear out and fall off naturally. The idea is that the friend paid for it with the hard work and love that made it, The recipient repays the friend by honoring the work. Removing the bracelet before it naturally falls off is a sign that the friendship has gone sour. Another variation of this tradition is that the recipient of a bracelet is entitled to a wish. After the bracelet wears out and falls off naturally, the wish will come true. No wonder so many young people share and wear them.

This morning I want to talk about broken relationships in the context of the sermon series we began on Easter Sunday titled, “What did they really find in the empty tomb.” On Easter I said that in the shadow of the cross, in the shadow of the cross, IN THAT EMPTY TOMB WE FOUND FORGIVENESS FOR OUR SINS. We found a fresh start, a new beginning and a chance to walk with God anew. Last week we found a mirror which helped us see ourselves as God sees us. It allowed us to forgive ourselves and claim that new relationship with God.

Today I want to talk about the most difficult aspect of forgiveness: Forgiving those who have hurt us. Now I’ve got to confess that I am much better at this now than I was but it is still hard. I used to hold onto the hurts that others caused me. It got so bad at one point in my life that I couldn’t say the Lord’s prayer. It was like a hot poker and I just put my head down and mumbled the words. Not all of them. I loved God and wanted his will to be done. I asked him to supply my basic needs and lead me out of temptation and trial. It was THAT FORGIVENESS part in the middle that I couldn’t say. “Forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses as we forgive those who trespass,/sin against us.” That phrase hurt too much. I didn’t want to give up my hurts and forgive.

I told you about my grandparents. It seems silly now but when I was going to graduate from high school we invited them to the graduation. We only had four tickets but being the first grandchild of the generation, my dad made sure they got the invite. He was so proud. The night of the graduation my grandmother called and said they couldn’t make it. They had too much work to do to get the cottage ready for rental. It was like a slap in the face. My father had always felt like the black sheep of the family and this was one more straw in the basket. I was offended for him and I carried that grudge for years.”

You know the truth is that if we really kept count, we couldn’t begin to number the times that others have disappointed, hurt, and offended us. I am sure that right now, you could name a few people that you are angry or upset with for things they have said and done in the past. It could be a family member, a co-worker, someone here at church or your next door neighbor. We carry around these hurts, these grudges and they simmer just below the surface. I’ve got news for you. They hurt you a lot more than they hurt the person you are angry with. God knows that. The Bible says—just as God has forgiven us, we also must forgive others. This is tough stuff. But our Father knows best.

I think one of the reasons it is so hard to forgive others is because of a misunderstanding about what forgiving others really is.

Forgiving others is not— Justifying their actions. You don’t have to say things like—well, they were under a lot of stress. Well, I certainly don’t think they meant it that way.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with their motives. We don’t need to make sense of why they did what they did so we can feel good about it. Face it, most of the time we don’t care. They hurt us and we have the scars to prove it. So when we say we forgive them we are not sayin they had a right to do what they did.

Second it is not about letting enough time pass. You’ve heard people say “time heals all wounds.” That’s a bunch of baloney. We all know that time alone doesn’t make things better. Some of us sitting here are still feeling the sting of betrayal that happened fifteen or twenty years ago or more. Forgiving doesn’t get any easier over time. As a matter of fact it is often harder because that pain has been internalized and become a part of us. So there is no good reason to wait and believe that it will come naturally.

Third it is not pretending that you aren’t hurt and it didn’t matter. Men are especially good at acting macho but all of us do it. Sometimes we try to play nice in church and pretend that what someone said or did to us didn’t bother us. But it did! We keep a lid on it and tell everyone we are over it but denying it doesn’t make it go away. When somebody hurts you, it’s like getting a splinter in your finger. It may be really small, but if you try to ignore it, it will eventually get infected and you’ll be in worse shape later on.

Finally forgiveness is not about confrontation. It’s not going to them, grabbing them by the shirt, and saying—give me an apology. Forgiveness is not seeking revenge and getting in their face, as much as we want to do that when someone hurt us. The truth is that forgiveness is not totally about them. It is more about addressing something within us.

I’m going to give you four words to hold onto this morning to help you grasp it. It might not make it any easier but at least you will have a path you can follow as you try out live out God’s call to forgive as you and I have been forgiven.

Here they are. Remember Release Recognize Repeat. Can you say them with me?

Remember, release, recognize and repeat.

First, Remember how much we’ve been forgiven. Remember how much (with emphasis) I’ve been forgiven is how that should be said. Because the first step in forgiving others is to understand how much God has forgiven us.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about the Prodigal Son? It is actually our story. You see, we are the Prodigal Son, we are the Prodigal Daughter who has turned our back on our loving Father. We have gone our own way. We have enjoyed sin for a season and yet, when we return home, God welcomes us back. And God forgives us—not just partially, but God forgives us completely. God doesn’t make us pay it back. So we have to be reminded over and over, because we, as humans, have amazing capacities to forget and we forget just how good we have it. We forget how completely and fully and how freely God has forgiven us. Isaiah 1:18 is such a great verse because it talks about God’s complete forgiveness. It says. “Come, let us talk this over says the Lord. No matter how deep the stain of your sin, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson. I can make you white as wool.”

We hurt God whenever we sin but he opens his heart and forgives us anyway. We need to remember that.

Now I want you to think of somebody who has hurt you. Conjure up those feelings. Then think about Jesus and the fact that he feels the same way whenever you hurt him. I get the image of Peter and Jesus in the courtyard. In the movie The Passion of Christ, it is portrayed so well. As Jesus is being led away Peter is denying Christ in no uncertain terms. At that moment Peter sees Jesus. They lock eyes and the regret is so deep. The anguish and hurt fills the screen. If Jesus can forgive us then we have no excuse.

That brings me to our scripture today. It’s a story that Jesus told about forgiveness. The point is simple: A man who owes a great debt calls on the king and asks for mercy. The king hears his plea and forgives him his debt. The next thing you know this same man confronts another who owes him a debt and he shows no mercy. He lives by the rule “an eye for an eye.” He has the man thrown in prison and his family left destitute. When the king hears of it he is outraged. It is like a slap in the face. All the pity, all the compassion he felt for this man dissipates and he throws the book at him.

The moral of the story, Matthew tells us is this: "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. And Jesus said "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Ouch! Do you think Jesus thinks forgiving others is important? We need to remember that we have been forgiven. Maybe there is someone who has hurt you. Well now is the time to think about forgiving them.

That brings me to our second point. Release them. Let them go. Set them free. What does that mean? It means to stop replaying that tape of their offense over and over again in your mind. We do that don’t we? We relive the hurt. We keep it fresh by living through it again. Well you’ve got to let it go.

You don’t need to confront them or try to make amends or even try to repair the relationship to do this. You just simply go to God and ask him to help you forgive and let it go. You see, forgiveness is always a choice. It is not an emotion, it is a choice.

This process of setting someone free, of releasing them, is so key to the freedom that God wants you to experience in forgiveness. When you do that you are saying I’m giving up my rights to repayment. You no longer have TO WAIT FOR THEM to make amends, BECAUSE THEY PROBABLY NEVER WILL. So you are taking charge and reclaiming your own peace of mind. Let God deal with revenge, payment or what they need to do. He’s better at it than we are anyway.

Third Recognize that God has bigger things in mind. The truth is that every experience in life shapes us. It prepares us for the next thing. The struggles, the adventures, the relationships we have prepare us for the job that God is waiting to call us to. Joseph is the perfect example of this. Do you remember his story? It as tragic. It was ironic. He was a dreamer, the favorite son of his father, Jacob. His brothers get jealous of his favored status and they plot against him. They sell him to slave traders going to Egypt and tewll their father he was killed. Through a series of misadventures he lands in prison and then into the court of Pharoah. He interprets a dream and Pharoah places him in a position of authority. A famine hits the land and Jacob sends his sons to Pharoah for help. Guess who is there to greet them. Joseph could have taken his revenge. But instead he has forgiven them and in that process recognized that God used that circumstance to get his will done. Joseph was now in a position to save his family.

The truth is that God uses our circumstances to achieve his will. Now hear me: I am not saying that God sends pain and trouble into our lives so he can do something about it later. I am saying that God takes these difficult and tragic situations and uses them, like scraps off the table, to bring blessings down the road.

In Romans 8:28 it says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

That’s why it is so important to forgive. God has a plan and he can take your hurt and still make it work for good if you can forgive.

The fourth step is to reestablish if possible. I’m going to be brief here. If you can re-establish the relationship, then go to it. There is a television show called “All About Earl.” I’ve seen it a few times. It’s really wacky. But essentially this guy has a list of all the people he has ever wronged and he has to go back and make it right. Some people readily accept his apologies and others don’t and that makes for the humor. The truth is that some bridges are broken and you can’t go back over them. But if you can build a new bridge after forgiveness, God calls us to do it.

In Romans 12:21. It says, “Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” What does that mean? It means, even if you can’t reestablish the relationship, you can still act in a good way toward that person.

Pray for the person who hurt you. Ask God to heal their hearts. Ask God to bless them. When you can do that you know that your healing and forgiveness is well on its way. Finally, Repeat this process again and again. If you are lucky. Your life will be long. You will suffer hurts and you just need to keep doing this over and over again.

For you see, on the cross God was not only reconciling the world to himself, but he was doing the same for each of us. He died so that we would have the power of forgiveness in our hands. Don’t waste it. Use it to share God’s love with the people in your life. Life is too short to bear grudges and to walk alone. Reach out and share that friendship bracelet God has left for you and me in that empty tomb.

Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for how much You have forgiven me. Today, I forgive (just say their name, the person you are forgiving). God, I’m forgiving them for (you just tell God what it is. He already knows, but there is something about saying it and releasing that person). And God show me the action I need to take to reestablish the relationship even if it is just to pray for them. Now Lord, Help me to forgive others as much as you have forgiven me. In Jesus name. Amen.

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