Wednesday, June 13, 2007

True Forgiveness

What I spoke, last/this week, it may contain grammatical errors.

This weekend I am going on a journey, physically and spiritually, that trip is to the 25th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War. It seems so long ago that I made the journey to the South Atlantic to fight an enemy I did not know. Thankfully the war ceased before we could steam the 8000 miles from Plymouth, but the time will still be sad. One friend was lost on HMS Ardent and one injured when the Atlantic Conveyor was sunk. Two nations battled in a windswept and cold corner of the globe. The Falkland Islands are similar to the islands around these shores (Scotland), not many trees, a lot of sheep, and the smell of peat burning stoves. One side won and one side lost, but both sides suffered heavy losses, more British servicemen died in the space of six weeks then in both Iraq events. Yet the rhetoric I hear from British and Argentinean servicemen is respect for one another and forgiveness on both sides, time helps I guess, and after 25 years the memories fade.

All over the world today flowers and grass will fade, and people will fade into the pages of history, and in the midst of this dance of decay we live. Therefore how we live today is what is important to us, and as I sat and read through some parables, one thing above all others struck me, and that is the message of hope, of peace, of grace and of forgiveness.

So today I bring a word that not a single one of us dare ignore. No frills, no fluff, just the simple message of the forgiveness of God, and one that we must heed. I do not know how many times during my preaching I have called the community of God’s people to live in the Kingdom, to reject powerless religion, to drink from the true water of life, sadly for the most part this has gone unheeded, and now I am tired, and I know in small measure how Jesus felt when he wept over Jerusalem.

So let us head over to Jesus and see how he deals with the whole issue of unforgiveness, for I have observed that it is unforgiveness that is at the root of most if not all broken relationships, and therefore a root of all the worlds evil. Before we head to Jesus though, let me define unforgiveness.

It is that state that occurs when one person has been hurt, and that hurt person then decides to withhold forgiveness, and in fact is active in digging their heels in, and that digging is the action that plants the seeds of injustice, which in turn grow into roots of bitterness, that finally flower into division and the breakdown of community.

Two examples of how to respond to being ill treated if you please. First and foremost we look at God in the garden; his prize creation has just gone dysfunctional, wilful disobedience that destroys the harmony and unity of man and all the created order. God turns up after being away for the day chairing a sons of man conference in heaven to find that the whole shooting match has gone pear shaped and his two prize possessions have decided to play the first ever game of hide and seek.

God wins, no need to count to ten, he finds them in an instant, and his response is crucial, miss this and you miss it all. God did not turn on his heels and storm off. Back up to heaven to sulk and devise a plan to get his own back, no phoning another God to bitch and gossip about the pathetic little creatures he made. I don’t even think that he thought ‘oh no, now I will have to sacrifice my son’, I believe he responded the only way he could ‘where are you’. Can you feel the pain? Why are you hiding my dear children, I love you, I will not harm you. The fall of man created in the man a fear of God who had only ever loved them.

Sometimes my children have lied to me and hidden, and that breaks my heart, for my love for them is not affected by the actions they commit, my love, and therefore so much more God’s love, is motivated internally and is never a response to an external action committed by someone else. We cannot earn the love of God, and so we cannot do anything to lose the love of God, for his love radiates from him regardless of our actions, God does not love…God does not love, God IS love.

God responds in the garden from his abundant love, clothing the couple and sending them out whilst watching over them. The man and woman are banished from the sanctuary of the perfect creation, but listen, and you need to get a hold of this, again it is crucial to how you experience the divine, the man and woman are banished, but here’s the key, God goes with them, not partly, not temporarily, but God enters into their wilderness, their barren wandering, their wilderness and outcast state, and not only does god go out with them, but by fire and smoke he takes the front, in the battle against a whole universe of cosmic evil God takes point guard, first to step into the minefields and first to be shot at. Why does he do that, because he is love and that is how forgiveness looks?

Second example takes place on a farm in the Middle East, maybe not literally, but that is irrelevant to the message that is being told in parabolic form. In this story there is one father and two children, both boys and both inheritors of their father’s wealth. Both sons gain their inheritance and the father in effect becomes a tenant, even before his death he has given his sons what they wanted.

One son heads off to Dubai to blow it all in the casinos and racetracks, but the celebrity lifestyle strips him of his wealth, and he is left poor. Now the story in tradition holds that ‘he came to his right mind’, into which we read ‘repented’, and in a direct challenge to tradition I want to suggest that he had not repented, in fact he was still filled with utter contempt and selfishness. There he is thinking of eating pig food when he comes to his senses and says, ‘hey if the servants get to eat the best, and I am a son, then so should I’. So he schemes a cunning plan to get back in the farm. Look at Luke 15:17-18…’hey what do you know, I am still his son, I will go back and work a bit of guilt on the old fella, you know, tell him I’m not worthy, state my familial rights as son, he’ll have to take me back.’

So the son heads back, and if he is anything like me he would have been rehearsing his story, that’s what we do is it not, we rehearse our stories, what do you think Adam and Eve were doing? They were hiding under a bush and working out the first excuse known to man, and I bet they worked out a combined excuse, only when the crunch came they just stitched each other up. Can you imagine it, Adam turning to God, Eve expecting the excuse and Adam dumps on her “Hey God it was her”, Eve being so full of integrity herself turns to God and says “Hey it was the snake”. The snake being the most cunning turns to God and shrugs “hey I’m a snake, what do you expect”.

So the son has got all his excuses down and ready, he knows his Father will be all cagey and maybe he will have a hard luck story ready, you know the type “Well dad it was like this, I took the inheritance and hit the road, you know dad, the road you told me to take. Anyway there I was heading to Jericho when some robbers attacked me and I found myself in the wrong parable…no seriously luck was against me, but let me work for you, all I need is bread and water” But the son knew he would get in eventually, you know sneak in the back door now and again.

All that is to say that the son of verse 17 is not a repentant son, he is a selfish boy who does not give a hoot about anything but him. So we have a problem, for in western Christian thought, human confession is the prelude to a divine response, I repent and then God forgives, we are saying in fact, man initiates and God responds.

I maintain, and put me in a whicker man and burn me if this is not true, confession has nothing to do with us getting forgiven! Confession is not a transaction, not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness. True confession is the death cry of a body that accepts its own death and inability to raise itself from the grave and accepts the resurrection that is God breathed.

True forgiveness is pressing in all around us, it is here, there, everywhere, and confession is the alarm clock that wakes us to what we already have. Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification, and woe to anyone who thinks they have any part in the satisfaction of God other than the part they play in the grave.

There is nothing new that we ever do, or in fact that God ever does, to achieve anything, it was done once and for all from the foundation of the world by the lamb that was slain.

Oh by the way before I forget, the fathers role in the story of the two sons, is as God in Eden, before the son opens his mouth to ask forgiveness the father is there kissing his neck.

So here is how it works in practice and how it works in the parable…in practice the sinner, who has had to make some obvious repentant sign, is told that things will move slower from now on, a few hoops to jump through and a bit of trust to be built up again, that is my experience. That is how I have been dealt with in the past, and that is I have dealt with others in the past. It’s a kind of Christian rehabilitation, a sort of, ‘we know you went a bit AWOL there, so now you need to prove to us you are back with the programme’.

Jesus tells the story of the other brother somewhere else, and he in many ways tells our stories to this point when he gives a response to Peter. The disciples are all looking for get out clauses, Jesus responds to their questions this way…

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a] who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven”

23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of pounds. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand pounds. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset, they went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

There is no hoop jumping for the son who lived with pigs, and there is no hoop jumping trust building for the servant in our story.

The King forgives the man his debt before he has paid it or made restitution, there is (by the amount of money) no way he can pay it, and yet even here, just like the son in our previous story, we see the wicked scheming of a heart not touched by love. Look at verse 26, ‘have patience, I will pay it all’, no you will not, you cannot, it’s impossible, all you have done is try to buy some time so you can make up a better plan, maybe running away, maybe he is thinking, okay I’ll call all my debts in and charge vastly inflated interest.

So right here, as in the previous parable, the outrageous and shocking grace of God breaks into the act, for no reason whatsoever, the King, after wanting him and his family sold into slavery, has a change of heart that is staggering. Rather than meet the man halfway and set up a payment scheme, he just wipes the slate clean, there was no warning, no history, and just in the way God sometimes offends even the most of graceful of us, the King wipes the debt clean.

Just like the workers in the vineyard coming late and receiving the same wages the early workers got, our sensibilities are shaken to the core. This is what Jesus was trying to get across to Peter and the disciples, remember they were looking for rules to determine who is in and who is out, Jesus gives the seventy times seven rule, but the parable takes it even further, possibly I think in an attempt to say to Peter…”listen you can never ever forgive to the depth of love your father in heaven has forgiven you, but you can sure imitate it to the full”. A lesson Peter was not very far from learning when the cock crowed three times.

You know why those who do not forgive will not be forgiven? Well be sure of this, it does not mean if I forgive then god will forgive me, that is going right back to invoking a transaction. That is again saying “tell you what God, I will do this and then you must do this”. The only reason those who do not forgive will not be forgiven is that they will not recognise forgiveness when it appears at their door.

You see the servant the King forgave did not recognise the act that had happened to him, therefore he could not be like the King. You see the servant was unwilling to die to the work the King had done, and I think in many ways, we also refuse to die to our need for control and domination. That is we refuse to come to God with nothing, thinking our offerings will appease the great sky god…if I do this then god will respond this way or that way.

The servants’ fellow slaves see the wrong that has been done and complain to the King, I mean what would we do if we saw somebody cleared of a debt shaking the throat of someone who owed them.

In heaven and in hell there are only forgiven sinners, Jesus on the cross forgave even the most despicable of us, taking the offense into his death and consigning it to oblivion for ever – your sins I remember no more, it is over it is finished, the great price paid once and for all.

The difference then between heaven and hell, simple really, in heaven forgiveness is recognised and accepted and passed along in an eternal river of grace, while in hell forgiveness is rejected and blocked. In hell the need to keep count, to rack up the forgiveness score is the torture it always was on earth and many will wail and gnash their teeth as they refuse to forgive someone one more time.

There is only one unpardonable sin I feel, and that is to withhold pardon from another, regardless of whether they repent or not, that is not how God operates. You know why people repent, because the love of God compels them, whatever is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven. Let us all be people of forgiveness, let us loose the cords and not bind, let us as free people set others free, and let us once and for all be done with religion that has no power.

1 comment:

Santhan said...

There is this story about Swami Sivananda from the Divine Life Society. One day his accountant dissapeared with all the ashrams money. The devotees and disciples struggled for months to keep the Ashram running and at times had to go for a few days without food.

After while his accountant came back to the Ashram begging forgiveness. Swami Sivananda smiled a welcomed back to his old post, much to the disciples and devotees shock. When Sivananda was asked how he could so easily forgive such a terrible action, Sivananda asked, "Who is there to forgive and who is it that forgives?"

In the silence of our hearts where love reigns supreme, forgiveness is unheard of.

Here is an extract from a Heavenletter about forgiveness...

...Even when a grievous act has been committed against you or your loved ones or your country, you must let go of the grievous act or you pierce yourself with it a thousand times over. You must let go of your grievousness. Unforgiveness is poison. When you ingest poison, you know to remove it from your system. Unforgiveness is an invidious poison. Unforgiveness is like a steel rod that pins you to a certain spot. It hinders your development. That steel rod of unforgiveness has to be pulled out.

Lick your wounds and then be done. There has to be an end to wounding. Wounds are meant to heal. You are not to nurse them forever. Even if your legs were chopped off, you have to let the stumps heal. If your family was destroyed, you still have to get up from the ashes. You must.

Let your memoriam to beloved injureds be your letting go. They do not want you to still be hurting. They do not want you to perpetuate their wounds. They don’t want you to build a memorial to wounds, point to them, wear them around your neck like a locket or on your chest like a medal. Your beloved ones say you have kept your wounds and bandages long enough. Your beloved ones want you to drop your wounds and the coverings you have invested in them. They want you to drop them and walk off and leave them. They say you have been making a memorial, not to them, your loved ones, but to the offense and the offenders. They say you have been making an altar to that which you detest...

The rest of the letter can be found here:


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