How to Forgive
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
click the title above for an mp3 recording
Audio from South Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church on February 21, 2016
Text version is from September 14, 2008 at Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church in Akron, Ohio
Sermons also avaliable free on iTunes
You’ll have to forgive Peter. Peter’s proposal was actually quite generous; most teachers allowed two or three times forgiveness. Peter went all the way to seven. Jesus, sarcastically responded, seventy-seven times, other versions have seventy times seven. It wasn’t a literal number, he was joking to make a point, a number so ridiculously high to show one shouldn’t be keeping track of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not do math. Love doesn’t keep score. Jesus points this out in the numbers he uses in the story. It is hard to compare money value from Biblical times. Ten Thousand Talents. Now a talent was the amount a man could carry, so imagine ten thousand men loaded up all the gold they could carry. Way over a million dollars, how could a servant pay that back? Our Bible footnote says a single talent was equal to 15 years’ wages. He couldn’t work off 150,000 years’ worth of labor, that was the point. It was unpayable, so his promise to pay it back was either laughable or insulting, depending on your mood. A hundred denarii would be a 100 days labor, for a denarius was one day manual labor. In terms of weight a talent was 93 pounds while the denarius went the other way, it was 1/93rd of a pound. So debt he was owed was a pound compared to 930,000 pounds, or 465 tons that he was forgiven. It is a mind boggling difference in amount.
Jesus was pointing out that we are forgiven so we may forgive. Sometimes when someone is complaining about someone, I think, imagine, God has to put up with that person twenty-four hours a day! Not only that but God has to put up with everyone I put up with, plus one other, God has to put up with me. If God lets all those people and I go on living without smiting them and me…I guess I shouldn’t have higher standards than God.
Now, I also don’t want to suggest that forgiving is forgetting. Jesus doesn’t have the king in the story give the slave another several million dollars to hold for him. If anything, the forgiven servant is held to a high standard than others, with the master expecting him to be more merciful because he was forgiven.
Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. has nine steps to forgiveness a couple of them are worth mentioning here. (You can find this and more learningtoforgive.com
- Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation or condoning of their action.
- Give up expecting things from other people, or your life , that they do not choose to give you.
- Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge.
Another Point of View
Think of a situation in your life where you would like to be forgiven or would like to forgive. Write or record a short description of the situation from your perspective. Now imagine that you are the other person in the situation from that person’s perspective. How are the two stories different?
Just Like Me
Resentments, disagreements, and estrangements hurt all parties because they reinforce feelings of separation. Often we can’t forgive someone until we can see the situation from their point of view. A good practice to encourage this kind of perspective shift is “Just Like Me.” Whenever you find yourself making an assessment of another person, whether you are saying something critical or something complimentary, right after you think or say it, add the statement “just like me.” For example, “My partner is so stubborn, just like me.” “My friend holds too many grudges, just like me.” This activity can help you see that we are all imperfect and make mistakes.
When we shift our focus and judgment from others to ourselves we will find that to which we most object to others is the same things we hate in ourselves. The difference is that we can do something about the way we act and relate. We can change ourselves.
Practice Meeting People for the First Time
Hugh Prather, author of many books of spiritual reflections, considers the steps necessary for forgiveness in Morning Notes: 365 Meditations to Wake You Up. He concludes that “a judgmental feeling about another person is based on the same belief as my fear of making mistakes: I think what someone once did is more important than how the person is now.” Practice meeting people as they are right now, as if you were meeting them for the first time. If their past actions dominate your perceptions, this will be difficult.
God’s very name is I AM WHO I AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. God is centered not so much in who you were, but who you are called to be. We once were strangers, but now we are the friend of God. We once were sinners and now we are children of God. God meets us again for the first time every moment of our lives as we grow in understanding, love and forgiveness. Better than we were yesterday, not as good as we will be tomorrow.
Most of us have heard of an intervention where a person is surrounded by friends and family and told of the pain and grief he has caused in each person’s life. This is an effective way to get through the fog of denial and the web of lies than keep folks from entering rehabilitation treatment for drugs or alcohol abuse. There is another way
Remind People of Their Good Qualities and Deeds
In The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, Jack Kornfield describes an African forgiveness ritual: “In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.”
Who and Whose You Are
There was a Presbytery executive now retired who ended most of his conversations with the phrase, “Remember who you are and whose you are”. Christians can add to the story told to the person. Now just the story to remember who they are at their best, but the Christian story the love of Christ and story of redemption of God’s people from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane from Creation to Revelation.
We are commanded to forgive and we can forgive when we remember who we are and whose we are. When we acknowledge how God forgave us, when we write a forgiving end to the stories of hurt and pain we tell and live, when we see ourselves in others and turn to working on changing ourselves instead of others, and when we value the present reality and future possibilities over past failures. This is what God does for us, and what we need to do to others.
Transcipt differs from the recording with some exclaimations removed and some patter while I checked my notes edited out.
Transcription done by edigitaltranscription.com Recommend for fast, accurate, and patient transcriptions.
Christy Ramsey. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.