Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Power of Forgiveness

Psalm 51
Luke 7: 36-50

“The great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven” (v.47)

To know we are forgiven
What a gift!
What a blessing!
What freedom and relief... from one small word: forgiven

Forgiveness is a topic that runs consistently throughout both Old and New Testaments. Through, the psalms and the prophets the people are reminded that God, though our judge is also forgiving.

And in the gospels and the epistles, we are reminded, over and over that God’s love was so great; his gift so generous that he sent his Son – to help us see just how big and broad and unconditional is his love: for Jesus died, for the forgiveness of sin.
Our sins are forgiven – before we come to faith; before we confess; before we know we need it.

Now, that is a huge statement
It is a huge assertion
I cannot underestimate the power of knowing that we are forgiven
And it is very easy, when saying we are forgiven, to make it, or us, sound totally arrogant or condescending even...

Because for some people knowing they are forgiven leads them to believe that they need not apologise, need not make amends – because God’s already forgiven it.

Right?! Right!!!
Well, technically, yes.
But practically – are you serious?!!!!

Every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us we pray – forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Or: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us
What are we doing when we pray this prayer?
What does this statement mean for each of us, personally?

If I withhold forgiveness, am I denying my own forgiveness from God? Because one of the things that Jesus wanted to express for us, as he taught them, and us, how to pray, was that forgiveness is a two way street.

He didn’t just say forgive us our sins
He qualified it: as we forgive others... as we forgive those who hurt us, insult us, sin against us

Jesus wanted to emphasise the relationship between humanity and God was a two way bond.
That forgiveness must also go both ways

And our two readings today, from so many that explore this topic, also emphasise the relational aspects of forgiveness
When Jesus talked of this sinful woman – who was clearly being judged as unclean, unwelcome and a total outcast – he talked first about her capacity for love.
It was her love that showed she was forgiven
It wasn’t her forgiveness that showed love.
When King David was found out in his devious manipulation; his abuse of power, his betrayal of his loyal general... when he was found out; and his sin revealed, he was truly penitent.
His psalm seeking forgiveness is utterly beautiful... and it underlines that simple, profound truth:

To err is human, to forgive divine (Alexander Pope)

God’s divine gift of forgiveness enables us to forgive, to love, to grow and to be the best that we can be
The great 20th century theologian, Lewis Smedes, wrote several books on forgiveness – and its effect on us as individuals, he wrote:

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you – and feel the power to wish them well”

He does not suggest forgiveness is easy.
But he does suggest it is powerful

American author, Jackson Brown Jr. wrote: “Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, forgiveness”

And Reinhold Niebuhr, said “forgiveness is the final form of love”

This talk of forgiveness, and its link to faith, is a subject that runs through the bible, through many theological discussions; it has been written about for hundreds of years – because we all understand how much we need it, and how hard it is to achieve.

Both in the giving and the receiving
In the knowledge that it can be given grudgingly or extravagantly
And it can hold us back, when it is retained, and free us when it is released.

Forgiveness is powerful
Forgiveness is generous and liberating
It is ours to give
And it is ours to receive

When Jesus was anointed by this woman he summed up for us the gift that comes from knowing he has forgiven us: great and generous love
If we know God has forgiven us; and those who have hurt us
Who are we not to harness this great and powerful gift too?
Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available: love, prayer, forgiveness

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