Releasing the Past, Embracing Grace: The Miracle of Forgiveness

The Miracle of Forgiveness, Breaking Free | Danny Caldwell.
 This piece represents the struggle of the artist growing up as gay within the church.

[RCL Matthew 18:21-35]

Tonight, I want to take you on a journey – a journey through the profound landscape of forgiveness. But before we embark on this spiritual exploration, I'd like to pose a question to each of you: Have you ever felt the weight of an unforgiven offense, either one you've committed, or one done to you? How did it shape your life? 

Tonight, we will examine the transformative power of forgiveness and discover how it can release us from the burdens of our past and lead us towards a future filled with grace and love.

As we gather here, let's remember the boundless love of a forgiving God, for we forgive because God has first forgiven us. 

Imagine this: Peter once asked Jesus, "Lord, if another member of our community sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" To which Jesus replied, "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times." This reveals the depth of God's forgiveness.

To illustrate, let us consider the parable of the Ant —a world of minuscule grains of sand and towering giants. Imagine, if you will, the simple act of squashing an ant, a gesture that often goes unnoticed in our daily lives. We, with our vast size advantage, might not think twice about it. Yet, consider this: in the grand tapestry of existence, God, the Creator of galaxies and universes, gazes upon us, mere specks in the cosmos, much like that ant. 

But unlike our indifference to the ant, God doesn't crush us beneath His might. Instead, God reaches out with a divine, outstretched hand, beckoning us into the embrace of divine love. Despite our profound differences, God's care for each of us knows no bounds, extending to the point of the ultimate sacrifice—the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.

Forgiveness, however, is not just a divine act; it's a choice we must make. To withhold forgiveness is to hold ourselves in judgment, not by God but by our own actions.

The past is confined to our memories. Clinging to old wounds amounts to self-inflicted suffering for actions committed by others or ourselves long ago. This is illogical and often results in dwelling in a self-righteous resentment prison, which is an undesirable way to live. 

As Jesus wisely advised, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Thus, let us keep moving forward, focusing on what lies ahead.

Forgiveness can indeed pose challenges, but I believe one of the main obstacles people face is understanding that forgiveness does not equate to condoning someone's bad behaviour. Instead, it signifies letting go of our own “stuff” and emotional burdens and baggage connected to the situation.

Every individual, including ourselves, does their best with the knowledge and awareness they possess at any given moment. Replacing resentment with understanding is a path to self-liberation. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves.

One of my favourite books in the New Testament is the Book of Philemon, and not because it is the shortest book. In this story we encounter Onesimus, a runaway slave who found his way to the Apostle Paul while in prison. Through Paul's intervention, Onesimus became a believer in Christ and was later reconciled with his master, Philemon. 

The name "Onesimus" itself carries profound meaning as it signifies a transformation from being "useless" to becoming "useful." Indeed, Onesimus underwent a remarkable change, transitioning from a state of apparent uselessness to one of great usefulness. His journey didn't end there, for he went on to become a bishop, demonstrating how a life touched by forgiveness and faith can lead to remarkable and useful contributions within the Christian community.

And this narrative beautifully illustrates the power of forgiveness in the Christian faith. Paul's plea to Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not as a mere slave, but as a beloved brother, showcases the transformative nature of forgiveness. It reminds us that forgiveness transcends societal roles and past wrongs, allowing for reconciliation and unity within the Christian community. The story of Onesimus serves as a timeless and useful example of the redemptive power of forgiveness, emphasizing the core Christian values of reconciliation and grace. 

Imagine the freedom if for a moment, you could forgive all wrong done to you. Imagine the freedom if for a moment all you have ever done to wrong another was forgiven by the person wronged. Imagine the freedom. Imagine a world, not caught often in despair, wars which have continued for generations, imagine this world, for a moment looking at each other as a creation of God. Imagine for a moment and we together have a taste of the Reign of God.

Consider the potential for extending forgiveness to ourselves for the collective shame we've carried, or the self-imposed guilt that has burdened us. I, too, once carried the weight of shame that often plagues gay individuals due to societal non-acceptance. 

Society didn't offer me forgiveness, and I was taught that my identity was not considered 'normal.' No one granted forgiveness for simply being who I was. It was a lonely struggle, marked by a lack of self-awareness. All I knew was that something about me was deemed wrong and unforgivable. I felt like a flawed young person whose very 'soul' needed repair, even though outwardly, I appeared healthy. The blame was squarely on my shoulders. 

Let's reflect on the challenges faced by our LGBTQ+ siblings within the church. Many have wrestled with feelings of non-acceptance and self-doubt. Forgiveness can serve as a crucial catalyst on the path to self-acceptance, offering solace and liberation from the harsh judgments we have encountered. Consider those who remain in the closet – seeking approval is a universal human need, and for many of us in the community, that approval was conspicuously absent during our formative years. This absence can significantly undermined self-worth and self-confidence.

Forgiveness demands great courage, not only in forgiving others but also in releasing our internal judgments and recognizing each person as a unique creation in their own right.

To not forgive is our self-imposed prison, but to forgive is our freedom. God's judgment is not what we often imagine – it's a warm embrace, God calling us by name, saying, "Forgiven. Forgiven. You are forgiven."

Now, how do we begin to forgive when we feel trapped in our own prison? Let's allow God to lead. Consider this prayer: "Gracious God, I lift up (name of someone who has hurt you), that they may know the love you have for them. Amen." Pray this prayer for two weeks, even for the one who has hurt you the most and see what transformation God can bring.

In this journey, remember the promise of God's judgment – a loving call to forgiveness, freedom from pain, and the joy of the Gospel. We forgive because God has first forgiven us.

In closing, may the power of forgiveness be your guiding light in the days ahead. As we depart tonight, remember that it is through forgiveness that we find freedom, and through love, we experience grace. Carry this message of reconciliation into your lives, extending the hand of forgiveness to others, and may you find the boundless joy of God's unending grace.

Friends, anytime we do not forgive we are like the unforgiving servant. As we approach the communion table tonight, let us remember the words of Jesus: "Do this in remembrance of me." Before we partake in this sacred act, let us take a moment to search our hearts for any unforgiveness, resentment, or lingering grievances. In doing so, we heed the call to come before God with pure and contrite hearts. Just as the bread and wine symbolize Christ's sacrifice for our sins, may our self-examination and forgiveness of others mirror His boundless grace and love. Let today's communion be a transformative experience, where we not only remember Christ's sacrifice but also embody His teachings of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In the Lord's Prayer, we ask God for forgiveness with the words, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." Let's find inspiration in these words and strive to lead lives filled with love and forgiveness.

In the name of the One who broke bread with his betrayer, in the Spirit of the One who forgave his torturers, we pray for the gift of forgiveness. Amen

Releasing the Past, Embracing Grace: The Miracle of Forgiveness Releasing the Past, Embracing Grace: The Miracle of Forgiveness Reviewed by Shane St Reynolds on September 17, 2023 Rating: 5

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