Today we are going to continue our preaching series on the Lord's Prayer as we take time to truly explore and understand what it is we are saying when we pray this prayer. Our first week together we looked at the beginning, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name,” as we looked to God's perfect love and how this portion is our chance to express to God what God means to us. The next week we looked at, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” and explored the nature of God's kingdom, where it is, as well as what it means to succumb to God's will on earth as it is in Heaven. Last week we looked at, “give us this day our daily bread,” as we discussed how that began a new phase to this prayer and we sought to gain a better understanding of what we are asking there. Today we are moving on to the phrase, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespassed against us,” as we look to what forgiveness really is and how forgiveness is a bridge between us and God.
How Do You Feel About Forgiveness?
Forgiveness. Great word. Great concept. We believe in it. We love it. We live it. Right? Say AMEN!
David Leininger tells the story about a man and a dog. There was a man who loved dogs. He served as a speaker in various civic clubs to benefit the SPCA. He was known far and wide as a dog lover. One day his neighbor observed as he poured a new sidewalk from his house out to the street. About the time he smoothed out the last square foot of cement a large dog strayed across his sidewalk leaving footprints in his wake. The man muttered something under his breath and smoothed out the footprints. He went inside to get some twine to string up around the sidewalk only to discover dog tracks in two directions on his new sidewalk. He smoothed those out and put up the twine. About five minutes later he looked out and the footprints indicated that the dog had cleared the fence, landed on his sidewalk and proceeded as he desired. The man was mad now. He toweled the wet concrete smooth again. As he got back to the porch he saw the dog come over and sit right in the middle of his sidewalk. He bent over and picked up a rock and threw it at the dog, trying to scare it away. The neighbor saw this and rushed over, "Why did you do that?" he inquired, "I thought you loved dogs." The man responded, "I do, I do like dogs, in the abstract, not in the concrete.”
I wonder if it might not be the same with forgiveness. We love it in the abstract, but when we really have something to forgive, we hate it in the concrete.1 Forgiveness is a word that we have all heard before, have all practiced to some degree, but I believe it is still something we all struggle with regularly. Today I want us to look at this idea of forgiveness through the lens of freedom.
Today, July 4th, is the day we set aside to talk about freedom, think about freedom, and celebrate freedom. And I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to express how extremely grateful we are to the women and men that have fought so hard and so diligently to ensure that we have the freedoms we enjoy. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the list goes on and on. But freedom also comes through the ancient practice of forgiveness.
What is Forgiveness?
So what is forgiveness? Over the years there has been significant confusion associated with what forgiveness is. Is forgiveness part and parcel with excusing, pardoning, and forgetting? I am here today to tell you that it is not.
Dr. Toddy Holeman, a counseling professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, believes that forgiveness, “names the wrongdoing and identifies the injustice as clearly as possible.. .The challenge here is to name the wrongdoing “rightly” because...by naming the offense rightly, forgiveness provides a way for me to release my wrongdoer and myself from the chains of the wound that now binds us together. It involves a letting go of my anger, resentment, and rage. It is offering unmerited favor (i.e., grace) to one who has betrayed and wounded me, just as Jesus has extended His unmerited favor to me (Colossians 3:13)”.2
Do you see the freedom here? Can you see how unforgiveness can cause you to become somebody other than who God created you to be? Do you understand how holding on to anger and resentment can cause you to be imprisoned? Our first Scripture lesson this morning speaks about this even talking about being imprisoned literally.
Finding the Freedom!
So how do we find this freedom? One is through education. Understand what forgiveness is. It is not strictly repentance or reconciliation or trust. Those can be by-products of forgiveness but are not necessary for forgiveness to occur. Forgiveness is naming specifically what wrong deed has been done. It is also accurately claiming our part in the deed. Be honest. Do not exaggerate the wrong actions of the other and scale back the role of our own misdeeds in the issue. And it is letting it go.
And for my money, that is the hardest and most important part, letting it go. It is hard to say to God, “I feel wronged by this situation, please forgive me as I forgive another,” and then letting it go. And letting it go is not screaming or crying out to anyone and everyone about how you have been wronged, it is not bringing it back up every opportunity you get, and it certainly is not developing a disdain, or worse yet a hate, for the person involved. None of that is letting it go. Forgiveness is important and Christ knew that because as soon as he finishes teaching the Apostles this prayer, verses 14 and 15 go right into how if we do not do it for others, God will not do it for us. This is not revenge on God's part, it is love. God loves you and wants to be with you. And when you are consumed by hate, driven by anger, and mired in resentment, there is no room for God. Forgiveness is based on God''s initiation, not ours. God forgave first, God loved first. We are called to follow suit. George Herbert, a distinguished English clergyman and poet who died in 1633, once wrote, "He who cannot forgive others destroys the bridge over which he himself must pass."
Forgiveness is hard, forgiveness is vital, forgiveness is freedom. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” Those are not just neat words to say, they are a motto to live by. A life without forgiveness is a life short changed in the presence of God. Go and forgive because God first forgave you!