For today’s message I am going to throw in a few photos of my outing with Bert, Miss Sophie, Wyatt and our new puppy friend Murphy.
Most adults recognize it’s their “job” to teach children, and dogs, right from wrong, good from bad, safe from scary, yes from no.
But there are some lessons that children, and dogs, are better at teaching us. Think about celebrations like birthdays, Christmas, Gotcha Day, and Easter, and any other special days that have the possibility of “presents” attached. Kids, and dogs, LOVE them, anticipate and adore them. Children, and yes again dogs, love and accept presents with unabashed enthusiasm. Receiving a gift is “all good.”
For adults it’s a bit more difficult. They worry about the cost of the gift. They worry about reciprocating the gift. They worry about whether the gift has invisible “strings” attached. Suddenly “receiving” is a bit more complicated than just joyous. Receiving a gift is hard for most of people. People either feel beholden, or suspicious, or overwhelmed, or unworthy of the freely given gifts that bless us.
The adult vs. child or dog version of acceptance is even greater with the other tremendous “gift” young children/dogs are good at offering and accepting. Kindergarten kids and pups might get into a heated battle over who gets custody of a Ninja Turtle figure or the ball or stuffie. Tears, growls and blows might even be involved. But after a truce is called, and apologies are offered (or sometimes enforced), in a short time all is forgiven, and play time goes on. Forgiveness is offered and the play date continues.
There are no thoughts of revenge. There is no nurturing of anger. There are no dreams of retaliation. The confrontation is simply over with and done. For four year-olds forgiveness is pretty much an “over and out” scenario. The “wrong” was deeply felt. But the new reality is that we will start over and stay together.
Not necessarily so for adults. For adults extending or accepting forgiveness is an even more difficult concept to embrace and embody than accepting gifts and grace. When learning how to receive a gift, no matter how difficult, at least it gains us something. A paperweight. A watch. A spa certificate. Maybe even a friend.
But learning how to either extend or receive forgiveness always COSTS something. It costs us our anger. It costs us our right to revenge. It costs us our high road to hatred. Offering forgiveness forces us to retract our claws and recall our true cause, the cause of Christ and His kingdom.
The call to forgiveness calls us to hear what drives our heart. Are we driven by love? Are we driven by service? Are we driven by shalom? Are we driven by a need for superiority? Are we driven by guilt? Are we driven by grace? Offering — or refusing forgiveness squeezes out and squishes that which circulates in our heart.
In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus surprises Peter by reminding him that before Pharisaic legalism the biblical text advocated forgiving “seventy-seven fold” (from Genesis 4:24) — and that was for the murder of a sibling! Jesus also advocated for any general offense an offering of forgiveness “seventy-seven times” or “seventy times seven.”
These numbers like “seventy-seven times” or “seventy-times-seven” are metaphors for “as often as forgiveness is needed and sought after.” Jesus’ challenge to Peter, to all his disciples, in the first century and in the next twenty centuries, was to find it within themselves to offer the gift of forgiveness, no matter how many times it took. Did you get that? For as long as you have breath, you forgive.
Helmut Thielicke, a survivor of the Nazi regime proclaimed that “One should never mention the words ‘forgive and forget’ in the same breath. No, we will remember, but in forgiving we no longer use the memory against others.”
Forgiveness is never forgetfulness. Forgiveness is more than let bygones be bygones. Forgiveness is the hardest kind of “gifting” we can either extend or experience. None of us can truly “forgive” without knowing and accepting the forgiving love that God has given to all of humanity, most perfectly in the gift of Jesus the Christ, the Ultimate Gift, the Present of Presence. No one can be forgiving of others and their human failings until they have felt the power of the forgiveness that comes from the cross, and crosses all boundaries and all dividing walls. It took Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness to “go viral” within the bloodstream of humanity.
Instead of advocating a “religion,” a set and sworn system of rites, rituals and beliefs, Jesus offered all humanity who would receive the gift of faith, a relationship with God that was personal and pulsating — alive to everyday moments and face-to-face encounters. Jesus offered reasons to receive God’s love and reasons to reciprocate God’s forgiveness.
Our ability to forgive is always and ever linked to Jesus’ love for us and God’s compassionate forgiveness. It was only this divine, sacrificial love that made it possible for human forgiveness to be an active player in this world.
It only takes three minutes of news-cruising to find terrible examples of “unforgiveness” every day. But as “Mr. Rogers” retold from his own mother’s advice, “look for the helpers.” Instead of focusing on the horrific, look to the helpers. In every crisis and critical situation, as bad as they might get, look towards those who are offering helping hands and support. The ability to offer forgiveness cannot start without standing on some common ground. Helping others, the “first responders” in every place on this world, are the most forgiving “common ground” we might have today.
“Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” Let’s take that to heart. That gives people of faith one less thing to stress about. But we have been taught to go further than not seeking revenge. We have been summoned to offer forgiveness. We have been offered the “seventy-seven times” (aka, “always”) recipe for forgiveness.
Every one of you reading this needs to forgive someone this week. It may be yourself. Can you forgive yourself? It may be a family member or friend with whom you’ve nursed an unforgiving grudge for years. Can you forgive your relatives or friends? It may be an enemy that is doing everything they can to make you fail. Can you forgive your enemies?
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” In the Lord’s Prayer many say daily, forgiveness is withheld from the person who won’t forgive, not because God is punishing us for not forgiving, but because the person who won’t forgive can’t receive forgiveness.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgive. Now go forgive…yes, even “seventy-seven” times.Blessings,