Model of Forgiveness
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: Matthew 18:15-20
So here we have Jesus’ advice about conflict resolution in the church. When they are done right, they work wonders. But, they have been misused throughout the history of the church, to satisfy our own ends.
Often these words were used to justify publicly shaming people, who have been caught in some real or imagined sin, while the supposedly injured party could claim that they were simply acting in accordance with what Jesus told them to do. But how often they forgot about the first two steps? Go privately first. Don’t embarrass someone publicly.
It is not an easy thing, to be convicted by the law of God that we have done the wrong thing. It is very rare that we are thankful to the person who has pointed it out. It takes a lot of humility.
But so many people try to point out someone else’s fault, not so they can help them, but so they can be seen to be right, to be publicly vindicated, and this was not the intention of Jesus’ words at all.
The reason for trying to show someone their fault is not that we can be seen to be right, but so that we can win them over. No-one likes to be shown their sin, this is what the law does to us, and it hurts. It goes against our human nature and our pride.
But, listen to what Jesus says.:
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
We have so often used this as law, as an excuse to write someone off , “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”. However, we are not to treat them as Christians have so often treated pagans and tax collectors, by never speaking to them again.
Who said these words to us? Jesus Christ! And how did he treat pagans and tax collectors? He loved them. You remember?
He didn’t write them off. He called a tax collector to be his disciple. He spoke to Samaritans and healed Gentiles, Romans and others.
If someone who is inside the church does not at last acknowledge their fault, then start again. You do not put them outside the church. You start them again on their journey in. They are like everyone out there, who needs to hear God’s word, his word of law and gospel.
You apply the law of God to them, to act as a mirror, what we call the second use of the law. You show them that they need to repent, and then, you gospel them. You love them, you tell them of the good news of sins forgiven, of relationships restored, through Jesus Christ.
And then you know what? You will be doing what we pray in the Lord’s prayer. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
If we do this, if we apply law and gospel, if we make people realize that they are sinners, and then show them that God declares them saints, we are forgiving in the same way, and using the same means, that God uses to forgive us!
God tells us our fault, and if we do not listen, he shows us again, through his law, and if we who are Christian still do not realize that we need to repent, he doesn’t write us off, he treats us like a pagan or a tax collector. He starts again with us, and wins us for himself all over again.
That is our model of forgiveness. Not playing the high and mighty wounded party, but forgiving others because we realize how much we need forgiveness, too. Forgiving others in the way that God forgives us. Out of love.
Now today is Father’s day, and Father’s day and forgiveness are two themes that are not entirely unconnected.
There are too many people who are held back all of their lives because they are not able to let go of something that has been done to them, by a father, a mother, a brother or sister, a past friend.
I first read about the reality of this in a book by Steve Biddulph called “manhood”. He spoke about forgiving your own father for the things that he had done to you, whether intentionally or not, before you were able to be a good parent or a productive member of society yourself.
Very often our Fathers, mothers, do not know what it is that they have done, or we have never been able to tell them about it, and so it remains unforgiven in us. And it drives us away from them.
Often it is only after we can tell our parents the things that we are angry about, sometimes in a letter, so that our emotions do not get in the way, they realize what has happened, and can repent of that hurt that they have caused.
For those who have not had the chance before that person died, it can help to write the letter anyway, to leave it on their grave, or just burn it up afterwards. Just naming the hurt helps us to deal with it. Then we leave it in God’s hands.
Then we are able to forgive them as God forgives us. And often, you know, it is only once we have done things like this, that we are able to repent to our own children or brother or sister, and apologise for what we know we have done to them. To apologise that we have never handled any situation perfectly. Then we are winning each other over. Then we are living as a Christian community.
Father’s do not talk much. It’s a guy thing often, not to talk about how we feel, and especially not to apologise, as it can be seen as a sign of weakness. But it isn’t. It is a sign that we know how we stand before God, and it can lead to a strength in our families, and in our church, such that we never imagined.
A strength borne of forgiveness, borne of love, borne of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is our centre, and whose cross reminds us of just how much forgiveness cost him.
May your lives be freed from unforgiveness, from grudges and pain. Be free! Live unchained, unfettered lives! Only through forgiveness will this happen for you.