Unforgiven

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

 

Romans 3:10-24

10 As the Scriptures say: “There is no one who is righteous,
11     no one who is wise or who worships God.
12 All have turned away from God;
they have all gone wrong;
no one does what is right, not even one.
13 Their words are full of deadly deceit;
wicked lies roll off their tongues, and dangerous threats, like snake’s poison, from their lips;
14     their speech is filled with bitter curses.
15 They are quick to hurt and kill;
16     they leave ruin and destruction wherever they go.
17 They have not known the path of peace,
18     nor have they learned reverence for God.”

19 Now we know that everything in the Law applies to those who live under the Law, in order to stop all human excuses and bring the whole world under God’s judgment. 20 For no one is put right in God’s sight by doing what the Law requires; what the Law does is to make us know that we have sinned.

21 But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. 22 God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: 23 everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. 24 But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.

 

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 

 

 

In the movie “Unforgiven” a western starring Clint Eastwood who received an Oscar for best director and also accepted the award for best picture of 1992….

 

Clint Eastwood’s character William Munny comes out of retirement as a gunslinger to kill some men who cut up a prostitute.

Together with two other men, a young man called the Kid and other retired gunslinger, they end up killing the two culprits but it causes a lot of inner turmoil and anguish.

The young man tries to allay his guilt with alcohol, admitting that he had never killed someone before…and trying to make himself feel better by telling Eastwood… “he had it coming”

 

And Eastwood’s character comes up with the classic response:

 

“We all got it coming.”

 

Which is just another way of saying that biblical verse: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

 

“We all got it coming.”

 

In a New York times interview back in 1992, Clint Eastwood said about the character, William Munny: “The fellow I play is really living on the edge of hell most of the time. He’s a really tormented person.” And later on he says that violence is not without consequences for the perpetrator as well as the victim.

 

The film “Unforgiven” is a dark movie. There are really no good guys in the movie. Even the prostitutes who are the victims initially want revenge and hire an assassin basically and participate in murder.

 

The movie explores violence and its effects but has little redeeming quality.

It is titled, unforgiven, I suppose for a reason because it seems that all are sinners, nobody repents and nobody forgives.

 

How easy is it for you to forgive? What event in your life have been traumatic enough that you don’t want to forgive?

 

Who has inflicted themselves on you and hurt you?

 

Or maybe there is another way to look at things. Maybe you made a big mistake one time and there is someone or someones who will not forgive you.
Or even maybe you did something and you cannot even forgive yourself.

 

I preach forgiveness, because it is the heart of the gospel I believes that God forgives u and loves us unconditionally.

I do not believe that God withholds forgiveness until we have grovelled enough, prayed enough, repented enough, become good enough, or changed enough.

 

However, being forgiven and receiving it may actually be two different things.

 

Suppose a mother and daughter have a big fight. The daughter has done some nasty things and said some nasty things, The daughter leaves home, saying that she doesn’t want to be see her mother anymore.

Years pass. One day the daughter, through some self-searching and through some counselling and through some prayers realizes the harm she caused her mother and wants to meet with her mother and apologize.

 

So, she calls her mother and asks to come home. The day arrives. Mother is so excited to see her daughter but also a little nervous. She doesn’t know yet that the daughter is coming home to apologize and to be reconciled.

The daughter arrives home and there are tears. The daughter explains how mean she was and asks for forgiveness. She even says that she understands if her mother won’t forgive her and doesn’t want to see her, because in her own words: “She was a shit”

“Will you forgive me?” She asks with pleading in her eyes.

 

Her mother replies: “I forgave you the moment you walked out the door twenty years ago.”

 

The daughter was forgiven twenty years ago, but hadn’t receive it. In some ways in order for her to receive it and experience it she had to have faith in her mother to see her and be reconciled.

 

I believe God forgives us all, but I wonder how many people continue on thinking and acting as “unforgiven” because they don’t trust God enough to receive that forgiveness.

 

 

So, it is one thing to be forgiven and another to experience that forgiveness.

But maybe even harder, is to forgive those who hurt us.

 

As I said, I preach forgiveness but one time at a church conference, a woman turned on me and said in a pretty accusatory tone: What if someone raped and murdered your daughter?

 

 

She said it so strongly that I almost asked if she had been raped. The way she said it sounded personal, or that she had some deep wounds behind the statement.

 

I probably gave a pretty glib answer that as a Christian even though it might seem impossible to forgive, that I would try my best to forgive.

 

I say that it was glib, because I don’t know what it is like to lose a child to a murder. I Don’t know what it is like to grow up as an aboriginal and suffer constant systemic racism. I don’t know what it is like to be black person and be scared to walk out of my door because of the colour of my skin.

I don’t know what it is like to be a women who is sexually harassed or treated less than a man, who has undergone some kind of sexual predation or attack or threat by a man.

 

I don’t know how hard it would be to forgive. I do know that forgiveness is hard and it takes time and effort.

And there are people in my life and in my past I found hard to forgive.

 

WE have all seen on the news time and time again situations where someone has done something wrong and hurt another human being. A drunk driver kills a family. A Schizophrenic murders someone. There is a robbery gone wrong and someone is killed.

There is a trial, or there is a parole hearing and they interview a family member of the victim or victims who nearly always say that the person should be locked up forever. That person did something so terrible that they should not be forgiven or ever let go.

 

And most of us, myself included at times are nodding our heads in understanding of the pain of the family.

 

But I wonder. What do we teach our children about forgiveness if we say there are people who are unforgivable and there are sins unforgivable?

Do we really teach them forgiveness, or are we subtly saying to them that forgiveness is fine when it is a little white lie or when a child steals a candy, but when it is the big things in life, the way to handle it is unforgiveness?

When our children grow up and they have marital issues, and they have job issues and they have children of their own and there is conflict… are they going to think that forgiveness is a childish option and that this situation is too big for forgiveness.

 

Maybe you can make a list of all the people who the scum of the earth, who don’t get a chance to repent. Lock them away or even do away with them. Child molesters and rapists and terrorists and serial killers and politicians who rig elections and dictators and parents, teacher or clergy who abuse children.

I am sure you have a few others you could add, or ones you know personally who have hurt you.

 

Listen to some words that Paul the apostle wrote in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans:

 

 

29 They are filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice; they are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, and malice. They gossip 30 and speak evil of one another; they are hateful to God, insolent,[b] proud, and boastful; they think of more ways to do evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no conscience; they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or pity for others. 32 They know that God’s law says that people who live in this way deserve death. Yet, not only do they continue to do these very things, but they even approve of others who do them.

Sound familiar. A bunch of losers and reprobates.

 

And yet Paul goes on to say in chaper 2 of Romans

 

Do you, my friend, pass judgment on others? You have no excuse at all, whoever you are. For when you judge others and then do the same things which they do, you condemn yourself.

 

 

The whole point of this long list of losers and sinners and evil people in chapter one, is for Paul to suck you in to feeling all sorts of anger towards these evil people, but then turn the screw on you to say. You are no better than them. You are a sinner too.
We are all in the same boat. We all think evil thoughts, we all do bad things. We all hurt others. Period.

 

And yet how wonderful the grace of God…. To forgive us and not give up on us we who think evil, say evil and do evil.

Jesus is murdered. Jesus is tortured. Jesus is ridiculed, spit upon, publicly humiliated. He is beaten and executed and he is totally innocent.

And who does it? Us. You and me and all of us humans.

 

Why are we not the unforgiven? Why doesn’t God take it out on us.

Because Jesus has another way.

 

His way is to forgive.

 

And Jesus says it is in the act of forgiving that healing really begins to happen.

By his stripes we are healed. By Jesus forgiveness, but also by us following his example.

 

And if we don’t forgive….

 

Jesus tells Peter the strange story of the man who is forgiven a debt of a billion dollars by the king. The next day he beats up one of his buddies who owes him a few bucks.

And in the story, the king has him handed over to be tortured until he pays his debts.

 

I don’t know if Peter understood it. Jesus was talking directly to Peter.

Peter is the one who owed the Lord a great debt. Peter will deny Jesus three times. Peter and the disciples will run away afraid and scared and will not stick up for Jesus and yet Jesus forgive them of all their sin.

 

And now Peter has the nerve to ask Jesus who he should forgive and how often?

 

Peter betrayed God. He betrayed Love. He betrayed friendship. He betrayed his own being.

And yet he is forgiven everything. Everything. Without even having to ask or do anything.

 

Whom should Peter forgive?       Whom should Harry forgive? Put your own name in there. Whom should you forgive?

Because Jesus has forgiven you everything.

 

But if you don’t forgive, be ready for torture. Not the torture of God, or the torture of hell. The torture of drinking the poison of unforgiveness and letting it destroy your soul.

 

I think it was the writer Anne Lamott who wrote in one of her books that withholding forgiveness is like trying to kill rats by drinking the rat poison yourself.

 

When we do not forgive, we let the perpetrator of whatever sin or violence or infringement upon our body or soul, still continue to perpetuate that sin. Still control the narrative that runs our lives.

 

If someone raped you or you child, what I most fervently pray for you is for healing so that perpetrator cannot victimize you and torture you over and over again in your soul, your spirit.

And the only way I know for that to happen is to forgive.

 

Forgiveness is not an acknowledgment that what happened is not a big deal or that is wasn’t a sin.

 

Forgiveness is not a way to circumvent grief or healing.

 

Forgiveness is not denial.

 

And forgiveness does not mean that there is still not work to do.

 

Hear some words from Lutheran Minister Nadia Bolz-Weber:

“Maybe retaliation or holding onto anger about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil.  Maybe it feeds it.  Because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy, and at some level, start to become them.  So, what if forgiveness, rather than being a pansy way to say, ‘It’s okay,’ is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters, and snapping the chains that link us?  What if it’s saying, ‘What you did was so not okay, I refuse to be connected to it anymore.’?  Forgiveness is about being a freedom fighter.  And free people are dangerous people.  Free people aren’t controlled by the past. Free people laugh more than others. Free people see beauty where others do not.  Free people are not easily offended.  Free people are unafraid to speak truth to stupid.  Free people are not chained to resentments.  And that’s worth fighting for.”

 

There are so many stories, so many books, so many movies, so many narratives where the so-called good guy gets revenge on the bad guy. Beats them up or kills them or whatever.

And when we watch these movies a lot of us feel good because in real life sometimes the mean, the powerful and the abusers don’t get caught, and we often feel powerless at the hands of evil forces beyond our control.

 

But those narratives are not helpful. They don’t set us free.

Half as many Canadian vets as died in Afghanistan have committed suicide.

More than 60,000 United States veterans have committed suicide in the last dozen years.

Those narratives of killing bad guys just don’t work. They are lies. Those who kill, those who hurt even the bad guys, those who get revenge, are not full of joy and happiness. Sometimes they live in torture.

And furthermore, it just makes the so-called bad guys, think we are the bad guys, and they want to hurt us back.

 

The narrative in the Old Testament that I think should be held up as the central narrative is not the Exodus, but the story of Joseph.

 

Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers. He is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and ends up in jail.

 

And all the time he does nothing nasty. He is an innocent man.

 

And in the end when his brother’s show up, he not only forgives them, he saves them and gives them a home and money and food.

 

And Joseph even has the nerve to say that God worked it all out for good.

 

I used your hurting me to save you.

 

That is a picture of Jesus, and it is narrative we need to hear more of.

I forgive you.

Forgiveness brings joy and healing and stops the cycle of violence.

 

Martin Boblmeir made an excellent documentary in 2008 called: “The Power of Forgiveness.” Most religions incorporate forgiveness as a major part of their religion. Not just Christianity. This documentary brings together many witnesses to the power of forgiveness.

 

One story about how one can “let go of the pain in the memory” is powerfully demonstrated in the episode narrated by Azim Khamisa, an American Muslim whose son was murdered by a 14 year-old boy while delivering a pizza.

When Mr. Khamisa visits the young murderer in jail, he also meets the boy’s grieving grandfather Ples Felix. The man is so relieved to be forgiven by the father of the dead boy that he joins him to form a team ministry to visit school children to speak on the need and the benefits of forgiveness.

As Tony Hicks, the imprisoned killer, speaks on camera about being forgiven, tears flow from his eyes. Mr. Khamisa is trying to get the courts to reduce Tony’s 25-year sentence, assuring them that he will give the young man a job working with the forgiveness foundation that he and Mr. Felix run.

That’s the kind of narrative we need to hear today. Not a narrative of “unforgiven” but a narrative of hope that forgiveness can change our world. That what Jesus gives us all, who often don’t want to forgive. Forgiveness.