Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
March 11, 2018
Colossians 3: 8-17 (CEB)
8But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. 9Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.
12Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.
(Holding up Credit Card). You all know what this is, right? And you know how it works? I take this little piece of plastic around with me, and whenever I need to buy something, I just swipe this card and it’s “paid for.” But then, of course, at the end of the month, I get a bill for all of those swipes, and that’s when the bills are really paid, when I move money out of my checking account to my credit account. If I don’t make that payment, then eventually I’ll reach my credit limit, at which point my card will be denied, useless, because no more credit is available to cover costs. And it turns out, credit cards are a lot like relationships.
I had a tremendous professor in college who first presented this idea to my peers and me when we were learning to be educators. I have since heard it many times, but it has always stuck with me. He said, “Teaching is tough because when you’re teaching, what you’re doing is trying to help the student master some skill. And often, the way we do that is by telling the student they are doing it wrong until they start doing it right. But,” he said, “That’s not very effective, because people are like bank accounts. A criticism is a withdrawal, and a relatively big one, and you can only withdraw so much before you overdraft. So,” he went on, “You have to make deposits, too. You have to be encouraging, you have to tell the students what they are doing right and well, and you have to do it often.” He even went so far as to suggest that for every one criticism, every one withdrawal, there better be seven deposits because criticism can cut pretty deep.
So it is in every relationship we have. In order for our relationships to be strong and healthy, we have to laugh together and weep together, we have to be supportive of one another, and we have to encourage one another. A relationship that is full of negativity all the time is no relationship at all, and it can leave us feeling emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and sometimes even physically depleted. Today, as we continue our series on forgiveness, we are going to talk about the importance of forgiveness in our relationships with one another; with our spouses, our parents, our children, our co-workers, our friends, and all around us. When it comes to making these relationships work in positive, uplifting ways, that means eliminating the “withdrawal” column altogether, and sometimes that can only be done with forgiveness.
Last weekend, Ken and I got into an argument one evening. We were both pretty exhausted. We were in the midst of bedtime routines with the kids. Ken had in his mind one thing that needed to happen “right then,” and I had in my mind another thing that needed to happen “right then.” In both cases, our thought processes required something from the other, which neither of us was prepared to do. An instance of bad communication turned into an all-out war of words during the course of which we hurled an endless assault of insults and accusations at one another. It was a barrage of “debits” from our respective accounts. Ultimately, we went to bed angry with one another, having resolved nothing of a small issue that both of us had blown way out of proportion.
When I woke the next morning, Ken was already up and in the shower, and as I lay there, I thought to myself, “I’m preaching this sermon series on forgiveness and I’ve got to practice what I preach. I have to tell him I’m sorry, I have to ask for his forgiveness, and I need to offer mine.” So in my head, I figured out exactly what I wanted to say to Ken as soon as he got out of the shower. I had just got it all sorted out in my head when Ken came walking out of the bathroom and he walked right over to me and hugged me, and before I could say a word, he said, “I’m sorry for last night.” Then I offered my apology, and we told each other it was okay. And you know what, I knew that it was. That’s the way forgiveness works. It restores broken relationships, it relieves us of the burdens of anger and resentment. Forgiveness heals. Without forgiveness, each slight, each insensitive action, every harsh word builds up and we become more burdened.
In our Scripture reading this morning, the writer offers instructions to the Colossians about how they are to live in community with one another. It involves putting away the “old self;” the “anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language;” the lying. And instead we are instructed to live in the image of Christ, clothing ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness,…patience,” and tolerance. At the center of this passage is the instruction to forgive, just as the Lord has forgiven us. We cannot live in community, we cannot live in relationship, if we do not offer forgiveness in love.
My marriage would’ve disintegrated a long time ago if Ken and I both were unwilling to offer forgiveness to one another. In many of our relationships there are issues that come up, sometimes there are big arguments, but sometimes there might be more mundane habits that perhaps drive our spouse, or family, or friends crazy; maybe it’s the fact that we squeeze the toothpaste tube the wrong way or don’t load the dishwasher the right way. There are these kinds of things that can fester within us if we are not willing to put aside all anger, rage, malice, and so on. But forgiveness helps us let go of these mundane type burdens. The act of forgiving itself helps us remember how important this relationship is to us, but even more it helps us remember how important the other person is in our lives.
Now, here’s the thing. Forgiveness is an important practice in our relationships, and one that will be required of us again and again in both easy and difficult circumstances. But forgiveness is also more freely given when there is repentance by the wrong-doer. In other words, I knew when I woke several mornings ago that I said things to Ken that I shouldn’t have said, and I knew I needed to repent, to apologize. And apparently, Ken felt the same way. Our willingness to admit our mistakes to one another also made it easier for us to give and receive forgiveness. Repentance does not mean that we point out what the other person did wrong and why they share blame for the problem at hand. That’s not real repentance. There are four steps to repentance (and, news flash, blaming someone else is not one of those steps). First, there must be an awareness of wrongdoing. In other words, we have to recognize that we messed up. Then, there must be a feeling of regret for the harmful action taken or words spoken. Thrid, we must confess our wrongdoing to the person or persons who were negatively affected by our behavior. And finally, we have to change so that we don’t harm others in that way again. This change is key to the process of repentance.
The Greek word translated as “repent” means “to turn.” Imagine you are on one path, a path that has caused harm to others, and you decide to repent and seek their forgiveness to restore your relationship. That repentance is like making a 180-degree turn and taking a new path; a path that will not result in greater harm to others. When others can see in us true repentance; true regret, a true change, then forgiveness comes much easier.
Both repentance and forgiveness take a lot of effort, but both are expressions of love. I ran across a beautiful thought this week, that said, “To forgive is the highest most beautiful form of love. In return you will receive untold peace and happiness.” When we repent or when we forgive, those are actions we choose to take; they are intentional. And as a people who are commanded by Christ to love God and love others, we can do no less than to put forth the effort when necessary to both repent of our sins and our mistakes, and to offer our forgiveness when we have been wronged. And here’s the thing, even when the wrong-doer is repentant, the process of forgiveness, especially in the face of great hurt, can take a long time and that’s okay. And sometimes, relationships may never be restored, but as I’ve said before, forgiveness frees us from the burden of ongoing hurt, even if the relationship never fully heals. Offering forgiveness may require us to make a decision daily to act on this radical, amazing love that Christ calls us to. But this is a decision we must make, to put aside our own selfish desires for vengeance of compensation, and instead to choose to exhibit the same generous grace and forgiveness that Christ has offered us. When we can do this, then true healing is possible.
So any good financial advisor will tell you that the danger of credit cards is that it’s easy to over do it; to spend more money than you actually have, so that when the bill comes due, there’s not enough money in the bank account to pay it off. In the same way, we can get stuck in these ruts in our relationships, where all we are ever doing is “withdrawing.” We’re fighting, and holding on to grudges, and treating each other insensitively. And from one day to the next, it might not be a big deal, but over time, those things build up until one day the dam bursts. As much as we spend energy on holding on to all those things that bother us and rub us the wrong way, we have to spend energy celebrating everything that is good about our relationships and the people we share them with. And an important part of that is being willing to offer our forgiveness when it is needed to heal brokenness in those relationships. And even more, in the face of those great hurts, we have to be willing to work every day to repent of our own sins, and to offer forgiveness to the repentant. Chances are we won’t feel relief right away, and reconciliation won’t happen in an instant, but with the effort, overtime change will come and we will find ourselves relieved of the burdens we carry, and what was once broken will be healed.
O, God, help us to forgive others as we seek your forgiveness. God, help us to be reconciled in our relationships and faithful to them. Heal us, we pray, and restore to us the joy of your salvation. In the name of the one who gave his life for our forgiveness. Amen.