The Discipline of Forgiveness
“If another member of the church sins against you…”
Several weeks ago (June 19, 2020), I wrote about forgiveness and our Rector, the Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson, Jr., recently preached on the topic. This past Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20) gives us some guidance about the discipline it takes to forgive that I believe it is important for us to consider. Genuine forgiveness is a painful and difficult process. It is not easy to forgive others when they have hurt or offended us. It is just as difficult to forgive ourselves. Finding the inner resources to let go of our rage, guilt, embarrassment or pride; to let go of claims of retribution and revenge requires a special kind of strength—a strength that does not come easily.
This section of the Gospel of Matthew, which deals with, in one way or another, forgiveness is building toward the Crucifixion of Christ. Why do I bring this up? Because forgiveness is not easy—even for God. The world’s forgiveness—our forgiveness—comes at the great cost of Christ on the Cross. Forgiveness is not easy—even for God!
Forgiveness is hard because it requires us to summon up all our strength and integrity—not to force forgiveness as an act of will—but rather, as Christians, to realize that what God wants is not more hurt, or anger or guilt, but wholeness and health. To come to that realization takes prayer, the help of faithful people and the nudging of the Divine. Personally, I just don’t think we could do it alone.
Yet, thanks be to God, we have the Grace of God, each other and the Church. As the people of God, we celebrate the difference that Christ makes in our lives. When we experience the love, community and wholeness that God in Christ holds out for us, and the forgiveness that Christ died to give us, then the un-forgiveness that is in us starts to fade, and we find in Christ and in each other the strength to live lives that are different. Jesus has called us to be light in a darkened world, so in our life together in the Church, the world ought to see God’s Kingdom breaking out. The world ought to see us living lives of integrity, telling each other the truth, accepting the consequences of our actions and inviting people into the Kingdom of God.
That is what Jesus did for us.