13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’d like you to join me for a few moments this morning as we listen in on a conversation that took place a number of years ago between 2 fathers. One of them was named Bud Welch. As he sat in the small kitchen of a small house in Buffalo, NY, gazing at an 8 x 10 photo hanging on the wall, Bud turned to the father of the boy portrayed in the picture and said, “Bill, he’s a fine looking young man.” Bill sat silently for a moment. Then a tear formed in his eye and ran down his cheek. And he looked across the table at Bud and said, “I’m so sorry your daughter was killed.”
Bud and Bill. They’d never met each other before that day, but they had so much in common. Both were fathers. Bud’s daughter, Julie, was born in 1972. She mastered 5 languages before graduating from Marquette University. Bill’s son, Tim, chose the military track, returning from the Persian Gulf as a decorated veteran.
Bud and Bill both loved their children and both were still reeling from an explosion that took place on April 19, 1995 in downtown Oklahoma City at 9:02 a.m. For that was the day that Bud’s daughter, Julie, was killed. And that was the day that Bill’s son, Tim, killed her along with 167 other people who lost their lives in what became known as the Oklahoma City bombing.
The trip from Oklahoma City to Buffalo was Bud’s idea. I’m sure there were others who had either imagined or envisioned an audience with Bill McVeigh, the father of Timothy McVeigh, who was responsible for that bombing. But I sincerely doubt that many of those people would have had the same motive for such a meeting as Bud had. For he sits in the home of the father of this mass murderer, this killer of his daughter, for one reason, and that is to forgive him. And that’s exactly what he does. In that hour that little kitchen table becomes a sacred altar where forgiveness is extended and forgiveness is received. And that little house becomes a sanctuary where some much-needed healing begins to take place for both of these men.
Would you do that? Could you do that? Or maybe a better question to ask would be, do you do that? Bombs have gone off in your world, haven’t they? Walls have caved in. Injuries have occurred. Maybe they didn’t make the front page of the newspaper, but you’ve been reeling from them ever since that day, that hour, that moment. Ever since you learned of your spouse’s unfaithfulness. Ever since your son or daughter got that DUI or got arrested for doing drugs. Ever since you were handed that pink slip at work and all of a sudden found yourself among the ranks of the unemployed. Ever since something happened that left you feeling so betrayed or rejected or embarrassed that you were left wondering, “What do I do now?” That’s a good question. What do you do now? Well you have several options, like how about get even? That’s the choice that some people make, isn’t it? I’ll just get even. He took a pound of flesh from me. I’ll take a pound of flesh from him. But those of us who have tried that know that it doesn’t work. You never quite settle the score and the pain you feel doesn’t really leave. In fact, often times you end up hurting more than the one who hurt you.
The world may say that revenge is sweet, but that’s not what God says. Instead he tells us through the Apostle Paul in Rom. 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Well, if I can’t get even, then what else can I do? I know! I’ll just get mad. If revenge is not the solution, then maybe resentment is. So I’ll just rehearse the moment, relive the moment, recount the moment to anyone who will listen. But you know what? That doesn’t work very well either because resentment does with our hurts what I used to do with my sores when I was a little boy. Now what I’m about to tell you may very well ruin your appetite for Sunday’s lunch, but you guys did it too and I suspect even you girls did as well, though you’d probably never admit it. If you were like me, you grew up as one of the walking wounded. I always had a scraped knee or a scratched up elbow from falling off my bike or sliding into home plate or wrestling with my brother. And what do you think I did with that scab? I picked at it. And if my mom ever caught me doing that, you can probably guess what she said: “If you keep picking at that, it will never heal.”
Now I apologize for the repulsiveness of that illustration, but the practice of constantly picking at your emotional wounds is just as repulsive to God. And he wants to say to you, “If you keep picking at that sore, it will never heal. So just leave it alone. Or better yet, give it to me and I will heal it.”
Well, if getting even doesn’t work and getting mad doesn’t work, if revenge and resentment are nothing more than the tools of fools, then what are we to do when we are hurt by someone else? Paul provides the answer to that question in our text for today when he says (and I’m going to read this to you from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible): “Get along with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you.”
Now Paul is addressing the Christians in the church at Colosse here and in the process he is teaching them and us 3 valuable lessons about forgiveness that I want to spend the rest of my time talking about, starting with this one: the reality of forgiveness. And that reality is that if the church stays together and grows and thrives, it’s not because the people are perfect, but because the people have learned to pardon the imperfections of one another.
You see, forgiveness is to the church what Pam is to a cooking pan. And no, I’m not talking about Pam Bergmann of our congregation, but Pam, the cooking spray. Have you ever tried making pancakes without spraying Pam or its equivalent in the pan first? Once that pan heats up, those pancakes stick to it and it’s virtually impossible to make a perfect pancake. And all you have is one big mess on your hands. But use liberal doses of Pam and those pancakes turn golden brown and slide ride out of that pan because the Pam has taken away the friction between the pancake and the pan. So, no Pam; big mess. Lots of Pam, no friction. Likewise, no forgiveness in the church; big mess in the church. Lots of forgiveness in the church; no friction, no messes.
That’s the reality of forgiveness. And that leads right in to the next point: the responsibility of forgiveness. Whose responsibility is it to take the first step toward reconciliation? Paul says in our text, “If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person.” Please note who is supposed to take the first step according to that verse. The one who has been hurt, right? The wounded heart picks up the phone and makes the call. The one who has been wronged does what is right.
Now if you have a problem with that, you find that a little difficult to accept or stomach, I’m not finished yet so please bear with me. For Jesus looks at it from another angle. In Matt. 5:23-24 he says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
Now look at this. Paul says, if you’re offended, GO. Jesus says, if you have offended, GO. Paul says, if you are the one who has been hurt, GO. Jesus says, if you are the one who has hurt, GO. Now tell me, folks. Doesn’t that cover just about everybody? In every altercation isn’t there always a hurter and a hurtee? Regardless of which one you are, the Bible says that you should go. So it sounds to me like there ought to be a lot of going going on and not much sitting or pouting or sulking or gossiping or passing judgment or feeling sorry for oneself. That’s the responsibility of forgiveness.
And that brings us to my final point, the response of forgiveness, which according to our text is: “forgive that person.” Not get even or get mad or get drunk. But forgive that person.
Now I know that verse sends up a thousand and one red flags. “But you don’t know, Pastor, what he did to me.” Or, “It’s not fair that she should be forgiven after all the heartache and hurt she caused me.” Or, “If it had happened to you, you wouldn’t be so eager to forgive either.”
Well, maybe we can take a little wind out of those flapping red flags with some clarification as to what forgiveness is and what it is not. First of all, forgiveness is not excusing what the person did. Nor is it denying it or sweeping it under the rug as though it never happened. Forgiveness is also not endorsing what the person did. Some people feel that if they forgive, then they have in essence given their stamp of approval to the wrong that was committed against them, but that’s simply not true.
Well, if forgiveness is not excusing or denying or endorsing an offense, then what is it? I’ll tell you what it is. Forgiveness is walking up a rocky trail that leads to the top of a hill called Calvary and standing in the shadow of a cross face-to-feet with the beaten and bloodied figure of the One who died for your sins. Forgiveness is you saying to the One on that cross, “Jesus, because you have forgiven me so much, I’m going to forgive the one who has hurt me. I’m not endorsing what they did. I’m not excusing it. I’m not saying that it doesn’t hurt. But I’m saying, ‘Lord, would you help me give to them what you have so graciously and generously given to me?’” Put simply, forgiveness is the act of reaching out and taking some of the mercy that Jesus has shown you and giving it to someone else. Or, as Paul puts it so well in Eph. 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
That’s really what this Sunday of the church year is all about. It’s Reformation Sunday, a day that recalls Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel that had been buried for centuries beneath so many rules and regulations of the church that Luther felt there was absolutely no hope for him to ever be saved from his many sins and shortcomings. But when he finally came to grips with the Gospel, when he finally realized that he was in the grip of God’s grace and that we are forgiven and saved not by what we do but by what Christ has done for us, he wholeheartedly embraced that incredible news and devoted his entire life to sharing it and teaching it to others.
So my friends, in the light of what Jesus did for you when you certainly did not deserve it, let me issue a challenge to you this week. Is there somebody in your life right now that’s in need of your mercy, someone who maybe has even asked for your forgiveness, but from whom you’ve withheld it? If so, take the first step this week in doing what we’ve talked about this morning. Extend to them the same forgiveness that you’ve come to expect from God. And who knows? As you free them from your prison of hate, you may very well find yourself walking out of that same prison. Just like what happened with Bud Welch whom we heard about earlier. He was asked what it was like that day to be in the house where Timothy McVeigh, the murderer of his daughter, had been raised. And this is what he said: “I have never felt as close to God as I did when I put my arms around Bill McVeigh and forgave him.” The reason for that is simple. It’s because, to complete the blank spot in my sermon title for today, you’re never more like God than you are when you forgive.