Life Together: Forgiveness - Colossians 3:12-17
There are folks that would question why at the end of March would I be using a football illustration in a sermon. Wouldn’t something from basketball or baseball be more appropriate? You might be right. But in my defense, of the sporting news that I have seen over the last two weeks, if it wasn’t about the NCAA Men’s Tournament, it was about what NFL Team is going to sign or draft what player next month. It also helps that I was readily familiar with this scene and how it applies to this morning’s message.
WhileFacing The Giants is a fictional movie, there are many things that NFL athletes do to build up their strength. While there are the usual workouts and weight room bench presses, there are some that are unusual. Sports Illustrated once reported that Walter Jones, a former left-tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, in addition to his regular workout, twice a week Mr. Jones would strengthen his lower body by pushing his brother-in-law’s three ton Escalade 25 yards.
Football is a team sport, in which each person must play their role to be effective, so illustrations from the football field provide a nice lead in as we continue our series on Life Together. We began realizing that we are called together into a community of faith, and, as Dietrich Bonheoffer reminds us, that being able to be part of a community of faith is a gift: “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”
We are on a journey to reclaim that gift of living in the Christian Community. Last week, we reflected on “humility,” hearing the call to all of us to have the mind of Christ…to realize that pride and arrogance are not fit to be part of our lives as Christians and are detrimental to a “life together.” We are called to a life of humility, realizing that we are not better than anyone else, and that we must put others and their needs before our own, and be willing to serve one another…to refuse to do so would be to place ourselves above Christ.
Today, we come to our next stop along this journey, “forgiveness.” Forgiveness plays a significant role in our lives as Christians and in our “life together.” It is only through the forgiveness we receive from God because of Christ’s death on the cross that we are even able to bear the name Christian. However, “forgiveness” has an even great role in our lives.
Paul writes the Colossians: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Hear that again, “…forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Forgiveness is essential to our attempts at “life together.” Why? Because folks will disappoint us…we are not perfect, just striving for perfection…we are sinners saved by grace…and we will make mistakes. We will, even accidentally, hurt one another, through word and deed. If, when we become hurt, we refuse to forgive, we want revenge, we hold on to bitterness, it drives a wedge amongst us as community. It starts a crack that can, if it is continually hammered upon, split the community. We must be willing to forgive one another. To refuse to forgive, is to intentionally do damage to our community.
To refuse to forgive also damages our relationship with God. To refuse to forgive others is an affront to the Word of God. To refuse to forgive is to disobey God…leaving us in need of further forgiveness from God…and there lies in a major problem. If we disobey God by refusing to forgive and then need more forgiveness from God, then we may find ourselves hurting. Colossians says that just as Christ has forgiven us, so must we forgive others. The lessons from Jesus, himself, put the dangers of unforgiveness a little more clearly. Hear these words of Christ as recorded by the Gospel of Matthew: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” If we refuse to forgive, then we find ourselves telling God to not forgive us. In other words, if I hold on to the wrongs that ________ has done to me and refuse to forgive them, then I am asking God to hold on to any wrongs I have committed against me. If God does that, then I will find myself eternally separated from Him. According to God’s Word, if we refuse to forgive, then we will not be forgiven.
Forgiveness, true forgiveness, in which we let go of any animosity or desire to get even with the one who has wronged us, is not easy…and this is where football strength training comes in…
The world will tell us that to forgive someone is an act of weakness…that turning the other cheek instead of striking back is weak…that letting go of the desire to see someone “get what they deserve” is weak…but I would challenge that they are very wrong…
Even those outside of the Christian faith can see how wrong it is to consider forgiveness a sign of weakness…Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, once stated, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
It takes strength to forgive. It is the weak who get even. It is easy to strike back. It is easy to hate. It is easy to feel bitterness. It is easy to refuse to talk to someone. It is easy to be petty. It is hard to let go of anger and bitterness. Holding on to a grudge is like taking the parking brake off a Volkswagen Beetle parked on a hill and watching it roll away. Forgiveness is like pushing that 3-ton Escalade. It is hard to not want to get even. It is hard to control ourselves, our physical response and our mouths, in order to not strike back. However, my brothers and sisters, as we live together in Christian Community, we are called to, actually commanded to, forgive one another.
Some of the pains and wrongs we have experienced run deep or we have held onto them so long they have become part of us, and to start to let go of them is like doing the death crawl blindfolded. We are blindfolded because we do not know what is going to happen to us or to those we forgive once we forgive them…and we strain under the burden of letting go. We may find ourselves crying out like Brock carrying 160 lb. Jeremy down the field…we may want to tell God, “it’s hard, it hurts, it burns.”
And God will understand…imagine how hard it was for God to forgive us…imagine how much it hurt for God to forgive us…imagine how much it burned for God to forgive us…How did God experience the difficulty…the hurt…the burn? Imagine the weight of the cross that Jesus could barely carry to Golgotha, and actually needed help carrying…Imagine the hurt of the nails being driven through His hands…and imagine the burn of the muscles as He hung with his hands nailed to the cross beams…and yet, as hard as it was, as much as it hurt, as bad as it burned, Jesus looked down from the cross upon those who had put him there and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Through the difficulty, pain, and burn, Christ forgives…and Paul tells us, “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”
Despite the difficulty, the pain, and the burn, we are to press on to forgive…and Christ is there beside us, telling us to push on…that it is a matter of the heart…and that we can do it…just to give him everything we’ve got, which is everything He’s God, for it is the strength of God residing within us that we are dependent upon…it is the presence of Christ through His Holy Spirit and the Word of God constantly with us, that will help us move even beyond the halfway point of forgiving someone and go all the way to true forgiveness…
It is then, when we have gained the strength to forgive one another, and we return to living in harmony with one another, that we will even more greatly appreciate this gift God has given us of “life together.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.