July 18, 2020
Forgiveness. Lewis B. Smedes said, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." I like that. Most of us seem to be holding grudges against people who have wronged us in the past. We may not even think of them often, but deep inside, these bad feelings restrict and confine us like the walls of a prison. Those walls can be broken down and our spirit freed to soar with relief and great joy when we forgive.
Kay and I were away on vacation this past week and it is good to be back. We had the chance to be out in the world a little more, only as the pandemic restrictions allow of course. But I was able to have a better view of how people are doing during these challenging times. I could see many becoming discouraged as things that they liked to do, things they could see and touch, suddenly became no longer available to them. Things like attending sports events and movies, hugging a friend they haven't seen in a while, and all the other things we have had to give up. If all that we had to depend on was the joy that these things bring us, we could quickly lose hope.
But this weekend's readings remind us of what great hope there is! We are reminded of how we are God's children, with God pouring out more love for us than we can imagine. Since this reality is true, we have plenty of reason to be joyful! God has not forgotten us, as a matter of fact, God has given us the tools we need to solve this pandemic and to become stronger and better in the process. We are co-creators who, along with God, and will find the vaccine and the cure. Whether we are the scientist making the breakthrough, or the listening ear to someone who is suffering, we take a part in creating what is needed to get through the pandemic. It is what we do as children of God!
Our readings this weekend also tell us of how God has forgiven us for the things that we have done wrong in our lives. This is why in our Psalm response is, "Lord, you are good and forgiving." God wants us to do the same. It can be difficult to do, but well worth the effort. Sometimes when we hear someone else's story of forgiveness it can become easier for us to forgive. So, here is a true story of forgiveness by a person named Corrie ten Boom:
"It was in a church in Munich where I was speaking in 1947 that I saw him - a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat, the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
Memories of the concentration camp came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment of skin.
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: "A fine message, fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!"
It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard there. But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein - "again the hand came out - "will you forgive me?"
And I stood there - and could not. Betsie had died in that place - could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it - I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses."
Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.""
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then."
In our Gospel, Jesus reminds us that as Christians, we are "Children of God." So, God's ability to forgive already resides in us. May we break down the walls and forgive as God has forgiven us! Amen.
For more from Corrie ten Boom please see her book, "The Hiding Place," at: https://www.amazon.com/Hiding-Place-Corrie-Ten-Boom-ebook/dp/B004TS1MGK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1516227052&sr=8-1
Have a great week!