Sermon: Proper IX RCL C – "Forgiveness"

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Simon Wiesenthal, was Jewish and the number one Nazi hunter… after World War II he assisted in the capture of over 1,100 Nazi’s … Prior to the war and the Nazi invasion.. he lived in Poland and worked in architectural office… From 1941 until the end of the war in 1945 he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp… he survived, but 89 of his relatives did not.
After the war he wrote a book called The Sunflower. The Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.  In that book he relates an odd but haunting experience. At one stage Wiesenthal and some fellow prisoners were given the job of removing garbage from a hospital for wounded German soldiers. As they did so they would pass a cemetery housing German soldiers who had died. The graves were covered with sunflowers, something Wiesenthal envied knowing he would probably be buried in a mass grave under a pile of other Jewish corpses.
One day a nurse approached him as he was on garbage detail at the hospital. She asked him to follow her, and led him into a hospital room containing a wounded soldier.  He came across a man whose face was covered in bandages, with openings cut for mouth, nose, and ears… he was dying. 
The man spoke to Simon… “My name is Karl…I joined the SS as a volunteer. I must tell you something dreadful…. Something inhuman. It happened a year ago… Yes it is a year since the crime I committed. I have to talk to someone about it, perhaps that will help.”
He grabbed Wiesenthal by the hand, holding him tightly so he could not get away. “I must tell you of this horrible deed – tell you because…you are a Jew.” Karl told of atrocities too savage to repeat. Of hatred and rage directed against Jews. Then he turned to Simon Wiesenthal and said “In the last hours of my life you are with me. I do not know who you are. I know only that you are a Jew and that is enough. I know what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and again I have longed to talk to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. I know what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace…finally Karl announced the purpose of this unusual meeting… I beg for forgiveness…”
Simon thought on the man’s request.. he writes, “At last I made up my mind… And without a word… I left the room.”  …I must confess that there are many days that I want to stand up and cheer for how he acted.. and there are other days when I wonder if he was wrong.
Forgiveness is a very difficult business, because what it says is that you have been hurt in someway and now.. now the onus.. the pressure.. is on you to make it right, by saying to the person who hurt you, “I forgive you.”  To borrow the phrase from many school children, “That’s not fair.”  I’m the one that was hurt, so why should I have to do all the work?
Part of the difficulty in this forgiveness business has nothing to do with what real forgiveness is all about, instead.. it has to do with certain myths.. misunderstandings that have crept in over the ages… and it seems to me that most of these misunderstandings stem from the adage, “Forgive and forget.”
We get this notion from Holy Scripture and what it speaks of God… In Jeremiah the Lord says, “I will forgive their wrongdoings, and I will never again remember their sins.”.. and in Psalm 103, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He.. has God.. removed our sins from us.”  We believe that we must forgive in the same manner as God forgives.. as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:32… “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
There is the story of a young peasant woman living back in the middle-ages who began to have visions.  The report of her visions spread far and wide, eventually reaching the ears of the Archbishop.  Not believing that a young peasant woman could possibly be having visions, he went to see her and asked her what she saw.. and she told him.  Still in disbelief he told her, “The next time you have visions of Jesus you ask him what I confessed at my last confession.  If you can answer that, then I will believe.”  Some months later the report reached the archbishop that the woman was again having visions, so he went to her again and asked if she had spoken to Jesus and asked the Lord about the archbishop’s last confession.  Her response, “yes.”  “Well then,” said the Archbishop, “What did he say?”… Her response, “Jesus said, ‘I don’t remember.'”… God forgives and God forgets.
However, there is also the story of the woman who went to visit her priest in great distress.  Through many tears she told him about how they had discovered that her father had been sexually molesting her daughter for several years.  When questioned even more, the woman told the priest that her father had also sexually molested her as a little girl.  She said that in her later years, “Not only did I forgive my father, I worked very hard at forgetting what he had done to me.  I didn’t want to remember; it was too painful.”… she had tried to do what we see as the “godly thing”… however in forgetting, she did not remember that her father never confessed to a wrong, never repented.. so in her forgetting she placed her daughter in great danger.
When we forgive.. we cannot forget.. not only is it not spiritually possible, but in many cases.. to forget will only increase the harm done to us or to others… Perhaps a better saying would be to say, “Forgive and be prudent.”… forgive and use sound judgment.  
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus made what some would consider an uncharitable statement, but it is speaking of prudence in all our actions, including forgiveness… He said, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” … Matthew’s Gospel expands on the same statement, Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”… In other words, Jesus says.. “I know that the world is not a safe place.. therefore, be peaceful in your actions, but stay alert.. be prudent in your dealings with this unsafe world.”
The Psalmist writes, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways”.. and again.. “Whoever strays from the path of prudence comes to rest in the company of the dead.” 
We forgive the wrongs that are done against us – end of discussion – we must forgive… we forgive even if the person who committed the wrong never repents or even refuses to repent – to say that they’re sorry… When we forgive we are not saying that what happened didn’t matter… and we have to keep in mind that forgiveness is very much a process.. it is probably not going to happen over night unless you are a saint.. so there will be days long after you believe that you have forgiven when the anger rises up in you all over again.. it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven.. just that you are human.
With that said.. there are bits that we should forget… specifically, we should forget the anger that leads to that desire for retaliation.. to forget the anger means you won’t fantasize about slitting their throat in a dark alley.
By forgiving we may – and that is key – we MAY allow the other person to feel better about themselves for bringing harm to us or someone else.. but our forgiveness is NOT for their sake or their benefit .. instead it is for the sake of our own souls… so that it will not torment us and draw us into our own sin.
.. and that is the bottom line… forgiveness is really about healing.  If it can heal relationships – Good.  If it can heal other situations and bring comfort to others – that’s fine too… but ultimately, forgiveness is about healing you… it is about freeing your soul so that you may experience the joy of the Lord.

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