Remembering, forgiving and forgetting
Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
Gavin Power lives in West Belfast. When he was five his father was killed in a sectarian murder, and the death has been the defining incident in Gavin’s life. Gavin had a lot to forgive, so it’s not surprising that the road to forgiveness was a long one. He writes:
“Forgiveness is a choice. A year or two ago I began to realize the burden I was carrying on my shoulders because I could not forgive. There was a weight that wouldn’t go away. I was trapped as a boy and knew that if I were to get out of this shell I would have to let go and cut those emotional ties binding me to the past.
“I prayed for the strength to want to forgive. For me this involved knowing the depth of the pain, and letting God take over. For the first time, I began to think about the people who did it in a new way. I wondered what they had been through. Had they been abused as children, for example? I began to think of them in a way I would not have been able to do before.
“The whole process took about a year. I spent time praying. All of a sudden, it no longer seemed to be a problem, and more of an experience.
“Forgiving has really helped. Since I forgave, a weight seems to have been lifted off me. I still have pain. It will always be there and helps to keep me in tune with all that has happened. It’s hard being so sensitive and I can still get hurt very easily. But I have some very good friends. I now realize that more positive things have come out of it than bad, which you might think is a strange thing to say.
“The good things are that I have had a real introduction to God. He used to be more of a shadowy figure but through my father’s death, I have been forced to meet him. I turned to him when I needed him. I have been able to trust him and I no longer feel guilty and ashamed of myself.”
“The older I get, the less I think of my father. The memories start to fade. This hurts in the sense that I have only a few precious memories and have gone over and over them so much that I have them worn out. My father was taken away, but I haven’t lost him. I know he is waiting for me, and we will meet again. When I think of him now, I wonder would he be proud of me and what relationship would we have with each other? I think he would be proud of me. I have turned to God and forgiven.
“Am I happy? I’m working towards it. I’m content. I think happiness is being able to accept the positive in the experience. I think I was tested and came through and it teaches me not to be afraid. Growing up, I used to feel so hurt. I would ask myself ’Am I living or am I dying?’ If you suffer too much, you’re creating your own death; you’re losing your enjoyment in life. These days I know I’m living.”
What is your happiest and saddest memory?
- The older you get the more there is to choose from…and to forget!
- And why do people become interested in tracing their ancestry when they get older?
What is your earliest memory?
- A very elderly relative claims to remember when he was in his pram!
But memory can play tricks on you…
- As a child, I was sure that my grandfather was a caretaker at the factory… but he was a senior engineer!
- And have you ever caught yourself saying: I’m sure I left it here… but it isn’t!
- Or go upstairs to close the curtains and come down with a clean handkerchief instead!
Memories can be painful…
Decorated members of the Armed Forces find the memory of their exploits to be a burden because they are constantly forced to remember things they would rather forget
- Many service personnel are reluctant to speak of their wartime experiences because of the intense emotional effect it has on them
But even tragedy can, in retrospect, be seen as a blessing
A man who had a serious heart condition and survived a major operation commented that he had led a selfish life up to that point… only concerned for himself…but now he saw life totally differently
- And many people have been ended up in prison or bankrupt or facing disaster…and been found by the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ…
- Without being brought so low they would still be lost in their sin and ignorant of the salvation they can find in Him
SOME MEMORIES ARE POWERFUL…unforgettable
- You might remember Nat King Cole’s hit song, “Unforgettable in every way”
Other memories seem to be lost until something happens to stimulate them… a smell, a sound, a photograph…
So memories are important in life
- One day, people will remember us… I wonder what they will say about the way that we lived and the kind of person we were?
Memories are important… and so is FORGIVENESS
A lady I know once told me that when she was naughty as a child and teenager, her mother used to say: “I will never forgive you for this!”
What impact did that have on BOTH of them?
- PETER ASKED JESUS: “How often should I forgive? Seven times?” Jesus replied: Seventy times seven!
We read about God’s perspective in Jeremiah 31 v 34:
“For I will forgive their sins and remember them no more”
‘Remember no more’ is essential if we are ever to ‘forgive’
- It requires an ongoing effort of the will
AND NOTICE that Peter refers to ‘a brother’ sinning against him… someone from the family of God
A brother, yet capable of acting in this way… As the words of the old song : You always hurt the one you love; the one you shouldn’t hurt at all
SO LET’S TAKE A STEP BACK AND THINK ABOUT FORGIVENESS…
Forgiveness is both a decision and a process
- We must decide to let go and forgive the person
- We must also work at forgiving and be patient… it is unusual for forgiveness to be a once-for-all decision
The most famous exception was Jesus’ words on the Cross: Father, forgive them, for they don’t realise what they are doing
We must try and forgive even when the person does not deserve it or even want it
- After all, this is what happened when God forgave our sins when we were unworthy of His love and mercy
- If God had waited until we were worthy and ready to receive forgiveness, it would never have happened
Refusing to be merciful to others has serious consequences for us
- In the parable the one who refused to show mercy was condemned by God
- He lost all the blessing and favour that would have belonged to him
FORGIVENESS IS COSTLY… but failing to forgive is much costlier
It leads to bitterness, stress and unhappiness
- In the end it is all about allowing the Spirit of Jesus to control us
- To yield ourselves to His will and purpose
- Importantly…to see others through His eyes
For all have sinned and fallen short of the standard that God demands of us…
- Only God can forgive sins…and only He can judge
We sometimes get forgetful…and as we get older we speak of having a ‘senior moment’!
- In fact brain cells begin to die from our early twenties!
- It’s probably the case that much younger people have similar experiences of being forgetful…
- It’s just that there is so much happening in their lives that such incidents don’t register in the rush of life
Most of our lives are spent trying to remember things…not to forget them!
- So it is unnatural to forget…or choose not to remember them
We use all sorts of techniques to remember things:
- Knots in hanky / Writing on our hand
- Notes in the kitchen
- Electronic bleeps on our mobile phones
A man left his wife at a motorway service area and drove 100 miles before he realised that he’d forgotten her!
Sometimes children have been left behind under similar circumstances… each parent thinking the other one had put the child in the car seat…
But finding ways to FORGET things is tricky…
- It requires God’s help…and a willingness on our part to let go
BUT GOD HAS TOLD US THAT THERE IS ONE THING WE SHOULD NEVER FORGET… His sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary
- That’s why we hold the Breaking of Bread/Communion/Eucharist … but only until He comes
Remembrance Sunday is about remembering, forgiving and forgetting
- We remember those who gave their lives for the country
- We make every effort to forgive the sinners who ‘trespassed against us’
- We choose to forget (overlook) the sins against us
Just as there has been a ‘truth and reconciliation’ process in places like Angola and South Africa…so the healing process must take place, as we pray:
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us
BUT THERE IS AN IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SACRIFICE OF WAR AND THE SACRIFICE OF CALVARY…
- Those in the war were ordered into battle
- They did not want to die or do so willingly
- Theirs was part of a noble cause fighting for freedom / Queen / country / nation
By contrast, Jesus Christ…
- Willingly and deliberately gave Himself into the hands of sinful men
- Went to the Cross of Calvary and gave his life out of love for each of us
When Jesus died, it’s as if your name and my name was on his lips and in His heart
REMEMBER… He has promised to come again…so let’s make sure we don’t hold grudges, especially against a fellow believer
- Life’s too short to bury ourselves in anger and self-pity
AFTER ALL, WE SHALL BE SPENDING ETERNITY TOGETHER!
ONE LAST THING… Have you “forgiven” God for the things that He has allowed to come into your life?
- Many Bible characters had a similar problem: Moses, David, Jonah, Mary & Martha…
- But they all came to the point where they acknowledged that whatever God brought them to He would take them through
It may be time for some of us to own up to the fact that we are harbouring resentment and anger against God and against others
IT’S TIME TO LET THEM GO!
Most of us have many happy memories… and also a few sad ones
- Let’s make sure that one abiding memory is the day we decided to follow Jesus Christ… yesterday, today, forever