Christ the King Sunday Sermon: Forgiveness is Hard

Text: Luke 23: 32-43

Kristan and I both have trouble admitting we’re wrong.
When we are in a “disagreement” the one of us who really is wrong (her) has a hard time apologizing.
So instead of simply saying “I’m sorry”
we approach the other say “I forgive you” OR
“I FORGIVE you…”
So over the years, the words “I forgive you” have come to mean “I’m sorry”
At least for us.
And the reason is its hard to apologize!
But It’s even harder to forgive.

Indeed forgiveness is hard.

By the time we arrive at today’s gospel lesson, Jesus has been mocked, beaten, taunted, whipped, and now nailed by his hands and his feet to a wooden cross and allowed to hang until death.

His friends have abandoned him.
People have cursed him
Spit at him
His family and loved ones feel threatened by association.
And yet.
In his final moments
As he hangs in agony

Jesus calls for forgiveness
for the men who have just tortured him.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”

We’ve heard these words hundreds of times.
Maybe even thousands.
But when we truly examine them—
When we place ourselves in the story as Jesus—
It becomes all the more incredible.
Doesn’t it?

Because forgiveness is hard.

Truly only the Son of God could offer such mercy.
It is only fitting that this reading is for today, Christ the King Sunday.
Because historically at least,
kings are the epitome of triumph.
Kings are the result of victory.

In the other reading for today, Paul writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15)

In a sense, Paul is showing us or rather teaching us that if we want to know what God looks like; how God acts; who God IS..we only need to look to Jesus.

Which makes this scene; these words- all the more powerful.
All the more instructive.

In the midst of this agony, in the face of despair, Jesus defies all expectations and instead of calling for vengeance— which he arguably could have done—

Ok, Let’s talk about that

I mean, Jesus could have called—literally summoned—armies of angels to come down and lay a BEAT DOWN on these people so badly everyone would have looked like Robert DeNiro at the end of Raging Bull.
Seriously
Eyes so swollen they can’t even see through them.
Bruises and cuts and blood everywhere-
It would have been a nasty scene.
Really scary
Like what my house would look like if I cancelled Friday Family Pizza Night…

Anyway you get the point— Jesus could have unleashed quite the whoopin

But thats not what happens.

Vengeance doesn’t become his.

Instead, Jesus offers… forgiveness.

Forgiveness, not revenge.
Mercy, not malice.

Not an easy task.

Forgiveness is hard.

Think about your worst enemy.
Or it doesn’t have to be an enemy so to speak.
Just think about someone who has really crossed you
or hurt you
Or maybe it was they hurt someone you cared for deeply.
And not just a slight.. a REAL hurt. Something deep.

Admit it- you’ve often fantasized about getting revenge.
Not necessarily physically hurting them (but maybe you have !!) but just getting even.
Getting revenge.
Saying that thing you’ve been wanting to say for YEARS.

And you FINALLY have that opportunity but instead…
you let the moment pass
Or even better
You offer that olive branch of forgiveness.
And you put the past in the past
and start anew.

If Jesus, very much human, can forgive those who brutalized him…
Perhaps we are being called to the same?

Yes, Forgiveness can be hard.
We usually don’t like it.
But oftentimes we are surprised to learn who benefits the most from our forgiveness…

I’d like to share a story – one I encountered on the radio one evening:

Oshea Israel was 16 years old and involved with gangs and drugs when, one night at a party, he shot and killed Laramiun Byrd.

Byrd was the only son of Mary Johnson so this loss pained her more than words could say.
The anger
The bitterness
The sense of loss
All of it was just eating her up.

So after 12 long and heartbreaking years, she had finally had enough
So she decided to go down to Stillwater Prison where Israel was serving his sentence for the murder to meet the boy who’d killed her son.

The results of the meeting surprised her.
in fact, she was overcome with emotion.

It had been 12 years so Mary was surprised to find not an angry 16 year old boy, but a grown man. who was clearly filled with regret. And surprising herself- she instinctively reached out to the boy
and hugged him.

And at that moment, all the anger and resentment and animosity was lifted.
She recently said in an interview, “all that stuff I had in my heart for him— for 12 long years- was over. I had totally forgiven him.”

She was free.

Johnson ultimately founded a support group for mothers who have lost children to violence.

But this forgiveness hasn’t just helped Mary Johnson.
Now 34 years old, Israel has been released from prison and is starting a new life.
And guess who’s helping him along the way?
Mary Johnson.

Israel now lives next door to Johnson so she can keep an eye on him.
they support one another.
In fact, he is helping her in her old age.
She even refers to him as her son.
“Well, my natural son is no longer here.” she once quipped.
In a recent interview where both were present, Johnson spoke to Israel, “I didn’t see him graduate so ”You’re going to college. I’ll have the opportunity to see you graduate..
And I didn’t see him get married. So one day, I’ll be able to experience that with you.

Mary Johnson could have easily continued in her bitterness and anger
and in doing so would have consigned away all the joy and happiness in her life.
But she didn’t
Through the powerful act of forgiveness she extended the grace we all experience by our Heavenly Father and in turn was able to regain her life.

When we hold on to the resentment and pain that prevents us from offering forgiveness
in a sense we are rejecting the work Jesus accomplished on the cross.
It’s as if we are walking up to the cross and giving back the gift of forgiveness Jesus gave us all.

Director and producer David Boese once said,

“Forgiveness does not change the past
But it does enlarge the future”

Forgiveness is hard…

But i’s not impossible.

Because of the power of Christ that lives within you—
Yes, each and every one of you—
Forgiveness is possible.

Even the most difficult trespasses can be forgiven.
Not because you’ve suddenly become more virtuous
No
but because the risen Christ lives within you.

So
We can forgive that family member who wronged us many years ago
We can forgive that parent who might have come up short along the way
We can forgive that person who hurt us…so deeply that we’ve felt we’d never be the same.
And yes, we can even forgive that person in our community whose view of our country’s future might look just a little different than yours.
We can forgive.
Yes, Forgiveness is hard.
But it’s not impossible.
Because of the love of Christ that dwells deeply within us.
Forgiveness is possible.

And thanks be to God for that.

Amen.

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