Forgiveness 1

“The Power of Forgiveness,” Susan Ryder

This morning’s lectionary passage is a familiar one from Matthew 18:21-22:
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.”

If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred. — The Bhagavad Gita

It is a mystery we are dipped into. Two-thirds of Jesus’ teachings are about forgiveness. A good third of Jesus’ parables are about forgiveness, directly or indirectly. Forgiveness has nothing to do with logic. It is the final breakdown of logic. It is a mystical recognition that human evil is something we are all trapped by, suffering from, and participating in. It calls forth weeping, humility, and healing much more than feverish attempts to root out the evil. The transformation happens through the tears much more than through threats and punishments. — Richard Rohr in Everything Belongs

Over the years Bob and I have offered several Reflections on forgiveness. In fact, we were given the topic of forgiveness for the “test” Reflection (more commonly known as a “candidating sermon”) we gave to the search committee just over 17 years ago. As I recall, during that Reflection we shared that forgiveness is a multi-faceted topic about which there is too much that can be shared in a 15 minute message, because there are so many different options and angles by which to look at and think about forgiveness. There is forgiveness of self and of someone who has wronged us, as well as seeking forgiveness when we have wronged someone else. There is the difficult challenge of forgiving another who may no longer be around to receive our forgiveness, and for some there is the issue of forgiveness in their relationship with God. And then there are all the layers within each of those. Perhaps that is why passages about forgiveness come up so frequently as lectionary readings – it’s an important and challenging subject.

Each time Bob or I have invited you to think about forgiveness in the years since, a handful of people come to us privately and share some of their struggles with forgiveness – namely forgiving themselves or others. They tell us that they hear what we and others share about how much better off we are emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually if we are able to forgive – and they know it is true. But still it is very difficult for them to offer that forgiveness. Heck, I preach it and it is still very difficult for me to offer forgiveness in some situations! So I know about that struggle first hand. What is it that makes forgiving another person who has wronged us so difficult – what are some of the impediments you have faced, or are even still facing, in forgiving another?

(Take a few comments)

Recently I watched a PBS Documentary on “The Power of Forgiveness.” It came out in 2008 and here is how it is described – the film “explores recent research into the psychological and physical effects of forgiveness on individuals and within relationships under a wide variety of conditions and translates it into a popular, accessible documentary film for national public television. This includes feature stories on the Amish, the 9/11 tragedy and peace-building in Northern Ireland, along with interviews with renowned Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, best-selling authors Thomas Moore and Marianne Williamson and others. The film also explores the role forgiveness holds in various faiths traditions. It provides an honest look at the intensity of anger and grief that human nature is heir to. We see in the film that there are transgressions people find themselves unwilling or unable to forgive. Through character-driven stories the film shows the role forgiveness can play in alleviating anger and grief and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that come with it.” (from

I would love to show you the whole film, but it’s over an hour long – this morning we are going to watch a few minutes of it, using the projector donated to NCC by Marcia Hirst – David, please thank her again from all of us! If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the whole documentary for free. And Bob will pick up the subject in more detail next week.

(We cannot link the video we showed, but here is a link to the story of Azim and Ples –

Here also is a YouTube Video of the same story – though not exactly the version shared in the PBS Documentary.)

Closing words:

Jesus told us to love our enemy. “Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This teaching helps us know how to look at the person we consider to be the cause of our suffering. If we practice looking deeply into his situation and the causes of how he came to be the way he is now, and if we visualize ourselves as being born in his condition, we may see that we could have become exactly like him. When we do that, compassion arises in us naturally, and we see that the other person is to be helped and not punished. In that moment, our anger transforms itself into the energy of compassion. Suddenly, the one we have been calling our enemy becomes our brother or sister. This is the true teaching of Jesus.
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ