The Gift We Give Ourselves

There once was a man who loved dogs. He even served as a speaker in various civic clubs for the Humane Society. He was known far and wide as a dog lover. One day his neighbor observed as he poured a new sidewalk from his house out to the street. About the time he smoothed out the last square foot of cement a large dog strayed across his sidewalk leaving footprints in his wake. The man muttered something under his breath and smoothed out the footprints. He went inside to get some twine to string around the sidewalk only to discover when he came back more dog tracks, this time in two directions, on his sidewalk. He patiently smoothed those out and put up the twine, hoping to block out any more trespassers. About five minutes later he looked out and and saw footprints again, indicating that the dog had cleared the twine fence and strolled across the sidewalk again. The man was mad now, as he troweled the wet concrete smooth again. Just as he got back to the porch he saw the dog come over and and sit right in the middle of his sidewalk. He went inside got his gun and came out and shot the dog dead. His neighbor rushed over and asked, “Why did you do that, I thought you loved dogs?” The man responded as he cradled his gun in the crook of his arm, “I do. I do like dogs. But that’s in the abstract. I hate dogs in the concrete.” Okay, bad joke (and not true, as far as I know, so please don’t complain, animal lovers!). But the point is clear, and it can also be applied to the subject of forgiveness. We love forgiveness in the abstract, but when we really have someone to forgive, we hate it in the concrete. C.S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” We might say, forgiveness is great to talk about in church on Sundays, but not so great to practice when you have been wronged, in real life. Which brings me to my point: Last Sunday’s message on the Lord’s Prayer has brought up more than a few conversations this week about the subject of forgiveness–from people who are struggling with the hard choices of forgiving those who have hurt them. You wouldn’t think that an examination of a “model prayer” would lead in that direction, until you are reminded that the petition on forgiveness was the only part of the prayer where Jesus gave a footnote. And an ominous footnote it is. He didn’t mince words when He said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15)
You can try to over-interpret that if you like, but it’s hard to miss the point Jesus was making: when we refuse to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us, we are also refusing the forgiveness we need from the Father. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves, and we often discover that when we release the offender from the debt he or she owes us, the person we are really releasing is ourselves. Conversely, when we choose not to forgive, we lock ourselves into an emotional prison of bitterness and we carry around that baggage like a rotten potato in a Ziplog bag. (If that doesn’t make sense, you might want to listen to last Sunday’s message online.) All that to say, let me encourage you, as recipients of God’s grace, to extend that grace to others this week. Let us practice forgiveness in concrete, not just in abstract, so that we can experience the fullness of the Father’s forgiveness for us. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday. –Pastor Ken