On Forgiveness

by Rev. Jeffrey Sippy

On Sunday, a bomb went off at church.

No, it wasn’t the kind of terrorist bomb one hears about in news reports or reads about in the newspapers.

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Illustration by Ed Koehler

It wasn’t even a colloquial “bomb”—you know, the way we use “bomb” in everyday language: Someone you don’t like sat next to you, or in the next pew, or overtly shunned you; the choir sang off key—way off key; the sermon was horrible; or all of the other “unforgivables” that wreck our day and make us ask why we go to church at all.

No, it was an actual bomb, the kind that could hurt people, but it wasn’t intended.

A young-adult group was making pancakes for the new-member reception. In the rush to get everything done, someone put an aerosol can of Pam on a hot griddle and forgot about it. It exploded and blew a gaping hole in a stainless-steel refrigerator. In a truly miraculous way, the can missed everyone standing in the crowded kitchen. If it had hit someone, we can only presume it would have killed them. After all, the refrigerator is presently in rough shape.

It was a real mistake. A real blunder. But you know what? All that has been said is this: What a miracle it is that no one was killed! God had His hand on us. God was there. Forgiveness.

Every day and every moment “bombs” go off all around us. Like the aerosol can left on the griddle, people make mistakes. They forget things. They say things they shouldn’t. They do things they shouldn’t. It makes a mess, like a hole blown through a stainless-steel refrigerator. These are blunders and gaffes that rub us the wrong way, get under our skin, annoy us, frustrate us, and even anger us. In most instances, no one is killed. God has His hand on us. God is there. Forgiveness.

Extreme Forgiveness

On Good Friday long ago, a real “bomb” went off. An angry Jewish mob handed Jesus over to an unsympathetic Roman guard. People lied about Jesus. They hit Him. They slapped Him. They spit on Him. The actions were deliberate. You could hardly say they were mistakes. You might say they didn’t know what they were doing. I wish I could say no one was killed, but someone was: Jesus was killed. Rusty, gruesome nails blew holes right through Jesus. A spear pierced His side. Rejection and disdain pierced His soul. Yet, God’s hand was upon Him. God was there. Forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the chief work of God in the lives of His people. Forgiveness is the chief instrument, or product, of God working reconciliation and closeness with those otherwise separated from Him. Forgiveness is God’s gift and His means of amending mistakes and gaffes and blunders, and the greatest offenses. God puts His hand upon us. God is there. God forgives.

Forgiveness is also the treasure God gives to His people to share with one another. This is not something we can do on our own. It is something we do in the certainty of God’s presence and with His hand upon us. Forgiveness is where we learn to keep life and circumstances in perspective. It is where we learn to say, “Thank God, no one was killed.” Oh, blunders abound and mistakes really mess things up. But in the end no one was killed. God’s hand was upon us. God is with us. Forgiveness.

Matters of the Heart

What are some things that get in the way of our forgiveness? Here are a few from my list:

An overpersonalization of the offense. For instance, terrible as the aerosol bomb at church was, no one intended for it to happen. Often, the things that offend us most are/were never meant to happen. Sometimes people, their manners and mannerisms, are a matter of who they are, their generation, and their culture.

Escalation. This is where the given offense is ramped up. It is given unnecessary negative energy and attention. This most often happens when we dwell on the matter. It is amplified when we talk to others about it again and again—and again. With an event such as the kitchen accident, a person might continue to say, “Can you believe it? How did this happen? What were people thinking? Who were those reckless idiots in charge?”

A preoccupation with self. Ultimately, a lack of forgiveness is born in an angry, jealous, and envious heart, or in a heart that has a different set of expectations than what is being met. “Unforgiveness” takes place when we see ourselves as victims. Unforgiveness happens when we are consumed with how we have been unjustly and unfairly treated, or when we feel out of control of a situation—others just don’t measure up.

Climbing Mountains

So, what might be helpful in learning to forgive? How might we work together? How might we partner together? How might we “high five,” cheer, and encourage each other?

You must know Jesus. True forgiveness can only take place in the knowledge and certainty of what God has done for us, and what He is doing in us. It is God who leads and empowers forgiveness.

You must know yourself forgiven. You must quietly, humbly, graciously look at yourself in the mirror of God’s grace and say, “No one was killed. God’s hand was upon us. God was with us.” You are forgiven. You blunder. You make mistakes. You mess up. And you know what? You are forgiven.

You must know that God commands and expects your forgiveness. This may be tough to hear. But much as we have expectations of others, God expects our forgiveness. He expects us to look more to Him than to the offense of others. He expects us to take hold of Him and let go of some other things. You may need to practice. You may need to work at it.

Here’s a “mountain man” challenge: Let’s rope up together. Let’s help each other. Forgiving others is as tough, or tougher, than climbing a mountain. But working together as a team, forgiveness is made as possible as reaching the summit. Forgiveness takes good communication. It takes practice. It takes effort. Perhaps our greatest forgiveness is for those who are just stuck. Perhaps our greatest forgiveness is for those who just won’t forgive. But if our goal is to reach the summit together, and to leave no one behind, we may have to leave ourselves and our pride behind. We look at people in their hurt. We look at people in the complexities of their lives. We walk a mile in another person’s shoes. We look at life from another point of view: God’s hand is upon us. God is with us. We are forgiven.

About the Author: Rev. Jeffrey Sippy is the senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church and Springfield Lutheran School in Springfield and Nixa, Mo.

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