“Forgive Everyone for Everything” -Rob Bell
The Gospel lesson for this sermon features that famous line from Matthew, to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Some translations render this “seventy times seven times” which is obviously a lot more.
The clear takeaway from Jesus’ instruction to Peter here, is that we should forgive a lot. We should forgive way more than we want to, and long after the offending party deserves it. But the question Jesus doesn’t answer is whom we should forgive. Peter seems to be talking about brothers and sisters in the Faith here, but there’s no reason to believe Jesus is limiting our forgiveness to church-folk. So then, perhaps if Peter were to continue his interrogation, he would ask “who should I forgive?” And, if Rob Bell could speak for Jesus here (just go with me) the answer might be “Everyone. Forgive everyone for everything.”
This concept of forgiveness is not new, but it certainly is “radical”. Which is why I recommended, in my sermon, the book Radical Forgiveness, by Colin Tipping. While it’s not a Christian book per se, and while it appeals to ideas and premises that may fall outside the standard boundaries of Christian thought, I believe it aligns quite well with the forgiveness ethic of Jesus in the Gospels. And in many ways, it goes much further to help the reader understand why we should forgive, and perhaps more importantly, how.
What I did not manage to include in my 12-minute sermon, however, was the notion of accountability. Jesus clearly believes that we will be held accountable, on some level, for the destructive choices we make. And Colin Tipping would agree, as would Rob Bell. The reality is, if we fear that our forgiveness will erase someone else’s accountability, then we need to look closer at what it actually means to forgive.
We could talk about the Forgiveness of God, and/or the Forgiveness of humans, but for this article let’s focus on the latter. But we’ll need to divvy it up once more, because there is also a distinction between Forgiveness and Pardon.
If you have the ability to enforce consequences on another person – perhaps to fine them, fire them, divorce them, disown them, or cut them off in some other way, then the notion of Pardon is on the table here. But it’s not what we mean when we talk about Forgiveness. Because you can forgive a person, and still fire them. You can forgive a person, and still divorce them. Or not. You may choose to pardon them anyway.
And if you have no power to enforce consequences on the offender at all, you can trust that God will see justice done in the end. Actions have consequences. But that also means we trust God to do what is ultimately best for every human, created in God’s image.
So, in the end, Forgiveness is not for the offender. If they are alive, and able to hear it, we may choose to communicate our Forgiveness to them. But more fundamentally, Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It is about releasing the offender in our hearts, and remembering that God is working all things together for our good, and for theirs as well.
My prayer for you today is that you take one step closer to forgiving everyone in your life for everything they may have done to you. Not for their sake, but for yours – to keep bitterness from eating you alive. And tokeep the door open to God’s perfect peace in your heart.