The New Math

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
                                                                                                    Matthew 18:21-22    (NIV)     

"I can forgive, but I cannot forget,"is only another way of saying, "I will not forgive."
                                                                                                    Henry Ward Beecher

 We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.  When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
                                                                                                    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Great leaders call people to do great things — and those are usually hard things.  It's hard to be in the presence of a great leader without being stretched — challenged — reshaped. Some who follow a great leader will end up being great themselves — but they will pay a price. Greatness doesn't come cheap.

 Jesus challenged his disciples. He was always calling them to go places where they would just as soon not go — and to do things that they would just as soon not do.

In his book, Beyond Myself, Gilbert Bowen tells the story of Tom Fleming, a 22-year-old husband and father.  Fleming was carrying around a boat-load of anger and his anger made  his life miserable.  His anger made it difficult for him to hold a job. His anger caused him to be short-tempered with his children.  It affected everything he did and everyone he touched.

Recognizing that he had a problem, Fleming went to a counselor — a man named Donald Hope.  They worked together for eight months without getting very far. But at some point, Hope realized that Fleming was angry at his alcoholic father — a man who had belittled Fleming and made his life miserable.  That made it possible for Fleming to understand where his anger was coming from, it didn't solve his problem.

Then Fleming talked about it with his minister, who suggested that Fleming forgive his father.  The minister prayed for Fleming, asking God to help Fleming forgive his father — asking God to help Fleming overcome his anger.  Fleming prayed too.  He prayed for grace to forgive his father.  When he did that, he felt a peace come over him — a peace that he had not previously known.

 The next day, Fleming went to see his father. "Dad," he said, "Last night I asked God to help me forgive.  I think maybe it worked."  Fleming's father began to cry, and they embraced.  It was truly a new beginning for both Fleming and his father.

Donald Hope, the therapist, said that he was amazed at the transformation that came over Fleming.  Having released his anger — having forgiven his father — he was, for the first time in a long time  — perhaps for the first time ever — at peace with himself.  He became a gentle and loving father, and the rest of his life began to come together as well.

My point in telling that story is simply that, instead of giving us an impossible task, Jesus has given us a wonderful gift.  When he teaches us to forgive, he is enabling us to drain the poison that would otherwise ruin our lives.

 So when we hear Jesus say, "Forgive seventy-seven times," let's not hear that as an impossible standard.  Let's hear it as a great blessing — as an invitation to begin a new life — as an invitation to become really, really free, possibly for the first time in our lives.

See you in worship

Pastor Ken