Forgiveness: A message preached with Crosby Bearden on May 19, 2024

Forgiveness: A message with Crosby Bearden

Matthew 18: 21-35

May 19, 2024

          This past January, I invited you to share your ideas for future sermon topics. Many of you responded. I’ve shared some of those messages. I preached a sermon from the book of Revelation on How to Stay Faithful and Positive. I shared a series about Loving Those on the Other Side. Next week I start a series on Prayer requested by a couple people including Steve Patton.

          A month ago, Crosby Bearden wrote down the idea for a sermon on the back of an envelope and handed it to me after worship. The following Sunday I asked if we could get together to talk more about it and maybe involve him in the message. When we met, Crosby talked about how he’d be willing to help me preach a sermon on something that he feels is important: forgiveness. So together we have worked on this message.

          I don’t want this to be just a theoretical sermon. Therefore, I want you to think about whom you might forgive. Think about one specific person.

Think about that person who has done something to hurt you. Maybe that person has hurt someone you care about.

It could be this person is deceased. They might have died years ago. But still you’re living with the pain and hurt of what they did.

It could be this person lives far away. They’ve moved away or you’ve moved away. That makes it easier because you don’t have to see them very often or maybe not at all.

It could be this person lives close, but you don’t talk anymore. You avoid each other.

It could be this person is a family member. Maybe a parent. Maybe a child. Maybe a brother or sister.

It could be this person used to be a friend. Or maybe it’s a person who was a stranger before they hurt you.

I want you to come up with one person who you’ve had a hard time forgiving, someone whose hurt you just can’t forget or get over.

I’m going to pause just a moment for you to say that person’s name to yourself.

          Let’s listen to the first part of a story in Crosby’s life.

     I have a friend at my school named Zeke. Zeke, as you may have guessed,

is short for Ezekiel, the Israelite priest. He is a good friend to me. He is funny, kind, but sometimes loses his temper. I go to a school where everyone with anger issues and similar dilemmas can learn to control those things. Anger management issues were common, and we all learned to cope with those things. But one day, it got bad. He got really angry (over the assignment, I think?) and started lipping off to the teacher. I, being the good kid that I am, knew this wasn’t okay, and began asking about his behavior. Things eventually got so heated between us that he straight-up slapped me across the face. There was a red mark on my cheek, the shape of a hand, and initially, I intended to return the favor. 

          Crosby and I worked together to find some good Scriptures related to the importance of forgiveness. The one we really liked was the one that Sherry read from the book of Matthew.

          Let’s hear Crosby talk about it:

     One of the things I learned about this story is that even if someone owes you a little or a lot, it is still possible in your heart to forgive them.

     I would ask Jesus what he meant by how God treats people in his kingdom. I think he meant that if we don’t forgive people, anyone, really, anything they’ve done to us, God will not forgive our sins in heaven.

     I think, in this story, I was kind of like the king in this situation. I feel like I forgave my friend for what he did, but I can’t really see myself punishing him either.

     If Peter came up to me and asked the same question that he did Jesus, I would probably say that you could never count the number of times you should forgive someone, not even if you had your whole life.

     As a result of reading this scripture, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive all those who have ever done you wrong. And if you’ve wronged someone, ask them for forgiveness.

Every day we gather pebbles. These are little things that people do to us. Like the person who honked at us for going too slow. Like the waiter who forgot our order at the restaurant. Like the spouse who didn’t get around to doing something they said they would do for us. Or maybe like the slap that Crosby received from his friend Zeke.  

          They’re just little pebbles. But pebbles add up and begin to weigh us down. They get in the way of our relationships.

          Then there are the medium sized rocks. Maybe a family member said something to us that really hurt our feelings.  Maybe someone we thought was a good friend did something that was just so cruel. Maybe someone has given us the cold shoulder for a long time. Maybe someone hurt one of our family members.

These medium stones really hurt, even still.

Finally, there are the big rocks.

For these, people ask questions like: Does forgiving mean the same thing as condoning? Should forgiving mean there should be no consequences? Do I have to stay in relationship with someone who continues to hurt me mercilessly?

And the answer to all three is No.

But still we’re invited to forgive others and let go of our bag of stones.

Crosby thought of another Scripture that talks about forgiveness. It was when Jesus was on the cross and said these words: “Abba, forgive these people. They don’t know what they are doing.” Share with us your thoughts about that Crosby:

I think Jesus is forgiving everyone who put him there, everyone who voted to put him there, and everyone who did him wrong.

     That must have been very hard for him because there were a lot of people against him at the time. He was probably thinking about Judas, because he led Jesus to his enemies. Even though it was written this would happen, that doesn’t make it any less infuriating. It was also difficult because Judas was such a good friend, and he herded him away like a pack animal.

     He said that the other people didn’t know what they were doing because he was the only one there, besides his apostles, that knew he was the Son of God.

     These things apply because even normal people can forgive others, and can ask for forgiveness, especially when the stakes aren’t so high, like in Jesus’ case.

Many years ago, Lori and I heard a speaker at the Chautauqua Institute by the name of Everett Worthington. He talked about the five steps of forgiveness: The acronym is Reach. R-E-A-C-H

The first step is R for Recall the hurt. We often try to protect ourselves by denying the hurt. To heal, we must recall the hurt in an attitude of prayer. We do it in the presence of the Holy Spirit, our comforter. We recall the hurt.

          The next step is E: Empathy. We try to understand what the person we’re trying to forgive was or is dealing with. We empathize.

          The next step is A for the altruistic gift of forgiveness. It helps for us to remember the way that we are forgiven over and over by our loving Parent in heaven. We are able to forgive because we are thankful for being forgiven ourselves.

It’s like how that unforgiving official should have been thankful for being forgiven by the King. And therefore, should have forgiven the person who had a debt with him.

 The next step is C: Commit publicly to forgive. For some people, writing it down is helpful. For others, sharing the story with someone is important. 

Finally, the fifth step is H: holding on to forgiveness. Instead of holding on to anger or revenge, we need to hold on tightly to forgiveness. Which in an odd sort of way is all about letting it go.

Let’s listen to Crosby finish his story about his friend who had slapped him in the face that day.

His expression quickly changed from fury into a sort of guilt. He then stared at me with guilty eyes and repeatedly said, “I’m sorry I’m so, so sorry.” I somehow managed to keep my cool, and we’re still friends, even today! I was able to forgive him because, at the end of the day, it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. He apologized, swore he would never do it again. I’m autistic, and I’ve lashed out a couple times before. After a time, I often feel really bad after the fact. I’ve been in his shoes before, so I knew how he felt. Now that’s a good story of forgiveness.

This morning, we’re invited to let God help us forgive.

God reaches out to listen to us as we remember again that hurt.

God gives us the spirit of empathy toward the person who hurt us. Just like God gave Crosby the spirit of empathy for his friend Zeke. He could understand why he did what he did.

God forgives us so that we can forgive others from a spirit of gratitude.

God releases us from our bondage to anger and revenge.

God warms our heart so that we can commit publicly and hold on to that forgiveness.

God heals the hurts of our heart through forgiveness. That’s what happened in Crosby’s life.

As we listen to the special music, pray that God might help you let go of that stone and forgive the person who wronged you, just as Crosby forgave his friend Zeke. I’m so thankful they made up and are still friends.

Thanks, Crosby, for helping me with this message on forgiveness.

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