We love because God first loved us. We forgive because in Christ, God first forgave us, and continues to shower us with grace day by day. I recently wrote a blog post on reconciliation for the season of Lent. Forgiveness is the first step toward reconciliation and healing.
We read in Luther’s Small Catechism, his fifth petition on the Lord’s Prayer: “We ask in this prayer that our heavenly Father would not regard our sins nor deny these petitions on their account, for we are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it. Instead we ask that God would give us all things by grace, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve only punishment. So, on the other hand, we, too, truly want to forgive heartily and to do good gladly to those who sin against us.”
Let me share three snapshots of how this plays out in daily life.
First, you may recall the name Matthew Shepherd, a young gay man who was brutally murdered twenty-two years ago. His father appeared at the trial of the two men accused of killing him to offer his forgiveness and plead to the judge for mercy in considering their sentence.
Second, in 2006 there was a tragic shooting rampage that took the lives of several school children in a Mennonite Community. The response was grace-filled. While the man responsible took his own life, that faith community reached out to the man’s widow with mercy and compassion—raising money and providing other support for her and her young family.
And third, when I was pastor at a large church in the Seattle area, an arsonist destroyed our church plant. While devastated, our congregation reached out to the young man and his family with prayers and forgiveness. Later during one of my visits to see Paul in prison, he told me that because of that response, he had experienced God’s grace for the first time in his life—in a very tangible way. And it transformed and changed him. He became active in the chaplain’s office, providing music for worship on Sundays and leading Bible Studies. Recently he received a 25 year certificate for his years of faithful service in this ministry.
What do these stories teach us? Why do we forgive? There are at least three lessons we can take away.
- We forgive because we have been forgiven. We are to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ who from the cross even forgave those who caused his suffering.
- We forgive because God can use our action to change and transform others.
- We forgive because it can bring us healing and inner peace when we are able to finally let go of the anger, grief, disappointment, and heartache. It doesn’t mean we condone the action or even promise to forget about it. But we will not let the cruel act of another define us. We are free to move forward by God’s grace in Christ.
A prayer attributed to St. Francis reminds us to take the high road: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”