forgiving, forgiven (five)

Each week our conversation deepens as we open ourselves to the risk of forgiveness that is at the heart of the Christian gospel. We risk vulnerability with one another as we name our struggle to forgive and our need to receive forgiveness as we revisit deep ache that has scarred souls. The scripture is at once familiar and yet jarring. This week we voice Peter's question of Jesus: "How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus' answer is challenging no matter how the math is calculated. He says either "seventy-seven times" or "seventy times seven".

Here is the worksheet for this week's conversation ...

“The Peril of Forgiveness”

* Matthew 18:12-35. What questions do this text raise for you? What might the passage teach us about Christian practices of forgiveness?

* What do you make of William Willimon’s sermon “The Peril of Forgiveness”? In the introductory notes Willimon says that he “hoped, in this sermon, to remind the people at Northside of the adventure of being saved by a saviour like Jesus.” How would you describe this adventure at it is portrayed here? Does it make a difference to think of forgiveness as an aspect of an adventure rather than as a rule in a law code?

What do you think that Willimon is referring to when he says that: “You have to watch Jesus also because you have to interpret what he says by what he does”?

How do you respond to the conclusion of this sermon: “There is some kind of link between our self-righteous condemnation of others and dishonesty about ourselves. The worst kind of lostness of all is not knowing how lost we are. The worst sort of sin is to believe we are without sin. The worst sort of unforgiveness is to presume that we don’t need forgiveness. So sometimes the Gentile and tax collector that we are busy excluding from the fellowship and binding up with condemnation is us. For in the searching moral gaze of God’s eyes, we’re all Gentiles and tax collectors. The stray sheep that the Shepherd is out seeking is us, whether we have strayed from the path of moral rectitude through whom we slept with last night, or we have strayed from the meaning of true discipleship through whom we condemned in church this morning. To our surprise, we have met the Gentiles and tax collectors, and they are us. And today’s good news is, that’s just the sort of lost sheep Jesus loves to save.”

* Which if the following excerpts from “How Can We Forgive”, the final chapter in Miroslav Volf’s book “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace”, do you find most helpful? Which do you find most troubling? Why?

“If on the bottom line of our lives lies the principle that we should get what we deserve, whether good or ill, forgiveness will sit uncomfortably with us. To forgive is to give people more than their due, it’s to release them from the debt they have incurred, and that’s bound to mess up the books.” (p. 203)

“Eventually, the time to forgive may come. She may forgive with one part of her soul while desiring vengeance with another. She may forgive one moment and then take it back the next. She may forgive some lighter offenses but not the worst ones. Such ambivalent, tentative, and hesitant attempts are not yet full-fledged forgiveness, but they are a start. If she doesn’t trample underfoot the tender plant of forgiveness that seeks to break through the crust of vengeance with which she has protected herself, if she waters that plant with the living water of God’s goodness, one day it may grow sturdy enough to bear fruit.” (p. 207)

“Forgiving the unrepentant is not an optional extra in the Christian way of life; it’s the heart of the thing. Why? Because God is such a forgiver and Christ forgave in such a way. And you know what? We also bear the burden of forgiveness because when we are forgivers we are restored to our full human splendor. We were created to mirror God. Anything less is really Judas’ kiss on our own cheek, a betrayal of ourselves by ourselves.” (p. 209)

“How does the God who forgives work in the lives of forgivers? Not through the isolated decisions of self-enclosed individuals but through a life lived in response to the God of grace and through a community that makes the practice of forgiveness meaningful. Do you want to become a forgiving person? Seek the company of forgiven forgivers!” (p. 214)

“Why have many of our Christian fathers and mothers throughout history, greedy and vengeful as they were, left so much suffering in their trail? And why are we hardly any better, whether we are fathers and mothers, colleagues and friends, neighbors or strangers? Why do w refuse the God-given bridge that would transport us from selfishness to self-giving, from vengeance to forgiveness? That’s a mystery that should make us tremble - tremble before the God who gives to the ungrateful and the God who forgives the ungodly.” (p. 224)

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