Forgive One Another
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts burst into the one-room schoolhouse in the tiny Amish village of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, tied up ten young girls, and shot them. He then turned the gun on himself and took his own life as law enforcement officers arrived on the scene. Five of the girls died and five survived, though they would suffer the effects of their injuries for the rest of their lives. Within hours of the shootings the Amish community announced that they had forgiven the man who wounded and killed their children.
The community embraced the family of Charles Roberts. They visited and comforted his parents and his widow and children. They attended his funeral, and they set up a charitable fund for his family. Marie Roberts, his widow, wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors, thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. “Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
Some commentators criticized the Amish response, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed. They claimed that such an attitude denies the existence of evil. But others disagreed. They said that the choice to forgo vengeance doesn’t undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but it offers a first step toward a more hopeful future. Of course, such forgiveness isn’t easy. Everyone in the little community has suffered from the trauma of the horrific event. “[Forgiveness is] not a once-and-done thing,” one said. “It’s a lifelong process.” Another confessed that it was a struggle to stay constant. “You have to fight the bitter thoughts.” Still, despite the pain, they chose to forgive.
Peter asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “Not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Then he told a story about a king who forgave the enormous debt of his servant. The servant then refused to forgive the small debt of his fellow servant, instead having the man thrown into prison until he could pay. Once the king learned of this, he had the unforgiving servant brought before him and said, “You wicked servant. I canceled your debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you have shown the same mercy to your fellow servant?”
A few short weeks later, Jesus was arrested. His eleven closest, most loyal friends abandoned him and ran. Peter sneaked into the courtyard of the high priest, where someone accused him of being a cohort of Jesus. Peter denied it, not once but three times. A few days later, after Jesus had died, been buried, and risen, he met Peter on the shore of the lake. “Do you love me?” Jesus asked his friend. Not once but three times. As if to illustrate the earlier lesson, Jesus forgave each of Peter’s denials, and then, to prove that Peter was indeed welcomed back into his good graces, Jesus entrusted him with building the church and continuing his work on earth.
As sinners, we owe a debt to God so huge that we cannot ever pay it, yet it was canceled by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. By comparison, any wrongdoing others commit against us is small. How can we happily accept God’s mercy and grace while denying the same to our neighbors? Forgiveness is simply another name for love in action. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong. It’s a lifelong process, not a once-and-done thing. But it reaches beyond us, and it changes the world.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care provided), and stay for Discovery Hour (all ages).