When It Comes to Forgiveness-BE FIRST!
by Rev. Randy Brown
I don’t know if you’ve realized it or not but we live in a society that is captivated by the desire to be number one. We want to be first. It’s not too long before the Olympics will be taking place and we have untold Olympic hopefuls from all over the world, especially our country, that are training and training and training because they want one thing. They want to be first place in the Olympics. They want to be able to, when that National Anthem is played, be the ones standing on the center step. Knowing and realizing and letting everybody else know that they are number one. They are first in the world in their chosen event of competition. It’s not too long for football season. Many of you, regardless of how your team did last year, you’re thinking, “we’re going to be number one this year.” Some of you will probably make it. We’ve even got a political candidate who wants to “Make America Great Again” and be number one. For those of you on a different party, I’ve got a story for you in a few moments, so it’s equal time here okay.
We have an opportunity and we live in a culture and a society that we want to be first. We like to be in first place. We want to be number one. We’re told that and today I want us to look at, we need to be number one in forgiveness. I think the scripture speaks to that. As I was looking at what I wanted to share today, looking at forgiveness, I thought, I’m going to go and study just very briefly the other major religions of the world and see why they don’t talk about forgiveness and boy, was I wrong.
If you go and look at the other major religions of the world, forgiveness is at some of the core value of what they teach. Buddhism teaches to practice prevention. In other words, don’t sin. That’s a part of their core values. Islam says that we need to be forgiven and forgive people. Hinduism says that if you experience forgiveness it is the supreme peace that you can have in your life. Judaism talks about the day of atonement. Christianity has one who died for us for the forgiveness of our sins. We come today to remember that when we come to the table of our Lord. So, they all have basic core values and among those core values is the issue of forgiveness.
Is there any one of us here that doesn’t need forgiveness in our life? Has there been a time when we could say I don’t need that? I don’t need forgiveness or I’ve never needed forgiveness. Anybody here? Every time I’ve asked that question nobody’s raised their hand. At least we’re all honest about that part of our lives. We all need forgiveness.
I remember reading a story this week about a young boy named Paco. Paco and his father had become estranged and his father just left him and didn’t have anything to do with him. Years went by and they were estranged. Didn’t speak, had lost touch with each other, didn’t know where each other lived and one day the father decided, I’m going to get in touch with my son. He tried and he tried and he tried to find his son named Paco, to no avail. Nothing he tried worked. Finally he came up with a brilliant idea. He went to the newspaper in Madrid and he took out an ad. In the ad it said, “Dear Paco, meet me in the morning in front of the newspaper office. All is forgiven. All is well. I love you.” That was the add that he took out in the paper. An interesting thing happened the next morning. Right around noon there were eight hundred men by the name of Paco that showed up in front of the Madrid newspaper office. What does that say? It says that we all stand in need of reconciliation. We all want to be reconciled. We all want to be forgiven and restored to that right relationship.
We come to the table of our Lord. It is the table of forgiveness. The table of forgiveness for our sins and not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world. So preacher, what’s this got to do about being first? I want you to be first and it’s okay to be first in these areas, I’m going to give you three. The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to apologize is the bravest. We don’t know what’s going to happen when we go to apologize to someone else for something that we have done. Matthew’s gospel tells us, I read it a few moments ago, if you come into the alter and you’re going to make your gift to God and there you remember that somebody has something against you, you are to leave your gift, you’re to go to that person, you’re to be reconciled and then come back. It is your responsibility, if you remember someone has something against you, it’s your responsibility to go and make it right.
Now notice Jesus did not say leave your gift at the alter, go and tell them off one last time, and then come back. That’s not what he said. He said go, make amends, come back, and offer your gift. Now, when we go to apologize we’re not guaranteed what we might receive. We don’t know how that’s going to be received. That doesn’t matter. He said go and do it. The first to apologize is the bravest.
I want to change to Mark’s gospel for a minute. Mark tells us that if you’re at prayer and you remember that you’ve got something against somebody then forgive them. Regardless if you’re the one that has wronged someone or if you’ve been wronged. It is the responsibility of the follower of Christ to take the initiative to bring about reconciliation. Why? Because that’s what Jesus did and we are to follow him. He is our example. So, if we’ve got something that we think of that we need to go apologize for go and do it. If we’ve got something that we need to forgive, do it. The responsibility falls on us and on no one else. Why is it possible? Why is it that way? Because if we forgive somebody we move it out of the way and if we move that out of the way then there’s more room for God to come in and be present in our lives. It is the responsibility of the followers of Christ to be there.
The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. Now, talk about strength, do you remember the strongest man that ever lived? The strongest man that ever lived, what did they do to Him? They whipped Him. They beat Him. They spat upon Him. They stretched out His arms. They put nails through His hands and spikes through His feet. They hung Him between heaven and earth and what did He do there? He prayed. What did He pray? God sic ‘em. Uh, uh. What He prayed was, Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing. That’s why, when He had done all that He could do, when He had forgiven them, He prayed for their forgiveness. Forgiveness means to be restored back to a right relationship. These were the people that were killing him. He prayed for them to be restored to a right relationship. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. Right? That’s why, when He’s on the cross going through the agony after He had prayed for their forgiveness, that’s why he could shout – It Is Finished. He’d done all He could do. Strongest man that ever lived, knew what it was like to forgive those that desperately needed it.
The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest. I told you a moment ago that I had a story on the Republican side and I’ve got one on the Democrat side just to be equal here. Here it is. If you’re a student of history you know that in the last century the most bitter political rival was between two men. One’s name was Hubert Humphrey and the other’s name was Richard Nixon. Bitter rivals. They both obtained the office of Senator from their state. They both obtained the office of Vice President of the United States. Only one became President and then in a time of national turmoil he had to resign in disgrace.
After they were both out of the public eye for a few years, they began to develop a friendship and Mr. Humphrey started that ball rolling. He would call Mr. Nixon, visit with him over the phone. Mr. Humphrey was increasingly failing in health. It’s recorded in history that one Christmas Day toward the end of his life, Mr. Humphrey called Mr. Nixon to wish him a Merry Christmas. About a week and a half later it was Nixon’s birthday, Mr. Humphrey called him again to wish him a Happy Birthday. And, on that occasion Mr. Humphrey asked Mr. Nixon to do him a favor. He said, sure I’ll do what I can. He said, “I’m not going to be here much longer and when I die would you come to my funeral and sit with my family.”
The day came for Mr. Humphrey to breath his last. Mr. Nixon was called. He fulfilled his obligation that Mr. Humphrey had asked him to do, to come and sit with the family. During that ceremony, or before the ceremony started, all the people, anybody who was anybody was gathered together for that funeral service and in that funeral service sat Richard Nixon just beside Mrs. Humphrey. Well, it was a kind of an uptight occasion. People didn’t know how to react to Mr. Nixon. They mostly ignored him. A few people nodded and went on but it was very uncomfortable for people sitting there because most people just acted like he wasn’t even there. In a moment, in walks President Jimmy Carter, all eyes are on President Carter wondering what he’s going to do. You know what he did? He walked over to President Nixon, stuck out his hand. Mr. Nixon stood up and President Carter said, “Welcome home Mr. President. Welcome home.” What a moment of grace. What a moment of grace that was. You know what Mr. Carter was doing? Mr. Carter fulfilled what we read about in Romans 12:18; “In so much as it is within your power live at peace with one another.” You know why he did it? Because that’s what the Book says. And the Book never lies.