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The Forgiveness of Sins

Read : Matthew 5: 43–45, Matthew 9: 2–9, Matthew 12: 30–32 , Luke 24: 45–49, Acts 13: 36–39  

We now find ourselves working our way well through Lent … a season generally associated with abstinence, frugality and a general avoidance of purely pleasurable activities … making way instead for quiet contemplation, prayer and study. It is a serious time, but I would suggest it doesn't have to be a miserable time … much as our traditional Scottish culture seems to suggest that pain is good for the soul! 

It is in the context of this season of the Christian year that we find ourselves today reflecting together around the general subject of 'Forgiveness of Sin'. The English word 'Forgive' literally means 'Give Away'. The underlying concept is that if someone does you harm then they owe you compensation … forgiveness is giving away the right to that compensation. 

This I suggest is a good season to reflect on forgiveness … a time to look at our relationships with people around us … identify the ongoing tensions … exchanging forgiveness can remove those tensions and restore relationships to a peaceful condition. 

Not only is it a good time to look at our relationships with people, it is a good time to look at our relationship with God … seek out the ongoing tensions in our spiritual lives and accept God's forgiveness, restoring spiritual peace.  

Forgiveness … Emotional relationships Perhaps the most challenging area for forgiveness is where there is an emotional relationship. For example is God really expecting us always to forgive marital infidelity? Well I am told that unlike a sermon, in a reflection I am only expected to examine questions … I am not expected to give answers, but perhaps to offer ideas for consideration. My own feeling is that the key may be in recognising that forgiveness does not require us to restore a relationship to its previous peaceful state but may well involve finding a quite different new peaceful state. The discovery of marital infidelity is a moment when one partner may come to realise an unacceptable aspect of the other's character for the first time … I would suggest that there is nothing wrong with a relationship changing over time … and I would suggest there is no reason why divorce and forgiveness should not go hand in hand, though reconciliation and forgiveness can work for some people. Whatever the practical outcome the challenge of forgiveness is to put away the bitterness … easy to say but not so easy to do in an emotional situation.  

Forgiveness … Family relationships Family relationships are another area where a focus on forgiveness could take away a great deal of pain. How many people go on resenting that their partner is not the person they thought they had married? How many parents and children are at loggerheads over differences in generational attitudes? Is Lent perhaps the time to forgive our families for being different from our expectations, to accept and celebrate them as they are, to restore family peace?  

Forgiveness … Our Friends and Neighbours Over the years we share more and more experiences with our friends, our neighbours, our business colleagues. Somehow it often seems that the bad experiences are more dramatic, they can burn more deeply into our minds. Lent is surely a good time to look actively at these relationships, to forgive and to restore peace.  

Forgiveness … Strangers Sometimes in life we have only one experience of a stranger and it is dramatically bad. Perhaps they are responsible for an accident in which you suffer permanent injury. Maybe they took a risk, a few drinks too many. What sort of forgiveness does God expect of us? I would suggest there is no need to forego seeking financial compensation if we have suffered real loss and indeed it may be counter-productive to seek to interfere with the punishment a court may decide upon. Again I would suggest forgiveness is about how we feel about that person. The challenge is to put the bitterness to one side and move on.  

Forgiveness … Where My Friend is Hurt One of the more challenging situations to think through is forgiveness when the person who has been harmed is not me but my friend. If I simply look at my friend's aggressor and forgive him, is my friend not entitled to feel a little aggrieved? Should he not feel that I should be joining him in condemnation of what has happened? Perhaps condemnation of the action may be in order, without necessarily condemning the person. Perhaps too there is a question of timing … maybe we should aim in the end for forgiveness, but that forgiveness maybe doesn't have to be offered immediately.  

Forgiveness … Where My Friend Hurts Someone The converse situation can also arise and in some ways can be even more challenging to deal with. How do we react if our friend hurts someone, especially if that someone is a stranger? Very often the first instinct is to find obscure excuses to excuse our friend's behaviour, but in reality the hard truth has to be faced … we really should encourage our friend to make amends, even if that risks losing the friendship.  

Forgiveness … He Died That We Might be Forgiven All that has been discussed so far has been about human sin and human forgiveness. But of course there is another dimension to this whole subject which lies at the root of our Christian belief. That of course is the love and forgiveness of God which is on offer to all of us through His grace.  

We are approaching Easter … the very time when we recollect Jesus' crucifixion … Jesus died that we might be forgiven … He died 2000 years ago, a much longer time than any of us can possibly experience and yet the consequence of His sacrifice lives on with us today as though it had all just happened. 

I started by saying that Lent is a serious time, but when we remember the great gift of forgiveness which came through Jesus death we must never allow it to be a downbeat time 

Pulling Everything Together I have chosen to focus on forgiveness rather than on sin. I've tried to suggest how we might approach forgiveness in a variety of human situations.  

It may be helpful to reflect on the cross, and reflect on the fact that Jesus died that we might be forgiven. 

Michael Langdon, 2010


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