Sunday’s sermon: It Ain’t Easy

forgiveness 2

Texts used – Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Luke 6:27-38

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • It’s a funny word, isn’t it?
    • One of those words that sort of sounds the way it feels, right?
      • Compacted
      • Unsightly
      • Heavy
      • Dark
    • Etymology[1]
      • Dates all the way back to the 15th → probably came from Old French or possibly Old High German before that
      • Strems from words meaning to grumble and grunt
        • Sounds that we make when we’re talking about grudges with other people
        • Sounds our souls make when we’re thinking about and stewing over grudges, right?
    • A grudge sort of is the grunting, grumbling of our spirits. It’s the sound our hearts and our souls make when they continually heft the burden of a wrong that’s been done to us – when they dredge it up from the depths of our memories and haul it up into our conscious minds again and again, dragging all the pain and hurt and anger and frustration and outrage with it.
      • Terminology of a grudge = “bear a grudge”
        • Something that requires effort
        • Something to be endured and put up with
        • Something with uncomfortable weight
      • Heavy emotions require heavy lifting → So our souls grunt and grumble as we bear our grudges. They grunt and grumble because the weight of grudges are uncomfortable, right? The only reason for a grudge is because we feel we’ve been wronged, and no one likes feeling like that. No one likes reliving the way it felt to be cheated, deceived, hurt, looked down on, mistreated. No one likes remembering the malice or the injustice behind those past actions and feelings. And yet we do it, right? We hang on to those painful, uncomfortable things – cling to them, even.
    • From Psychology Today: Our grudge, and the identity that accompanies it, is an attempt to get the comfort and compassion we didn’t get in the past, the empathy for what happened to us at the hands of this “other,” the experience that our suffering matters. … The problem with grudges … is that they don’t serve the purpose that they are there to serve. They don’t make us feel better or heal our hurt. At the end of the day, we end up as proud owners of our grudges but still without the experience of comfort that we ultimately crave, that we have craved since the original wounding. … Sadly, in its effort to garner us empathy, our grudge ends up depriving us of the very empathy that we need to release it.[2] → Grudges are a bit of a catch-22, aren’t they? We hang onto grudges because they’re familiar. They’re a storyline and a narrative that we’ve visited over and over again, examining for things we could have said or done differently, alternate ways we could have reacted, things that could have led up to whatever action or encounter precipitated the grudge. It’s our attempt to try to understand what happened and to keep it from happening again. But in revisiting those difficult moments, we can become too entrenched in the pain and perceived injustice of them, letting them grow and fester in our hearts and our minds until they end up cutting us off from people, tainting and even ruining relationships.
      • Relationships with the people who have wronged us
      • Relationships with people similar to those who have wronged us
      • Even relationships with those completely unrelated to the incident
    • Grudges = unhealthy
      • Emotionally and mentally: not healthy to continue to revisit and nurse old wounds → can easily send us into a downward spiral that affects every aspect of our day
        • What Should Danny Do? By Adir and Ganit Levy[3] → When Danny makes the negative choices, his day gets worse. When he makes the positive choices, his day gets better. It’s the same with grudges. The more we let their negativity impact our thinking, the worse we feel throughout the day, and the more those negative feelings impact what we do and say.
      • Physically as well – research: Living in a chronic state of tension disables your body’s repair mechanisms, increasing inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Forgiveness engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your immune system function more efficiently and makes room for feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. … When you replay in your mind an experience you had six months ago, your body reacts as if you’re having the same experience over and over again.[4] → Ahhhh … forgiveness – the literal, hormonal antidote to all the negativity and stress and yuck stirred up by the grudges we bear.
  • Forgiveness. It’s a beautiful concept, right? The Bible talks a lot about forgiveness.
    • Other forgiveness texts
      • Paul in Eph: Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.[5]
      • God’s desire in Lev: You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.[6]
      • Wisdom imparted in Prov: Hate stirs up conflict, but love covers all offenses. … Don’t say, “I’ll repay the evildoer!” Wait for the LORD, and he will save you.[7]
      • Jesus’ mandate before prayer in the Gospels: And whenever you stand up to pray, if you have something against anyone, forgive so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your wrongdoings.[8]
    • On the other side of things: certainly plenty of Biblical e.g.s of grudge-holders
      • Cain → grudge against Abel because Abel’s offering was preferred over his own[9]
      • Sarah → grudge against Hagar for being able to bear children[10]
      • Jacob → grudge against his brother, Esau, for being the stronger twin[11]
      • Jonah → grudge against the people of Nineveh for repenting from their evil ways and returning to God[12]
    • Today’s OT story → Of all the people in the Old Testament who are part of stories of being wronged (and, frankly, there are a lot of them!), I don’t think there’s one who has more cause to hold a grudge than Joseph.
      • Joseph … the one who’s brothers were so jealous they prepared to kill him, threw him down into a well, sold him into slavery, and told his father he’d been killed by a wild beast
      • Joseph … who, after serving well and faithfully in the house of his master, ends up being falsely accused by his master’s wife when he rebuffed her advances and gets thrown in prison
      • Joseph … who eventually ends up in a position of incredible power over all Egypt and an even greater position of power over his brothers when they come begging at Pharaoh’s palace in the midst of a great famine
      • Joseph … who forgives – today’s text: He said [to his brothers], “I’m your brother Joseph! The one you sold to Egypt. Now, don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives. … God sent me before you to make sure you’d survive and to rescue your lives in this amazing way. You didn’t send me here; it was God who made me a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler of the whole land of Egypt.” … He kissed his brothers and wept, embracing them. After that, his brothers were finally able to talk to him.[13]
  • “Okay,” you might be saying. “That’s great for Joseph, but those are pretty specific circumstances. My grudge has nothing to do with brothers selling me into slavery that actually ended up turning into a position of power and wealth and political influence. So what about me?” → today’s NT text = just as uncomfortably challenging when it comes to forgiveness (imperative from Jesus): But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. … If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. … Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.[14] → I mean, come on, Jesus. Do you really know what you’re asking us to do? I mean, really?? Love those who have hurt us, mistreated us, taken advantage of us, upset and offended us? I mean …… REALLY?!
    • SUPER-IMPORTANT PASTORAL DISCLAIMER: NOT talking about cases of abuse of any kind! → There is a huge difference between holding a grudge and preserving your safety and your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
      • Jesus in the text: If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either.[15] = Jesus simultaneously engaging in and de-escalating conflict with figures of authority at the time → model for much of the pacifistic, non-violent resistance movements throughout history including Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. … NOT model for engaging with an abusive person in your life
    • That being said, Jesus’ words here are hard, right? They’re challenging. They’re convicting. They’re not the words we want to hear. “Love those who hate and persecute you. Love those who have caused you pain, who have messed things up for you.”
      • Gr. “love” = (you guessed it) that agape love → selfless, do-for-others, compassion-centric kind of love … For those who have hated you, cursed you, mistreated you. Dang, Jesus. Couldn’t you have set us an easier task? Something simple? I’d take the water-to-wine challenge over this one any day!
  • But then we remember water … and wine … and we remember that today we celebrate communion … and we remember that when we gather at this table, we gather in a holy and sacred space that is not meant for accusation, not meant for excuses, not meant for castigation or indictment, not meant for grunting or grumbling or grudges. We remember that when we gather at this table, we gather in a holy and sacred space made for one thing: forgiveness.
    • Not forgiveness earned by anything we’ve said
    • Not forgiveness earned by anything we’ve done
    • Not forgiveness earned at all. Period. Full stop.
    • Forgiveness freely given – a.k.a.: grace
    • Book of Order: The Lord’s Supper is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace. … The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. … Worshipers prepare themselves to celebrate the Lord’s supper by putting their trust in Christ, confessing their sin, and seeking reconciliation with God and one another. Even those who doubt may come to the table in order to be assured of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.[16] → And so we come to this table. We come with prayers on our lips and our hearts: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We come with spirits weary and heaven laden with the weight of grudges we have born for too long. We come looking for release and renewal, redemption and restoration. We come desperate for forgiveness but even more desperate to be taught how to forgive. It ain’t easy, friends. But we have indeed been forgiven, and through the power of that forgiveness, we can do hard things. Even forgive. Amen.

[1] https://www.wordreference.com/definition/grudge.

[2] Nancy Colier. “Why We Hold Grudges, and How to Let Them Go” from Psychology Today online, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201503/why-we-hold-grudges-and-how-let-them-go. Posted Mar. 4, 2015, accessed Sept. 1, 2019.

[3] Adir and Ganit Levy. What Should Danny Do? (Elon Books), 2017.

[4] https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/what-does-holding-a-grudge-do-to-your-health.

[5] Eph 4:31-32.

[6] Lev 19:18.

[7] Prov 10:12; 20:22.

[8] Mk 11:25; Mt 6:14-15.

[9] Gen 4:1-16.

[10] Gen 16; 21:1-21.

[11] Gen 25:19-27:45.

[12] Jonah 4.

[13] Gen 45:4b-5, 7-8, 15.

[14] Lk 6:27-28, 32-35a, 36.

[15] Lk 6:29.

[16] “Theology of the Lord’s Supper” from The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Part II: Book of Order 2019-2021. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly, 2019), W-3.0409.

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