Last sunday the gospel text that I preached on was from Matt 18:21-35. It is the parable of the unforgiving debtor. I sensed the urgency of communicating the joy and freedom of living “a lifestyle of forgiveness.” After over forty years of being a pastor among Lutheran folks, I know there are many who live in a deep, dark cave of their own making, because of unforgiveness. Church people can be some of the most unforgiving people on the planet, because they think their good behavior can cover their dark side. My greatest challenge has been forgiving church people. But at the ripe, old age of 70 I sense that I have been able to embrace a lifestyle of forgiveness. It has not been easy. I know I will be tested in the future. There were years when I lived in the “far country” of anger and resentment because of my unforgiving spirit. But by the grace of God I have tasted something of the freedom and joy of living in forgiveness. I pray that each man who is reading this blog today will know the freedom of forgiveness.
We have the choice, says Father Albert Haase, of either being “a velcro personality” to which all hurts stick or “a teflon personality to which all hurts slide right off. For the velcro personality, “treasured emotional wounds and scars become like fish bones stuck in the throat. Even the smallest bones can be excruciating,” observes Father Haase. The teflon personality might not forget, but they choose to forgive. They decide it is better to stop picking and nursing the scab.
Father Haase paints a sad picture of the velcro personality. “It takes a lot of emotional and psychological energy to keep a wound open, to keep a grudge alive. And the more we work to keep it alive, the more emotionally drained we become as the grudge saps us of our strength. The longer we allow a wound to fester, or the longer we keep picking its scab, the more bitterness, anger and self-pity poison our blood and eat at our hearts.” I personally identify with the experience of Ann Lamott when she describes her experience. “I went around saying for a long time that I am not one of the Christians who is heavily into forgiveness – that I am one of the other kind. But even though it was funny and actually true, it started to be too painful to stay this way… In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” I had a hard time admitting that I was drinking rat poison. I had to come to the place of humility and repentance before the cross.
Why do I say before the cross. When I look up at the Lord Jesus on the cross, I see him taking into his body my sin, opening the way for my forgiveness. “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:14). Granting me forgive, was very costly. But Jesus did it all so that I might be set free from my sin. He paved the way so that I might have a forgiving heart. Paul tells us in Ephesians, “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32). When Jesus lives in my heart, he is the one who is forgiving others through me. He gives me the ability to have a telfon personality.