“But there is forgiveness with Thee” Psalms 130:4
Although I have been retired from prison ministry, for a couple of years, I often wonder if I am in a prison within my mind. A prison, that each of us may be in – one that is escape proof, and the only way out is to be pardoned or paroled. The interesting thought is that we are the jailers; we are the guards; and only we hold the key to this prison within our minds.
Most people who are held within their jail have been in prison for years longer than the original offense. Every time we visit the jail (our personal jail) we relive the pain. We relive the offense as if it just happened. We hurt ourselves all over again as if it were presently happening to us Now.
Imagine you have been sentenced to life in prison. Imagine the confinement of that, the loss of freedom.
“In the book “Fresh Starts,” Robert Mueller tells a story that took place right after the Civil War. A woman entertained Robert E. Lee in her home. She pointed out a once beautiful oak tree that had been burned and disfigured by invading armies.
“What should I do?” she cried with bitterness in her voice.
General Robert E. Lee smiled at her and said, “Cut it down and forget it.”
Those were wise words. We must release the captives we have held in our minds.”
Today I want you to enjoy the dance of life. This is your dance. (But I will dance with you). And the band, us again are up here playing our songs, but you/we are dancing to the song of your/our life. You are your reality. Most people in the world are living in a past reality instead of a present one. They are locked in their prison with their prisoners.
To pardon is exoneration, absolution, dispensation, amnesty, mercy, grace, deliverance, clemency, compassion, and charity… Forgiveness!
There is an ancient story and developed philosophy about the last days of John the Evangelist in Ephesus, Turkey.
He lived to a great age, tradition says 99 years of age, and he became so feeble he had to be carried to the meetings of the faithful. Because of his weakness, he was unable to deliver a long discourse so at each gathering he simply repeated these words: “Little children, love one another” Weary of hearing the same words over and over the disciples asked him why he never said anything else. John answered, “Do this alone and this is enough.”
It is truly the one major teaching of Jesus Christ. To love instead of feeling resentful, instead of holding hate and reliving things over and over again.
When we relive an offense someone has done to us, it is like pouring gasoline on an open fire. We are the ones who get burned.
Decide to forgive because resentment is negative, resentment is poisonous; resentment diminishes and devours the self.
Be the first to forgive. Smile and take the first step and you will see happiness bloom on the face of your human brother or sister. Always be the first. Do not wait for others to forgive, for by forgiving, you become the master of your fate, the fashioner of life, the doer of miracles. To forgive is the highest most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.
When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, he instinctively threw up his hand in the Hindu gesture of forgiveness. Gandhi understood what truth was about or he could have never said. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
Pardoning all the prisoners is about the ultimate gift of freedom to those we have held captive with our minds. In the mind, the crime keeps repeating itself playing over and over in the self-imposed correctional facility of our own minds. The irony we will see today as we examine this is that we are not punishing the offender. We are continually punishing ourselves.
“A man once stole a piece of food and was ordered by the king to be hanged. When asked if he had any last words, the thief replied, “Know old king that I can plant an apple seed in the ground and it will grow and bear fruit overnight. It is a secret my father taught me and it would be a pity if it died with me.”
The time was appointed the following day for the planting of the seed. The thief dug a hole and he said, “This seed can only be planted by someone who has never stolen or taken anything that did not belong to him. Being a thief I can’t do it.”
The king asked his prime minister to plant the seed but he hesitated and said, “Your majesty when I was young I recall keeping an article that did not belong to me. I can’t plant the seed.”
The treasurer when told to plant the seed begged the king’s pardon saying he may have cheated someone out of some money. The king in his turn recalled once he took and kept a precious object belonging to his father.
The thief turned to them and said, “You are all mighty and powerful persons. You are not in want of anything.
Yet you can’t plant the seed? Yet I who stole just a little bit of food to stay alive am to be hung.”
The king was pleased with the man’s wisdom and pardoned him.”
Sometimes we judge others and put them into a prison of our minds, when in truth we ourselves have committed greater offenses in the past.
One time there were two Buddhist monks on their way to a monastery. They found an exceedingly beautiful woman at the riverbank. Like them, she wished to cross the river but the water was too high. One of the monks lifted her on his back and carried her across. The fellow monk watching this happen was thoroughly scandalized. For two full hours after this, he berated the other monk on his negligence on keeping the holy rule. Had he forgotten he was a monk? How dare he touch a woman and even more carry her across the river? What would people say? Had he not brought their holy religion into disrepute?
The offending monk patiently listened to the never-ending sermon. Finally he broke in with, “Brother, I dropped that woman at the river bank but you are still carrying her.”
Sometimes in jailing another, we are committing a higher crime than the original act because we ourselves relive that crime constantly and magnify it.
I would like to share with you Luke 7:36-50. “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘Speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him. ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'”
There is a fable about a man who arrives in heaven. He is shown into God’s office for judgment. One wall of the office is a picture window looking down on Earth. The Earth is beautiful with its blue waters, green forests, and white clouds. There is a pair of eyeglasses on the table. He says to himself, “Humm these must be God’s glasses.” He looked around and didn’t see anyone so he put on God’s glasses. He tries them on and looks at Earth again. Now he sees hunger, poverty, and sickness.
There is so much inhumanity he can’t bear it. He hears a voice behind him. “Take off my glasses.” He does so quickly and waits for his punishment.
After a pause a voice gently asked, “What did you see?”
“I saw hate, corruption, and evil.”
God said, “Did you feel any love or compassion.”
“None,” the man said. “I would destroy the whole planet without any hesitation or regret.”
God said. “That is why you can’t use my glasses. You may not see what I see unless you feel what I feel.”
Imagine if we, beginning this moment, were immune to resentments and grudges inside of ourselves. You can be if you have this mind IN you that was IN Christ Jesus.
Every time we imprison someone, we lock ourselves up with them.
We are not guards or policemen. Do not judge others regarding their guilt or innocence. Consider yourself and how you stand in the sight of God for having thoughts about another person’s guilt.
Forgiveness is a non-judgmental love. There was a doctor who spoke at the World Psychiatric Congress on the value of love. He said, ‘The only real love is non-judgmental love. Most people love judgmentally.” I’ll love you IF YOU AGREE WITH ME politically. I’ll love you if you start living the way I WANT YOU TO LIVE. If you don’t meet my expectations, I will not love you.
St. Paul tells us even when we were the enemies of God, God loves us non-judgmentally.
There are no ifs in God’s love for us.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you what reward do you have?” (Mt. 5:46) Even scoundrels and crooks love their fellow crooks. Genuine love is shown when God allows the sun to rise on the just and unjust and so must we. God’s rain must fall on the good as well as the evil and it benefits us.’’
That may seem unjust to you, but this concept is filled with mercy. There will always be a tension between mercy and justice.
If you are having difficulty forgiving someone because what they did is just not right, let me encourage you to forgive as you have been forgiven.
In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
The original term for insult was a term for abuse of any kind, in your mind, or verbally. Remember the word “hell” in Greek was “Gehenna,” the trash dump right outside Jerusalem where fires burned day and night. Jesus is saying we have to raise our minds out of the trash dump and think like he thought, and follow him in thinking and actions.
Three words that will heal you are, “I forgive you.” Forgive doesn’t mean to give in; it means to let go. When you forgive, you no longer go through life emotionally handcuffed to the person who hurt you. You realize that you have better things to do than to perpetuate your own victimization. Forgiveness feels so good.
There was a rabbi who lost his wife, child, and parents in the holocaust. He told us that he forgave because he chose not to bring Hitler with him to America. What incredible wisdom is there. Otherwise he would have lived his whole life with Hitler in his same living room.
Forgiveness isn’t about letting the other person off the hook. It is about pulling a knife out of your own gut. It can free an ex-wife who remains bitter about a former spouse’s treatment of her, a worker passed over because someone else got the promotion, a relative not invited to the wedding. This is especially important because the ultimate irony is that in many cases the other person doesn’t even know of your misery. While you are turning yourself inside out with bitterness and resentment, she or he doesn’t feel a thing.
As a poet, Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human, to forgive Divine.”
You have to turn to a power greater than your human self – your spirituality or faith – as many times as it takes. The act of forgiving is more than a lot of us can do on our own. You ask for God’s help. God helps you turn the key to the prison you have in your mind.
When we open the doors of our inner prison, we are going to be surprised to find most of our prisoners look just like ourselves.
We have imprisoned a few people within. Most of the time in every age of our life, we have imprisoned ourselves.
I am going to give you an extremely powerful device for use in your own life. Take a clean sheet of paper and begin to list those held in captivity inside of you. If you are like me, you are going to need additional sheets of paper, even a notebook. Choose to forgive and just as important, choose to be forgiven by……………………..
Let us close in prayer.
Think of a prisoner held in your mind.
In the nature of Jesus Christ, I fully forgive you (your self) now. In the nature and truth of Jesus Christ, I fully forgive you now. I enfold you in God’s love and I desire the best for you.
I free you as you free me from all negative feelings. All is cleared up between us now and forever. I am forgiven and I accept forgiveness for all my mistakes of the past. I forgive myself. I forgive everyone who needs my forgiveness and everyone forgives me. I thank you God.
In Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.