The Fine Art of Forgiveness
March 5, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Mark 1: 9-11
The Baptism of Jesus
9One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10And when Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven saying, ďYou are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you.Ē
Brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! What a wonderful thing we hear happening to Jesus in this morningís gospel! Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. He goes into the water and John baptizes Him. He comes up out of the water, out of the waters of cleansing, out of the waters of forgiveness, and He hears a voice from heaven. At verse 11, He hears the very voice of His Heavenly Father say, ďYou are my Son, the Beloved. With You, I am well-pleased.Ē It is a high point, a mountaintop, in the earthly life of Jesus. He hears the very voice of the Heavenly Father affirming Him, saying, ďYouíre the One. You are the beloved of my heart. Listen to this fellow; this is my Son.Ē
My friends, Iíd like to talk with you about how each and every one of us can have an experience like that, how each and every one of us can clear the way to hear the voice of God saying, ďYouíre my beloved child, in whom Iím well-pleased.Ē One important way to do it, one important way to clear the way for God to say that to us, is to practice the fine art of forgiveness.
Weíve entered today into the season of Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. Weíre getting our souls ready for the great day of days, the day of triumph and the most important day in the Christian year. How shall we do it?
Some of us, when we were growing up, observed Lent by giving up things. Perhaps we gave up candy or doughnuts or cookies or things like that. I tell you, Iíve already given up things like that, so itís not going to be a problem for me this year. And I think itís a good practice; it makes us aware of self-mastery and self-discipline. Itís a fine thing to give up something for Lent.
Iím going to invite us to give up something else for Lent. How about we give up anger for Lent? How about we give up those tight feelings we might have inside for the Lenten time? As we give those things up, we can prepare a way for the Lord, we can open up a way to hear the voice of God saying, ďAfter all, you are my beloved child.Ē
Forgiveness is important. Forgiveness is an inside job. It is, first and foremost, something that happens within our own spirit. Iíd like to tell you a story I heard once, the story of Crispy the bear. Crispy is walking around in the forest, looking for something to eat, and he sees a cabin. He sees smoke coming out of the cabinís chimney. So he goes up to the cabin and he pushes the door open and looks inside. No one is inside, so he goes in and looks for something to eat. As he wanders around, he hears a sound that annoys him. He hears the sound of the wood stove hissing and crackling, and Crispy doesnít like it. Crispy gets angry. He goes over the wood stove, wondering how heís going to stop the noise. He does what he usually does when he doesnít like something Ė he puts his great big arms around the stove and he squeezes it. He squeezes and squeezes and squeezes, trying to get it to stop making that annoying noise. Then he realizes he smells something, something like fur burning. So Crispy lets go. And now we know how he got his name.
You see, he let go before he did any real damage, and that made him Crispy the very smart bear. And so, Iím asking us today, are there any stoves we need to let go of in our lives, big or little? The one Lenten practice Iím going to ask you to adopt is when you wake up in the morning, pray ďLord, are there any stoves I need to let go of before I begin this day? Are there any hard feelings I need to release, toward anybody who has upset me or frustrated me or done me wrong?Ē You see, forgiveness is an inside job, first and foremost.
Forgiveness is not a license to put up with abuse. Forgiveness is something that sets you free from the inside. Thatís why we have this eagle up here in the sanctuary. The eagle is a symbol of flying free, which is what I want for you this Lenten time, to be free on the inside, to not be held back by those tight feelings of unforgiveness.
Forgiveness is good for you. Thatís the reason we do it. I was reading in a health magazine not long ago that people who harbor anger are three times more likely to have a cardiac event than people who do not. And they are four times more likely to have an elevated cholesterol level. Forgiveness is just good for you. Let the anger go. Let the stove go. Practice the fine art of forgiveness, because itís good for you.
Second, forgiveness is good for your relationships. I stopped to get gasoline for my van yesterday. It was running toward empty. I had them fill it up. I was holding my breath, wondering what the price might be. I also asked them to check the oil, and it turned out I was a quart low. So Iím glad I caught it early, because you know what happens if thereís no oil in the machine. Forgiveness is like the oil inside the engine of our friendships. Itís what lets life flow along smoothly and easily. Forgiveness is what lets us move along in life and not get frozen up. Forgiveness is good for your relationships. Wonít you practice the fine art of forgiveness?
And third, forgiveness is good for your relationship with God. Remember, it was when Jesus came out of the waters of forgiveness, the waters of baptism, that He heard the heavens open and God saying, ďYouíre my beloved child. In you I am well-pleased. Listen to this one; thatís my boy.Ē Let us hear it too. But letís not have our minds so distracted by tight feelings that we canít hear the voice of the Lord speaking His approval. You know, if weíre so stuck in some hard feeling, we might miss a whole trainload of blessings. We might miss the Lordís blessing if the windows of our mind are closed tight and our hands are clenched. Forgiveness is good for your relationship with God.
This week, my dear friends, I invite you to let health blossom in your life. I invite you to let your relationships be smoother. I invite you to let God bless you and call you His beloved child and bring you blessings that perhaps you never anticipated. Letís let go of the stove. Letís ask God to let us know if thereís any unnecessary holding-on that weíre doing and to let go of the past, so that God can bless our future. He wants to, you know Ė because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski