Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
The problem is what you and I in our generation think is forgiveness of sins. We don’t see
forgiveness as it really is and like so many things in our world, we’re losing touch with reality
because we’re losing a sense of what truths really are. So all of us probably suffer from a total
misconception of what forgiveness is. Let me give you an example that we’ll all know immediately
and will sympathize with. You have a roommate or you have a husband or a wife or a friend, someone
who lives with you, and one day they just burst out in a show of bad temper and criticize you and
tear you apart. So there’s coolness between you for the next couple of days and they come to you
and say “I’m sorry, forgive me.”
You of course want the relationship to be right and you forgive them. It goes on like that for a
week or two weeks and then once more they burst out in a show of temper and they tear you apart and
they criticize you and there’s coolness between you for the next two days. And they come again and
say “I’m sorry, will you forgive me.” And you say “Yes, I will” because you want the relationship.
It’s a little harder this time because you forgave them last time and it was right from your end but
it didn’t seem to give them any ability to stay right with you. But you still say “I forgive you.”
It goes alright for another two weeks and they burst out again in bad temper and they criticize you
and they tear you apart and there’s coolness for the next two days. Then they come to you and they
say “I’ sorry, will you forgive me?” Well you don’t know what to do; you just don’t know what to
We’ve all been in the same boat; of course we want to forgive them because we want things to be
right between us as they used to be. But we begin to wonder in our minds is this forgiveness? I
forgive him or her but what use is it if our relationship is going to continue going through these
agonizing crises? Isn’t there something inside your heart that says “I want to forgive them, but I
want a relationship. I want a relationship of love. I want a relationship that is continuous. I
want a relationship of peace. I want a good friend here whom I feel I can really trust. It seems to
me that there’s something that needs to be done in their heart that will enable them to walk free
from this bad temper otherwise it doesn’t matter how often I forgive them; our relationship is going
to be like that.”
And gradually you must admit in your own heart you begin to sense that your relationship is going to
sink to a superficial level because bit by bit you’re going to feel in your heart that it doesn’t
matter how often you forgive these people because any minute they could burst out against you again.
And whatever you say, deep down in your heart, even though you want to forgive them and you do
forgive them, deep down in your heart there’s a growing uneasiness. There’s a feeling inside you
that this relationship is not very intimate, it’s not very trustworthy and it’s not very dependable.
And surely, bit by bit you begin to question what you mean by forgiveness. And you begin to say
“Now is this forgiveness? Or if I do keep on forgiving them is it not just indulgence of sin that
I’m involved in? Is it not just encouraging them to think that it doesn’t matter how often they
burst out in temper, it doesn’t matter how often they lose patience with their friend, that’s the
way life should be.“
And is it not true that most of us would start examining whether forgiveness is possible where they
is no change in the other person’s attitude to you—that it’s permanent?
Loved ones, do you not think that’s what runs right throughout our legal system? Do you not think
that’s why we’re all concerned about it? We all rise to the idea of forgiveness, but we feel that
there’s something wrong with the kind of forgiveness that we’ve just outlined because it looks to us
very like indulgence. It looks very like carelessness about morality. Eventually do you not think
that if you carried on that way, if for instance you substituted criticism of you or stealing your
money for bad temper, do you not think you’re beginning to indulge in the same amorality as the
person who has sinned against you?
In other words does there not come a time when you’ve forgiven so often that actually you’re just
teaching people to ignore standards? Certainly you must admit that if you were doing it with a
child, and I know it as an ex-school teacher, there’s no doubt in your mind that you’d be teaching
them to be amoral. You’d be teaching them, “Son, it doesn’t matter how often you lose your temper,
it doesn’t matter how often you criticize, it doesn’t matter how often you steal, I forgive you;
you’re ok.” And I know from my experience the dear kid takes full advantage of that. He just keeps
going one way and probably we’ve all seen homes that have ended up in a mess because of that.
In other words, surely you can only talk about forgiveness in righteousness, is that not true?
Surely you can only talk about forgiveness, which is really the restoration of a relationship, you
can only talk about the restoration of a relationship in righteousness if the other person, sooner
or later, after however many time of forgiving eventually comes to the point where they no longer
lose their temper with you, where they no longer criticize you, where you begin to have a
relationship of love.
And loved ones, that’s really what forgiveness is, even in the Old Testament. You don’t need to
look up this verse, “the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” And that’s
as far as we, in our generation, read: “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to
everlasting upon those who fear him and his righteousness to children’s children. To those who keep
his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” In other words, our dear God does not indulge us
in amorality the way we tend to think he does and the way we have presented him to each other as
doing. Our dear God planted in us the same common sense that is part of his own nature.
Forgiveness only makes sense if eventually the husband or the wife or the son or the daughter or the
roommate begins to change in their own hearts and lives and begins to continue a relationship of
love with you.
So in a sense the problem has never been God’s forgiveness, God has always been willing to forgive
us. The problem is that it becomes to us just indulgence of our wrongs or our sins unless we can
change ourselves. And loved ones, that’s what communion is about. You’re right, forgiveness is
preached in Jesus’ name, but it’s preached in Jesus’ name because Jesus is the one that enables us
to change so that forgiveness can be real. And it’s in Jesus that all of us were changed, that’s
why communion is precious.
If you’ve had things in your life that you know are wrong and you’ve continued to ask God to forgive
you them, and he has continued graciously to forgive you them, even though his voice has become
quieter and quieter and you’re having more and more trouble listening to it, yet he still has
graciously has forgiven you. If you’re in that situation and you know his voice is becoming quieter
and more distant because you’re continuing to do the things that you ask him to forgive you for and
if you’re getting yourself into that position as we described between the two friends, if you’re in
that spot,loved ones, God changed you in Jesus.
That’s what communion is about. God changed you in Jesus. He foresaw the kind of life you would
live. Could I just tell you a little thing that should make that much easier for you to believe;
that God foresaw the kind of life you would live. The little IBM personal computer would take 153
days to solve a certain difficult mathematical problem. Cray invented one of his massive Cray
computers that solves that problem in three seconds. If we can do that with our computers is our
mighty God not well able to foresee the kind of life that you would live and provide a remedy for
them? Of course he is. God has an infinite mind and even though he doesn’t make us do what we have
done in our lives, he foresaw that we would do it. And he put you into his son Jesus and destroyed
you there and made you anew and clean and whole and if you believe that, you can be changed this
morning. That’s what communion is. Communion isn’t just about God being willing to forgive us.
Communion is about God changing you and me in Jesus so that we can continue a real, restored
relationship with him forever.
Just one last thing; you may say, “You mean through the influence of his Spirit, and through my
coming to Church, and through my reading the Bible and praying and trying to obey him I can be
changed?” No. No. I mean you have been changed. That’s what this dear Book says. It says Christ
died for all of us; therefore all of us have died in eternity, above time and space. And if anyone
is in Christ, and all of us are in Christ because Christ died for all and all died, if anyone is in
Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has already come. You can be that now
because God has already made you it in Jesus. And through your faith in that, the Holy Spirit can
bring that into your life. That’s true, loved ones. You can believe into that this moment.
Let us pray.