Forgive from your Heart
A sermon preached by the Rev. Adrienne Koch at Cheshire House on Sunday, September 17, 2017
καρδία – If it’s all Greek to you, then you have an ear for languages. καρδία is the Greek word that we get our English word “cardiac” from, meaning “related to the heart.”
καρδία is the focus of Jesus’ words to us this morning in the Gospel of Matthew.
“Forgive your brother or sister from your heart,” our Savior tells us.
These are his final words in the passage, words of warning after sharing with us a story about a man who is forgiven a great debt, but refuses to forgive the debts of others. This story is a parable, a morality play, meant to teach us wisdom.
We learn from it the unpleasant outcome for the person who does not forgive— a life of imprisonment. The one who does not forgive suffers, and so does this person’s family. “Not to forgive” is to live a tortured life.
But we also learn from the parable that forgiveness is not easy, even if you, yourself, have already been forgiven, when you have been wronged by someone, in just the wrong way, your heart may tell you that that person owes you a debt that can never be repaid—the moment where you were wronged cannot be taken back, there is no time-machine to change what happened, it becomes, forever, a part of your history.
To be wronged, to be placed in a position where you have to decide whether or not to forgive, is unfair. It should never happen, but it does, and maybe for you, it already has.
Like the man in this parable, each one of us has our own story, where we were victims of a terrible set of circumstances, victims who were wronged, treated unfairly, and who were placed in the difficult position of deciding whether to forgive or not to forgive, but… to the man in the parable and to us Jesus says, “Forgive them from your heart.”
What can Jesus possibly mean by the word “forgive”? Doesn’t he know how hard this is?
Before we tackle what forgiveness means, let’s first talk about what it does not mean: forgiveness does not mean that you concur, condone, or capitulate wrongful behavior.
Not to concur means that you do not agree that what was done was okay. You recognize that it didn’t have to go down that way. It could have been and should have been different.
Not to condone means that you do not allow the offense to continue.
Not to capitulate means that even IF the person who wronged you did not intend to harm you, are under no obligation to surrender to their reality. You define for yourself what you need and what you do not need from that person or persons, regardless of whether you think they will respond well to you or not.
Forgiveness isn’t just not these things, we, as human beings, may, in fact, not be able to truly forgive unless we are clear with ourselves that we are not concurring with, condoning, or capitulating what harmed us.
But why? You might think. Why put myself through this internal dialogue about what I believe and need? Why not just simmer in my resentment and pain until I can forget about it, or at least, pretend to?
Well, that’s one strategy a lot of people employ. You can pretend that time heals all wounds without your help, but then you run the risk of learning the same lesson that the man in the parable learned. Forgiveness and imprisonment are connected. If we do not work toward forgiveness, we become imprisoned by our own resentment.
Friends of mine work with prison inmates on this concept of “self-imprisonment.” Most of these men in prison realize that they have done something that resulted in their physical incarceration, but the work of my friends is to help these men see that “We are all prisoners of our own making,” when we do not forgive.
We forgive others, not because offenders deserve forgiveness. We forgive others because we, who have been offended, deserve peace. We deserve liberation from the personal confinement of harboring resentment. Not forgiving is a form of torture. By not forgiving, we punish ourselves. (long pause)
So, what is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is both the pardoning of offenses and the releasing of resentment.
Pardoning an offense does not mean we deem the offense “unimportant” nor does it mean that we deny its consequences, but rather, that we allow for penalties to be applied in a way that is respectful of all involved.
Gayle, a mother whose daughter was murdered at age 19, speaks of the transformative power of forgiveness. For eight years following her daughter Catherine’s death, Gayle says she was consumed with the desire for revenge. For four years after that realization, she worked hard for her own personal healing and spiritual growth. At the end of those four years, she reached out to Douglas, the man convicted of her daughter’s murder and who is currently on death row.
“Twelve years after Catherine’s death,” recounts Gayle, “I wrote a letter to Mr. Mickey telling him that I forgave him. The act of mailing that letter resulted in instant healing.”
Gayle has since joined the movement to rid her home state of California of the death penalty.
Pardoning is a brave act where we show the offender more respect than they showed us.
We pardon to encourage our personal growth rather than our personal withering, which includes ridding ourselves of our resentment, not of the other, but of ourselves.
What would it look like to forgive yourself “for not being strong enough,” to change something beyond your control, “for not listening to your gut instinct when it told you ‘to do or not to’ do something that put you in harm’s way.”
What would it look like to forgive yourself for being “weak,” for “getting hurt,” for “feeling something you wish you didn’t feel.”
Forgiving yourself critical to releasing the stored-up resentments that keep you “stuck” in your pain, perpetually wounded. Forgiving yourself allows you to move forward. Self-forgiveness leads to other-forgiveness, or as Jesus put it,
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” We say these words every week, it is the way our Lord taught us to pray, and today Jesus clarifies for us why and how.
Pardon so that you will not be tortured for the rest of your life. Release yourself from resentment and without concurring, condoning or capitulating, and forgive your brothers and sisters “from your καρδία.”
“Heart,” in contemporary language means the literal physical pump that drives the blood, but it never means that in scripture.
In its ancient meaning, heart, refers to the inner life, to your intentions, your will, your character, even your mind. Your heart is where your soul resides; it is the center of your entire being, and it is from this central place that you must forgive.
That forgiveness must come from the heart is good news for Christians, because forgiveness is hard and none of us should have to do it alone.
The good news for us is that where our heart is, where our soul resides, the spirit of God resides there with us.
The one who was able to forgive those who nailed him to a cross to die will empower you to forgive those who have pierced your own skin. Jesus tells us to forgive from our hearts because Jesus is in our hearts, ready and willing to embarks with us on each of our journeys of forgiveness.