Hard to Say I am Sorry

Matthew 5:23-24 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Prayer: Lord, God: “Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you…”

  1. For several weeks, we have been working with this difficult topic on forgiveness. Each week I shared with you a summary thought that we will need to carry with us. Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the Gospel on display.
  2. Repeat
  3. Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, renounces payment from or punishment of the offender, even if the victim was morally justified.
  4. Defining Christian forgiveness is done with words and actions. The word “forgive” is a grace word in the English, as well as the Greek, meaning “to give or to grant.” The meaning is “to remit a debt, to give up resentment or claim for compensation, or to pardon an offense.”
  5. Christian forgiveness also encompasses action. Our confession with God involves us seeing our sins as God sees it, which brings God’s forgiveness. When we sin against others, we sin against God. For this reason, we ask God to forgive us of our sins, but we must also forgive others.
  6. Please remember that the word “sin” means in the original translations of the Bible, means “to miss the mark.” The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus.
  7. Pause
  8. Lord’s prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen
  9. Let’s look at how hard it really is to ask for forgiveness. It is something that we struggle with.
  10. This morning I want to begin with a short summary of a very powerful movie that highlights the issues surrounding why it is so hard to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
    1. The powerful 1979 film, Kramer vs. Kramer, which netted the Oscar for Best Picture as well as Oscars for Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffmann, who portray a couple, Ted and Jo-anna Kramer, whose marriage ends in divorce and a bitter custody battle over their son, Billy.  
    1. The film includes a recurring metaphor of a closing elevator door. 
    1. Near the beginning of the film Joanna leaves Ted, and while she is on an elevator, he begs her not to go, to which she replies as she steps out of the elevator, “I don’t love you anymore,” and the door closes. 
    1. Later in the film after a brutal day in court as Ted boards an elevator

Jo-anna tries to apologize to him for her lawyer raking him over the coals during the custody hearings—he looks at her and says nothing as the elevator door closes. 

  • Although Jo-anna wins the custody battle, she decides Billy would be better off with Ted, and in the final scene of the film Jo-anna boards an elevator as she goes to tell Billy goodbye.  She has been crying, and her make-up is running, and she asks Ted, “How do I look?”  Ted smiles and replies, “Terrific.” 
    • The elevator door closes and that’s the end of the movie and the credits roll. 
    • The film never shows Ted and Joanna riding the elevator together. 
    • There is no reconciliation. There is no healing of the breach. There is no mutual understanding. There is no discussion of forgiveness. The elevator doors just close.
  • The film Kramer vs. Kramer resonates because it rings true with our experience.  Sometimes in our lives, relationships lack reconciliation, and this lack of reconciliation can create feelings that ricochet between hidden resentment and open hostility. 
  • It’s not the way it’s supposed to be but it’s the way it is. 
  • We live in a world in which marriages sometimes end in divorce, grown children sometimes refuse to have anything to do with their parents, and best friends become estranged. 
  • This lack of reconciliation can feel like a burden or a dark cloud hanging overhead.
  • In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks right to this: “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  
  • Reconciliation matters to God.
  • A few weeks ago, I was pulling up to a stoplight and in front of me was a large pick-up truck with a bumper sticker with “Jesus” in large letters followed by something else.  I inched closer and saw that it said, “JESUS loves you but everyone else thinks you’re a jerk.”
    • It’s very funny but also true. 
  • Scripture tells us that God loves us all the time, even when we’re jerks, and the truth is that sometimes all of us act like a jerk to other people. 
    • But although this is true it doesn’t make it right.
  • Jesus makes it clear that if we remember that someone has something against us that we are to go to them and try to be reconciled. 
  • Apparently, Jesus considers that healing the relationships by the act of  forgiveness to be more important than worship: “Leave your gift there at the altar and go,” he says, “first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”   
    • Our reconciliation with others is in response to being reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. 
  • As Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (5:18). The good news of the Gospel is that we have been reconciled to God, and therefore can be reconciled with others.
  • Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the Gospel on display.   
  • The good news of the Gospel is that when it comes to being reunited with God, the elevator door is open.
    • “Reconciliation with others flows from reconciliation with God.”  What does it look like to be reunited with others?  It’s important to remember that Jesus said, “to be reunited to your brother or sister.”
  • Slow
  • Many years ago, I heard a preacher suggest the following three sentences for seeking to be reconciled with others:
    •  “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  Please forgive me.”  
    • When it comes to stepping up to ask for forgiveness from others these words tend to be more helpful than the words: “I’m not sorry.  You’re an idiot.  Get out of my life”.  
  • “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  Please forgive me”—no excuses, no disclaimers, no passing the buck, no blaming extenuating circumstances or lack of sleep or the weather, no “I really didn’t mean it” or “I’m just really stressed right now”—just a humble, simple, straight-up apology. 
    •  “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  Please forgive me”—we can say these things to those with whom we wish to be reconciled because we have been reconciled to God. 
  • While Jesus had nothing to be sorry for, he paid the penalty for our sins anyway;
    •  while Jesus did nothing wrong, he died for our wrongs anyway;
    • and while Jesus had nothing to ask forgiveness for, he died for us anyway so that we could be forgiven.  “Father forgive them,” he prayed as he was nailed to the cross, “for they do not know what they are doing.”  
  • But like so many things in life, apologizing to others is easier said than done. 
    • The truth is our apologies are often riddled with excuses and disclaimers, and we often misread those who have something against us. 
    • Sometimes when we apologize, we are forgiven.  We are reconciled with that person—the burden is lifted— the black cloud of resentment is no longer hanging overhead.  
    • When I was in grade school there was a kid in my grade named Tack Terry. Explain this.
    • Sometimes reconciliation happens after many years, when those involved thought it would most likely never happen. 
      • Explain Chesapeake Systems situation also
  • One of the most moving stories in the Old Testament is that of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers (Genesis 43-45). 
    • Joseph was the favorite of Jacob’s twelve sons, evident by Jacob’s gift of a coat of many colors. 
    • Out of jealousy Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and then dipped his coat into animal blood so that it would look like he had been slain by a wild animal.  Then they gave the bloody coat to their father.   Joseph’s brothers watched their father Jacob suffer from grief, and not a single one of them ever confessed it to Jacob. 
    • God preserved and prospered Joseph, who eventually became second only to Pharaoh over all Egypt.  Seeking relief from extreme famine Jacob’s brothers eventually went to Egypt for food and were later reconciled with Joseph.  Guess how long it was between Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his brothers and their reconciliation?  Twenty years.  (Talk about family dysfunction).
    •  I imagine neither Joseph nor his brothers ever thought they would see each other again, let alone be reconciled, but God’s grace made it possible in time.  I also imagine Joseph’s brothers had some explaining to do with their father, Jacob.  
  • But unfortunately, when we try to be reconciled with others it doesn’t always end like it did with Joseph and his brothers. 
    • Sometimes when we apologize, we are not forgiven, there is no reconciliation, and the burden and black cloud remain. 
    • Some people simply enjoy nursing grudges
    • Some people would rather keep the elevator door closed.  
  • But there is grace in this case as well, for Scripture tells us, “If it is possible, so much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). 
  • In other words, by God’s grace we can keep the elevator door open for those with whom we wish to be reconciled, and God will work that out in God’s time. 
  • Perhaps there are people in your life with whom God is calling you to be reconciled, or perhaps you’ve already tried to be reconciled with these people and reconciliation has not yet occurred.  
    • The good news is that in Jesus’ death on the cross we have been reconciled to God, fully, 100%. 
    • The good news of the Gospel is that by God’s grace the elevator door is always open.
  • Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the Gospel on display.
  • Thanks be to God!
  • [1] Paraphrased from Dave Johnson Sermon: “The Elevator Door is Open” (Matthew 5:23-24) February 13, 2011 and other sources.