Matthew 18:21-22 and words from Nelson Mandela
Sunday September 17th, 2023
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome again! How wonderful to have been kissed by rain, but not too much. Thank you for being here in person and welcome to those of you who are joining on our livestream, Jo and Elaine and Terri and Jana and others. I invite you now to take some deeper breaths as you are moved, allowing us to tune into what sits below the surface… As you are moved I invite you to join me now in a spirit of prayer from Psalm 19. God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
He said that “Forgiveness liberates the soul (that), it removes fear” and this from a man who spent 27 years in prison. He was locked up because of his convictions, because of his opposition to the apartheid laws of South Africa. He ended up there after surviving the violence of the South African government, who responded to demands for equality and justice by killing unarmed demonstrators and detaining and arresting many more.
During his trial in 1964, before he received a life sentence, Nelson Mandela said, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” So they locked him up.
And over those years in prison, the struggle of course continued outside of the walls, and Nelson Mandela did what he could inside, among his prison mates, but what drew me to his words today was what he did inside himself.
Over those nearly three decades in prison, he chose to transform some of what had happened to him, to change the way he thought and felt about it, the way he held it, the way it lived in him or didn’t.
He said, “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.” “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
The snippet you heard from the Gospel of Matthew captures an exchange within a bigger story about forgiveness and mercy. Peter is asking Jesus how important it is to forgive and Jesus basically says that it key, and in fact that it might need to happen quite a bit, like a lot, like every day like all the time. We might remember that in the Bible, the number 7 is really important, super important. So all of those 7’s mean that forgiveness is just super important, 7 days a week if you choose this spiritual journey.
Because forgiveness liberates…
How do we forgive?
But how can we forgive?
Earlier this week some of us were talking about grudges. And it got me thinking about the times when I have really held onto them, really tight, the times when I became an expert at grudgery. Is that even a word?
There is almost a power in keeping a grudge. Do you know what I mean? Because the whole point of a grudge is to tell you, “You were wronged! You are right! That past insult or harm must still be a part of the present.”
So the grudge is sitting on our shoulder and it causes harm because it is just persistent, in its insistence that whatever happened, that it still needs a place right here and now. But here’s the truth: it doesn’t.
Not giving all of that a place in the here and now doesn’t mean we understand all that happened to be good, rather we understand all that happened should not be allowed to influence all that is happening and all that will happen.
I have seen relationships and groups and human hearts break over grudges, resentments, an unwillingness to let go, holding on to the need to be seen as right… Are you with me?
And I have seen how much we lose of the goodness of life when we let the harms of our history continue to shape and shift, in ways we don’t want them to.
Marjorie Thompson wrote that “To forgive is to make a conscious choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be. It represents a choice to leave behind our resentment…”
So what if part of how we forgive is being intentional about which parts of our past we bring into our present? What if putting resentments to rest can make us lighter and can open our eyes and expand our hearts?
And what if forgiveness is releasing, letting go, leaving behind, putting down so there is more space what we want in the now? What if the secret to happiness is forgiveness because it declutters our present from old grudges and negative views or ill will? Because what if all of that does hold us hostage to a history we might not want and stops us from living in the present and future fully and free?
What if as Nelson Mandela said, resentment is poison and we don’t need it in us? So how can we forgive? What if it’s a daily letting go, a constant freeing, an untethering from the hits of history, what if it’s choosing which parts of our past we bring into our present? “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
COMMUNAL REFLECTION What have you learned about forgiveness? Are you good at holding grudges? How do you liberate yourself from resentments? (90 seconds of communal sharing)
May it be so. Amen.