Genesis 50: 15-21

John 20:19-31
Forgiveness Reiterated After Easter

Rev. Kit Billings

April 30, 2006


Reading from New Church Doctrine

Apocalypse Explained 778

I wish to state briefly how the Divine is thereby blasphemed. He is blasphemed by this, that people believe and think that the Divine removed or cast away mankind from Himself, although God is Love itself, Mercy itself, and Goodness itself; and these are His Inmost Being (or Esse). From these things it is clear that it is impossible for God to remove or cast away any one of the human race; for this would be to act contrary to His own Being (Esse), which, as was said, is that from which all love, all mercy, and all good flow. It is not possible even for any angel, or any man, who is in love, in mercy, and in good from the Lord, to act in this way; and yet their love is finite, and the Divine Love is infinite.


And we read in John: "Then Jesus came and stood among them. 'Peace be with you,' He said.  Then He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive people's sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven."

            This morning we are confronted with one of God's top agendas for us and our world: spreading the Lord's Spirit of peace and forgiveness.  This may often seem like a very tall order, which for some may seem impossible.  However, to feel or think that there is a limit to our ability to forgive is not thinking with our spiritual mind, but rather with our natural mind.  This is our inclination to want desperately to think from only the natural depth within us—until spiritual regeneration has had a long and in-depth impact on us, our natural will may easily resist mercy and forgiveness like a bad dream!

However, our calling from God is to reflect, feel and move from a much deeper place, the place within us where we can be feelingfully in touch with the living heart of the Lord—that is, in touch with His Divine and awesome Love.  This is a mouthful since most of us experience life as an ongoing combination of very precious and wonderful times along with other times that are heartbreaking, painful, wounding, and deeply disappointing.  And it is those “heartbreakers” as we call them that test our metal and often inspire the unregenerate aspects of us to feel the need to gradually harden toward life, putting up walls in our hearts in order to simply STOP THE PAIN.

            I will address this great calling from God, the calling to keep an attitude of mercy and forgiveness in life by addressing these three elements from Scripture and from our church doctrine:  1) a forgiving heart stays open by keeping in touch with the river of tears we encounter after being hurt in some deep way; 2) learning from God’s Word that forgiving others throughout life is a Divine rule of life, which therefore requires our greatest efforts; and 3) the best and easiest way to be forgiving is to do whatever it takes to return again and again to the living Love of life, the compassionate One, Jesus Christ.


            Once I read a snippet from the life-story of Marilyn Strube, who is a mother of a sixteen-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and raped by a sick and twisted man.  Her story, like Joseph’s in Egypt, reveals simple yet profound truths of how we can move toward forgiveness.  And her story, like Joseph’s, is a major-league heartbreaker!  It is hard for me to imagine the pain, anger and frustration of life being much greater than in situations like theirs.

Marilyn is a certified medical assistant.  After she and her husband discovered that their daughter had been molested, their hearts and bellies filled with anger and bitterness.  They were outraged at the perpetrator and outraged at God for allowing it to happen, and they were angry with themselves for not being able to protect their daughter when she needed it most.

            Well, one winter day after Marilyn was all blocked up inside by her hurt and anger at life, she heard the snow crunching angrily underneath her tires while her headlights shone only in streaks through the falling snow.  She was on her way to give a flu shot to an elderly bedridden patient.  After ringing the doorbell, she heard the unmistakable sounds of dogs barking and a little girl’s voice to boot.  In her bitter condition, these were not the kinds of things she’d hoped to be dealing with—all she wanted was to get home, pull on her pajamas and begin numbing out with a glass of wine again.  This was the only way she knew to keep the replays of her daughter’s courtroom dramas from streaming through her mind.  She kept remembering her child continuing to wipe the falling tears from her eyes like windshield wipers moving back and forth over a windshield.  After being welcomed into this home by a bright little three-year-old named Gwynney, Marilyn prepared to administer the flu shot to the grandmother.  Six months before, Marilyn would have smiled.  “Now,” Marilyn writes, “I just swabbed the woman’s arm with alcohol and administered the shot.”

            After sharing a few brief words with Gwynney, the three-year-old looked at Marilyn seriously and said, “Are you sad?”

“What makes you ask?” Marilyn stammered, taken aback.

“Well, your laugh sounds kind of sad.”  Marilyn knelt and gave the little girl a hug.  Looking her in the eyes Marilyn said, “You sure are smart for a little three-year-old,” tossing the child’s golden locks a bit as she said it.

            After saying goodbyes and walking under a dark, star-studded sky to her car, listening to the cold snow squeak under her feat, Marilyn got in and started the engine.  She did not get more than a couple blocks when she had to pull over to the side.

“Tears flooded out of me,” she writes, “as I cried out, ‘God, why didn’t you protect Erica?!’”

Continuing, she says, “All the feelings I had squelched over the past six months poured out.  I let God have it with both barrels.  First tears of bitterness.  And then sadness, the sadness that was so obvious to little Gwynney.  I grieve for my daughter’s stolen innocence.  I was sad that with all Joe and I were able to provide, we weren’t able to keep her safe.  Then a stillness enveloped my car, and I fell silent.  I thought of all the things that had happened to us in the past six months.  I remembered the faces of the homeless that we passed each day driving to court, and the battered women and children who lined the corridors as we made our way into the courtroom.  Until six months before, I had known only the safe haven that had been our world.  Our family had been so richly blessed.  Suddenly I was thanking God for all the goodness in our lives.

“‘Lord,’ I said, ‘I need to move beyond this and start living again.  You’ve given me so much.  Help me to focus on those who really need your help.’”  And Marilyn vowed to not retreat into wine and pajamas, and instead dediced to brighten the world around her.  A deep peace washed over her.  She then forgave herself for not being there to shield Erica from harm.  Marilyn glanced back at the warm porch light glowing peacefully into the night.  She smiled, and said to God, “Lord, thank you for Gwynney.  Her resemblance to Erica and her wise words melted my heart tonight.”  The end.

            To me, Marilyn’s and Josepth’s stories are similar.  What I’ve gleaned from them is that we need to be careful not to allow the walls of bitterness and hardness of heart to grow high inside.  Whatever our heartbreaks may be, one of the keys to dealing with them and moving toward forgiveness is to choose to be open with our painful emotions, and let them have their moment in the sun.  Also, to then make a personal decision to turn toward God and pray for the help, and for the healing and wisdom we need.

            Our choice to turn toward the Lord to discover new depths of forgiveness can be strengthened and enlivened by the clear truth in God’s Word, as well as in our New Church theology, that teaches us that we should never expect a Christian depth of forgiveness to run out.  We find this ominous truth in Matthew’s eighteenth chapter when we read of Peter and Christ talking together about the challenge of forgiving others who’ve hurt us:  “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”  And then the Lord proceeded to tell His parable about the unforgiving servant.

            An analysis of the spiritual meaning of the number “seven” in Scripture reveals it to be pointing toward a state of completion, such as with God resting on the seventh day of His creation.  Seventy times seven therefore opens us to the amazing truth that mercy and forgiveness in God is simply endless given what God’s core nature is----a Love so powerful and immense that it is always concerned for the well-being of the other more than for one’s self.  God’s Love is so great that giving and love come always before concern for Himself.  In other words, painful and heartbreaking experiences are permitted by the Lord to happen in part so that we may have hundreds of disappointments in order to get so well practiced at forgiving that eventually it becomes second-nature---a habit that truly does not quit!  The Lord’s Divine Love is so infinitely caring, that it always and forever is wanting to unite itself with everyone, even the most wretched soul, who has the power to say “no” to such love.  But a person’s choice to reject the Lord and Divine love, shown in the choice to have enmity, hatred and revenge toward another, does not change God’s loving stance toward them—although we can certainly think God has done so.

            The Lord inspired the Apostle Paul’s heart and soul on the Lord’s Divine essence or Being of Love-at-all-times as he wrote in Ephesians 4: 26-32, "In your anger do not sin":  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”

            As one writer once put it, those who would become more and more God-like must be ready to become more and more forgiving. 

John's gospel shows the Lord making an initially amazing request of His disciples upon rising from the grave.  The first request is not for Jesus' followers to go out and convert others in an evangelical style.  No, the Lord's initial agenda was aimed at softening the heart of a hardened humanity.  That is, to first get our internals in better order, which makes us better able to turn afterward toward our work of spreading the Good News, not with shallowness, but with depth.  In today's Gospel reading we hear the Lord guiding His followers to get closer to God and heaven by starting from their inside out.

Forgiveness, we see, flows directly out of Divine Love, just as streams of water flow from a fountain.  As Alice Cary wrote, "Nothing in this lost and ruined world bears the meek impress of the Son of God so surely as forgiveness."  In John we find a glorified Lord zeroing in on the issue of healing our relationships and those destructive inner walls of hardness-of-heart through the power of forgiveness, recognizing that in most if not all of our closer relationships in life there are legitimate scars from sin…from the actual emotional and spiritual hurting of one another—the kinds of hurts that feel like a serious wound inside.

The timing in which Jesus spoke these words to His disciples is what I find so very compelling.  Notice that it was after the Lord breathed new life (His Life-force and power after His resurrection)…that He then talked with them about forgiving one another.  Indeed, the Lord spoke to them about forgiveness after breathing His Holy Spirit inside of them.  The POWER to forgive after being horribly wounded originates in God's Divine Love and Life.  The Lord’s Divine Love overcame every element of evil through the challenge of Jesus’ life.  And the Lord’s Love, which begins in a depth and power far-far beyond our ability to comprehend since it is so infinitely powerful and deep, came into every natural element of life after Jesus glorified Himself even down to His toenails.  God’s Love joined into every fiber of Jesus’ personhood (which includes every physical element of His body), expanding what we can call God’s Divine-Humanity.  And it is by joining intentionally, prayerfully and deeply with our Savior, or Lord Jesus, that connects us with the very strength of God---for Jesus Christ glorified is God-in-Human-Form…“God Visible” we say. 

Our theology teaches that Divine Love only wishes to save people, to unite them with itself, and to render them blessed and happy by being joined with the Lord’s Love.  Yet it will not force itself upon or within the conscious life of anyone, revealed to us by the Lord teaching in Revelation that He always stands at the doorway of our minds knocking.  It is up to us to open that doorway to Him and let Him in where healing, change and transformation need to take place.

To quote from a poem written by my father about the New Church perception of God’s nature as Love Itself, let me read from “FORGIVENESS: Divine & Trickling Down”:  Forgiveness comes out of a love so strong, so pure, that forgiveness is Not SOMETHING outside of love that love does, but is, instead, just the mere outer edge of it—the external part only of a Home Aflame, which we call the internal heart of God!  Without that love, touching all of us in big or little ways, there would be no forgiveness at all……only forgetting. 

It is up to each one of us, to find ways throughout life of returning again and again and again to the living Truth, the reality of who and what God is, an infinity of Love that changes our response to being wronged and hurt from bitterness and perhaps retaliation in some way, to a desire to let those feelings go, in favor of mercy and forgiveness.  I am thankful that Holy Week and Easter are part of God’s perfection of how we can re-join with Him and His Divine Love over and over again.

May your journey into the river of tears that is part of finding forgiveness find you when it is needed.  May you have the strength to express your outrage and pain toward God when needed, just as Marilyn did that dark winter night.  May you always know that it is God’s commandment that we always be ready to forgive one another, even the most wretched souls who hurt us---forgiveness without limit, as Jesus told Peter.  And may your journey into Christ…into Love…be great since the glory and truth of Easter remains upon us, and it is only by sinking wondrously and marvelously into that Divine Love which is the Lord that can save us from enmity, bitterness and hatred.  Amen.