“The Gospel is un-American” a friend of mine wrote recently. If you are a good American Christian, that might set your teeth on edge a bit. If you don’t live in the United States, it probably wouldn’t bother you. In fact, you might even be glad to see that someone in the States understood the problem. There is no doubt that the gospel flies in the face of some distinctly American beliefs. To those who preach that accumulation of wealth is an important part of the gospel, Jesus counsels you to sell all that you have and give to the poor. To those who have perfect health because “by His stripes we are healed,” Paul reminds us that he had a thorn in the flesh. To those who would look at their success as evidence of God’s blessings, Jesus reminds us that the meek shall inherit the earth. And perhaps the most un-American Christian value of all is a reminder that we are to forgive others.
How many times have you heard others say, “I don’t get mad, I get even?” When we are wronged, we seek revenge at the individual level or at the national level. We don’t want anyone to think that they can mess with us. We take that strong stance because we know that if we don’t, people and/or nations will think they can get away with doing wrong to us and they’ll continue to do so. We make angry hashtags or lash out on twitter. We find ways to pay back the person, often in court. This all in the context of being strong. This all in the context of not letting anyone attack us, or often, our faith. To those of us who get even, Jesus has a word. “So watch yourselves. ‘If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying “I repent,” you must forgive them.’” (Luke 17:3-4)
There is nothing wrong with telling someone else that they have sinned against you. Jesus tells us to rebuke them. This isn’t a bad thing. Some people don’t realize that they are sinning against another person. When people grow up in so many different cultures, you are bound to have some cultural differences on what constitutes “sinning” against another person. In America, it is considered commonplace and courteous to invite another person out for a beer, for example. Should you invite me out for a beer, you would be violating my beliefs. Without going into all the back story of my stand against alcohol, let me just say that it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask me out that way. If you were to do that, I might tell you that I don’t drink alcohol. We might agree to do something else together or you might ask someone else. Here’s the key. If you kept asking me, and I kept reminding you, and you kept apologizing – and then forgetting and asking me again, Jesus tells me to keep forgiving you. (And let me point out that not all followers of Christ have the same feelings about alcohol that I have.)
But let’s take forgiveness even farther. Let’s think about God’s forgiveness. It is amazing to me that God forgave me for every wrong thing that I did even before I was born. It was the death of Jesus on the cross that brought forgiveness to all people that would repent and turn to God. He forgives me even before I know enough to ask for forgiveness. The Holy Spirit brings my sins to mind so that I can ask for forgiveness when I do wrong. Even before I ask, though, God has forgiven me. What that means to me is that I need to have a forgiving spirit for wrongs done to me even before the other person realizes that they are wrong; even before they ask for forgiveness. Today, do an un-American, Christian thing and forgive those who wrong you even before they ask.
Lord, You have forgiven me even before I knew I did wrong. Help me to show that same mercy towards others who sin against me. Help me to forgive them even before they ask.
(Sorry this was so late. I had internet connection problems before church.)