sermon

Thinking Right Thoughts

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

February 24, 2019

Text: Lk. 6:37, Old Testament: Gen. 45:3-11, 15, New Testament: Lk. 6:27-38

Relationships are difficult. People bring different expectations into their relationships. These expectations begin in their first intimate relationships inside their families. Children learn from parents and siblings what to expect in their relationships with other people.

How consistent parents are, how justly they respond to an infant’s needs, a child’s needs, a teenager’s needs, begins a pattern of expectations that lays the

groundwork for adult relationships. How a younger child receives discipline, compassion and understanding from his or her mother or father builds a set of expectations about what they should give to and receive from others.

Children learn the meaning of justice from what they experience at home. When they live outside household rules of conduct, they unconsciously learn to evaluate what is a just response. Does the parent’s response show justice?

Do they experience understanding, or are they treated as a criminal without any concern for their feelings and inexperience?

Is the response to their criminal behavior proportionate to the crime? Or is it excessive, conveying the ultimate authority of the punisher over the child?

As children grow older and begin to push the boundaries of family expectations in their effort to gain independence, they question the ground rules of the family, and the authority of parents. The teenager wants personal authority over his own behavior. She wants to set rules of conduct for herself.

Parents get caught in a quandary. They have far more experience navigating the waters of human relationships, and they are far more aware of the dangers than their teenage children. They have been there. Done that.

Parents care with them their own awareness of their failures earlier in life. They’re fearful for their children. But they also know that experience will teach their children the wisdom of why they set certain rules and keep certain expectations. Parents try to find a balance between consent and refusal.

Eventually parents gradually give away their authority to determine what is in a child’s best interest. Sometimes they do it willingly. Other times not so willingly. They’ve lived with their youth for so long that they understand the motivations, the underlying needs of their child to live on their own.

They were once in their teenager’s position and know their powerful need to live life on your own.

The journey parents take with their children to that moment is difficult.

It leaves marks on the hearts of all. When both the parent and the child share joyous hearts, it isn’t because they didn’t go through times in which their

relationship appeared to fail. It wasn’t because they lived the idyllic world of the Waltons on television where every night every family member said good night to one another with genuine good will toward one another.

The parent and the child’s joyful hearts came from the measure of forgiveness each gave to one another, and which each received from one another. Forgiveness freed each of them from the burden of failed expectations. Forgiveness released them from the sense of perpetual indebtedness from the anger and pain of unforgiven injustice.

Without forgiveness, people harbor resentment for years against failure in a relationship. Eventually the pain becomes so great, they end the relationship to escape the pain. Without forgiveness, they continue to be afflicted even after the relationship continues.

Unresolved resentment in one relationship can trap a person in a certain approach to all people, and all relationships a person has. It can lead to bitterness of heart that afflicts a person throughout their life.

Many, many people live in such a condition. Their failed relationships at home led them to fail relationships with friends and at work. Their inability to find the path to freedom from perpetual anger at the injustice they once experienced in their lives infects other relationships.

This is the human condition. Justice is an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. Until the aggrieved gets retribution, they can not resolve their pain and suffering. That’s why bullying is becoming so deadly among American youth.

In a world where Jesus’ teaching is less prevalent among the young – they don’t go to church and aren’t taught by His expectations for personal behavior – they’re subjected to youth hostility and the sense of powerlessness to overcome it. They take matters into their own hands.

With all the violent video games available to them, youth take the path they see on X-Box. The nation mourns the resulting deaths and their injustice. But it continues to diminish the value of Jesus’ teaching for moral conduct.

The genius of Jesus is that He understood the power to heal in forgiveness. In Luke 6:37 He uses a specific Greek word for forgiveness, apoluo. It is used 62 times in the Christian Scriptures. Luke uses it 13 times.

Apoluo generally means releasing a person who is being detained. Outside of the Second Testament, apoluo is often used to describe a prisoner’s release from bondage. In the 46 times apoluo is used in the Gospels, forgiveness is a choice that frees a person from failed expectations in a relationship.

Choosing to forgive is difficult. Forgiveness competes with justice in our hearts. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. Forgiveness remembers the failed relationship. Yet it chooses to offer compassion in response to the failure.

Not everyone is willing to think compassionately. They think about justice. When justice is the primary thought in your mind, you are putting yourself in the position of being the judge.

That’s a difficult position to place yourself.

As much as we respect judges, they are humans like the rest of us. They fail in their personal relationships. We try to separate their failed relationships from

being on a court room bench. But the fact is, if we knew their failures in personal relationships, we would be less willing to respect their authority.

When we realize the law is adjudicated by people and not God, we have less respect for it.

The fact is, God warns us about taking His role as the ultimate judge. When we put ourselves in the position of judge and jury, we think we’re in position to condemn. We can even believe we temporarily possess the higher moral ground to allow us the freedom to judge.

But Jesus sees it differently. As the incarnation of the living God, He knows we all fail in our relationships with each other, because we fail in the first primary relationship we have with God.

God could choose to perpetually condemn us as judge because we fail to love God completely or following His rules totally. But God doesn’t perpetually condemn us.

God sent His Son with the power to forgive. His Son instructs us to use that same power to heal our relationships with each other. The person who is freed from the debt of the failed relationship is not simply the other person.

The person who is freed from the debt in a failed relationship is equally the person who forgives. Genuine forgiveness no longer harbors the need for retribution. They don’t continually use force to compel guilt. They give it up for compassion and understanding.

But on the other hand, when you receive compassion through forgiveness, remember Jesus’ instruction to the woman at the well. “Go and sin no more.”

It is in forgiveness that we are forgiven. It is in repentance that we show we are grateful for forgiveness. And it is in refraining from that failure in a relationship that we show we are freed from the failure that indebted us.

Children who share with their parents a joyful heart have learned the value of forgiveness through their home relationships. They learned they were not expected to be perfect. They also learned that their parents were not perfect.

After all, there is no instruction manual to explain how to react to every challenge in the relationships between parents and children.

What they know is that by living with Jesus as their instructor, they can be freed from the prison of retribution, and the anger that accompanies it.

They are freed to love and to be loved – to the glory of God!

Amen.

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