2 Corinthians 2:1-10
(watch here: https://youtu.be/PI-qAGv8G5M)
So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. For I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a man named, Bill. Bill had an uncle named Charlie who died of old age and bequeathed his prized Amazonian parrot to Bill.
Now this parrot was fully grown, with a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every other word was a swear word and those that weren’t swears were, to say the least, extremely rude. Well, Bill tried hard to change the bird’s attitude and vocabulary by constantly saying polite words, always playing soft music, anything he could think of to try and set a good example. Nothing worked. Exasperated, he yelled at the bird but the bird just got louder. Then he shook the parrot but the bird just got more angry and more rude. Finally, in a moment of desperation, Bill put the parrot in the freezer. For a few moments he heard the bird squawking, kicking, and screaming. Then, suddenly, all was quiet. Bill was frightened that he might have hurt his dead uncle’s prized parrot and quickly opened the freezer door. The parrot calmly stepped out onto Bill’s extended arm and said, “I am truly sorry that I might have offended you with my language and action and I humbly ask your forgiveness. I will now, from this day forth,endeavor to correct my behavior so that such an ill-perceived outburst never again occurs.” Bill was completely shocked at the bird’s change in attitude and was about to ask what had caused such a dramatic change when the parrot continued, “Ahem…may I ask what the chicken did?”
It’s funny how the prospect of pain and/or death can sometimes compel even the wiliest among us to change their wily wiles! It’s all fun and games until one realizes there may be serious consequences. That parrot probably thought he could get away with his bad attitude and bad vocabulary indefinitely. Lo and behold, a little encounter with mortality and he was eager to change his ugly ways!
Perhaps Paul’s envisioning of a painful visit to his beloved congregation at Corinth reflected a similar guilty conscience. He, too, may have been feeling pretty regretful about how he had behaved towards the congregation before he wrote his second letter to them. In his first letter, he addressed divisive issues with a stern authoritativeness that may have caused hurt feelings among the congregation. Paul hesitated to visit them for fear that his presence and words may have caused further pain and discomfort. So instead he chose to write them another letter in the hope that he could retain a fruitful relationship. And instead of addressing issues that had arisen in the congregation, Paul took a decidedly more pastoral approach to his communication as I mentioned last week. In the opening chapter of his letter, Paul urged the Corinthians to console each other rather than argue and fight. Here in the second chapter we hear him go further in urging them to forgive each other. In many situations, forgiveness is the necessary first step to consolation. Your pain or the pain of others must first be acknowledged so that mercy can be shared and consolation can begin. Yes, some pain and suffering isn’t caused by us which makes forgiveness ultimately unnecessary for consolation to begin. But some of it is caused by you and me and we need to first seek forgiveness if we are ever going to be able to console ourselves or anyone else. Consolation and forgiveness are deeply intertwined. Paul understood this as we’ve seen in these opening chapters. And just as we dedicated last week’s reflection to consolation, this week we’ll dwell in this notion of forgiveness and the importance of forgiveness.
Now whenever I reflect on forgiveness, I’m immediately drawn to the wisdom and witness of my wife. Very early on in our relationship, I noticed she had a refreshing approach to seeking out forgiveness and sharing forgiveness. I say “refreshing” because it is quite different than how I was raised to approach forgiveness. I think it’s because I come from a family of “grudge holders.” If members of my family hurt or were hurt by other members, they didn’t seek to either receive or share forgiveness. No, they held grudges, inwardly bottling up the pain and distancing themselves from those who hurt them or were hurt by them. Along came my wife who showed me a different yet refreshing approach to forgiveness. Whenever she hurts someone and becomes aware of it, she immediately apologizes and asks for forgiveness. Judging by the sincerity in her eyes, she will not resume her life until she’s received forgiveness. At the same time, she expects those who hurt her and have become aware of it to immediately apologize and seek forgiveness. What a novel, refreshing approach! Who knew that forgiveness could be so easily exchanged?! Remember, grudge holders…these exchanges TAKE TIME!! How can forgiveness be genuinely exchanged in so little time?! Well, I’ve come to realize it can be. And not only can it be genuinely exchanged in such little time but it is actually encouraged to be exchanged as such. That is how God wants us to exchange forgiveness…immediately! Stop beating around the bush and coming up with excuses or hiding from those who hurt you. Immediately seek forgiveness out to either give or receive!
Of course, I’ve pondered over the genuineness of an immediate exchange over the years. How genuine can it be if there’s barely enough time to reflect on the full damage? I mean, my wife is quick! She finds out she’s hurt someone and boom! She’s seeking out their forgiveness! Or, if she tells you you’ve hurt here…boom! You better be apologizing and seeking her forgiveness…or else! (I never waited long enough to find out the answer to “or else!”) But can you adequately forgive someone without sharing the full impact of their actions? Likewise, can you feel fully forgiven without knowing the full impact of your actions? Sharing, knowing…those take time and exchanging immediate forgiveness just doesn’t seem to acknowledge that. Or does it?? It is in passages like today’s reading that helps to answer that question. Paul wrote, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.” In the presence of Christ…in the presence of Christ…why does Paul make a note of mentioning this? Perhaps because he is telling us that Christ is at work in all forgiveness. Indeed, the love of God is revealed in forgiveness. In opening ourselves to share or receive forgiveness, we are ultimately opening ourselves to God’s work. And God’s work always produces fruit. Why wait to open yourself for his will to be done? Why wait for his love to be revealed? Of course the immediate exchange of forgiveness is genuine because God is in that exchange! Friends, forgiveness isn’t about you or me, it’s about God and his love being revealed. Why would we wait on that? The sooner the better! Christ is in that forgiveness…the love of God is in that forgiveness…let it come forth joyously and abundantly!
And Jesus affirms this truth about forgiveness elsewhere in Scripture. We hear him advise us in the book of Mark, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (11:25) Again, in Luke, he says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (6:37) You see, God is very much at work in forgiveness not only revealing his love but also his mercy and grace. God goes to work in and through forgiveness sharing his love and mercy and grace. Why? So that we might be healed to live life joyfully and fruitfully. James writes, “therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (5:16)
So yes, an immediate exchange of forgiveness is not only wise but encouraged. Let God’s love and mercy and grace be revealed sooner rather than later. Let us seek to give and receive forgiveness whenever and wherever we can. God is in that forgiveness! We give thanks for the gift of forgiveness…thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.