Sunday, May 1, 2016

Healing in the Body (Matthew 6:9-15)

“[Jesus said] "Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us this day our daily bread.[c]
12     And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,[d]
        but rescue us from the evil one.[

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Today, we are concluding a series of messages on “Living as the Risen Body of Christ.”  One of the most pervasive metaphors used to describe the Church throughout the New Testament is a human body – comprised of many individual parts, joined and knit together into a living whole.  Over the last several weeks, we’ve been exploring what it means to not only call ourselves the body of Christ, but to live like it.

Relationships are what hold the body of Christ together – our relationship with God through Christ, and our relationship to each other through Christ.  Since we’re talking about relationships, I would like you to hear wisdom on relationships from children.

Alan, age 10, says, “You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff.  Like, if you like sports, she should like that you like sports, and keep the chips and dip coming.”

Kids have some great thoughts on what people do on a date.  Lynette, age 8, says, “People should use dates to get to know each other.  Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.”  Martin, age 10, says, “On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.”

And how do you make a relationship work?  Ricky, age 10, says, “Tell your wife she’s pretty even if she looks like a truck.”

Life is all about the relationship, and so is our faith.  The Christian faith is not built on rules, it’s not built on rituals, it’s not built on being right – it’s about relationships: our relationship with God, and our relationships with each other.  The primacy of relationship is why Jesus told us the greatest command is to love God and love our neighbor.  It’s why he said we’d be known as his followers by our love.  It’s all about the relationship, and today, we want to focus on what it takes to have health and wholeness in our relationships.

Did you know there are six words at the center of every healthy relationship?  So whether your relationships are already healthy or are strained and in need of healing, you’ll want to use these six words frequently to maintain optimal relational health. 

And actually, they’re not just six words, they’re two sets of three words each, and contrary to what you’re thinking, the first set of three words is NOT “I love you.” If you’re still trying to figure out what the first three words are, here’s a hint:  About ten years ago, the University of Michigan healthcare system taught their physicians and administrators to start using these three words whenever there was a patient or family complaint about hospital services or treatment.

Do you know what the three words were?  I am sorry. I think that’s sorta counter-intuitive.  We live in a lawsuit-happy society, and it’s drilled into us to NEVER admit fault when there’s an accident, lest someone sue us!  We don’t like to show weakness, lest someone else get the upper hand on us and exploit our shortcomings and mistakes.

Interestingly enough, however, the result of saying “I am sorry” in the Michigan healthcare system was that in one year’s time, letters of intent to sue for malpractice dropped from 262 to 130 – more than a 50% drop in just one year, and the amount they paid simply in legal fees dropped from $3 million a year to $1 million.  We have some Michigan taxpayers here this morning, I’m sure that’s good news to you!  Such a drastic change, all from being willing to say, “I am sorry.”

Those three simple words are huge, and if you’re going to succeed in life, these words are going to have to flow regularly from your mouth.  A study conducted by Success-Motivation, Inc. found that successful people regularly apologize when they’ve been wrong, and unsuccessful people rarely apologize or admit they were wrong.

That’s true for success and health in our relationships, too.  Maybe you’ve heard that saying, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  I used to think, ‘Yeah, that makes sense!’ and then I got married.  I found out that, in actuality, love means having to say “I am sorry” all the time!  If someone ever says to you, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” you look them straight in the eye and tell them, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”

When I lived alone, what did it matter if I left my socks on the floor or my dirty dishes on the counter for a day or two?  Who cared if I didn’t change the roll of toilet paper but just propped up the new roll on the empty one?  Even just absent-mindedly whistling around the house or drumming my fingers on the table was no big deal, but now, I started to realize just how annoying that could be.  I learned to say, “I am sorry.”

And of course, the reality is that everything we do has an effect on those around us, for good or for ill.  The human family is like a giant tapestry woven together of a whole bunch of different threads – your life represents a thread, my life represents a thread, and the closer we look, the more we see how we are woven together, interdependent, and inseparable.  To tug on your thread or mine necessarily touches all the others.

That’s why it’s important to be mindful about the ways our behavior affects other people, especially when what we do has a negative effect on them.  When we hurt others by our words or our actions, whether intentionally or by accident, it’s so important to be willing to say those three simple words: “I am sorry.”

But what if we are the one who was wronged or hurt?  That’s where the other three words come in, and so we also have to be intentional to say, ”I forgive you.” In healthy relationships, those six words are used frequently: I am sorry, and I forgive you.

Couples who use these six words regularly and genuinely are about half as likely to divorce as couples who do not. And Christians, members of the body of Christ, who learn to say these words regularly, are much more likely to have healthy ties with others in the church, that can withstand the bumps in the road and misunderstandings that are natural and inevitable in living in community with others.

No surprise that Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness.  It’s an important part of the Lord’s Prayer Christians pray every Sunday, and which we read today.  It’s right there in that part where we say, “Forgive us our debts, or our trespasses, or our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Essentially, we’re sorry for what we’ve done wrong, and we won’t hold it against other people for the ways they’ve wronged us.  We are both seeking forgiveness from God and from those we’ve wronged, while we extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us. 

True enough, forgiveness doesn’t always come easy.  Sometimes, it takes awhile to forgive.  The deeper the cut, the longer it takes to heal.

That is, of course, something altogether differently than intentionally withholding forgiveness or nursing a grudge.  There are people I know – some of whom I am related to – who can hold onto a grudge like no one’s business!  You cross them once, and you go on the list, and once you go on the list, the sweet Lord Jesus himself couldn’t get you off of it.  Anyone else know anybody like that?

Now, let me ask you this: do you enjoy hanging around people like that?  You see, for some folks, maybe even some of us, forgiveness is a bitter pill to swallow, but when we withhold forgiveness, the result is that we become bitter, ourselves.  Angry, resentful, hostile, negative.  And when we do, we are hardly a fit vessel to carry God’s healing love and light to the world around us.

There are a number of studies that link hanging onto an attitude of resentment with a number of physiological symptoms, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, weight gain, and diabetes.  It’s said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison, yourself, and hoping the other person dies.  Holding onto a grudge is holding onto someone else’s baggage.  Holding onto a grudge is letting someone else take us for a ride on the bitter bus.  Holding onto a grudge is letting someone else live in our head rent-free.  When we hold a grudge against someone, the truth is that it hurts us more than them.

I used to think that we only had to forgive someone if they specifically asked for forgiveness, and otherwise, we were justified to hang onto those ill feelings toward them.  But friends, Jesus said when we forgive, God forgives us.  When we don’t forgive, we’ve called into question our own forgiveness.  Better to let it go, and be people who extend forgiveness as freely as God extends it to us.  For your own sake, and for the love of God, quite literally, better to let it go.

Friends, holding a grudge doesn’t make you strong, it makes you bitter.  Forgiving doesn’t make you weak, it sets you free.

When you’re finding it difficult to forgive someone else, start by praying for them.  Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Just naming them before God, asking God to help us let it go, asking for healing in the fractured relationship, asking God to bless them even when we’re still sort of upset with them is a great step toward being reconciled.

I remember a situation in which someone had wronged me and hurt me deeply and I prayed for them – I prayed for them nearly every day for six months.  Then I ran into them one day and you know what?  I realized I wasn’t mad at them anymore.  Because while I was praying for them, something happened.  God did something in my heart, and I realized I wasn’t mad at them anymore.  There was still work to do in fixing that relationship, but at least my walls had finally come down, and that was a good start toward healing.

Friends, today’s message couldn’t be any simpler, and it comes with a simple invitation: as members of the body of Christ, to regularly say those six words that bring healing in our relationships.  What are the first three?  I am sorry.  And the other three?  I forgive you.

Every week we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Today, let’s not just pray it.  Let’s actually do it.  It’s a great day to seek and extend forgiveness.

Let us pray.  Lord, put on our minds the people to whom we need to say, “I am sorry.”  And put on our minds the people to whom we need to say, “I forgive you.”  Help us to be people who put what we say we believe into action.  Help us to not only talk about forgiveness, but to seek it and extend it.  By your grace, may we demonstrate mercy, and compassion, and love, and forgiveness to others.  Help us to forgive, as we have been forgiven.  Amen.

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