April 9, 2007

€œFather, Forgive€?
by Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn

Last week I told the story of Jesus’ crucifixion to the youth group in preparation for Easter. When I got to the words Jesus spoke from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,â€? two girls gasped audibly. “What?!?! Did he really say that?â€?

I guess the shock value of those words has been lost to us through many years of familiarity. Our kids (not unlike other kids and adults the world over), come from a culture in which unkind words must be answered with fists. “Yo mamaâ€? insults may start out as a joke, but when it becomes personal, it can quickly escalate into an ugly brawl. If fists are considered a proper response to taunting words, there is no question that when a blow is struck, the only honorable option is to hit back.

By the time Jesus said these words from the cross, words and blows had already been thrown at him. He’d been abandoned by his friends, battered and tortured, accused falsely. His body had been nailed to a piece of wood. And yet, he never said a word in his own defense. Surprisingly, forgiveness is the first word he said from the cross.

This challenges my expectation that he’d get to it a little later on, maybe as a last grudging word, because he knew he had to. I would expect that he needed time to absorb the physical shock of being crucified first. I would assume he needed a little time to be angry, to give in to that anger for a bit. Then, when he calmed down a little, he could get around to forgiveness. My mindset, you see, is not really that far removed from the kids in the youth group.

We are not naturally inclined towards forgiveness, and even when our mind tells us we must, our feet are slow to follow. And yet, all Christians are charged with learning the path of forgiveness from their Savior. I wondered in amazement at the families of the five Amish children who were killed by Charles Roberts in the West Nickel Mines School. The day after the shooting they visited this man’s widow, to extend their forgiveness and sympathy to her. When donations poured in to offset the medical costs of the survivors who where severely injured, they stipulated that one fourth of all monies be given to the family of the killer. Their collective first word as a community was forgiveness, and their follow-up actions showed that they meant it.

I was challenged by a woman on the news who had a microphone stuck in her face after a gunman had taken the life of her loved one. She was devastated and hurt, but told the reporters to come back and check with her in a few years. She knew she had to forgive the person who had so wronged her, and she was determined to do it. Right now, though, all she could feel was the hurt. Unlike the Amish, she couldn’t bring herself to say words of forgiveness to this man just yet, but she planted herself firmly on the path of forgiveness, and forced herself to walk that first step towards wholeness.

Forgiveness flies in the face of the innate wisdom of the ages. Being so counter to our natural disposition, we squirm under its imperative. We’d rather hide in righteous anger than walk through the pain of forgiving a person who has harmed us. For Jesus, forgiveness came with blood, tears and suffering. We should expect no less for us. But may that first word from the cross inspire us all to not only give lip service to the quiet power and depth of forgiveness, but to walk in that path ourselves.