Embodying Forgiveness – 1 John 1:5-10

"It is a serious thing when a relationship gets broken.
Someone you count on to be there for you is suddenly not there for you. Someone
you trust proves unworthy of your trust. Whenever it happens, however it
happens, when a relationship gets broken, your world gets broken too. There is an empty place where someone
precious once existed, and injustice where there was once harmony”
(Roger Nikosha
with Judy Kuo, “Forgiveness,” in Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens,
Upper Room: 2002, page 217).

I was on retreat at Avila Retreat Center
this past week when we were invited to take a walk to observe the parables of
nature. I chose a trail that led away
from the center and immediately encountered a spider web blocking the trail. I
recoiled and tried to peel the new mask that covered my face while wondering
where the spider was. And so it is so
often in life. We are going along our
way when a comment or action brings us into a new relation with those around
us. Often times we find ourselves peeling a web away and watching for the

Take a moment with me now in prayer to think of a
relationship with someone or something that has left an empty place in your
soul. … Now also take a moment to lift in prayer someone in whose life you left
an empty place with a harsh word, an abrupt response, a betrayal of small or
large portion, or just plain disappointed them. … Let us lift those prayers to
God who knows the desire of our heart.

John writes for his community a sermon or treatise that
seeks to counter the arguments of an opponent with a “high Christology”
(God-talk for not putting much stock in Jesus becoming fully human and moving
into our neighborhood). Let’s listen to
the opening words of John’s debate:

God Is Light: This is the message we have heard from him and
proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If
we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we
lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in
the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son
cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,
and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just
will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say
that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John
1:5-10, NRSV).

John begins to help us understand what is really at stake in
believing that Jesus was human – born of Mary and killed by Pilate – and
offered us another way to live. Because
Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine his words and his actions were
aligned. Jesus embodied what he
believed. He knew a God who loved all
his daughters and sons, so Jesus loved all of God’s daughters and sons. There
are several points of misalignment that John perceives in his opponent and
these points often show up in our lives as well:

  • We claim to walk in fellowship with God, but actually walk
    in darkness (1:6).
  • We claim to have no sin, but only deceive ourselves (1:8).
  • We say we “know God,” but we do not keep the commandments to
    love God and neighbor (2:4).
  • We claim to walk in the light (and in love), but in our
    lives we hate our sisters and brothers (2:9).

When our words and actions are misaligned then we begin to
move in confusing directions. Our
sisters and brothers become pawns in our power struggles. We manipulate others for our own ends and we
hide our actions behind the force rather than grace of scripture.

So how are we to live then? The way of forgiveness restores relationships, but we have to be willing
to be healed and forgiven. Often I
encounter folks like these descriptions found in Way to Live (pages 225-226):

  • The Perpetual Victim – blames others for everything.
  • The Doormat – always blames themselves for everything.
  • The Angry Abuser – hurt others before they can be hurt.
  • The Caustic Cynic – throws darts of sarcasm and negativity.
  • The Denier – denies that pain even exists in their lives.
  • The Projector – puts blame on another rather than the

To not choose one of the above paths is to enter a path of
healing that some describe as a dance of forgiveness. It dances between what it is not (easy,
getting even, covering up our feelings, a sign of weakness) and what it is
(hard work, naming the wrong that was done to you, naming the wrong you did to
another). Gregory Jones, dean of Duke Divinity School offers these steps for those who would learn the dance of forgiveness
(“Forgiveness” in Practicing Our Faith, Jossey-Bass: 1997, pages 138-139):

  • We become willing to speak truthfully and patiently about
    the conflicts that have arisen.
  • We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness
    and a desire to overcome them.
  • We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a
    child of God.
  • We recognize our complicity in conflict, remember that we
    have been forgiven in our past, and take the step of repentance.
  • We make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused
    and continues to perpetuate our conflicts.
  • We confess our yearning for the possibility of
    reconciliation. (We remember with Wesley
    the following observation recorded in August of 1738: “Indeed, the leading of
    the Spirit is different in different souls. His more usual method, I believe,
    is, to give, in one and the same moment, forgiveness of sins, and a full
    assurance of that forgiveness. Yet in many he works as he did in me; giving
    first the remission of sins, and after some weeks, or months, or years, the
    full assurance of it” (A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader, page 121 as quoted from “The Principles of a Methodist,” §25, page 61 in Volume
    9 of The Works of John Wesley – Bicentennial Edition).

This week I encourage you to dance the dance of forgiveness.

The following books are mentioned in this sermon.