The Power of Forgiveness

Adapted from a sermon first delivered by Rev. Ken Streitenberger, Associate Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church.

You've probably heard it before; it is an old saying: "There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to criticize the rest of us." Behind that thought is the kernel of truth that says, for most of us anyway, it is easier to solve other people's problems than it is to solve our own problems.

In a church periodical I used to receive, there appeared a cartoon I especially liked. The cartoon, as I remember it, pictured an elegantly dressed and obviously very wealthy woman talking to her pastor in the pastor's study. The subject of the conversation was forgiveness, confession, repentance. The wealthy parishioner said to the pastor, "I've never been very good at repentance, Pastor. Suppose I just let you use my condo during August, and God can call it even." ( Leadership, Spring 1985, p. 82)

While we may not all be wealthy, nor even nearly so, we do all recognize in that cartoon some element of ourselves in the bartering and the rationalizing and the evading of the need to face repentance. Within all of us, regardless of our circumstances, is a very deep-seated resistance to saying "I'm sorry."  Within all of us, no matter our age or disposition, is a great hesitancy ever to admit "I made a mistake."

Do I exaggerate? Let me try a test I used once on another group. I would ask us all to count, just to ourselves, the number of times in the last 30 days we have said out loud to someone, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I made a mistake."  And then let us ask ourselves, "Do we honestly believe that that number is all the mistakes we have made in the last 30 days?"

Even if we know we made a mistake, we don't admit it. We don't own up to it. And as bad as that is to do to our co-workers and our spouses and our children and our parents and our friends, think how much more damaging the failure to take responsibility for our mistakes is when we do it to God. It drives a wedge between us and our God. It builds a wall that is almost unbreachable.

Dr. James McCord once said in a lecture while he was president of Princeton Theological Seminary, "To sin is man's condition. To pretend he is not a sinner, that is man's sin." (Larson, p. 34) Someone else said it perhaps a little more clearly. "To err is human, and so it trying to cover it up." (anon.)

God knows we are fallible. God knows only too well that we often make mistakes, that we sometimes choose consciously and even willingly to participate in destructive behavior. We fool no one -- except ourselves -- when we refuse to admit and accept the sins that are ours.

Full relationship, whole fellowship with God can come only as it comes in human relationships:

  • when there is full disclosure
  • when there is complete knowing at the deepest levels without deception
  • when there is a willingness to be known as we are with goodness and virtues, yes, but also with faults and sins.

The message of the gospel is that God wants us to own up to our sins, to make restitution, and to believe that we are loved and forgiven and then to get on with living life in that light. The scripture lesson for this morning, I John 1: 5-10, is a straightforward calling of us to repentance.  All God asks us to do is confess, admit, acknowledge where it is we have gone wrong and seek to change.

The promise God adds is that if we confess, if we admit, if we acknowledge our sins, God will forgive us, God will free us from the guilt that entraps us, and God will give us the courage and the fight to try it again -- only better.

Six-year-old Peter had misbehaved on the playground. He had been scolded by his teacher and told to go and stand by the fence for the remainder of the recess as punishment. Obediently, Peter went, but soon the teacher saw him playing again as if nothing had happened. "I thought I told you to stand by the fence," the teacher snapped reprovingly. "I did," answered Peter, "but I told Jesus I was sorry, and he said, 'Okay, Pete, you can go play now.'" (Sister Mary Gilbert)

Maybe Peter took advantage of the situation a little, but the story illustrates very well the hope and the plan of God for our lives and our occasions of sinning.

  • Accept responsibility for what we know has been wrong
  • Say we are sorry
  • Try to make amends
  • Determine to do better the next time
  • And receive the overwhelming love and forgiveness and enabling power of God.

Experience the relief. Know for a certainty that we are now free to live in Christ. Hear the instruction of God to go back and enter the game with renewed fervor and fresh determination.

Rev. Ken Streitenberger is the Associate Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo, Ohio.  Epworth is an exciting, growing, and dynamic church with a heart for missions and a passion to grow in its faith in Christ and service to the world. If you are looking for a church where people are friendly and welcoming, we invite you to try Epworth.

Epworth offers three Sunday morning services: at 8:30 a.m., our blended worship service brings together a traditional worship style and a contemporary flair. Our traditional worship service begins at 9:45 a.m., followed by the contemporary worship service at 11.  We are located at the corner of Valleyview and Central Avenue in Toledo, across from Wildwood Metropark.

Epworth United Methodist Church
3077 Valleyview Drive
Toledo, OH 43615-2237
Telephone : 419-531-4236
FAX : 419-531-7487

Corner of Valleyview and Central Ave, across from Wildwood Metropark