"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7

(Article for the May 22, 2013 issue of  The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev. Lutheran Church

“I’m sorry!  Will you forgive me?”  I’m sure that you are familiar with these words, whether you’ve spoken them yourself, or someone has spoken them to you. 

When somebody speaks these words to you, it means that they have wronged you in one way or another.  Maybe they bumped into you while you were holding something to drink, and some of it splashed on your clothing.  Maybe they forgot an appointment.  Maybe it was no more than a social blunder.  Or maybe it was something far worse.

Just a little over 32 years ago, Mehmet Ali Agca fired four rounds from a Browning high-powered semi-automatic pistol into Pope John Paul II as he entered St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.  Even though the Pope was critically wounded by the would-be assassin, he made a full recovery from the injuries.  Two bystanders were also hit by stray bullets, and they too made a full recovery. 

As for Mehmet Ali Agca, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Italian court.  The Pope issued a statement saying that people needed to pray for Agca, and that he had sincerely forgiven him for what he had done.  Two years later, the Pontiff arranged to meet Agca face-to-face in prison, and personally forgave him for what he had done.  Then in June of 2000, at the request of the Pope, Mehmet Ali Agca received a full pardon from the Italian President and was deported back to his native Turkey.

Regardless of your religious affiliation, the Pope has taught us a valuable lesson in forgiveness.  He could have lashed out in anger, or sought revenge, or demanded that he be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and he would have been perfectly justified in doing so.  But instead, when the Pope opened his mouth, it was to solicit prayers on the behalf of his attacker, and to speak words of forgiveness. 

In our lifetime, we’ll probably never have the occasion to forgive somebody who has tried to assassinate us.  Even so, we’ll still experience wrongful actions from other people.  And when they come to us and say, “I’m sorry!  Please forgive me!” we have a choice to make.  We can either refuse to forgive them and harbor a grudge, or we can offer them the words of forgiveness they are seeking.

When Jesus was suffering on the cross, he looked at the Roman soldiers responsible for his crucifixion.  And then he spoke the words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  Could you or I speak those same words under those conditions? 

In Colossians 3:13 we are instructed:  “…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”    And how does the Lord forgive us?  Jeremiah 31:34 gives us a concise answer:  “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”   And in Psalm 103:12 we are told:  “…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”  Finally in Psalm 130:3-4 we read:  “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?   But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, all of our sins are forgiven.  That’s the good news of the Gospel!   And God not only promises us forgiveness for our sins, but complete removal of those sins.  Furthermore, God promises that he will not even remember our sins!  This is a choice God makes on our behalf, and promises us in the Bible.  Therefore we can take comfort knowing that our sins are removed from us for Jesus’ sake, and that God won’t keep recounting our sins and throwing them back in our face all of the time.  What a comfort that is for us, who daily sin much. 

But we have a choice to make.  When somebody sins against us, what do we do?  Do we lash out in anger and seek revenge, or do we offer words of forgiveness?  Just because somebody doesn’t act like a Christian to us is no excuse for us not to act like a Christian to them.

Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin from the heart, and it was a life-changing event for Mehmet Ali Agca.  A friendship developed between the two, and they kept in contact.  The Pope even met with Mehmet Ali Agca’s mother and sister.  The act of forgiveness is powerful indeed, which is more powerful than hatred could ever be. 

So when somebody sins against you, what choice are you going to make?  Make sure you have your facts straight first, because there’s always two sides to every story.  Then be ready to offer the hand of forgiveness, forgiving others in the same way Jesus has forgiven you.

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