Bible Text: Matthew 5:38-42, Psalm 71:1-12 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: The Gospel According to Lego | This morning we are continuing in our sermon series, “The Gospel According to Lego”, where we are looking at our faith through the lens of this popular children’s toy that has inspired generations of people to new heights of creativity. Last week I told you about Ole Kirk Christiansen, the founder of LEGO toys, and some of the challenges in his life and how his faith brought him through. We also talked about how our faith is something we must continue to be active in building as God gives us new pieces all of the time.
Now I have been told by many people that the worst physical pain that a human can experience is giving birth. And I don’t contest that claim by any means, and I am thankful as a male that I will never have to know just how painful child birth is. But what about the second most painful? Breaking a bone? Getting hit by a car? Maybe getting struck by lightning? I can’t offer an opinion on those either because, at least so far, I have been fortunate enough to have never experienced any of those painful events either.
But in my lifetime, I have had my share of painful experiences. I tore one of my quadriceps muscles, I partially tore one of my meniscus tendons, I have carpal tunnel syndrome, and I have had a few bouts with sciatica. But hands down the worst pain I think I have ever experienced, at least physically, was stepping on a LEGO brick.
And if you have children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews who play with LEGOs and you have done the same, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. It seems ever worse when you step on one in the dark too. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the last thing you are expecting to step on at night or just the pure surprise and shock coupled with the intense pain. But let’s be clear – it hurts…a lot. And if you don’t believe me, feel free to try it and let me know how it goes…
But as much as stepping on one of these little bricks hurts us physically, when someone steps on us it hurts even more. It’s even worse when it’s someone that we love and trust and care for. It hurts to get stepped on. And when it happens there are a myriad of reactions that we might feel the urge to see out. We may want to strike back, verbally or physically. We may be hurt so badly that we are frozen, unable to react in the moment. We may break down in tears, falling apart as if someone pulled out the cornerstone brick of our very being.
But is one of those the more appropriate response? Well that depends on who you ask. There are those that will tell you that you need to stand up for yourself and retaliate when attacked or stepped on. Then there are those who will tell you that the bigger person doesn’t retaliate and forgives and forgets. Still others may offer that it all depends on what exactly has happened. But what does God tell us? What has Jesus instructed us to do through the words of scripture?
Well in our second reading today we may have an answer to that question. In these verses Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well.” So, it sounds like Jesus is advocating for the peaceful path when it comes to these situations. But I think there is more here that we need to address.
This passage is often used when people talk about “forgive and forget” in regard to the actions of others. The phrase “forgive and forget” does not appear in our scripture. There are numerous sections and verses dedicated to forgiveness and even commanding us to forgive each other. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask to be forgiven as we forgive others.
But what about the forget part? That doesn’t seem to really be addressed here in our reading for today. Are we even able to really forget the sins that others commit against us? We can’t just delete our memories of times when we have been hurt or stepped on. But we are told in Hebrews chapter 8 verse 12 that God does not remember our wickedness. So, shouldn’t we be able to not remember the wickedness of others?
Well we also have to remember that God is still all-knowing. God remembers that we have sinned, that we have fallen short of God’s glory. But God forgives us. And through that forgiveness we are promised heaven as if our sins had never even happened. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we belong to God through our faith and God does not condemn us for our sins.
So, when it comes to us as humans, we should strive to forget what is behind and strive towards what is ahead. We should try to always forgive each other just like through Christ; God has forgiven us. We should not hold grudges against those who have sinned against us, darkening the light of our hearts that is Christ’s love. In that sense, “forgive and forget” would fit in with what we are taught in Scripture.
But if by saying “forgive and forget” we mean that we will act as if the sin had never happened and live like we don’t remember it – that’s where we can get into trouble. For example, someone who is raped should strive to forgive the rapist, as impossible as that probably feels and may be to do, but that doesn’t mean that they should act as if the rape never occurred. To spend time alone with the rapist, especially if the rapist is not repentant, is not what Scripture teaches us at all.
Or what about a victim of domestic abuse? People always wonder why they don’t just leave, why they stay and continue to suffer. And while there are a lot of different reasons and answers – for some people it’s because of how they have been taught about “forgive and forget”. Yes, we hope that the abused is able to one day forgive their abuser. But we should never push them to act as if the abuse never happened and continue to subject themselves to more. In the end it has to be their decision to leave or stay, but we should not be advocating for them to “forget” the abuse so as to continue to be abused.
Forgiveness involves not holding a sin against someone anymore, but forgiveness is not the same thing as trust. In Matthew chapter 10 verse 16 Jesus said, “Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves.” Jesus called us to be “innocent”, as in willing to forgive, but at the same time to be “wise as snakes”, as in being cautious.
Jesus tells us in our reading for today that if someone slaps you on the right cheek to turn the left to them as well. That if they take you to court and take your shirt, give them your coat too. That if they force you to go one mile, go two miles with them. To do those things you have to forgive the person who is sinning against you.
But Jesus didn’t say that if someone slaps your right cheek to turn the left one and ASK them to slap you. He didn’t say to continue to put yourself into relationships and situations that cause you harm. Jesus wants us to forgive each other and to not let those sins committed against us cause our hearts to darken the light that is His love. But Jesus never said that we should subject ourselves to continual abuse at the hands of others.
It hurts to get stepped on, and Jesus wanted us to know that when someone hurts you that you shouldn’t turn and hurt them right back. He wanted us to know that instead we should work to forgive them. But He was not in any way advocating for us to accept the abuse or oppression that others continue to put against us. Just because you forgive someone from hurting you doesn’t mean that your relationship with them won’t change at some level. We have to remember that as much as we are called to emulate God’s love and grace, we are not God and we cannot see the hearts of others to know their true intent and feelings.
Think about someone who struggles with drug or alcohol abuse. Almost always that abuse has an impact on the family and friends of that individual. And while those people may choose to forgive the person struggling with those addictions, the relationship is still changed. Things rarely can ever go back to how they were. No matter how much we try to forgive, we still need to be wise and cautious so as to protect ourselves.
Getting stepped on hurts. And stepping on others hurts us sometimes too. Just like stepping on those little plastic bricks can hurt, when we step on others we can be hurt. When we are the ones with the addiction problems, or the ones doing the abusing of others, intentional or not, we can get hurt too. We get hurt in those situations when those relationships change. We may lose relationships. We may lose friends. We may lose the closeness with others and the trust of others. And that hurts. It’s usually warranted and justified, but it still hurts.
That’s what sin does. It hurts people. It hurts the people it is done against. It hurts the people who are doing it. And it hurts God. But God has given us the building block of our faith that we know as forgiveness. And it’s one of the strongest and brightest bricks in the whole bunch. It’s one of the foundational bricks of our faith. Because without God’s forgiveness, we are nothing, we are lost, we are hopeless.
And just as I mentioned last week, as God gives us these bricks to build our faith with, we also need to share these bricks. Because as we bring all of our bricks together, we build something even bigger and better. God has given us the building block of forgiveness and wants us to share it with others. But we have to remember that the building block of forgiveness is not the same as the building block of trust.
This is all of course often, if not always, easier said than done. When we first step on that little plastic brick out first thought is of the pain and we get mad. And when someone hurts us, we have that gut reaction, whether anger or sadness or whatever it may be. The key is to remember is that Jesus has called us to forgive one another. That is first and foremost. We are to emulate God’s love and grace in that way.
But we also have to remember that since we are not God and cannot know see the hearts of others and know their true feelings and intentions, just because we forgive someone does not mean that we continue to enter into harmful situations and relationships. God loves all of us and I believe does not desire to see us suffer, especially at each other’s hands. Always forgive but live in caution so as not to put yourself in harm’s way when unnecessary. Amen.