We were made for community and for relationships; to be in a relationship with God and others. John Donne’s famous poem expresses this: ‘No man is an Island, entire of himself…’ An early passage in the bible states ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. However, our world and lives are so often a pool of broken and strained relationships. Is there a better way?
A popular song says: ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. For lasting, healthy relationships we need to be able to admit our failures. Yet there is another, equally important, attitude. We also need to be able to forgive.
The bible gives us foundations and instructions to help us with our relationships. See for example the Old Testament book of Proverbs, or the second part of most of the New Testament letters or Epistles, as well as the teaching of Jesus. These relate to everyday things we are familiar with such as communication, truth, commitment, humility, love, restraint, respect, our priorities and so forth. The problem is that since none of us are perfect, we don’t always live according to these and other healthy values. We hurt and are hurt. Forgiveness is therefore essential for healthy and sustainable relationships.
The concept of forgiveness goes against our fallen natures. We feel we have a right to hang on to grievances and to use them to punish others. Lack of forgiveness and self-righteousness go hand in hand. This attitude diminishes and destroys our relationships and, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, it harms us.
Jesus shows us the higher way of love and forgiveness. (Echoes of this are captured in the song ‘One’ by Irish band U2). Though innocent, from the cross Jesus cried ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’. He came to save sinners by his holy life and sacrificial death for us and wants to lead us in new ways of living and loving. Through the Holy Spirit who we receive from being connected to God through Christ Jesus and spending time with Him, we are given strength to love and forgive. Forgiveness may go against our natures, but as the poet Alexander Pope wrote ‘To err is human, to forgive, Divine’. We need to look outside of ourselves for help. We need new natures; to be created anew.
Much more needs to be said about this crucial subject than space allows. I encourage all to explore further through studying God’s word and through the instruction in God’s word which is a part of sound Christian worship. However, two further points warrant special mention. Firstly, the bible states ‘We love, because He (God) first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). The undeserved love, forgiveness and mercy we Christians show to others is grounded in God’s underserved love, mercy and forgiveness offered to all and experienced by those who receive it. We deserve his anger and punishment, but he offers Himself to us in the costly sacrifice of the eternal Son for our forgiveness instead. Forgiveness flows from first owning our own unworthiness. Jesus therefore taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. If we have God’s forgiveness we will seek to pass this on to others.
Secondly, St Paul writes towards the end of Romans 12:
‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean sweeping serious wrongs under the carpet or acting as though they don’t matter, but rather addressing them in a way that best leads to reconciliation and mutual growth. Knowing God is righteous and just, as well as loving, frees us to leave retribution in His hands and to get on with living His new way and to compassionately call others to this new way so that they too pass from being under His justice and condemnation to being under his mercy, forgiveness and grace, now and forever.
(This article was inspired and motivated by a recent Eastside Lutheran College Chapel service I sat in on which students led and which was based on the theme of forgiveness. To ask questions or leave a comment go to https://www.splchobart.org/pastors-page and click on the word ‘comment’).
‘That’s silly’ said Ned. Ned described himself as a ‘recovering alcoholic’ and ‘a Christian’.
Ned was responding to a friend’s comment that she would go to church when she got her act together.
‘Imagine if I only sought help or went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) when I recovered or had it together’ Ned replied. ‘I doubt I would have ever become sober in the first place and if I did I would not have needed AA. I just wasn’t like those people who could drink occasionally or stop after a couple’.
Ned then went on to make an astonishing declaration. ‘I am thankful that I became an alcoholic because it revealed to me my deepest needs and led to me discovering and embracing the ultimate solutions. Thirteen years ago I had to deal with my pride. I didn’t want to admit I had deep seated issues. I was in denial. I also raged against the ‘Big Book’ and ‘12 steps’ that AA uses where it states we need to depend upon a higher power. I wanted to be in control. But as my life continued to spiral down, I knew it was either self destruct or face the truth. I needed help’!
Ned shared that while he still has many challenges in his life, he lives one day at a time and is a very different person. ‘I lost my pride, but ended up gaining everything. Knowing the love of God who made himself known in the life, sufferings, death and triumphs of Jesus Christ is everything to me. I ended up losing the things destroying me and discovered God, a new community and a new way of living as I got real with who this higher power or God is’.
Ned then quoted Jesus to his friend. She said that it was at that moment that a light switched on in her heart or mind. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32; see also Mark 2:13; Matt 9:13)
Ned’s friend could have easily been the woman in Bob Dylan's song ‘Man in the long black coat’:
“Preacher was talking there's a sermon he gave
He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it's you who must keep it satisfied
It ain't easy to swallow it sticks in the throat
She gave her heart to the man in the long black coat”
The bible is clear ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23). Not just the alcoholic or narcotic addict, but all, including and perhaps especially those who think they are better than others and who blindly, yet self-righteously, look down on others.
I have found in my ministry that the biblical message that we are all flawed resonates with nearly everyone. The question is will we accept the free forgiveness and divine help that is available in and through God’s self sacrifice in Christ Jesus and come home to our God who loves us and wants the best for us, now and forever? Ned’s friend later said ‘Jesus doesn’t need my or anyone's help. After all He is God, so what could I do for Him? Rather he loves to give to His creatures and wants us to live and receive from Him as God’s children. He has the answers for time and eternity and we were made for Him. We are His offspring. Jesus said ‘Whoever comes to me I will not cast out’ (John 6:37).
St Peters congregation that worships on campus at Eastside Lutheran exists primarily and foremostly to reflect the Gospel message of God’s grace and love shown most fully in Christ Jesus and seeks to be an authentic ‘hospital for the sick’. Come and join forgiven and recovering sinners every Sunday at 10.00am or speak to me. We are all fragile ‘works in progress’, depending on the grace, mercy and help of Jesus.
Why be ashamed? Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” We don’t come because we have it together, but to receive Him who holds everything altogether!
To view and add questions or comments to this post go to ‘Pastors Page’ on the St Peters Lutheran Church Hobart website: https://www.splchobart.org/pastors-page
Add it to your favorites or bookmark it so that you keep abreast of the conversation. Click on ‘comment’ under the article to leave a contribution.
I am Pastor Michael Steicke, often referred to as Pastor Mike. I am the Pastor of St Peter’s Lutheran Church, Hobart, that worships on the Eastside Lutheran Campus (every Sunday 10.00am – all welcome) and am Pastor to the College. This column is a way for you to get to know me and us a bit better. I am also available for consultation.
I have been a Lutheran Pastor for over 30 years, having served Parishes in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia which also included some Aboriginal ministry (Port Lincoln). My first parish in Northern NSW also covered ‘alternative lifestyle’ areas. I moved to Tasmania to be the Pastor of St Peter’s Lutheran Parish in Hobart at the beginning of 2016. Even though both parents were Australian, I was born and grew up in New Zealand, moving to Australia at the age of 18. I have a brother and two sisters. We also had a number of foster children staying at our home at various times as I grew up, including a reasonably long term foster sister.
My teenage years were an interesting journey through which I experienced and explored many facets of our culture. While being able to affirm various aspects of modern day life, the emptiness, brokenness and meaninglessness I encountered personally and often observed led me to appreciate more fully the love and faithfulness of God as revealed in Christ Jesus. I came to know my need for God’s forgiveness, peace, direction, power and blessing. This led me on a new journey as I wanted to understand the presence and purposes of God more and to be able to share the good news of who Jesus is with others. As I turned 21 I began my studies to be a Pastor at what is now called Australian Lutheran College in North Adelaide. My Batcher of theology (BTh) back then was a five year course (it has since been shorted a bit). This was followed by a practical year on the Gold Coast called vicarage to gain experience, then back to Adelaide for a final year of studies.
I have been married to Leanne since 1982. After raising our children she has run small, part time cleaning businesses and has enjoyed being a vocalist in bands as well as singing in Church We have five sons, four of whom are in their high twenties or low to mid thirties. The eldest is a psychologist in SA, followed by a cleaner, spray painter in SA who is also a part time stay at home dad, and another son who is a guard with Qld rail. One of these also had a testing disability as well as other challenges which stretched us enormously but also provided opportunities for growth. Finally , we have what we call our ‘late surprise’ who is the only child left at home. He is currently in year nine here at Eastside Lutheran College, Hobart.
This column is a means through which I can communicate with students, families, caregivers, staff and others through a regular column in the newly formatted College newsletter. I want you to participate and to set the agenda through your questions. The articles presented here in this column will be pasted on a Page on the St Peter’s Lutheran Church website (you can go there by the link at the end of this column or do a search) where you will be able to ask questions and to leave comments. The Page will be moderated (therefore be prepared for a slight delay after posting) so as to be a safe place to explore the ultimate questions of meaning, purpose and faith and for you to inquire about and discuss the Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective (see 'Comments and questions policy by clicking on ‘Please read before commenting' link at top of Page). The Page should be both interesting and stimulating, so you may wish to bookmark it or add it to your favourites so that you can visit it frequently. Looking forward to your questions and comments
Warmest regards and blessings,
The aim of this Page is to be a safe place to explore the ultimate questions of meaning and purpose and to enquire about and discuss the Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective.
A Little About Me
I am Pastor Michael Steicke, often referred to as Pastor Mike. I have been a Lutheran Pastor for over 30 years, having served Parishes in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, before moving to Tasmania to be the Pastor of St Peters Lutheran Parish in Hobart at the beginning of 2016.