Word of the Week: Forgive

Forgive.WordWeek

Russell Sedelmaier had cleaned Ivon and Eileen Harris’ home once a week for five years.  He had the keys to their home.  They trusted him.  He was a man described by those who knew him as “easy-going, even friendly.”  And while Sedelmaier had his share of trouble, hard luck, and minor skirmishes with the law, no one saw this coming.  Certainly not the Harrises.

Struggling financially and strapped for cash, Sedelmaier decided to burglarize the Harris’ Chicago home.  However, he was interrupted first by their 24-year-old daughter, Sarah, a fifth-grade school teacher, then Harris, who was a Lutheran minister.  He brutally beat them, tied them up, then slashed their throats before setting their house on fire.

Sedelmaier waived his right to trial and pleaded guilty.  At the sentencing, Eileen Harris, the wife and mother of the victims, stood up to make a powerful impact statement.

After describing the pain and loneliness  she suffered since the crime, the petite woman called the murderer’s name  “Russell,” she said.  Sedelmaier didn’t look up.

“Russell!” she repeated. When he raised his head, Eileen Harris said: “Because I value the gift of life and I know God forgives and loves all of us – especially you, Russell – I support a sentence of natural life.”

Heavily influenced by her statement, the Judge sentenced the man who would have been eligible for the death penalty at trial to life without parole.

Our word of the week is “forgive.”

Whether you agree with Mrs Harris or not, or think she thwarted justice, is beside the point.  She serves as an incredible example of forgiveness.

The Bible commands, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col 3:13)

Jesus taught and exemplified forgiveness.  He forcefully presented this truth in His famous parable of the unforgiving servant.

In the story, a man was more than “head over heels” in debt. He owed over one billion dollars! When he couldn’t pay the creditor ordered him, his wife and children to be sold as slaves. The debtor pled for mercy. The master was moved with compassion and forgave the debt. Yet, after being forgiven, the same man found someone who owed him $4,000 and grabbed him by the throat, demanding payment. This man also asked for mercy. But the servant would not forgive and ordered him thrown into prison.

When the master of this servant heard of this, he was angry. He called the servant in and denounced him as a “wicked servant.” He said, “I had mercy on you and forgave you all your debt. You should have demonstrated the same mercy to your fellow servant. As a result, I rescind my offer. You are going to jail!”

Jesus’ comment on this story speaks to us directly, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:32).

There are three lessons to this simple, yet profound story.

(1) It says that our sins our enormous.

. Yes, as big as a billionaires bankroll! The debt is too great! We could never repay it. Our sins have separated us from God and we do not have the means to pay the debt.

(2) But God’s mercy is immeasurable.

. Paul affirmed that “God is great in mercy” (Eph 2:1-5). God through the blood of Jesus has paid the debt of sin. Regardless of the depth of our transgression or the length of time we’ve been sinners, there is no limit to the kindness, compassion and mercy of God. Indeed, he will abundantly pardon (Isa 55:7).

(3) Therefore, we must forgive other people.

. This is the point of the parable. Inundated by our Lord’s love for us and his mercy toward us, our hearts should be moved to forgive our friends, our family and our brethren when they trespass against us. If we won’t, God won’t forgive us. George Herbert put it this way, “He who cannot forgive others burns the bridge over which he must pass himself.”

The next time you find it difficult to forgive someone, remember Eileen Harris and this parable.  But especially reflect on Jesus’ sobering words: “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt 6:15)

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

5 Comments

Filed under Word of the Week

5 responses to “Word of the Week: Forgive

  1. Billie

    BOY IS THIS A HARD ONE. YOU KNOW HOW WE WOMEN ARE – WE NEVER FORGET WHAT OUR HUSBANDS SAID OR DID FOR AS LONG AS WE HAVE BEEN MARRIED(over 50 years for us). JUST A LITTLE HUMOR BUT MIGHT BE TRUE FOR A LOT OF US. THIS WILL DEFINATELY GIVE ME SOMETHING TO WORK ON THIS WEEK. I WONDER IF WE WOMEN HAVE MORE TROUBLE WITH THIS THAN MEN. COMMENTS PLEASE

  2. Ivan

    Marriages fail or overcome if this is either present or absent. There is no life when there is no forgiveness.

  3. Stephen Segrest

    Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) is also featuring the subject on Forgiveness this week. Go to the right hand side of his blog page and click January 2014 for the daily series: http://www.purposedriven.com/blogs/dailyhope/

  4. Lorie Mancini

    I’m​ in shock. Just watched my favorite true murder channel and amazingly the horrible story of Pastor Harris, who I must mention married me and my husband in 1984. At the time Pastor served as Lutheran Slovak church in Binghamton, New York. I was horrified to hear the news but to see the story on TV captivated my thoughts of then and now. May Pastor Harris, his daughter and his wife be blessed forevermore. My prayers are with all and my heart aches at this time.

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