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Peter do you love me?  Yes Lord you know I do. 
Peter do you love me?  Yes Lord you know that I love you. 
Peter do you love me?  

He betrayed Jesus 3 times.   Peter, standing before a charcoal fire, warming his hands, betrays Jesus because he is afraid.  Today Jesus asks Peter three times do you love me?   Jesus is forgiving Peter by asking him 3 x does he love him?  

Likewise this morning in our reading from Acts we get an act of forgiveness.  Saul who breaths murder is striking out to find more of these people of the way—early Christians to arrest them when God calls him and invites him to reconsider his actions.   


Forgiveness is yet another Resurrection practice.  Last week, we reflected on laughter as a way of knowing Resurrection on this side of the grave.   Forgiveness is another way that we can practice resurrection in the here and now.    

But what does forgiveness really look like?  And how can we practice it? 

About 30 years ago, a Psychologist, Enright staked his whole career on creating a psychology of forgiveness.  Many of his contemporaries scoffed at such an idea.  However, 30 years later, Enright has become the leading authority on what is called the Psychology of Forgiveness.  What he discovered was something every major religion has known for a Millenia or more: forgiveness is good and healthy for us. 

Enright defines forgiveness this way: forgiveness is the foregoing of resentment or revenge.   When people forgive, they essentially give up the anger to which they are entitled and give to their offender a gift to which he or she is not entitled. 

To best understand forgiveness, we need to first understand what it is NOT.   And that might require us to unlearn the few things we thought we knew about forgiveness.   

Forgiveness is not forgetting.   Sometimes there are acts that we will never forget in our lives.  We often hear the words forgive and forget.  I know that the intent behind the sentiment is that we are not to hold a grudge.  The reality is forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting.  Forgiveness is ultimately about freedom.  Freedom from being held hostage by our anger.  Freedom to tell our painful stories without them causing us further pain.  Forgiveness means we do not allow our past woundedness to have dominion over us.   

Forgiveness is not a magic wand.  Just because we say we forgive doesn’t make it so.  Forgiveness is a process we go through.  Similar to grief, when we forgive we may feel sad, angry,  we may bargain, or have denial and we may find acceptance.  Forgiveness takes time and is a process.  Something dies in forgiving and something new lives.  That’s why it is a resurrection practice that we know in the here and now.     

Finally forgiveness is not always reconciliation.  We may forgive someone but may choose to not be in relationship with them ever again.  Bishop Mary Gray Reeves, former bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real (my former diocese)  preaches forgiveness from a place of great personal pain.  In 2014, her beloved husband Michael went out for a bike ride and never came home.  He was struck by a drunk driver and killed.  Mary preaches openly about her experience of going to the prison to forgive and reconcile with her husband’s killer.  Reconciliation was not possible because the man who hit Michael was not able to take responsibility for his actions.  However that did not mean forgiveness was not possible.  Mary chose to forgive the man who killed her husband.  There was not reconciliation possible but forgiveness was possible.   Mary made a choice to forgive him, to not be held captive by that awful dreadful horrible moment in her life.  Even if restoration was not possible, freedom from anger, resentment and revenge was. 

Reconciliation by the way, is another resurrection practice we can hold and as I’ve said before,  reconciliation is the primary ministry of our work as Christ followers.  

So if forgiveness is not a placebo or magic wand, if forgiveness is not forgetting, if forgiveness is not always linked to reconciliation, then how do we get there.   When we make a conscious choice to forgive to not choose revenge or resentment, we are on the road. 

Enright, that psychologist that chose to study and create a psychology of forgiveness tells us that there is a four step process to forgiving.   There is the uncovering phase is which we detail the offense that has taken place and the many emotions it has uncovered: guilt, shame, fear, anger. The list goes on and on.  In the uncovering phase, it is helpful to detail and work those feelings with another person.  

The next phase is the decision phase.  We must choose forgiveness on our own.  Like love, forgiveness is a commitment, a choice, not a feeling.  

The third phase is the Work Phase. It involves actually working on forgiving.  In this phase, a person “gains a new understanding of the offender and begins to view the offender in a new light, reframing this person may involve rethinking the offensive situation or seeing the offender from a new perspective, as “a person who is, in fact, a human being, and not evil incarnate”.

Finally, there is the fourth phase this is the deepening phase.  In this phase, a person “finds increasing meaning in the suffering, feels more connected with others, and experiences decreased negative affect and, at times, renewed purpose in life.  

Much like Kubler Ross’s earlier work on grief and dying,  I don’t think these phases are a 1234 sequential process as much as they come and go and might happen in a different order.   Enright, in case you were wondering is in fact a  devout Christ follower and it was because of his faith that he chose to study forgiveness from a psychological perspective. 

All of us hurt.  All of us will be hurt and suffer.  It is the human condition. We die many small deaths in life.  Our work as a resurrection people is to practice resurrection through laughter and tears, through forgiveness, we practice resurrection—finding new life.  Life that may be different and changed, life that we may not recognize at first—I think this is why Jesus goes unrecognized so much in these stories we get in Easter—life looks different in  the resurrection!  

Peter do you love me?  Yes Lord you know I do. 
Peter do you love me?  Yes Lord you know that I love you. 
Peter do you love me?