Matthew 6:14 – 15 NRSV                                   

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

One of the most horrific tragedies of our time occurred in 2006, when an armed man, Charles Roberts, entered an Amish schoolhouse and took the lives of five innocent little girls and wounded five more. The outside world was appalled and angered and unforgiving – how could someone just line children up and shoot them?  Imagine how the families felt as they buried their children. How could they not feel anger and hostility towards the shooter and his family?

But in this tragedy, extreme forgiveness was demonstrated by the Amish community. Amish parents, who had just the day before buried their daughters, attended the burial of the killer, providing comfort to his widow, children and parents.  The Amish community has since donated money to the killer’s widow and the three young children he left behind, and they continue to demonstrate forgiveness in their daily actions.

Forgiveness is a large part of the Amish culture. Many of their ancestors suffered brutal deaths for their beliefs. The Amish genuinely live their faith, and forgiveness is imbedded in that faith.  The Bible contains many references to forgiveness, but, most importantly, they look to the last words of Jesus as he was suffering and dying on the cross – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus demonstrated extreme forgiveness on the cross.

It is only by being able to forgive that we can receive God’s forgiveness for ourselves. God offers us the gift of forgiveness, with no strings attached, but we must accept that gift. A hard and bitter heart makes it difficult to accept God’s forgiveness. By forgiving, we are forgiven.  Not that this is easy, mind you! I’m sure many of the Amish families struggled mightily with forgiving the man who changed their lives forever. We want justice for the wrongs done to us, even as we wish for the wrongs we’ve done to others to be forgiven.  But opening our hearts to receive forgiveness means we must forgive others.

One of my favorite praise hymns, “Amazing Love,” contains wonderful words of the gift of forgiveness that is available to us all.

I’m forgiven, because you were forsaken
I’m accepted, you were condemned
And I’m alive and well, your spirit is within me
Because you died and rose again……..

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to practice extreme forgiveness in my daily life. You know my heart and you know my pain. Soften my heart so that I may forgive and be able to accept your forgiveness. Amen.

Monica Stern

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