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A Letter from the Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Forgive & Forget?
July 13, 2017

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22 NRSV)

We have all heard people say these words, “I can forgive. But I will never forget.” The message of these words is really that the person is being forgiving because it is the right thing to do. But, at the same time, the history of the grievance is not forgotten.

The truth is that we simply cannot forget many things. I may forget what I wore a week ago today. But I will not forget if someone spoke a harsh word to me recently. We forget what is unimportant or what we have not given much attention. We recall all those things that leave a mark on our hearts.

As long as, God willing, our brains are functioning as they should, we can dredge up an astonishing number of vivid memories of slights, insults, arguments, and the failures of others. The sad truth is that, as we are remembering these moments of injury, we are actually making them more lasting memories.

We call this process “holding a grudge.” The simple definition of grudge holding is staying angry with someone or something. Keeping anger alive is like stoking a fire. If you keep adding combustible fuel to a fire, it will keep burning. And all fires have the potential of getting out of control and burning down the house.

I am going to raise a sensitive topic and invite you to respond (email me or call me at 412-323-1404!). The topic is congregations and individuals who are holding a grudge against “Pittsburgh Presbytery.”

For many years before I joined the Pittsburgh Presbytery leadership staff, I served in at least eighteen of our congregations. Many of these churches had tales to tell of a time someone or some committee from the presbytery did something that angered or hurt them. These memories are very deep and they are often passed on to a new generation.

As a staff member, I continue to encounter congregations, sessions, and members who are still upset and angry at the presbytery. Often, the people involved in the dispute or in the umbrage taken are long gone. However, the hurt lingers. Uncovering these hurts is important because it helps to explain the history of a congregation.

It may also open a door to moving forward. But the moving forward can only happen if there is real forgiveness. I understand that FORGETTING a grievance is not really possible. We are all too human to forget.

But Jesus, recognizing that human trait, has asked us to extend forgiveness not just “up to” seven times, as Peter hoped, but even up to seventy-seven times. Jesus was not recommending with that number that we keep a precise record of wrongs. It was his way of telling Peter that just as God will always forgive us, we should be forgiving, always. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Are we willing to pray those words from the heart?


The Rev. Dr. Beverly W. James, Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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