All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Forgiveness: When, What, Why, How...

September 14, 2014
Mathew 18: 21-35
Bonnie A. Perry

This sermon is influenced greatly by my reading of Amish Grace: When Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, written by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher.

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy seven times." Or in some translations Jesus replies, "70 x 7".


Opening Scene October 2—Amish 9/11

Do you remember October 2, 2006? It was a Monday, a clear, blue sky, a cloudless day, in Lancaster County, PA; a day that some say very much reminded them of September 11, 2001. In fact, it has been called, by more than one person, the Amish 9/11.

This is the day of the Nickel Mines School Shooting. I'll spare all of us the grim details, save to say an assailant slayed 5 and critically injured five others all under the age of 13.

Do you remember how the headlines changed from talking about murder to forgiveness?

Do you remember the media's confusion as reports went out that the relatives of the Amish children who were shot, were bringing food to the family of the assailant?

Do you remember that over half of the people who attended the assailant's funeral were Amish?

I've spent some time reading a wonderful book about this incident, entitled, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B Kraybill, Steven Nolt, David Weaver-Zercher, all of whom are scholars who study the Amish. Although they themselves are not Amish they each have close ties to the community.

The book, written in three parts describes the events on the day of the shooting, the roots of forgiveness in the Amish Culture and the last part looks at the practice of shunning and excommunication in the Amish.

It's an amazing piece that is even-handed and thoughtful and at least for me, extremely helpful in wrestling with the idea and notion of forgiveness.

Take a minute—When was the last time you felt the bottom of someone's shoe step down on your soul? Does a time or an incident come to you?

Separate, or perhaps linked to that—when was the last time you forgave someone?

For me, it was a bit easier to think of how and when I've been wronged, and I was bit slower on coming up with times when I have forgiven someone. Coming up with defined moments or events where I've been injured or hurt... yup—I have those—times.

When I've let go of those injuries--- times when I have forgiven someone for what they have done—well I'd be fibbing if I said that those moments were as readily at hand.

Because I think this is an extremely difficult topic I'd like to offer some

Who, What, When and, Why's of forgiveness for you to think about, most which I gleaned from reading this book. Perhaps some of it may be helpful to you.

What is Forgiveness?

So what exactly is forgiveness? What I really liked about this book, Grace: How Forgiveness transcended tragedy—is how the authors point out that the Amish differentiate forgiveness from both pardon and reconciliation.

In forgiveness, the victim forgoes the right to vengeance. If I forgive you, I give up my need or desire for revenge.

In pardon, the offender is released from punishment altogether. If I pardon you, I will actively seek from the ruling bodies that adjudicate such things— to have you released from all punishment.

Whereas, Reconciliation is the restoration of a relationship, or the creation of a new relationship between the victim and the offender. When I reconcile with you, both of us are creating a new relationship.

The Amish are clear, Reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness to take place. Reconciliation does not always happen, because it requires the establishment of trust between two willing parties.

I found differentiating between forgiveness and reconciliation to be incredibly important. I can forgive you, you can forgive me, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you and I will continue on in a relationship of sorts. We might—and that may in fact be a possible and even an ultimate goal—but it is not assumed in that first step of forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn't mean a resumption of trust, nor does it mean we put ourselves back into a possible position of harm.

For example, in the instance of domestic abuse, I can forgive the person who abused me, but I that doesn't mean I'm going to continue living with that person or stay married to that person.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation.

Another piece about forgiveness—it is not ours to make someone else do. As the Amish parents said, of their children who were in that school house on that ill-fated morning: "We can tell them what forgiveness is and we can offer forgiveness to the assailant's family, but we cannot make them forgive anyone."

When to Forgive?

The Amish would say quickly.

Why Forgive?

We forgive, so say the Amish, because of scripture.

Matthew 18—For the Amish, citing today's scripture, it is pretty clear. They say, "We forgive to be forgiven." If we don't forgive, then God won't forgive us."

Which is somewhat at odds with some protestant theology that says, "Because God died for our sins, because Jesus died on the cross and has forgiven our sins, we must forgive others." Personally the former Catholic in me, likes the Amish twist a bit better.

"I forgive, because then God will forgive me." This take on forgiveness requires some agency from me—and I'm a big fan of agency.

The Amish then point out that this theology is echoed in the Lord's prayer. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

Amish History and Culture

Forgiveness is also embedded in the Amish culture and history.

The Amish are descendants of the Annabaptist movement in the 16th century. The Annabaptist didn't think that either Luther or Calvin went far enough in their efforts at reformation. They were not reticent to make known their misgivings. As a result the Amish ancestors became the persona non grata of both the original protestant reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. Thus ensuring that they would be prime targets by both sides for martyrdom. A central piece of the Annabaptist's martyrdom was to do as Jesus did and publicly forgive their persecutors as they were being put to death. Forgiveness is in the Amish DNA.

Why else forgive? This last bit is extremely practical.

Gid, one Amish minister says, "If I hold a grudge for a day, it is bad. If I hold it for two days it is worse. If I hold a grudge for a year then that man is controlling my life. So why not just let go of that grudge now?"

"Otherwise," says Gid, "You live with that grudge forever and it controls you."

So What's the process for forgiving?

Everett Worthington—identifies two different types of forgiveness—decisional and emotional.

Decisional forgiveness is a personal commitment to control negative behavior, even if negative emotions continue.

A Person practicing, "Decisional forgiveness" writes Worthington, "promises not to act in revenge or avoidance, but it doesn't necessarily make a person feel less unforgiving [ or more forgiving]."

"Emotional forgiveness", says Worthington, "happens when negative emotions—resentment, hostility, and even hatred—are replaced by positive feelings."

An Amish grandfather of two of the slain little ones, when asked if he had forgiven, said, "Yes—in my heart." Said the minister, Gid, "That family will have to struggle with the forgiveness issue for a long time, forgiving again and again and accepting the loss of those children again and again."

Regardless of how many times you forgive, forgiveness needs to be practiced again and again.

That's when it came to me! Forgiveness is like a muscle—that we can train and build... Just like a muscle that has:

Fast twitch, powerful fibers, that twitch quickly and provide short bursts of power and strength, there are also

Slow twitch fibers, which take awhile to contract. These are the muscle fibers needed for endurance. Forgiveness is made up of both of these metaphorical muscle fibers.

The fast twitch fibers are the ones we activate when we make the move toward decisional forgiveness, the slow twitch fibers are the ones we use as we possibly make our way to emotional forgiveness.

Forgiveness then, is a short term act and a long-term process, and the two are connected.

The initial decision to forgive may spark the [eventual] emotional long-term change of heart.


Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project writes that forgiveness means, "Becoming a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell of your life."

I like that, when I forgive, I become the hero instead of the victim.


Forgiveness means:

I give up the right for revenge or recompense.

It doesn't always lead to reconciliation.

It's hard work that can begin with a quick action and can continue with a long process of change.

It's an act that I can practice and train up in my soul.

Creating the muscles of forgiveness, will be less work than being a victim and being held hostage to the grudges I cannot bear to relinquish.

The Amish have a 300 year cultural head start on us with a community that reinforces this practice. Maybe that's something else we can learn from them. Like those barn raising parties it all seems to go quicker if we give each other a hand.

Forgiveness is something we might consider practicing. According to Jesus, 70 x 7 times.


Copyright Bonnie A. Perry 2014

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Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Here is a link to download Bonnie's address.

Weekly Message for February 18

Weekly Message for February 18

Dear Friends,    


How much longer will the killing continue? 
Here are some groups and activities you might consider supporting with your time and your money: 
  • The IL Council Against Handgun Violence 
  • Moms Demand Action 
  • Gabby Giffords' PAC 

  • And here's a list of congressional representatives who have received the most amount of money from the National Rifle Association. Apparently they are all praying for the people in Florida directly affected by our country’s latest mass shooting. I invite you to pray for their souls and to drop them a note wondering if God is answering their prayers. Will it make a difference? I don’t know. But, being held hostage by a diabolical association that has convinced our elected officials that it is the God-given, constitutionally-sanctioned right of every American to wander around with a semi-automatic rifle is absurd. Seems like all of us ought to start loudly pointing out this insanity.
    I’ll be at the Moms Demand Action Lakeview gathering on the 24th of February. Let me know if you’d like to come with me. Please let me know what other courses of action you plan to take to end gun violence in our country.
    This evening, All Saints’ will be hosting a gathering for the friends, family, and neighbors of our long-term neighbor John Vanzo at 7:00. Tomorrow morning at 10:30 there will be a visitation in the sanctuary and a memorial service at 11:00 am. All are welcome. 
    I’m super excited that we will finally kick off the All Saints’ Youth Group with an overnight this Saturday. Please RSVP to Hilary Waldron if your 7-12 grade child is planning on attending. 
    Following the 11:00 Worship service we will have a Newcomer’s Brunch at O’Shaughnessy’s at 12:15. Please join us!
    This Sunday, Emily will be preaching, I’ll be celebrating, and our choir will be singing some wonderfully moving Lenten music. It seems like the right time to be praying and repenting. So please come and join me.
    All my best,


    Annual Bake Auction

    Annual Bake Auction

    Dear Friends,
    For nineteen years, All Saints' has been creating an Africa Bake Auction that changes people's lives. Last year we raised over $26,000 by buying cakes that we baked! With the money raised during the auction between our 9am and 11am worship services, our young people chose to fund:
  • wells and clean water for people in South Sudan
  • a women's collective tea store, creating a place for women entrepeneurs
  • scholarships for Sudanese refugees in Uganda
  • financial aid for two scholars working on LGBT issues in Africa
  • health care for women, children, and men in the Diocese of Renk, South Sudan
  • In terms of what it buys in South Sudan, our money is multiplied by a factor of ten. And now, more than ever, our assistance is needed. What you do--what we give--helps people so very much.
    So come with your debit cards, bring your friends, bake some goodies, and get ready to make an investment in the lives of people in South Sudan.
    Susan and I will be spending at least $750 to make a difference. I'll be baking my no frills, simply chocolate, kinda ugly, really tasty cake!
    And during our worship services on Sunday, each offering that isn't marked "pledge" will be given to our friends in South Sudan.  
    Please start baking, and email a title and brief description to Polly Tangora so she can streamline check-in by preparing your bid forms in advance. Then post your amazing goodies on Facebookor Instagram, tagging All Saints' and using the hashtag #AfricaBakeAuction. 
    All the best, 
    March For Our Lives - A Lenten Pilgrimage

    March For Our Lives - A Lenten Pilgrimage


    Dear Friends,

    I invite you to join me on a pilgrimage to Washington DC on March 24th to support the young people from Florida who are marching in memory of their slain friends, murdered in their high school.

    I believe this journey to DC or a shorter trip to Downtown Chicago needs to be an intrinsic part of our Lenten Discipline this year. This country can no longer sigh and wring our collective hands and be lulled into thinking that there is nothing else we can do. We can show up. We can show up by the thousands, by the hundreds. That showing up begins when each one of us changes a plan and alters a schedule to be there to show we care. Because we do. 

    For DC, we’ll leave Friday evening at 5:00, March 23rd. Click here for more information and to purchase bus tickets. We’ll March during the day on the 24th. And return Saturday night so that we all may be back in time for Palm Sunday Services, March 25th. Know that the procession we take part in on Saturday will be a Palm Sunday Procession for the world and not just our church.

    I hope you can be there, with your family and friends in either DC or Downtown.

    All my best,



    Lenten Evening Prayer

    Lenten Evening Prayer

    On Thursdays, February 15-March 22, brief services of Evening Prayer will be offered at 7:00pm, with scripture, poetry, and song. Come find rest for your souls.

    Inquirers’ Class

    Inquirers’ Class

    On Thursdays, February 15—March 22, the Inquirers’ Class will take place in the Reading Room next to the sanctuary. Designed especially but not exclusively for those new to All Saints’ and/or the Episcopal Church, this 6-week series is an exploration of adult spirituality through history, prayer, scriptures, theology, church polity, and more. If desired, it may also serve as preparation for the rite of confirmation or reception into the Episcopal Church in May or June.

    The book we’ll refer to occasionally in the class is called Jesus was an Episcopalian (and you can be one, too!): A Newcomer’s Guide to the Episcopal Church by Chris Yaw. If you’re interested in joining the class, consider getting a copy to look over.

    Contact Bonnie or Emily for more info.

    Bags for RCS

    Bags for RCS

    We're running low on paper and reusable bags for our Tuesday night pantry. Please bring us your extras! 
    We will be taking donations on Tuesday evenings, M-F 9am-4pm, and on Sundays during church services. Look for the bins by the doors. Thanks for your help!

    Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

    Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

    Tuesdays 6:15-8:00pm 

    RCS is looking for help serving and cleaning up after dinner on Tuesdays from 6:15-8:00pm.

    If you're able to volunteer, contact Emily or Operations Manager Parker Callahan, or call 773-769-0282.

    Donate to The 1883 Project

    Donate to The 1883 Project

    Please consider supporting the restoration project of our historic building. To make a donation, click here

    1883 Construction web 

    Fixing This Old Church

    Fixing This Old Church

    Here is a collection of photos of the progress of our 1883 Project. Here is a collection of bell tower photos. Check back often for updates.

    Sunday Service Times

    8:00 am Inclusive Language Eucharist
    9:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir
    10:00 am Children's Church School
    10:00 am Coffee Hour
    11:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir


    Contact Us

    4550 N. Hermitage in Chicago, IL 60640 (Directions)

    Phone (773) 561-0111


    Information about pastoral care.



    Bonnie on Huffington Post

    Occasionally Bonnie's sermons are published on the Huffington Post. Here are some links.

    Pain. Change. Hope.

    November 15, 2015

    What Does St. Francis of Assisi Have to Say to Us Today?

    October 4, 2015

    Wake Up Calls

    September 6, 2015

    Christmas Reminds Us That We, Like God, Are Human, Too

    December 24, 2014

    The Deep Sleep of Racial Oblivion: One Pastor's Sin of Omission

    November 30, 2014

    Pulpit Swap

    The Pulpit Swap between St Thomas and All Saints is part of our ongoing effort to bring our parishes closer together as we engage in a conversation about systemic racism and how we can work together to forge new possibilities and outcomes.

    Going Home—Changed

    Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church on October 16, 2016.  

    When Prayers Go Unanswered

    Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Dr Fulton L Porter celebrating at All Saints Episcopal Church on Oct16 2016.