Forgive Your Parents
Unprompted, without any warning, for no reason at all, without any instigation say, "I love you." And that will wash over your parents like a beautiful absolution.
This message was delivered to the students, staff, and faculty of Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, WI.
I think that you students, the next time you go home, should forgive your parents. There is nobody that does more damage to children than parents. It is true that there is nobody who loves more unconditionally than parents, but there is also nobody that does as much damage to children as parents. And even though I have never met or never will meet most of your parents, I will speak for them and tell you that they are carrying a lot of guilt. They are carrying a lot of guilt for the times they lost their cool. They are carrying the guilt for the things they should not have said but were caught up in the moment. They are carrying the guilt for things they should have said but didn't because they didn't have time. They're carrying a lot of guilt for the things they said and did that harmed you, that malformed you, that messed you up. They're carrying a lot of guilt, and the worst thing is that the more they try to be better parents, the busier and more stressed they become. Sometimes they even become worse parents as a result.
You students should go home and forgive your parents. And for those of you who are not students, I'm willing to bet that some of you still have a mother you haven't called in a while. Yes? Now, you students should not go home and say, "Mom, Dad, I forgive you." That would be weird and come off as extremely arrogant. So what you should do is this: you should, unprompted, without any warning, for no reason at all, without any instigation say, "I love you." And that will wash over your parents like a beautiful absolution. And their sins will be swept away, like a cloud, like the morning mist.
This is how God operates, with this kind of love, an unconditional love. Take a listen to the prophet Isaiah.
Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you" (Isa. 44:21-22)
When did Israel ever deserve anything but condemnation? When did we ever deserve anything but wrath? And yet here is God with tender words for his ancient people and you too. Notice all the "I"s in the text. God is the subject of the sentence. "I have made you. I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses. I have redeemed you." God is the subject of the sentence. Then he commands, "Return to me," which is the plea of all parents to their children. He says, "Return to me." A command that is actually a gracious gift. He still is the subject of the sentence.
But we, your spiritual parents, have done a disservice to all of you in the church. We have misled you. We have allowed this insidious thought to fester in your hearts about repentance. We got really smart, and we said, "Let me do some etymology," that is, the study of the history of words. We taught you that the word "repent" means "to turn." You are to turn from sin and towards God. So far, so good. But we left you without any gospel. We let this fester like cancer in you. We wanted to be good parents. We tried so hard. We wanted to give you free grace. "But you gotta turn to God," we said. We didn't mean to, but we left you with the impression that you had to first turn from sin, and then God would forgive you. We made you the subject of the sentence. And we let that cancer grow and eat at your faith. And either you went further away from God, falling into despair. Or even worse, you became arrogant and said, "I have repented. I have returned to the Lord." As if the prodigal son was supposed to go to everybody and say, "Look at me."
Here is the truth: God is always the subject of the sentence. Even when you try to be the subject of the sentence, God is always the subject of the sentence. God turns you. God repents you. Notice the "I's" in the text. God repents and turns you. It's a part of faith. And if it takes disease, it'll take disease. And if it takes failure, it'll take failure. And if it takes bankruptcy, it will take bankruptcy. If it takes some harsh law, it'll take harsh law. But he'll turn you. He'll repent you to him. He'll turn you back to him, and then he will turn you to others in love and forgiveness. Even your parents.