Forgiveness

Ok, I preached on this today so what you are going to get is the text from my sermon.  Warning, it is not proofread nor are all the quotes cited…  If you need me to let me know.

Matthew 18:15-35

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” 21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister rom your heart.”

Dear brothers and sisters grace to you and peace, Jesus name. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today really falls into two distinct parts. The first is good practical advice that focus’ on the importance of relationships and the second is a Parable that feels about as far from practical as you can get.

To be fair, they share a common theme, that of forgiveness.

There are also two distinct things I know about forgiveness.

The first is that’s why we are here.

God’s saving and forgiving work done in Jesus is the very heart and soul of the Christian faith.

The second is that forgiveness is never easy, and it is never simple.  Bible texts like this one I call yeahbut texts… It’s not long after you read it or teach it or preach it that somebody comes up to you and says yeah but…

Yeah but whaddabout this and whaddabout that…

One of the reasons for that, I feel, is that this text hits home for nearly every one of us, and the places it hits are places we have been hurt and those places are often tender, or even infected.

“A certain married couple had many sharp disagreements. Yet somehow the wife always stayed calm and collected. One day her husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you,” he said, “you never fight back. How do you control your anger?”

The wife said: “I work it off by cleaning the toilet.

The husband asked: “How does that help?”

She said: “I use your toothbrush!””

That, if you are wondering, is not forgiveness it is, in fact, the exact opposite but the fact that you laughed at it means you know where she was coming from.  The fact you laughed means you know how tricky and difficult forgiveness can be.

At its core, the first part of our Gospel today understands that difficulty and lays out simple step by step directions on how to deal with disagreements within the church within our communities of faith.

Because the church is made up of human people like you and me sometimes we can mess things up pretty good.

Jesus lays out ways for us to reconcile and restore those who have gone astray.

Jesus knows our proclivities to passive aggressive behavior, so he urges honest conversation in private.

Jesus knows it is easier to gripe to others about someone who has offended us rather than to just talk things over with that person.

Jesus makes it clear, there is no room in God’s kingdom for a grudge fest, no matter how you may relish that bitter taste in your mouth.

The reason forgiveness is such a big deal to Jesus is that relationships are a big deal and in our broken world you need that forgiveness to keep things glued together.

Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about a woman who was already dying of cancer when her husband suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack. At his funeral, people leaned over her wheelchair to console her by reminding her that it would not be long until she and her husband were together again in heaven. Later when this woman and Rev. Taylor were alone, the woman with tears running down her face looked at Taylor and said, “I’m never going to get away from him, am I?”

I need you to understand that God is not demanding we live now or for eternity in hurtful broken relationships, but Jesus makes it clear how important the work of forgiveness is.

In the first half our lesson Jesus lays out good steps to work out the process of forgiveness but at its conclusion we find that not everything can be fixed with an easy how-to guide, but we will get back to that in a bit.

Next we have the parable of the debtors

Jesus told a parable about a man who owed his king ten thousand talents.

Now if you don’t know the exchange rates on talents to denarii that’s the equivalent of 200,000 years of wages.

It’s a ridiculous amount.

Mind boggling really… no one could hope to work off that much in many lifetimes.  The king was ready to have the man, his wife, their children and all their possessions sold to satisfy a small portion of the debt. The man came begging on his knees to the king to ask for more time.

The promise itself is ridiculous, and the king knows it, so the king does something equally ridiculous… the king was moved with compassion and completely forgave the man his debt. What relief! What joy!

But wait there’s more . . .

That same man had someone who owed him some money, not a small amount, but definitely repayable, about 100 days wages.

He seized this man by the throat and told him to pay up. And when the fellow did not, this man who had been forgiven his outrageous debt had the fellow thrown into prison for failing to pay his trifling debt.

Then the king heard about this and called the man in again. “Here I forgave your debt,” he exclaimed with rage, “should you not have forgiven the debt that was owed to you?”

And Jesus asks the same question of us today.

“Forgive us our debts,” Jesus taught us to pray, “as we forgive our debtors.”

Ugh. But what if we don’t want to… what if they don’t deserve it!

I like you have struggled at times with forgiveness and these words can sting.

So how did we get from easy step by step instructions to this complicated mess of forgiveness?

Well, as it often is in scripture, it’s Peter’s fault.  Between these two portions of text, he asks a question of Jesus.

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Now to be fair to Peter he was on the right track. The Rabbi’s at the time generally advised that one forgive someone 4 times at the most.

So in using the number that symbolizes perfection, Peter thought he was getting what Jesus was laying down… but Jesus ups the ante in a big way… No, he says 77 times, or just to make it interesting this phrase could be translated seventy times seven… that would be 490…

If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s not about the number.  It is about an absolute, complete and total life of forgiveness beyond calculation or easy steps.

One commentator on this passage sums things up this way when she writes: “Still it seems so difficult, even impossible, to forgive from the heart. Yet Jesus’ parable illustrates why forgiveness is so important. The alternative to forgiveness is a heart grown hard with resentment; it is alienation from one another, and in the worst case, violence. A world without forgiveness is a world of relational wreckage, the opposite of the wholeness and fullness of life God intends for us.

So how do we forgive from the heart? It helps to remember that to forgive is not to deny the pain or wrongness of an act; it is not to excuse that which is unjust or hurtful, nor is it to tolerate abuse. Remember what Jesus has already said about confronting the one who has wronged you. Yet in confronting our brother or sister, we also come face to face with our own sin and brokenness and realize that we are alike in our utter dependence on God’s grace.”

Unlike Elsa from the movie frozen, forgiveness isn’t singing “Let it go” it might feel that way on the surface, but it much more than that. Letting go of things as Elsa sings can be good a good thing but, forgiveness is far different from letting it go, it is about letting God.

You see in many ways we let things go far too often, and often for far too long.

Because letting it go doesn’t do anything to the base problem. Jesus gives us some good steps to follow for addressing our need for forgiveness in relationships, particularly the church as we are full of humans who are prone to sin.

When we find it difficult to forgive on our own we realize that we need Jesus do to this for us, through us and in us.

Forgiveness is why he went to the cross.

You see forgiveness all ways costs something, when we forgive it costs; our anger, our moral superiority, our vengeance and our hate.

Forgiveness cost God seeing his only begotten Son hung to die on a cross.

This cost was gladly paid so what we might have a relationship with God that death has no part. A life lived in forgiveness is one that realizes that the future is in God’s hands.

Forgiveness doesn’t always make the past better, but what it does do is open up a future that the past had once closed off.

That goes for forgiving yourself as well, and sometimes that is the hardest thing to do of all.

Jesus reminds us that what Forgiveness is all about is the full and abundant life God wants for us.  Martin Luther in the small catechism shows us this in his explanation of Holy Communion… where there is forgiveness of sin there is life and salvation… Forgiveness then is about life, and as Martin would say…this is most certainly true.  Amen.

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