Posted on Sun, Sep 14, 2014
September 14, 2014
Gospel Text: Matthew 18:21-35 “Forgive, and Do Not Remember”
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.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
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 should 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 should 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 from your heart.’
I don’t know how many of you are into the “Simplify Your Life,” “Simple Living,” or “Decluttering your Life” fad but as our house is small and we just have too many ‘things’ I have made the personal decision to get rid of anything I don’t need or haven’t used for a long time. Pastor Jeff and Jean Lilley made a rule in their house, “if something hasn't been used for three years, it gets thrown out. NO QUESTIONS, NO EXCEPTIONS AND NO EXCUSES!” The rule served them well before they moved from Kansas to Oahu when they accepted the Call to serve Lutheran Church in Honolulu, but it wasn't easy, and it took both of them to enforce the rule and support each other when one, or both, had to part with a particularly sentimental object. Pastor Jeff was a professional photographer in the past and I remember him telling me of how hard it was for him to be forced, because of their mutual rule, to part with his beloved film camera equipment because he realized he had been using digital equipment for a very quick three years, but according to their rule, he had to throw, sell or give it away. But he did it, and in the end it he did it.
But letting go of objects, memories or even relationships is always difficult and oftentimes we really need someone, or some group to be with us to support us.
“Letting go” and “Forgiveness” is often the same thing. We can train ourselves to let go of objects, burdens or even people, but forgiveness is much deeper and much more difficult.
In preparing for this day, I have really struggled with the phrase, “I can forgive, but I will never forget.” That phrase can be understood in many ways, but if the stubborn decision to not forget seems to just prolong the hurt, it causes me to wonder, “Why would you want to remember and carry the pain when you have the choice to forget, and be free from the burden?” Is it a matter of just protecting your heart and the desire to not go through that painful experience again? Or is there some baggage of pain and resentment that you just can’t let go of and you therefore choose to wallow in it? Is it ego? Are there feelings of revenge or the deep down indignant desire that at one time you might “get the chance to get even?” This is like making the choice to hold onto the pain in your heart like a scab over a wound. For me, if you demand to remember and not forget what you feel was something against you, it is only your choice and you are only planting the seeds of spite, resentment and hate in your heart.
And the danger is that these seeds turn into forests of burdens that clog our hearts and blind our eyes to the freedom and joy that comes with the real gift of forgiveness and really letting those burdens of hate go.
This may help us, the resentment, burden and painful memories don’t belong to you. They aren’t yours. They belong to God… That’s why God sent His only begotten Son for us… to free us of those blinding burdens so that we can truly live in hope, joy, mercy and love able to share the blessing of Aloha with all people.
The real gift the church provides to all people of the earth is to provide a safe place to confess our sins and hear the proclamation of our total forgiveness through the Cross of Jesus Christ. We don’t make things to sell, we don’t have a product with over priced marketers that think about a line that makes life smooth and stress free, what we do is allow humans to be the humans we are with all our warts and scars, and then proclaim to everyone that God loves us and through the Cross of Christ forgives us… NOT ACCORDING TO OUR EFFORTS OR WORKS! This is Good News! The is the Gospel!
The Gospel text for today is obviously all about “forgiveness,” and Jesus uses his love of hyperbole to make the point that God’s forgiveness is a greater blessing than anything we or any human can imagine. It is also a gift, that if we are to live as the People of God, we are responsible to receive and share this same gift with each other just as we have freely but at a great cost received; But if we decide to hold onto our pitiful self-centered issues, than we will only build a prison that we will live in today and for the rest of our lives, separated from the freedom, joy, hope and achieved through the Cross of Jesus which is the source of all hope.
In a nutshell, the slave or servant was forgiven an unimaginable amount of debt with the punishment for prison if he could not pay. The lord of the servant granted an unimaginable amount of mercy therefore FREEING THE SLAVE and RELEASING HIM FROM THE FEAR of prison. But when he had the same opportunity to grant mercy to someone who in real life could pay off the debt, the servant forgot the mercy he received from his lord and could not forget the very reasonable debt of his fellow slave. He had closed his head and heart off from being truly thankful for receiving that unimaginable he received from his master. He was already living in prison.
One talent = 15 years wages of labor
One Denarius = one days wages
Even though the slave received unimaginable mercy and forgiveness, he couldn’t forget the debts of his fellow slave… this remembering of the debt owed him blinded him to the unimaginable gift he had received… Remembering was of no use, and only brought him a life in prison… until he could pay, meaning he lost everything, his family, his home, even his future.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't hear about one sibling who is unable to even talk with another sibling or friend because of something that was said or done many years ago. What is the difference between holding onto this grudge and spitefulness and keeping a prisonlike wall between you and your sibling or friend? Or, when I hear someone say they really love people, but there’s this one guy… I’ll never forgive him or her. And then they will go on and on telling me the story in order to justify the hate or spitefulness they choose to carry in their heart. What is the difference between choosing to re-live this pain in your heart/memory and carrying a millstone around your neck every day of your life?
So Matthew, through the words of Jesus, is asking a Post-Easter group of Christians… we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God… Unto whom shall we go? Only you Jesus (The Gospel) have the words of eternal life! Alleluia, alleluia!
The text drives us to the Cross of Christ. There is nowhere for us to go in order to be freed from the burden of carrying these feelings of pain, hurt and even hate.
As we have been forgiven, IF WE ARE TO BE THE PEOPLE OF GOD, IF WE ARE TO BE A PEOPLE OF FAITH, we too are called to confess our sins, receive forgiveness and then TO FORGIVE, our neighbors as well as oursleves! Can you do this? No, of course you can’t, behold the empty cross… Jesus the Redeemer LIVES AMONG US. Receive the gift of unconditional, unimaginable forgiveness and be free. It is okay to dance… Amen.
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