September 14, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 18: 21-35
“Who Do You Need to Forgive?”
This morning we are going to talk about forgiveness, it is a serious matter and we need to consider this morning’s lesson seriously. As we get into this conversation I wanted to get you into the right frame of mind for our discussion. So please pay attention and see if you can figure out which character in these shore stories, which I found on the internet last week, need to forgive. Oh, and just to be clear, these stories are not mine I am not the author… someone wrote them done before I could.
Some of you are really going to enjoy these, and sadly a few of you may completely miss their point.
Recently, when I went to McDonald’s I saw on the menu that you could have an order of 6, 9 or 12 Chicken McNuggets. I asked for a half dozen nuggets. ‘We don’t have half dozen nuggets,’ said the teenager at the counter. ‘You don’t?’ I replied. ‘We only have six, nine, or twelve,’ was the reply. ‘So I can’t order a half dozen nuggets, but I can order six?’ ‘That’s right.’ So I shook my head and ordered six McNuggets.
I was checking out at the local Wal-Mart with just a few items and the lady behind me put her things on the belt close to mine. I picked up one of those dividers that they keep by the cash register and placed it between our things so they wouldn’t get mixed. After the young cashier had scanned all of my items, he picked up the divider, looking it all over for the bar code so he could scan it.
Not finding the bar code, he said to me, ‘Do you know how much this is?’ I said to him ‘I’ve changed my mind; I don’t think I’ll buy that today.’ He said ‘OK,’ and I paid him for the things and left. He had no clue to what had just happened. (But the lady behind me had a big smirk on her face as I left.)
I recently saw a distraught young lad waving his arms in frustration beside his car. ‘Do you need some help?’ I asked. He replied, ‘I knew I should have replaced the battery to this remote door un-locker. Now I can’t get into my car. Do you think they (pointing to a distant convenience store) would have a battery to fit this?’ Hmm, I don’t know. Do you have an alarm, too?’ I asked. ‘No, just this remote thingy,’ he answered, handing it and the car keys to me. As I took the key and manually unlocked the door, I replied, ‘Why don’t you drive over there and check about the batteries. It’s a long walk….’
Yes, forgiveness is a serious topic, yet, sometimes I think you and I we take ourselves way too seriously!
In the Apostle Paul’s letter from first Corinthians, chapter 13, to the struggling church in Corinth we hear him giving a beautiful story about love; I often read it during weddings. In verse 11, we are reminded that as children we see things differently: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” In the context of a wedding, a young couple choosing to marry, must set aside childish things and begin to take on the responsibilities of adults. Getting married, raising a family, sharing resources and making life decisions are all adult tasks. In verses 4 thru 6, the couple is being reminded that “love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”
This very popular passage from Paul’s letters does not say it directly, yet, clearly Paul is suggesting, even if subliminally, that newly married couples need to forgive each other from time to time, if not they will begin to build up resentments toward each other, which will ultimately destroy their marriage. His writing is trying to set a tone, thus creating an attitude by which a couple will have a real opportunity to build a long lasting relationship and a family that will last well into their waning years.
The core of this whole lesson is all about attitude. As a child you and I, we needed to be forgiven. As an adult we must learn to forgive; forgive ourselves, forgive our spouses and partners, forgive our children, and that is just the start of the list. And yes, we must be willing to forgive the inexperienced and undertrained cashier at the checkout counter from time to time.
Jesus taught the early disciples many things. In the gospels, we hear him teaching them to pray. You know the prayer and within it we are asking God to forgive us our sins, our debts our trespasses. Everyone I know seems to always remember that part of the Lord’s prayer. Yet, there is a coma, not a period at the end of that thought and it continues on saying: “as we forgive those whom sin, trespass or are indebted to us.” /Luke 11:4/ This is what today’s scripture lesson is all about! This is the basis to the answer that Jesus responds to Peter’s question with. “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?'” (verse21a)
Peter goes on with his question trying to answer it himself saying: Shall I forgive my brother “as many as seven times? “Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy – (times) seven.” Just so we are all clear that literally means 490 times, and you can safely assume Jesus meant we must forgive an infinite number of times. Let’s stop here for a moment shall we. Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the kingdom of heaven and in so doing has shared a number of parables to assist their learning. These past weeks we have looked at a few teachings. Last week it was what keeps us from doing God’s will, the week before we talked about building a church, and now Jesus is talking about when to forgive another; and in so doing he is speaking to the ‘larger picture’ of ‘how’ we get to heaven and ‘what’ it is like when we get there. I believe I speak for the majority of us here today, we do want to get to heaven; am I correct?
Last year when I let my house go in a ‘short sale’ the bank had to ‘forgive’ a large portion of my debt, my mortgage. In so doing they were like the master in our story, forgiving the servants debt. My wife and I, we struggled through the whole process, yet when it was done, we had such a sense of relief, we found ourselves filled with a feeling of intense gratitude that we were free of that debt. Our response was a normal response. What Jesus is saying to us is very reasonable, very normal. If you have been forgiven, if you want to be forgiven by God, then you need to be willing to forgive others around you. Yet, just as the servant in the story, there is an expectation when you forgive someone, an expectation that they will be grateful and willing to pass that sense of mercy and forgiveness on. My wife and I have had the opportunity to do just that, in small ways, ways that are within our means. I firmly believe that this is what this lesson is all about.
In our reflection around our scripture lesson we need to take into account this whole idea of gratitude. When someone does something for you – in gratitude – you need to pass that something along to someone else. In the parable the servant was given forgiveness for his debts, but he was not grateful and did not pass this gift of forgiveness on to his own servant. It is important to remember that Jesus was using the question about forgiveness to also give a deeper understanding of what the kingdom of heaven would be like. Take note that in the story, in the parable, the Master is outraged by this blatant, unconcealed lack of gratitude by his servant and punishes him!
What can we learn from all of this? Every day we incur debts, of one kind or another. And in the same manner others become indebted to us. On a regular basis we have misunderstandings between one another. In the verses before this morning’s lesson Jesus speaks about sin within the church body. He advises us to work to resolve this ‘one on one’ first, and when this does not work to bring in another person, another member of the church to resolve it. If this still does not resolve the conflict then take it to the entire church for resolution. Nowhere does Jesus suggest we condone a wrong, or overlook a debt. Jesus is talking about being responsible adults who are willing to confront issues and problems and work to resolve them. Isn’t it amazing that they had the same problems back in the time of Jesus as we still encounter in the Twenty-First century!
The amazing message here is that there is a simple resolution to these types of encounters. You make a mistake, you ask for forgiveness striving to right the wrong and endeavor to not do it again. The only condition placed upon us is that we need to pass this mercy, this forgiveness to another! Wow! How simple could this be! If we stay open to the whole concept of being grateful for God’s grace and mercy we automatically come to wanting to help others, forgiving them when they also are ready to accept our gesture of good will, and also pass it on!
We are no longer children! We have the opportunity to act as adults! Most of us or at least a great many of us have been taught the stories and the lessons passed on to us through the Bible. We have a bit of experience under our belts, and we remember what it was like when we didn’t! That’s why we can still laugh when a cashier makes a childlike error. That’s why we can help someone in distress without judging them for their lack of knowledge.
We are the adults now, and as such many of us are in a position to decide when someone is ready to receive assistance, a break if you will. If we wait till they earn it the day may never come, but if we ‘out of our own sense of gratitude’ reach out to them in a selfless gesture of love, perhaps they will come to understand forgiveness and mercy, and thus feel the blush of gratitude as it takes root in their hearts as well.
Be of good cheer, God loves you and has forgiven you. Go and do likewise.
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 – (times) 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 from your heart.”