The Power of Forgiveness, part 1Matthew 18:21-35
St. Paul UMC 8-5-12
Are you enjoying the summer? Summer is full of friends and family visiting. We had VBS last week. People are on vacations – please pray for Pastor SunHee and Kevin who left for Korea this past Tuesday for time for relaxing with family. Some have gone camping – Lance is backpacking somewhere in California now. And it’s also a time to see summer movies.
Like me you were probably shocked about July 20 shootings in Colorado at the Batman showing where 12 were killed and 59 wounded. The shooter had an apartment full of explosives and traps for whoever went in. One victim, Denver Rescue Mission employee, Pierce O’Farrill was shot three times in the left arm and left leg.
O’Farrill told The Denver Post that when he saw images of Holmes at his first court appearance he felt sorrow for him. “Of course, I forgive him with all my heart. When I saw him in his hearing, I felt nothing but sorrow for him — he’s just a lost soul right now,” O’Farrill said. “I want to see him sometime. The first thing I want to say to him is ‘I forgive you,’ and the next is, ‘Can I pray for you?'”
That is amazing because ways of the world are not forgiving! There is war, violence through our actions and words of criticism, blame and judgment. People live by an eye for an eye, carrying grudges, bitterness and feuds for generations. The reality is that as Christians, we are not always more forgiving than non-Christians.
Pastor Sun Hee just finished preaching on Heroes. A few weeks ago she spoke of Joseph, the forgiving hero. A young man whose brothers hated him enough to try to kill him and ended up selling him off to slave traders. Over the course of years, Joseph forgave and saved his family.
Jesus calls us to follow and serve him, as Christians. Forgiveness and love are our greatest super powers given by God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Most agree, the power of forgiveness is needed in a world of violence. Unfortunately, we, like all humans in the world, can be more like Joseph’s brothers than Jesus.
I will be preaching on Forgiveness for the month of August. In some ways it is simple and complex at the same time. If you have questions or comments, please talk to me, email or leave me a note in the offering plate. Forgiveness is important and central to our life as Christians
C. S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” How does forgiveness work? What are we talking about?
We will look today at Matthew 18:21-35, the parable of the unmerciful servant. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a king and his slaves. Parables are stories to teach and show a deeper truth or lesson.
The king is settling accounts with a slave that owes him 10,000 talents.
• 1 talent = more than 15 years pay for average worker.
• 10,000 talents is more than 150,000 years wages.
The man can’t pay. He has accumulated a huge debt that it is impossible to repay even though he may try. I wondered how could he accumulate such a huge debt? But we know that still happens today. As I studied, the word used for slave could also be for a tax collector or finance minister.
The king calls for man and family and all his possessions to be sold. It is in his right to do this and is according to Old Testament law in Leviticus 25.
In verse 26, the slave falls on his knees saying “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Now the slave and everyone there knows it cannot be repaid. It is just too much! Out of pity for him, the lord of that slave releases him and forgave him the debt. The king is merciful, kind, compassionate and generous and releases this impossible debt for the man and his family.
Forgiveness in the Kingdom of God is like this story. God is our king and we are his slaves. We have and are accumulating a debt that is more than we can ever repay. God has mercy and releases (forgives) us from our debt.
But the story is not done.
The first slave sees another slave who owes him 100 denarii.
• 1 denarius = 1 day wage.
• 100 denarii is less than 4 months average wage.
In verse 29, the slave says almost the same thing the first one said to the king, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” This time it is possible to pay back the debt.
But in contrast to the King, the slave refuses and throws him in jail until he pays. Which again he has right to do.
Other slaves see the forgiven slave (who could never pay back his own debt) be unforgiving and they are upset! They tell the king and the king calls the slave wicked. He then sends slave to be treated as he treated other slave.
In the Kingdom of God, when we are unforgiving to others, others are distressed and God calls us wicked. Though it is acceptable in the world, it is not acceptable in Kingdom of God. In the Message interpretation the king says, “Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?” The generous unexpected mercy of King should compel us to act likewise and become more like him.
There is the expectation that we who are forgiven of debt beyond our ability to repay are to become forgiving like our King with debts that are really much smaller. When we are not, God treats us as the world does.
Back to beginning of our scripture reading, Peter asks Jesus how many times must I forgive a member of the church? We will talk about others outside the church another week.
Seven times? Jesus answers 77 times! This huge number is not so that we keep count and when people reach 78 we are done forgiving them but to say as often as it happens. For this aspect of forgiving, we are compared to king and his slaves.
As Christians, we and others know and expect that we are to be forgiving. Amen?
We pray the Lord’s prayer weekly and say, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Being forgiven by God and forgiving or not forgiving others is connected.
I saw a book recently called The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel. The subtitle is Believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist.
Pastor SunHee said a few weeks ago in her sermon, “Men forget but never forgive. Women forgive but never forget.” And we nodded and nudged and understand that. Sometimes we are so used to it that it becomes normal, comfortable and even acceptable in our mind. We may think we are pretty good compared to some and this is good enough. But that is not God’s standard.
When we are baptized and/or confirmed, we or our parents publicly commit and accept what God is calling us to in following Jesus.
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in His grace, and promise to serve Him as your Lord in union with the church?
This is what we commit our lives to, what we say we want our lives to be.
When I was baptized I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus. I was not fully sure what it would take or mean or where it would lead. If you ask my family and friends, I was a pretty good person with basic morals. As I grew in faith, I learned the basics that God loves me so much, not just for what I do or who I am. Likewise, that when, and not if, I messed up, God was ready to receive me back if I turned back and asked for help. That reveals the kind of God he is
It was life changing from how I grew up, fully dependent on my working hard and doing the right thing. It was an incredible freedom to not be in control but trust my life and others to God’s great care and help. It was a huge burden lifted. I could not believe it was true! Love that was so sweet!
There are moments when I am still stunned at how good God is to me and us! At those times I am overflowing with gratefulness. When I still mess up and get tired of my own limitations, our God is there to receive and put me back on track.
We all have those moments throughout life. Moments when we feel that we have messed up so badly and the mercy of God is waiting for us to ask for help. Not just a second chance but 77 times! As often as needed, God’s amazing love is there to wrap us, receive us, wash us and lead us!
Have you been watching the Olympics? I really enjoy team sports where people share their strengths and encourage, remind and help focus each other in challenging times. The other day I saw Tirunesh Dibaba from Ethiopia who won the women’s 10k meter race. After 20 some laps she was with the top competitors at the front. When the bell rang for the last lap, she turned it on and peeled away from the others and even lapped others in the race. It was amazing!
I think of Jesus as the gold medalist in forgiveness. He is so much better that there is no contest. Why are we on the same field?
And yet, Jesus invites us to be on his team- to coach us and shares his power and strength us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus and the Holy Spirit will take us far beyond our own limits if we allow and are willing.
You may be wondering, what about when others do really awful things, or repeatedly, or are unrepentant? We will deal with these in the next weeks.
I want to leave you with two main realities to set our foundation as we talk about God’s forgiveness.
First is the reality of sin in world and in us. We often think of sin as not following God’s law or will. I would like to break it down more. Sin is our tendency to choose words, actions and inaction that separates us from each other and God. It is when we block the ideal relationship between people and God. For example, Adam and Eve’s actions and choices put a barrier where we see them hiding from God.
Sin includes violence, demeaning others, gossip, fear and hiding. We may be aware and unaware of the separation that our choices lead to. Either way it is not always so easy to go back.
The second reality is the power of God’s love and forgiveness to restore or mend separation. Forgiveness gets us out of the trapped cycle of violence and despair. God guides us in unlearning the habits of separation and sin to live out the life-giving grace of God.
In Psalm 25:7, 11 God forgives according to God’s love, for sake of God’s name. We see that expressed in Jesus Christ. In Luke 23:34, Jesus forgives the guards who nail him to the cross. “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. John Wesley wrote that this is Jesus’ greatest miracle- “while they were nailing him to the cross, he seems to feel the injury they did to their own souls, more than the wounds they gave him, and to forget his own anguish out of concern for their salvation.”
Jesus invites us to be on journey of forgiveness with him. Let me offer two questions.
Will you repent and receive God’s forgiveness and power?
Who do you need to forgive?
Maybe God is reminding you of how much you need him, how forgiven you are. Maybe there is someone or something you are being prodded to forgive. Recommit yourself to repent, to reject evil, to put your whole trust in Jesus Christ and live for him.
Let him do the heavy lifting! It will be more than we can do on our own.
I am going to invite the praise team to offer a song for reflection. During this song, you are invited to come forward to recommit and offer your life to the one who saves us. If you are accepting good news of the abundant love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ for the first time, please come to the center. We will close together in prayer at the end of the song.