Our September 13 Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. Our social spacing seating arrangement assures minimal risk when you come in person.
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September 13 Sermon
Genesis 50:15-21 | Psalm 103:1-13
Romans 14:1-12 | Matthew 18:21-35
Forgiveness: It is something which is really needed in the world today. It is at the base of many of today’s problems and issues. Just take a look at the news. There is a lack of forgiveness permeating too many areas of life. That leads to the question of St. Peter this morning:
“How often should I forgive?” If you remember from last week, Jesus had just been talking about what to do when you can’t work things out, Matthew’s famous “Discipline of Members” lesson, or what to do when someone keeps sinning against you. In light of that, Peter’s question is a fair one. A question which we don’t often hear. Usually, the question you hear is, “Do I have to forgive them?” Sometimes followed by the word , “Again?” If they asked for forgiveness, and repented, then the answer is yes.
But, did you notice that Peter already anticipates an answer, “Seven times?” That may sound strange, putting an actual number on it. But, it wasn’t strange in this period of time, and Peter is actually being very generous. Jewish law stated that you only had to forgive a person 3 times. That’s it, 3 times, then you could hold it against the other person for the rest of your life!! But, if Peter is generous, Jesus is magnanimous, “77 times,” or, to make it even more outstanding, it can also be read 7 times 70 = 490 – numbers weren’t that firmly defined back then, at least in terms of language. (And in Greek, you can put the words of a sentence in any order that you want. True, there is a common word order, but you can put them anywhere that you wish. It can be confusing.). 77 or 490, that is a lot of forgiving. Ironically, there are still people out there, who with a clear conscience, are keeping count on either number 77 or 490, just so they can cry out, “That tears it, I’ve done what I had to do, now, I don’t have to forgive you anymore!”
Obviously, they have missed the point of the whole teaching. It is not a matter of keeping score. It is a matter of endless forgiveness for those who turn around, repent, to repair the relationship. It is a lesson to keep on forgiving, not to place one’s self in God’s place as judge (to quote Joseph in the Genesis lesson today), but act as God’s agent of reconciliation in the world, where we are. And Joseph knew a lot about forgiving when it came to his brothers (someday, I’ll tell you about mine). Indeed, Joseph is about the only person in the OT who is considered a saint! However, his brothers were not of the highest character, selling their little brother when he was about 12 years old to their cousins the Ishmaelites. Then he gets sold again, and imprisoned. But God guided his life, so that he ultimately saved his family and the land of Egypt. And in the lesson today, after the death of their father, Jacob, (whom they have already buried – “Realizing that their father was dead,” they aren’t the brightest), they realize that if Joseph wants to get even with them, no one can stop him. The only person above Joseph was Pharaoh, and he would support Joseph. So, they come and beg forgiveness. They realize that they have been out of line, and now they are sorry about it, really sorry about it. They repented. “Do not be afraid,” only said to those who should be. And Joseph tells them this twice! Yes, he could punish them. But instead, he forgives them. Joseph realizes that all that he went through was the way that God planned to save his family. And he took care of his family. Where there is repentance, we must forgive. And, on the flip side, to quote an ancient Church adage, “Without repentance, there is no salvation/forgiveness.” It is the Office of the Keys again, the power to bind and to loose, in heaven and on earth.
That brings us to the parable. One slave is forgiven a lot, but would not forgive a little. Owed 10,000 talents. A talent was worth about 15 years’ wages for the average worker, that’s 150,000 years worth of labor! No one owed that much! No master would ever entrust that amount of money to any servant! No master had that much money! It would be about the Gross National Product of Israel at that time! Jesus is using hyperbole in the story. It is a story of extremes. The slave (and his family – they would be locked up too for the debt, and sold) is about to be imprisoned. But, he pleads and is spared, forgiven the debt (and that is a lot of forgiveness).
The other slave owed him 100 denarii, 100 days wages. That is very little in comparison. But the first slave has him jailed. Hearing about the incident, now his master has him jailed until he pays the whole debt, in reaction. It is going to be a long time in prison for him and his family.
The parable shows us that there is a connection between our forgiveness of others, and God’s forgiveness of us. We hear of it also in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We say it all of the time. There is a tie in our relationship, God and each other.
This can apply to ourselves as well. Many people don’t forgive themselves for the little things which they have done, and often those are things which couldn’t be helped. We are all in bondage to sin (to quote Luther), and cannot free ourselves. But, God has freed us!, through Christ’s death and resurrection, and our faith in him. We are now joined to him, and no longer to sin and death. Having been forgiven a lot, our sinfulness, we are now able to forgive others as well. Freed from our debts, we now proclaim the one who freed us, by sharing his love, and forgiveness to all who call upon his name, even those who may be indebted to us. We are given the Power of the Keys. We are entrusted with them. We can now share the wealth of God’s grace with those who ask for it. In so doing, we can unlock the chains which may bind the conscience of others. “As Christ first forgave us, so now, we must forgive.”