Lord Teach Us To Forgive!
Gospel Reading Matthew 18:21-35
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. [Amen.]
The sermon speaks from the Holy Gospel appointed for this 17th Sunday after Pentecost, the Holy Gospel according to the Evangelist St Matthew the 18th Chapter with particular focus on these words:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Poor old Peter! He thought that he had the perfect question, that if asked would lead to the perfect answer. This would be his chance to show his teacher just how much he had learned in these last 3 years living with and listening to the Word of God! In the past, Peter had heard Jesus teach that: “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) He knew that forgiveness was important to Jesus, and for that reason it must become important to him as well. Peter sought to please his master, because that was his nature. He was a dependable person, a “man’s man”, the salt of the earth type. He took pride in his work, but Jesus was also teaching him that he had to work on being humble. Jesus saw these traits in him, and gave him his new name Peter because it suited his personality; you see Petros in the Greek, means rock or rocky in English.
So what did our Rocky say wrong? Why did Jesus so quickly correct him? Peter answered far kinder than the Jewish teachers of the day would have. You see the Rabbis taught that you were automatically required to forgive your brother up to three times, but if he hadn’t improved by the third time, you not only were under no obligation to forgive him but indeed you should not; after all that would be like empowering them or condoning bad behavior. Hadn’t Peter demonstrated charity far surpassing this example? After all, he knew that Jesus preached love and forgiveness, so in keeping with His teaching he multiplied the Jewish teachers ruling by two and added one more opportunity to forgive for good measure! Peter must have been quite pleased with “his” new rule, which was lead by Rabbinic law but improved by love! Imagine the bewildered look on Peter’s face when Jesus said “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (or as some translations state 70 X 7, which equals 490 times).
I. Jesus was working within the heart of Peter. He was opening the eyes of Peter’s heart. He was replacing the rule of the Law with the rule of Grace. This then will be our aim this morning, to allow grace to teach us about forgiveness.
A. Jesus was teaching Peter that we should always forgive those who are truly repentant, no matter how many times they ask, and to illustrate this truth, Jesus then offered a Parable that starts in verse 23. Allow me to offer a contemporary “fictional” illustration of this Parable.
“The kingdom of Heaven’s plan of forgiveness is like the day that Donald Trump discovered that one of his top level financial managers had embezzled over $10 Million. Mr. Trump confronted the manager who confessed to the crime, but stated that he could not pay back such a large sum. Mr. Trump called for the authorities to arrest and imprison this felon, but the finance manager fell on his knees before him. ‘Please be patient with me Mr. Trump,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ Mr. Trump felt sorry for him because he knew that he had a wife and children who depended on his income, so he canceled his debt, forgave him and let him go. “But when that financial manager went back to his office, he found one of his file clerks had stolen over a thousand dollars from the office slush fund. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “The file clerk fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Please forgive me, I needed the money for my wife and children. Be patient with me, and I will pay it all back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into jail until he could pay the debt. When the other Trump employees saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told Donald Trump everything that had happened. Then Mr. Trump called the financial manager in. ‘You evil man,’ he said, ‘I forgave you for all the money you stole from me because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have forgiven your file clerk just as I forgave you?’ In anger Mr. Trump called the authorities and had the financial manager thrown in prison, until he could pay back every last penny that he stole.
Real forgiveness follows God's pattern. Because God has forgiven all our sins, we should not withhold forgiveness from others. Realizing how completely Christ has forgiven us should produce a free and generous attitude of forgiveness toward others. When we don't forgive others, we are in essence rejecting God’s grace and instead looking to the Law to provide security and power.
B. Now, we must be honest with ourselves, sometimes forgiveness is very difficult; in fact sometimes it can be down right impossible! Sometimes you just have to force your self to forgive, simply because it is the right thing to do. This is called obedience.
ILLUS: I Forgive You Brother! Corrie ten Boom, a holocaust and concentration camp survivor, graphically illustrates this point in her book “Tramp for the Lord,” where she explains how after the war she met a guard who had been her captor in the Ravensbruck concentration camp where her sister had died. He came forward after she spoke at a church in Munich, and said he had been a guard at Ravensbruck. Right after these very hard words, he reached out his hand to her, asking for her forgiveness. For a moment, says Corrie, she hesitated, recalling his cruelty to her sister and those around her. Then, knowing God's warning that we must forgive as we have been forgiven (Mark 1 1:26), she obediently extended a dead angry hand, as she prayed silently: "Jesus help me!...I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling" (p. 55). And as she thrust out her wooden hand, she said that she could sense God's healing warmth and power flow through her and out to the former guard. "I forgive you, brother!" she cried. "With all my heart." Corrie says she never has known God's love as intensely as she did that day. But she knew it was not her love, for she had tried and did not have the power. "But,” she said, “it was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5:'... And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Corrie, could have withheld forgiveness from that guard, and imposed the punishment of his own conscience upon him, and some would have called that a moral victory. But for those of us who have been saved by grace this is not an option! It is not up to us to punish the sin but to forgive it. Even if our neighbor or fellow Christian has acted against us out of spite, if he confesses his sin we are to forgive. We must remember that he has been deceived, captivated, and manipulated by the devil and the sin of this world, which so easily entangles us. Rather than anger, the Spirit of Christ would have us take pity on him for being so completely overpowered by the devil. If we must have our pound of flesh, let it come from the devil, because it is him who has committed that great and unforgivable sin, because he is the very author of evil. But as far as far as your erring brother or sister are concerned, Martin Luther has taught that we should follow our Savior’s instruction in the Lord’s prayer, when He taught us how to pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Sin “should be called a trespass and a fault. This is what Christ Himself has done toward us by praying on the cross (Luke 23:34): “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Jesus Himself “minimized our sin and underemphasized it, even though the sin itself it was the very greatest sin that had ever taken place on earth. For what greater sin can there be than this shameful torture and murder of God’s only Son?”
II. So what about sin that is committed against us but is never acknowledged by our enemies? Are we to forgive those sins as well?
A. If by forgiveness we mean offering an absolution by our authority as individual Christians or as a Church through the Divine Office of Pastor, then the answer would be a “NO.” Think back to our message received through the preaching of Matthew 18:15-20 and you will remember that there are two kinds of sin: one which is confessed and must always be forgiven, and the other kind which is defended as not being sin at all; this type of sin can not be forgiven, because the sinner refuses to acknowledge it as sin and he refuses to accept your forgiveness. Our Lutheran heritage has always taught that this type of sin should be bound to the abyss of hell, while the sins that are confessed should be immediately forgiven and lifted up to the very gates of heaven. Again, if your neighbor persists in his sin, you cannot forgive him, but you can pray for him. Pray that God will open the eyes of his heart so that he can see his sin. And if your neighbor, through the pain and suffering of his own sin should one day own up to being guilty and he requests your forgiveness, you must immediately grant him God’s grace just as freely as you have received it on account of your dear Savior.
III. Now let us return for a moment to the pride-filled and unrepentant sinner, because we have not finished our discussion about how we must treat him. In our Epistle lesson this morning, we are warned not to let evil get the upper hand, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:21, tlb) Four years ago today, our country experienced the worse attack since Pearl Harbor. We were left with pain, fear and anger. We could choose to honor this anniversary by remembering these things, and that would be understandable to many who are outside of the body of Christ, but we are called to love our enemies and to conquer evil by doing good. Today, God’s word challenges us to love our enemies, to pray for them; in a sense we are asked to “personally” forgive them. It is not forgiveness in the sense that you can speak for God and offer your enemy divine forgiveness, but it is forgiveness in the sense that it has freed you from your own anger, bitterness and rage. I found this profound proverb that speaks so eloquently about this very thing, and I would like to share it with you. Holding onto bitterness is like drinking poison and then waiting for your enemy to die. This slow painful death, which bitterness brings is not what your Savior had in mind when He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
CONCLUSION: Sometimes God’s Word brings complete peace, but sometimes as with our message today it brings also a great challenge. Forgiveness must be given as it was received, complete and without conditions attached. But Jesus does not ask us to forgive by our own power. He comes along side of us and says "Ffriend, let me teach you to forgive. Let me give you the power to forgive. Let me open the eyes of your heart by speaking Words of life and power to you." This lesson on forgiveness is one we learn as living parables, or as recipients of the gift of God, which is what we call grace! You receive it each time God’s Word is read or heard. You receive it because of your baptism, and you receive it every time you come, just as you are to His Holy table to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins! When you find it hard to forgive, or even impossible, please remember all that is yours through Christ Jesus. You have been freed eternally from all of your sins! What a wonderful way to start to learn from Jesus how to forgive!
Come Lord Jesus come and teach us to forgive, INDEED! In Jesus name…..AMEN