Sermon, Pentecost 14A, Sunday September 10, 2017, St Petri
Matthew 18:15-35 15 ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be[e] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[f] loosed in heaven. 19 ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ 22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.23 ‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 ‘At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. 28 ‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. 29 ‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.” 30 ‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 ‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/20170910_messagept1.mp3http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/20170910_messagept2.mp3
Jesus is on the move toward his stated destination of the cross and certain death. He has said this. But right here, before the church has even begun, we are left with absolutely no illusions about the church that will one day come to be. No matter how committed or how nice people try to be, people are still people, and stormy weather is always possible. Painful breaks can and do occur, sharp and cruel words can and will be spoken.
“If another member of the church sins against you…” (v15). Probably not “if” but “when”. We are “being forewarned to be are forearmed” for what life together will be like. Jesus warns that it will not always be all peaceful easy feelings in his church. But he also forearms his people with the way through. The way through is the practice of forgiveness – and it is our future. Many a church, including ours, takes this one to six-step process as the way to practice the art of forgiveness, or as St Paul names it in that text we heard from Romans, to pay each other the ongoing debt of love.
Speak directly to the person, not five others about the person or incident. Don’t say nothing and harbor a grudge or guilt or fear. Speak directly to the person – even before the sun goes down if you can (Ephesians 4:26)
If the person receives your honest words, then forgiveness can be given and reconciliation complete.
If the person does not receive your honest words, then take an advocate or two to vouch for how this conflict has hurt you and bear witness to what has actually occurred.
If the person receives that witness and apologizes “from the heart”, then you can too, and forgiveness can be shared.
If the person still will not receive your words, then tell those in authority in your community (church, school, work place……). If that creates a listening heart, then reconciliation can be done.
But, what if in as much as it has been up to you to work for peace, peace has not been able to come? If there is just no way, no matter who says what or comes with you, or what process is employed by who, that there is any acknowledgement of fault, ownership of responsibility and etc, then you need to let them go. You hope that the Lord will keep working on them through others and one day bring the person to an honesty and humility before God ad about what has happened.
Why the detail and the process? Surely because Jesus wants the joy of reconciliation and the life of love it creates to be ours. To drive home the gold that forgiveness is for his people, and the critical priority it needs to take in our lives, Jesus tells a ripper of a parable…
A King wants to settle all is accounts with his workers. One of his workers has a huge amount of debt owing. Ten thousand talents is a huge sum. A single talent was worth about fifteen years wage for a worker/slave.
The impossibility of the guy being able to pay would be like how impossible it would be for a woman working as a cleaner in the RAH paying 100 billion dollars to James Packer! Even Mr Packer might struggle to come up with this much money, let alone a local worker!
In any case, the King decides to cut his already substantial losses by selling the worker, all his goods and chattels, and whole family.
This heavily indebted slave falls to his knees and begs the King for a just as ridiculous decision. The worker begs for more time pay off unpayable the debt! Crazy request!
Maybe the king is amused by this. The King gives an even more ridiculous response. He will simply wipe off ALL the debt.
The guy is debt free, and now, a free citizen to boot! No threats, no tracking devices, no men in black suits with machine guns coming visiting later on! This is extravagant, uncalled-for forgiveness – illogical, not worldly wise, flying in the face of all human expectations.
What a relief. What a joy! But then it gets dark as we see this forgiven man’s dark heart.
The person who has been forgiven everything forgives nothing. He dumps the lot and goes it alone and wants what is his – and now! And when it does not go his way he opts for scathing punishment, tit-for tat, exacting payment from the other until personally satisfied……
That is what you are left with if you don’t receive Jesus’ forgiveness: scathing punishment, tit-for tat, exacting payment. That is what you are left with if you refuse to practice the forgiveness you have been gifted in this Jesus’ way of forgiveness process.
We are reduced to a harsh critic, never satisfied, always critical, judgmental, happy to condemn anyone different, “them and us”, “good people and bad people”, lines in the sand, lots of moral rules or no rules – just ‘self expression and personal choice…… We end up being “a noisy gong” (1 Corinthians 13) without a scrap of love, people with narrow vision and shallow love usually bent on getting what is ours…..
Just when we are about to get stuck into this horrible behavior by this forgiven but unforgiving person, Jesus stops us in our tracks and says WE can be and will be at some stage that horrible person! 35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Oh boy. It is me! I tend to ignore the need for forgiveness, avoid the work of forgiveness, default to getting my rights fulfilled at the expense of any patient process or thoughtful and prayerful peacemaking work. I tend to just go for a quick fix and just want to win it as I come out swinging.
It is now that we need to know this King. Like the worker in the parable, our debt was huge, unpayable, impossible to deal with. We were at the mercy of a holy and just God. And like the King, by sheer gift, and his decision alone, he wiped off the debt, not by pretending it did not exist or sweeping the damage under the carpet, but by exposing it, tallying it up and loading it up on his Loved Son on that cross.
Thank Jesus! He speaks this parable before he accomplishes my forgiveness and freedom for me and you.
Unlike this unforgiving man and this often unforgiving Christian, Jesus actually thought about me and you, and did something for us, he did not leave us alone as enemies of God forever, it was “while we were sinners that Christ dies for us” (Romans 5:8).
Our only “rights” as we stand before him are given by him in our baptism. It is there that the forgiveness pouring from his side on the cross pour over us in water and word. The King pronounces us debt free from sin and free to live love – being a person of forgiveness in his world.
Here’s what being a peace-maker looks like: We are called to enter be detailed and patient. This takes time and real intent. The forgiven person values the forgiveness and will go through these steps, sometimes in painstaking and even repetitive manner hoping that the last step is avoided.
We will be very person-focussed. In Jesus’ community, the primary focus is on the restoration of the person in the wrong more than the justification of the person in the right. Both sides are important, but we who are made right by Jesus, willingly at times give up our rights to serve and work for forgiveness.
And even if it does not go the way we want, no one is written off completely. Even the letting go a person by me or you, has the desire that one day restoration might still happen in God’s power and wisdom.
You are not written off today. The King delights in the decision he has made to forgive you and free you again.
He calls you to practice this gift in as much as it is up to you so that you can be a forgiven person who forgives from the heart and so lives in the never-ending debt of love we owe each other.
Read the Matthew text carefully, noting the different parts to Jesus’ words here. The process of Forgiveness outlines at the start. The extend of how we are to practice this process of forgiveness (70×7…), and then the parable at the end.
We said last week that we are now in a shift in Matthew’s gospel. Up until chapter 15, we have been hearing and seeing what the kingdom is like. Now we are hearing and seeing how the kingdom comes to bear in the world. here, it comes to bear in the practice of forgiveness. Jesus has already announced that the kingdom comes with a cross. he will suffer and die and rise again. That will be the beginning of a new forgiveness given by God to sinners who don’t deserve it and cannot earn it. This is just like the worker/slave in this parable.
The King wipes this person’s debt for no logical or economic reasons. But this man cannot practice the same. he withholds the same gift, demands his rights over the other, does not use one part of this process Jesus has just given. just when we want to get really angry at this hard-hearted man who should know better, Jesus says we are that man!
How do you feel when you hear that last sentence in the parable? In what ways are you like that forgiven but unforgiving man? What would change you from a person who withholds the gift of forgivness to a person who uses this process of forgiveness?
Have you ever tried to do this process of forgiveness? What helped it work well? What stopped it from getting a good outcome? Have there been times when you have just had to let someone go entrusting them to the Lord because no forgiveness could be given or received?
I think it is very important to not that Jesus does make mention of that last undesirable but sometimes taken option of letting the person go. Even then there is a hope that the Lord knows and loves the person and can create opportunities for forgiveness and restoration by various means and people in the future. We are called to work for forgiveness and pay the debt of love we always owe to each other “in as much as it is up to you”. Sometimes forgiveness is just not possible. but as long as we can say from the heart that we tried our best using Jesus process outlined here, even with some mistakes on our part, we can have a clear conscience and entrust the other person to a gracious and loving God who still knows who they are and promises to love the person way beyond our love.
have you a person or people in your life that you have had to entrust to the Lord because forgiveness could not be given or received? Pray for them and ask the Lord to give you freedom about his broken relationship. Where there is sin on your part, confess it. Where there is hurt from the other done to you, speak that too. Commend the person to Jesus again.
Is there a person with whom you would like to try this process of forgiveness with? Pray for that person and ask the Lord for the courage and the timing to start the conversation. If it is too hard alone, ask a trusted friend to help you begin.
No one is ever written off by Jesus, including you! you are still called to enter this ongoing lifestyle of the practice of forgiveness as much as it is up to you.
Lord, Jesus, thank you for your constant forgiveness that makes me whole and gives me purpose and usefulness in your kingdom. Help me practice the forgiveness you give with others in as mush as it is up to me. Amen.