Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

To follow Jesus, we are to deny ourselves, and take up our cross.
As God goes to such extreme lengths to find us, 
we are to go to the same extreme lengths not to lose anyone.

These issues, denial of self and not losing relationships, 
with others and with God, come together in one thing: 

Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive.
How many times?
What are the limits?
Give me a law and a judgement that I can work with.
I get this forgiving thing, it’s radical, this can change the world.
But there has to be a point where we stop. 
Tell me boss, where is that point.
What is the point where I can revert to the old way.
Where is the point where it becomes allowable for me to start paying back.

As many as seven times?

That is quite a bit of forgiving.
Seven times someone sins against you and you should forgive them.
Peter thinks that seems a reasonable amount.

Not so.

Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Lets not get carried away with the number.
Jesus answer tells us that the idea of a number of times isn’t the point.
But it does recall Cain and Abel, Genesis 4.  
Lamech, Cain’s descendent exclaims that after he has killed a man, 
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
    truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.

These  numbers are being used to show something, 
the actual numerical value is not important.

Lamech is talking about unlimited revenge.
Jesus is speaking about unlimited forgiveness.

To quote Dr Moulton:
“Jesus pointedly sets against the natural man’s craving for seventy sevenfold revenge, the spiritual man’s ambition to exercise the privilege of seventy seven fold forgiveness.”

Jesus then tells us a Kingdom parable.

A slave owes a king a ridiculous amount of money. 
The amount is astronomical. He can’t pay the king the money, the king orders him and his family and all his possessions to be sold.

“Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”
And out of pity for him,
the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 

The slave is given his freedom and all his debt is forgiven.

He goes out and find a fellow slave who owes him a much smaller amount, 
grabs him by the throat and demands his money.
“Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 
The fellow slave uses the same words.

No go. He is thrown into jail.

Other slaves see this and go and tell the king who then says to him:

I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?
And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured
until he should pay his entire debt. 
And here comes the sting in the tale:

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you,
if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

Forgiving is not always easy.

If we are people of unforgiveness, we can’t expect God to be forgiving to us.
This same God who will search us out when we are lost 
and rejoice when he does, 
will not be rejoicing if we do not show the same love and forgiveness to others.

We are to forgive as we are forgiven:
The Lord’s prayer in which we ask God to 
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

When we hold on to anger, 
thoughts of revenge, 
of putting people in their place, 
of seeking power over others, 
of asserting our dominance, 
we are acting out of place not of forgiveness 
but of selfishness, ego, power, and ultimately darkness.

Forgiveness is not easy. 
I don’t think it supposed to be. 

I dare say all of us have some part of hearts that is refusing to let go of some hurt or slight that has been done to us.

Some part of our hearts that can’t let go of some resentment 
or anger toward another person.
Yet, we work our way around it, justifying to ourselves why we still hold on to it.

A lack of forgiveness can destroy friendships, marriages, and parishes.
Jesus tells us it can also destroy our relationship with God.

Jesus tells us that we face the same trial the unforgiving servant went through  

if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

Jesus is calling us to be people of forgiveness. 
There will be times we get it wrong and don’t forgive when we should.
We always get another chance.
The idea here is that we become forgiving. 
That forgiveness is part of our whole being.
From the heart. 

We can think of it as a sort of purification: 
When we don’t forgive, we keep our hearts impure. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Maybe this is what Jesus means when he speaks about how we will be punished if we don’t forgive.
Jesus is saying that it is impossible to have a complete relationship with God 
if we can’t forgive.
Jesus is saying if our relationships with each other are darkened by a lack of forgiveness, 
our relationship with God will suffer in the same way.

So when Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive, 
Jesus turns it on him by using a ridiculous amount of times.

He is saying that as God’s forgiveness in unlimited, so too should ours.
He is saying as we have been forgiven, so too should we forgive others.
From our hearts.

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