Mathew 18:21-35

 

Forgiveness

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church[a] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[b] times.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”

Peter A Luckey sermon preached on "Forgiveness"

on Sunday, September 13, 2020, to KCUCC

 

Why is it so hard? To fess up to our mistakes, to admit we were wrong?

I’ve learned a thing, or two about wedded bliss---tomorrow Linda and I celebrate our 40th--- it sure helps to say, “Hey, I screwed up”.  I’ve put spoons in the knife drawer, pulled shrunken shirts from the dryer, produced bodily noises at inopportune times.  Guilty. Guilty, Guilty.

Jesus never married, as far as we know, but he must have known the secret to a good one: forgive not seven times but 77 times.

“Forgiveness is love’s hardest work”, writes the late theologian Lewis B. Smedes from his classic Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve.

Henri Nouwen puts it this way: "Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly.”

You’ve heard sermons on forgiveness before, but we need one now, preacher included.  In this moment we are living through, the Pandemic has us all under unusual stress, and countless times a day when we find ourselves irritated with our fellow human beings, family, and strangers alike. We are living through a stressful time. We all could be a little more forgiving.

The Gospel harps on this big time.  

When Peter tried to get all legal on Jesus, tries to pin him down with how many times do we have to do this, so he could bag the boy scout merit badge for forgiveness, Peter asked, “Seven times, Lord. Will that do it?” Jesus must have thought, “Well, Peter, if you are going to play the numbers game, how about this: ‘Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”

Think of all the times the gospels speak about the importance of forgiveness.

  • The forgiveness the father bestowed upon his no-good-stab-you-in-the-back wayward son. He welcomes him home not to sackcloth and ashes but a robe and a ring on his finger and the killed of the fatted calf.

  • Jesus from the cross crying out to the world, to his torturers, “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.

 

The hardest part of forgiveness can be right here in our own families.

Lately, I have been reliving some of the events that took place at the end of my dad’s life. He died when I was a young man, age 22. As awful as that time was---he was stricken with a fatal illness, a brain disorder. One of the good things that came from that period was the opportunity given to my dad to say goodbye to his friends and family. The one visit that left a lasting impression upon me was his visit with dad’s father-in-law. My grandfather.

Dad had a very close relationship with his father-in-law, a bond that predated my dad dating mom. Dad’s father-in-law had been the headmaster of the school while at the same time dad served as the class president. My grandfather was like a father figure for him, a mentor.

Well, over the years some things happened to put a strain on the relationship, including my parent’s divorce. You probably know some family situations where a divorce creates a rift in family bonds. And then a week or so before dad died, my grandfather shows up at the house. Now my grandfather was a pretty reserved gentleman not known for easily expressing emotion.

I remember the day grandfather came to the door a week before dad died.

I stayed downstairs; I was not privy to their conversation. All I remember is seeing my grandfather walking down the stairs of our house, his face dissolved in tears. Whatever was said in the room on that day, they had found a way back to each other. 

There’s a teaching moment here. If you need to make amends: Do it now! 77 times! There’s no end to how much forgiveness is expected of us. And why not?

Consider all the ways God’s steadfast love never abandons us even when we have abandoned Her. Consider all that we have received in this life, even with its share of heartaches. As we have been forgiven are we not obliged to forgive one another?

The slave begs, pleads, grovels at his master’s feet, please, please forgive what I owe you. And the king relents. He forgives the debt. And then the very next day, what does that slave do? He runs across a fellow slave who owes him a trifling amount. Does he extend mercy, as he had received mercy? No. He wrings his neck. When his fellow servants get a hold of what that servant had done, even as he had been forgiven his own huge debt, they tell the king. And the king is enraged! He is handed over to be tortured till he repays the debt. So, Jesus warns this same will happen to us if we do not forgive our brother and sister from our hearts.

The Hypocrisy!

There once was a leader who ruled during a pandemic and he played down the dangers of it, and he said “I don’t want to panic the people” but he didn’t really mean it because that same leader did try to sow panic among the people saying there would be looters and arsonists in the streets if he was not given four more years.

“Woe to hypocrites”, Jesus said.  

Which brings up a most important point about forgiveness. It must be genuine, sincere, and take into full account the hurt and pain caused by the violator to the violated.

One of the most egregious horrors occurred in on Wednesday evening, June 17, 2015, at the Mother Emmanuel AME church in the low country of Charleston South Carolina, when a young white supremacist walked into the mid-week bible study at the Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire.

We cannot nor should we ever be able to get our minds around how someone could so deeply violate the lives of fellow Christians gathered as we have many times while seeking inspiration and understanding from God’s Holy Word.

There was much made of the fact that some of these victims, people who had lost their loved ones on that awful Wednesday, were able to forgive the shooter. Nadine Collier said, “I forgive you.” This is the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance. At the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion, her mother killed and slain on that Wednesday during the Bible study at the church in Charleston, South Carolina, said “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you … and have mercy on your soul.”

Even Barack Obama sang Amazing Grace.

But was it too soon to forgive?

I lift another relative of a victim from that terrible day.  Walti Middleton lost her cousin DePayne on that very same evening in the church. She is survived by her four daughters. Rev. Dr. Waltrina (Walti) N. Middleton, is a pastor and the executive director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago. A racial justice advocacy group. 

And Rev. Middleton wrote an impassioned piece about her cousin’s death saying, “Don’t you dare insist on my swallowing a narrative of forgiveness.”  She wrote, “My family did not offer forgiveness in the courtroom. The words of a few became the headline for all, which became in turn a marketable narrative made for television and for profit, for pulpits and for politics, in order to ease the guilt of white supremacy and remove accountability. In the rush to force this false narrative, our society failed to truly engage dialogue on race, racism, and racialized violence that targets black and brown bodies.”

All I want to say, in closing, is this. Even though my message to you, and myself is forgive, forgive, forgive, we dare not expect that or push that on others.  Especially our African American sisters and brothers. How dare we? Expect them to ask for forgiveness? If we have not wept with them, stood beside them, and understood in our hearts the depths of the pain they have been through.

As we said last week, there can be no reconciliation without truth-telling.

Forgiveness is love’s hardest work. May God grant us the grace to do it, nonetheless.

Amen.