FORGIVENESS: A BASIC CHRISTIAN PRACTICE
The text for this sermon is Matthew 18:21-35, the gospel reading for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on September 14, 2008.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we address a topic that is basic to our Christian life, the practice of forgiveness. Some of us here are going to breeze through this sermon topic, but others here are going to feel very uncomfortable because this is hitting too close to home. I encourage all of us to hang in there and listen for the message Christ has for our whole community this morning.
Matthew 18 is addressed to the Church. It is addressed to people who say “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.” Last week Pastor Carol addressed verses 15-20 that talk about what happens when a disagreement occurs between 2 church members. Jesus said go directly to the other person and talk out your differences. The goal is reconciliation. If that does not work, there are further steps to take, all with the goal of reconciliation.
Today we continue chapter 18. Verses 21-35 continue the same theme of reconciliation and Jesus gives us a memorable story as an illustration, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. But let’s remember the context for this story. Peter asks a question of Jesus: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Peter’s question gives us a glimpse into life in the early Church. Matthew made sure that this question and Jesus’ answer are included here. The problem of disagreements, hurt feelings, resentments that build up, and bad behavior are part of human behavior and often are exhibited in church life. What are we supposed to do?
Have you every hurt another member of the Church without intending too? I have. I have also felt hurt by others. Sometimes I have not chosen my words as carefully as I should have, sometime on Sunday mornings I have not remembered someone’s anniversary or birthday. There have been times when I walked by someone on my way to some responsibility and did not stop to talk. Sometimes I’ve tried a program or a way of presenting a sermon that did not work. I’ll be that each one of our staff members could share similar stories in their own ministry responsibilities.
Peter seems to have already had in mind the answer that he expected Jesus to give. Peter said, “As many as seven times?” Most Bible scholars point out that Peter expected Jesus to be generous in his answer. Rabbis usually taught that if you forgave 3 times, that was all that was expected. Then you could get even.
Peter did not expect the answer Jesus gave. “Peter, you are thinking in human ways. In my kingdom, I want us to live by God’s ways. In my kingdom, there is no limit on the number of times to forgive…”
The actual words are forgive 77 times, or in another translation 70 times 7. But it means generous beyond counting…
Then the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. In this story, the king is owed a big debt and demands repayment. This 10,000 talents would be about $20 million in today’s dollars. The servant does not have the money and so the king orders him and his family to be sold off. The servant begs for forgiveness and makes the bold promise that he will repay it all in time. The king forgave him the debt and released him. Then this same servant goes to one of his fellow slaves who owes him 100 denarii. This is about $100. The fellow slave did not have the money to repay him, so this unmerciful servant has him thrown into prison. Jesus tells us the other servants observed all this, were disgusted, and reported it the king who was incensed. And Jesus ends his parable with these words: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
So, fellow Christians, what do we learn from Matthew 18 today? Who in this church family do you need to forgive? Who in the whole Family of Christ do you need to be reconciled with? I’ve often thought that some morning I would like to give this instruction at the time of the sharing of the peace: This morning I would like you to share the peace first with one or more folks that have rubbed you wrong. Do you think that would work? Probably not, because it would be downright uncomfortable. Besides, human nature often feels like the other person has to make the first move, that I deserve to feel this resentment, that Jesus is expecting too much if he thinks I shouldn’t feel this way.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says if you are at the altar offering a gift to God and remember that your brother has something against you, you are to leave your gift there in front of the altar and go and be reconciled with your brother; and then come back and offer your gift.
An unforgiving heart leads to a disease that is deadly. Often people who can’t forgive experience physical symptoms that result from a build- up of resentment. There are spiritual consequences too of not understanding our need to forgive and be forgiven.
Here‘s the deal: Our Heavenly Father forgives us all our sins and does not keep a list. We in turn are to act in Christ-like fashion and demonstrate this attitude of forgiveness to all in the household of faith. Others are watching. It makes a statement. It is a witness to the transforming power of love, mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation that Christ wants to be hallmarks of his followers, of his Church.
Have you ever heard the term “twice blessed”? It comes from the words of Portia to Shylock in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” The words seem to echo kingdom thoughts, “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.”
Being “twice blessed” means not only embracing God’s forgiveness, but it means becoming a forgiving child of God, too.
This morning, “twice blessed” has another meaning for the Anctil Family. They are bringing their twin children, Nathan and Katelyn, to be baptized at the 11:15 service. It is my hope and prayer that Nathan and Katelyn will be learning how they can really be twice blessed throughout their lives.