13 Pentecost Proper A19
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 18:21-35 Sermon
September 11, 2011
TLH 42 "O Thou Love Unbounded"
WOV 742 "Come We That Love The Lord" (now playing, alt. arrangement)
TLH 658 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
WE'RE STILL IN THE BUSINESS OF FORGIVENESS
TEXT: (vs.21-22) “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 times seven.’”
Some years ago, just outside of Muncie Indiana, there was a young Amish couple driving along the road in their horse and buggy, heading home from shopping in town. In the woman's arms, she cradled her infant son.
Suddenly, a car carrying several teenage boys approached from the rear. As they sped around the buggy, one of the boys tossed a Coca Cola bottle out the window. This was in the days when Coca Cola bottles were the refillable kind, made out of heavy glass.
Anyway, the Coke bottle headed straight for the buggy. The bottle hit the young infant boy square on the head, and killed him almost instantly.
Law enforcement caught up with the boys. The one who tossed the bottle out of the window was charged with manslaughter, and was tried as an adult in district court.
When the trial began, the young Amish couple sat in the front of the courtroom. They sat silently as the trial progressed. As the trial concluded and the judge was about to pronounce his sentence, the young Amish man asked the judge if he could approach the bench, and the judge allowed him to come forward.
"Your honor," he said with his hat in his hand, "I am the father of the young boy that was killed when this young man threw the bottle out of the car window. I have come here today to ask you to dismiss all charges against him, and to let him go free."
The judge was surprised. "This young man broke the law. Through his careless negligence, he killed your son. Our judicial system allows for an appropriate punishment to be levied against him. And you're asking me to dismiss this case and let him go free?"
The man replied, "That's right, your honor. You see, my son is dead. What this young man did was wrong, there's no denying that. And he knows that it was wrong too. But there is no amount of punishment or anything else you can do to bring him back to life again. So there's no reason that this mistake he made should ruin his life. My wife and I have completely forgiven him as Jesus would have us do, and we want you to forgive him too. Now please let him go free."
The judge sat silent for a moment with tears welling up in his eyes. He banged his gavel and said to the young man, "Case dismissed. You are free to go."
The young man could hardly believe what he had heard. Then he ran over to the Amish man and his wife, and began to stammer an apology. But then he broke down in tears. And as the people slowly left the courtroom, everybody could see this young man crying on the Amish father's shoulder, while he and his wife patted his back and consoled him. That was forgiveness in action.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is making a very pointed application. Christians are to be forgiving, even under the most adverse circumstances. Now I can't even begin to fathom what it took for that young couple to forgive that young man for what he did. The point is that they did it, and they forgave him from the heart. This wasn't just lip service either; this was true and genuine forgiveness.
The story Jesus uses to illustrate this is pretty straight-forward. A man pleads for forgiveness, and it is granted to him. But when it comes time for this man to forgive somebody else, then he refuses to do it. So when the first person that granted forgiveness hears about this, he isn't pleased at all. He fully expected the one he had forgiven to be so appreciative and relieved after having been forgiven, that he would put it into practice in his own life.
But he didn't learn his lesson. He just didn't get it. And it would have been so simple too! All he needed to do was to forgive as he himself had been forgiven.
Last week, I introduced a type of slogan for the Christian Church. We're in the business of forgiveness. Now this week, I'm here to tell you that we're still in the business of forgiveness! That hasn't changed one bit. God calls us through the Gospel, we bring our sins to him, and we accept through faith alone what Jesus has done for us. We are assured that we are forgiven. And this is the same type of forgiveness that we must put into practice with others.
Note that I used the word "must." This is something that we must do! Jesus doesn't give us any way out, any options, or make this into a polite suggestion. You can't read any other meanings into this, or simply dismiss it because you don't like it or it is too hard for you to do. Jesus makes no allowances for our lame excuses to not do what he has plainly told us to do.
Here's another example to consider. Back in 1981, a young Turkish Muslim attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II. He almost succeeded too. So what did the Pope do? That's right, he forgave him! Pope John Paul II went to this man's prison cell in Rome, met with him face-to-face, and openly forgave him from the heart.
Here's a bit from an article about this: "According to a Vatican spokesman, the Pontiff personally intervened with Italian authorities to gain the release and pardon of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who sought to kill him in 1981. The Pontiff, speaking to children in a Rome parish on October 10, 1999 said the teachings of Christ instructed him to forgive Agca."
Being forgiven is most certainly a great thing to experience. When we hear words of forgiveness from somebody we've wronged, it's like a big weight is lifted from us.
But then the reverse of this is true as well. When we don't forgive somebody else, the ill feelings and the anger and the grudge we carry around is almost unbearable. Here's another good example from a situation I dealt with in the past.
This husband and wife had been married for over 25 years. They had two children, and from all outward appearances they were the perfect picture of a happily married couple.
However, the wife began to drink heavily; and as a result she became a chronic alcoholic. She became almost impossible to live with at home. Their marriage was anything but happy, and it was going on the rocks fast.
The distraught husband began to unload his problems on an old friend, a woman he had known from childhood. Well one thing led to another, and he wound up having an affair with this woman, who was also married with a family.
This continued on for some time. I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but the wife found out about it and confronted her husband with the evidence. He didn't lie about it either; he admitted what he had done.
Then things got better. The wife went into rehab, and eliminated alcohol from her life. She forgave her husband for what he had done, and to the best of my knowledge he never repeated it.
Then her husband passed away. And before he died, the husband once again apologized to his wife for what he had done years before. And she assured him that she had forgiven him, and that she held no grudge against him or that she regretted being married to him, even through the tough times.
The problem was, that she never actually forgave the other woman. So she sought her out with the express purpose of forgiving her for her part in it. And it was done. Now these two women, both of them older widows, are now actually fairly good friends.
The woman confided in me: "You would not believe what a relief it was to finally forgive her and be at peace." Amen to that!
Adultery has to be one of the most serious sins that a marriage can experience. Marriage has joined a husband and wife together as one person. So when one partner or the other commits adultery, an intruder has now been brought into this union. Both husband and wife are violated.
So other than a person actually leaving a marriage, adultery is the only grounds Jesus allows for a divorce. Now that's pretty serious stuff!
We must remember that divorce is not God's will. That's not what he wants for a marriage. But as we know, lots of things happen in this world that are not God's will. Adultery is one of those things.
Now Jesus doesn't command divorce in the case of adultery. He simply allows for it to take place if it is necessary. Forgiveness is the far better route.
In the Bible, the prophet Hosea marries a woman by the name of Gomer. Gomer is unfaithful to Hosea, and has numerous other men in her life. But each time she strays from the marriage and commits adultery, Hosea keeps forgiving her and taking her back again, more times than we could imagine any spouse doing!
That's the way God deals with us. He forgives us, time and time again. Every time we stray, we know that through our faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven. Regardless of the sin in our lives, we can be assured of forgiveness.
Yes, the Church is still in the business of forgiveness. That's one of the things we do best. In Romans chapter 5, verses 20-21 Paul reminds us: "...where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Our forgiveness comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. The forgiveness we have received is also the forgiveness that we must share with others. How many times? Even seven times? Yes, and even more than that. Just as God's forgiveness is without limit, the forgiveness we show to others has to follow that same pattern.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of 9-11, and the attack upon the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and also the Pentagon in Washington D.C. It was a tragedy and a domestic attack like we have never known before or since.
Think of the lives that were directly impacted by this. Families who were all together in the morning had been ripped apart by evening. Children would never see their mothers or fathers again. Husbands and wives had been parted by death. Friends and relatives lost special people. It was heartache and tragedy that directly impacted many, and affected many more.
How do you think most of those people felt about Osama Bin Laden? Or the terrorists? Or Al Queda? How many people shouted with glee when Bin Laden was killed and his body was dumped into the ocean, turning him into little more than shark food?
Speaking for myself, I know I was happy--probably more relieved than anything. He was a continual threat to everybody in our country. But I also know that deep down I felt the twinge of revenge. I felt he deserved to die and be cast into the eternal fires of hell. It served him right. True, my feelings are far different from those who actually had connections with the casualties, but I felt them just the same. It's hard to find forgiveness for someone that evil.
I think of that Amish father's reaction to his infant son's death. There was nothing anybody could do to bring his son back to life again. Harboring hatred in his heart certainly wouldn't do it either. Jesus' command to forgive others is the only thing that gave him peace.
I know that many people have said they've forgiven those who were responsible for the 9-11 attacks. I certainly hope that is true. Harboring hate does nobody any good. Carrying a grudge is not only a needless burden, but an unhealthy one too. Forgiveness is the first step on the road to recovery and healing.
In our lives we will experience many people who will sin against us in some fashion. Simple mistakes aren't usually too bad. A simple "sorry about that" usually meets with, "that's okay, don't worry about it." And people get on with their lives.
But then there are those things that really cut deep. And even though someone might not be asking for our forgiveness, we have to be willing and ready to offer it anyway. Forgiveness has to happen first in our heart for it to be any good. That's why Jesus stresses that we must forgive others from the heart, and not just give lip service to some superficial form of forgiveness.
And so we come to Jesus. "Hey Jesus, that person has sinned against me time and again. How many times must I forgive them? 7 times perhaps?"
And Jesus answers, "More than 7 times. As many times as they ask for it, you must give it. That's the part you can't ever forget."
As a Church and as individual Christians, not much has changed from last week. We're still in the business of forgiveness. We receive it from God himself through faith in Christ, and then we turn around and give it to others. That's the way things must work. God gives us no other choice.