Sermon: September 14, 2008

15 09 2008

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 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. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘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. 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.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 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. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! 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 would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


                                                Matthew 18:21–35




            Last week you may recall that we spent our time together talking about how we deal with conflict.  Last week we said that there are three things that we should remember when it comes to “conflict resolution.”  Number 1 – there will always be conflict when people are involved.  Number 2 – the only way that you resolve conflict is if the two people sit down – face to face – and talk it through.  Number 3 – the first two things that each person must say in this face to face is, “I am sorry.  Forgive me.”  And second, “I forgive you.”  And then we finished up by saying, when all else fails – when you can’t resolve the conflict – when the other person wants to just keep hating you – arguing with you – what should you do?  Forgive them.

            And that leads right into the Gospel Lesson for this morning.  Because as soon as Jesus says this, Peter has a question.  I mean he gets it.  When everything fails, forgive the other person.  But being the good Jew – having been trained in the Synagogue Schools – he wants to know.  How many times should we forgive the other person?  He had been taught that a person is required to forgive another person 7 times.  If another person does something against you – if another person slanders you – if another person steals from you – if another person cheats you out of something that is rightfully yours – if a person does anything against you – Old Testament Laws required you to forgive them seven times.  But what if they sinned against you eight times?  Were you required to keep on forgiving them?  No, the law said only seven times.  Eight times – you were free to do anything that you wanted.  The handcuffs were removed.

            So Peter asks Jesus – is that what you mean?  If someone sins against us, are we required to forgive them seven times?  And what does Jesus say?  No, not seven times, but seventy times seven.  OK.  I get it.  Seven times seventy.  Let’s see seven times zero is zero.  Seven times seven is forty-nine.  Add the zero.  That’s four hundred and ninety times.  OK I got it.  We are to forgive our brother 490 times.  But if they hit 491, they had better watch it.

            Is that what Jesus is saying?  No.  He is saying that we should forgive our brother – our sister – that person who sins against us whenever they sin against us.  Just like God keeps on forgiving us.  The other day I was standing around talking to a few guys after the church – kidding around – and I said something which obviously wasn’t true.  And one of the guys in the group said, “Be careful, Pastor, you know that you can go to hell for lying.”  I looked at him and said, “I can assure you that lying is the least of my worries.”

            Every day I sin against God.  Every day we sin against God.  And I can assure you that each and everyone us probably hits 490 sins by dinner time.  Every thought that we think.  Every action we take.  Every word we utter.  And so every day we need God’s forgiveness.  Every day we need the compassion and love of God.  Every day we need the understanding of God.  And the marvelous thing about our God is that He does forgive us.  Because of His infinite love for us.  Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Because of the cross.  He keeps on forgiving us – daily – hourly – by the minute.  And now He asks us to forgive each other in the same way.

            And remember that is what we ask God – every Sunday – every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  In that prayer we say Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  In that prayer we are asking God to teach us His love.  Teach us His forgiveness.  We are asking God to help us forgive those who sin against us in the same way that God forgives us when we sin against Him.  We are asking God to help us love one another in the same way that God loves us.  We are asking God to help us show the same compassion and understanding that God shows to us.  Not seven times.  Not seventy times.  Not even seventy times seven.  But into infinity.  Seventy times seventy times seventy times seventy.

            There is a story that I would like to share with you:

Sue Norton lives in Arkansas City, Kansas. She received terrible news during a phone call from her brother in January 1990. Her much beloved, Daddy, Richard Denny and his wife Virginia were found murdered in their home. Sue’s Daddy was shot to death in his isolated Oklahoma farmhouse. The crime netted the killer $17.00 and an old truck.

Sue says she felt “numb”. She couldn’t understand why someone would want to hurt people who were old and poor.

The loss of her Daddy just broke her heart.

Sue sat through the trial of Robert Knighton (B.K.). She was confused about how she should feel. She tells me that everyone in the courtroom was consumed with hate. They all expected her to feel the same way. But she couldn’t hate the way they did because she says, “it didn’t feel good.”

The last night of the trial she knew there must be another way. She couldn’t eat or sleep that night and prayed to God to help her. When morning came, she had this thought. “Sue, you don’t have to hate B.K., you could forgive him”.

The next day, while the jury was out for deliberation, Sue got permission to visit B.K. through the bars of his holding cell. Sue relates, “I was really frightened. This was my first experience in a jail. B.K. was big and tall, he was shackled and had cold steely eyes.” At first B.K. refused to look at Sue. She asked him to turn around and he answered, “why would any one want to talk to me after what I have done?” Sue replied, “I don’t know what to say to you. But I want you to know that I don’t hate you. My grandmother always taught me not to use the word hate. She taught me that we are here to love one another. If you are guilty, I forgive you.

B.K. thought Sue was just playing games. He couldn’t understand how she could forgive him for such a terrible crime. Sue says, “I didn’t think of him as killer, I thought of him as a human being.

People thought that Sue had lost her mind. Friends would step to the other side of the road to avoid her. But Sue says, “There is no way to heal and get over the trauma without forgiveness. You must forgive and forget and get on with your life. That is what Jesus would do.





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