Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Monday, September 12, 2011

forgiveness (9.11.11)

Matthew 18:21-35
21Then 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?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25and, 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. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

28But 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.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Romans 14:1-12
1Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
          and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
            We’re not really going to dig into this Romans passage very much because we’re pretty good about accepting differences of opinion here. But I do want to lift it up for a moment because it’s one of the most important things about faith in community. We are not all the same. We have different strengths and weaknesses; we even have different beliefs.

            Often we grow in our faith and understanding through study with other people who see things a little differently, but there is no point in getting upset about those differences.

Paul would be quick to point out that there are limits to this; there are false teachings and dangerous ideas in the church that can hurt our faith and our witness to God’s love. But most differences of opinion in the church are not worth arguing about. Instead of worrying about what someone else believes, we should focus on how we can be better, more faithful disciples of Jesus. If the Presbyterian Church could learn this lesson we would be much stronger, more joyful, and better witnesses to Christ’s redeeming love.

Jesus reminds us that the heart of community is forgiveness. Matthew is more interested in how the church functions than the other Gospels are; probably because he writes somewhat later than Mark. So here he’s talking about forgiveness within the church, but the lesson goes further than that.

            Jesus hopes we will be incredibly persistent in forgiving each other. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone in any church I have forgiven seventy seven times. Long before we get to that point we’ve usually put our guard up so forcefully that the other person can’t wrong us anymore. But that’s not what Jesus has in mind. Jesus expects us to keep forgiving and forgiving; to keep opening our heart to other people whenever they ask us to forgive them.

            Reasonably enough, we worry about getting hurt or taken advantage of. We worry someone will pull something over on us. That’s not Jesus’ concern, but then look at Jesus’ example. The leaders of his faith rejected, accused and tortured him. His closest friends abandoned him; one even betrayed him. And he must have known that many of those he died to bring home to God would turn away too.

Still, instead of carrying a grudge, Jesus carried a cross. Instead of leaving us wandering on our own, Jesus keeps looking for us with a love that simply won’t give up. Jesus is our Lord and our example; while we won’t ever measure up to his forgiveness, we are called to follow in his footsteps.

            Jesus warns us that God will be harsh with those who refuse to forgive their brothers and sisters from their hearts. God is like a forgiving king, cancelling huge debts out of love and mercy. We read this parable and we’re blown away by the stupid hypocrisy of the forgiven servant. He’s just had this huge debt forgiven and he goes right out and has a coworker jailed because of a much smaller debt.

We shake our heads until we realize that the story is about us. We’re the ones who have been forgiven an unpayable debt. We’ve been given a fresh start; not just more time to pay, but a torn up bill. God gives us everything and we stay wrapped up in our own small concerns. God gives us a new relationship as beloved children, and we simply forget God is there. God calls us to love each other, but instead we take advantage of others and destroy the planet with our greed. God forgives us all this, every day.

But still we keep track when someone does us wrong. We hold grudges about petty injustices and thoughtless words. We clutch our injuries so tightly they can’t heal, and we find subtle ways to remind our neighbors of their guilt.

True community thrives when we let go of guilt. That means accepting God’s amazing forgiveness so our hearts can be healed and letting go of our grudges so we can really love each other. It means letting go of the guilt we feel for coming up short, because God has forgiven us, and it means letting go of our expectations for how other people are “supposed to behave” while honestly sharing with them when we feel hurt.

I’d like you to think of a time someone forgave you for something you did wrong. How did it feel to carry the burden of hurting someone before you were forgiven?
How did it feel to ask for forgiveness?
What was it like to be forgiven?

Now think of a time you forgave someone else. What was it like to be hurt?
Did the person ask for forgiveness? What was that like?
How did it feel to forgive the other person?

Now think of somewhere in your life where you still need reconciliation. Maybe it’s someone you need to ask for forgiveness or maybe it’s someone you’re holding a grudge against.
What’s keeping you from reconciliation?
What would it take for you to forgive or ask forgiveness from the other person?
Imagine taking the next step towards healing in that relationship.
What would that feel like?

Guilt is like pain; it’s useful because it tells us something is wrong, and prods us to seek help. Once we address the problem, the discomfort of pain or guilt becomes a problem in itself. Most of us carry a ton of guilt that we just don’t need. We carry the weight of things we think we should do but haven’t; we carry the weight of expectations we can’t meet. We feel like we fall short of who we are supposed to be.

Sometimes that nagging feeling spurs us on to be better, to seek healing or to follow through on a commitment, but often the weight of “shoulds” and “oughts” just grinds us down and makes us feel sick. God forgives us. God wants to take the burden of guilt and shame off our shoulders, to free us from the weight of our past and free us for a new future full of possibility and hope.

Imagine how much more fun church would be if we didn’t constantly feel guilty about not doing enough. Imagine how much more fun our relationships with our friends and family would be if we just enjoyed who they are instead of thinking about how we wish they would do things differently. Imagine what our world could look like if we thought less about what we were owed and more about the possibilities around us.

Forgiveness begins with God’s forgiveness and takes root in each of our hearts. It spreads to others as we let go of old injuries instead of holding onto our grudges. So let God’s love and forgiveness settle into your heart. Let God’s strong hands take that useless weight of guilt off your shoulders. In gratitude, let go of the grudges you hold against others. You’ll feel better without that weight too.

Forgiveness spreads beyond the walls of the church into the world around us. As a nation we have a lot to forgive and a lot for which we need forgiveness. These last ten years have been driven too much by fear and vengeance and division. I pray the next ten years would be about forgiveness, peace and love. God is forgiving, and we are made in God’s image.

Thanks be to God.

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