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Sep 17, 2017

Forgiveness

Forgiveness

Passage: Matthew 18:21-35

Speaker: Father Will Lowry

Series: All

Category: All

Keywords: forgiveness

It has been said that a minister’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And I think I’ve succeeded in that this week.

I had a hard time trying to figure out how to begin my sermon this morning and although I narrowed it down to two, I couldn’t decide - so I just decided to give you both.

How many times should I forgive, Jesus? Or...

Jesus! How many times should I forgive?

Have any of you ever had to ask for forgiveness? (Not rhetorical….) Has anyone here ever been forgiven?

Have you ever forgiven someone?

Is there someone you still need to forgive? Do you still need to be forgiven?

Are you still trying to figure out how in the world God can ask you to forgive someone for something?

Eleanor Rosoevelt once said when asked about forgiving her husband’s infidelity, “I can forgive it, but I cannot forget it." And while there are some events and situations that we should not forget: the holocaust, slavery, ethnic cleansing, exploitation or abuse of women, children, or any human - these are all things that cause great pain and are serious - as are any words or action that cause us pain.

But to say I can forgive but not forget - that’s human forgiveness - not God’s.

Forgiveness means to release, to let go of what has caused us pain - but not to deny the hurt.

Presbyterian minister, Marjorie Thompson wrote,

To forgive someone is to make a conscious choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of OUR judgment, however justified that judgment might seem or be.

In other words, we have to lay aside our want for retribution. 

God’s forgiveness is full of Grace that is unbridled, all-encompassing and that forgets. God’s forgiveness does not seek vengeance or reprisal. 

It has been said that a minister’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And I think I’ve succeeded in that this week.

Many of you have read the article that I had Lana send out on Monday, and some of you have talked with me about it in one way or another. Let me say that I hope you can understand that I sent the article without an explanation of my opinion of it and without context - and I am sorry for that. I hope you were able to read the second email I had Lana send with an apology for not giving you the context needed, as well as my opinion.

On Thursday, the Church celebrated Holy Cross Day, and I celebrated my ordination to the diaconate. That morning I read a brief meditation about Holy Cross which said, “Jesus promises to give us life, abundant life, and the context in which he speaks presumes the inevitability of the cross, which he shares with us – doesn’t spare us, but shares with us. Our theology hangs on the cross. And we either pick it up, or stumble over it, because it most certainly is there for those of us who choose to follow Jesus.”

And as I thought about the many encounters I’ve had this week I couldn’t help but think - wow, “this is so true”. Because this week I’ve had the opportunity to live - to live abundantly. I’ve had many conversations and experiences of life, and God, and grace, and love.

I’ve spent much time with people with whom I’ve had recent disagreements and I’ve come to know and love them more. I’ve learned some things. I had a 2 hour and 45 minute meeting that felt like it lasted less than an hour. I had people come to me and talk to me about their fears.

I’ve celebrated accomplished goals and I’ve mourned failures, I’ve laughed, I’ve cheered, I cried a little, and I even got angry. I’ve received grace and I’ve given grace, I’ve forgiven and been forgiven. And yes, I probably still have some forgiving to do.

I’ve heard and seen God in people this week. 

And that is what I believe is Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question: How many times should I forgive, Jesus?

It’s not about the number of times Peter. It’s about how we do it and how we understand God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness.

You see, Peter, the absolute absurdity of God’s love and mercy is that it doesn’t stop and it doesn’t keep a secret scoreboard…. pretending that everything is okay - the absurdity is that God actually means it.

This parable about the unforgiving servant isn’t at all about what or how much is forgiven - it’s about recognizing generosity, grace, and mercy - it’s about putting ourselves in the place of the servant - not the master.

It’s about recognizing that we are given that grace and mercy in order that we might do the same. You see, the funny thing about receiving grace is that the more you receive it, the more grace filled you become and the more you pass it on. And the funny thing about giving is that the more we do it, the easier it becomes, and the more we want to do it.

Once we understand - really understand - the absolute true gift of God’s Grace - God’s forgiveness - we realize that we cannot stand before God the Master and before each other without also forgiving.

It’s not easy - God knows, it’s not easy. But how else can we explain God putting us all in one place and calling us the Body of Christ?

We are called to be in community to reconcile, to forgive, to give grace and mercy, to love one another as God loves us.

In a few minutes we will say the Confession of Sin. It is a way for us to confess our personal and corporate sins “against God and our neighbors”. Afterwards, I will stand and make the sign of the cross over the congregation - and myself. I am charged, as a priest, to pronounce absolution by the GRACE of the Holy Spirit. 

It is for this reason that Jesus told the parable. To remind us that Grace upon Grace we have been given and forgiven and we are to follow His example.

Amen.

[Marjorie J. Thompson, “Moving toward Forgiveness,” Weavings, March-April, 1992, 19.]