Sermon – September 14, 2014

Forgiveness

There are a few things that we need to get right as we become disciples and followers of Jesus, and this is one of them. Jesus is insistent that we understand forgiveness. It was on his mind as he drew his last breaths, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!” To the thief hung on the cross for his crimes he promised, “surely today you will be with me in paradise”. The leader of the disciples, Peter, with all his bravado denied Jesus three times the night before his crucifixion. Yet Peter is tapped by our Lord to lead in the establishment of the church.

“Zacchaeus come down, for I will dine with you today.” And the notorious cheat receives the gift of forgiveness and repents. He calls Matthew the tax collector, he liberates the woman caught in adultery. Mary Magdalene, freed of unnamed demons, forgiven, becomes a confidant, a disciple, and the first to proclaim the resurrection. Central to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins, and through that, the rebuilding of life and commissioning to new vocation in the kingdom of God. Jesus urgently wants us to get this right.

There was a king whose slave owned him 10,000 talents. That is a shocking debt. It is an impossible debt. It might very well be evidence of an egregious crime against the King. 10,000 talents is equal to 150,000 years of labor. The slave owed the King millions, yet as he begged for mercy, the king’s heart turned and the debt was forgiven. Of course, there was no such king and no such slave. This is a parable. Jesus tells this in extreme terms so that we may understand our inability to gain forgiveness, to repay the debts of our sinfulness on our own. It is like we owe the king 150,000 years of labor. The only relief that is open to us is from the heart of the King… it is the mercy of forgiveness. So that we would not get caught up in the bean counting of Peter, “Lord how many times do I have to forgive,” instead Jesus demonstrates that the economy of forgiveness in the kingdom of God is an infinite proposition. Just as we have been forgiven that which we cannot repay, so too are we called to forgive likewise.I often read as I prepare to preach on this text, pastors are wringing their hands, commentators lamenting that the act of forgiveness on our part is really hard. No kidding. That is because forgiveness costs something. It causes us to let go of something. In Jesus a parable, the king was out millions. But mercy trumped the ledger. So too with us. It will cost us to be forgiving. It will cost us our right for revenge. It will cost us our appropriate and righteous anger at being hurt. It may cost us the tangible things we have lost. But, in its practice we will come to know that true forgiveness is pure mercy. It’s a God thing. And because it is, it can be liberating, freeing. It can be creative and full of possibility, and it can be really, really hard.

Let’s start with you. Who owes you something that they cannot repay?

A lie a told. A trust betrayed. A covenant violated. A gratuitous blow. A heart broken. Who owes you something that they cannot repay? Here is where the divinely aided forgiveness begins. For, if we are owed a debt that cannot be repaid, it can only be mercy that brings reconciliation.

By the same token, to whom do you owe something you cannot repay?

A lie a told. A trust betrayed. A covenant violated. A heart broken. Again, mercy . . .the mercy of forgiveness is the only path to reconciliation.

These are not rhetorical questions were idle pondering. This is the currency of the kingdom. Repentance and forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness. And it begins with the knowledge that God has forgiven our debt and cleared our ledger fully, completely, and forever. It was a costly gift, the life of his own Son on the cross. In the practice of forgiveness for our part we are reminded of that gift.

That we know this was of great urgency to Jesus. In the prayer that he taught the disciples, we pray that we would forgive as we have been forgiven. That that which is divine would become that which is earthly. It is a prayer that we do not respond as the merciless slave in our parable, but a prayer for strength to show mercy.

Having said that, forgiving is not forgetting. We don’t grant license to the world to use us as a doormat. We are created in God’s image and beloved of the creator and we don’t squander that gift by losing our own integrity and humanity to the predations of the violent, the evil or the unrepentant. We are free to protect ourselves by walking away or defending ourselves. Nevertheless, the gift of forgiveness and mercy frees us from returning in kind and perpetuating cycles of abuse and the disregard for the gift of life. As such, forgiveness as a manifestation of the new creation in Christ and may be an instrument of healing, hope, and renewaland great surprise.

So how do you do this? Well, those of you who have gone through premarital conversations with me in this church will recall that our materials provide a simple template for asking for and receiving forgiveness, one reflective of the discipleship model.

Six Steps for Seeking Forgiveness:
1. Admit what you did was wrong or hurtful.
2. Try to understand/empathize with the pain you have caused.
3. Take responsibility for your actions and make restitution if necessary.
4. Assure your partner you will not to do it again.
5. Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
6. Forgive yourself.

Six Steps for Granting Forgiveness:
1. Acknowledge your pain and anger. Allow yourself to feel disrespected.
2. Be specific about your future expectations and limits.
3. Give up your right to get even, but insist on being treated better in the future.
4. Let go of blame, resentment, and negativity toward your partner.
5. Communicate your act of forgiveness to your partner.
6. Work toward reconciliation (when safe).

Forgiveness is work, risk, sacrifice, but it is godly work in which Christ is surely present.

I wonder if you recall the movie “Love Story” based on the book by Eric Segal. The movie starred Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. They were two Harvard University students in love. Ali McGraw’s character gets sick unto death, and as she lay on her deathbed, her boyfriend, Ryan O’Neal, tries to say that he’s sorry. And then Ali McGraw utters one of the most vacuous and ridiculous lines ever written, “no, love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Oh my gosh. What a teeming crock of steaming baloney. She couldn’t hear it so she denied its articulation. It would be too hard. Wow. Here’s the real truth. Love means having to say you’re sorry all the time. And love means having to hear it with grace and mercy. And, yep, it’s hard.

It’s lucky that Jesus is writing the script for our lives and not Hollywood. If this is the movies, we don’t stand a chance. But, trusting Christ practicing the currency of the kingdom of God, giving and receiving forgiveness, choosing mercy, … Then anything is possible.

Thanks be to God.

Amen