Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sermon for Sept 14, 2008

The Law of God in Christ is simple when it comes to trespasses, debts and sins: Forgive each other all things. Accept forgiveness in all things. It sounds so simple and yet, it is so hard for us to do. After all, how many times, says Peter, do I have to put up with my neighbor and his or her transgressions-against me or against God? How many times, how much must I forgive?

Jesus’ answer is simple: More than you are possibly comfortable with. Not seven times…but seventy seven times…and you and your neighbor experience true reconciliation that moves beyond cheap grace and a quick nod, into the holy places of God’s ability to forgive us our trespasses, our debts, our sins-no matter how many and no matter how grievous.

Jesus tells the parable of the landowner and his servants to illustrate just how deeply we need to acknowledge forgiveness and how we have to SHARE THAT GIFT with others.

The servant forgiven by his master owes a debt of ten thousand talents. There is no way he can repay, it is too much…and yet the debt is forgiven. The landowner blessed his servant with forgiveness. And so ‘For those that are given much, much is expected.’ The landowner released his servant’s debt…and he did something else on a spiritual level: It is as if the landowner filled a cup with forgiveness and love and gave that to his servant.

But this is where things begin to break down. The forgiven servant immediately gets an opportunity to forgive another’s debt to him, even as he has been forgiven. He is given a chance to pass that cup along to another, to extend that grace, that gift of forgiveness. And yet, he chooses not to pass the cup to his neighbor. He chooses not to forgive. He chooses to punish instead, until the debt is paid.

And that costs him, for the previously forgiven debt of unimaginable magnitude is returned to him. His suffering will be greater than the one he imprisons for just a fraction of what he owes. This parable illustrates for Peter, and for us, how important it truly is to allow mercy, forgiveness and grace to flow through us. If we are to be forgiven, we have to be willing to forgive.

That is the core of what it means to be reconciled to Jesus and to each other.

But how does each one of us get to that place? How is it possible for each of us to come to a forgiveness . Surely - There can not be one -fits-all method: We are all so different - each of us must have to do something different to get there.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle invites and cautions us, “To welcome those who are weak in faith, But not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.” What happens when we commit to welcome all; and all actually show up? When we lose awareness of what was once the center of our identity, How can we be reconciled when we can’t even agree on what we are fighting about?

St. Paul said, “Those 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. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?”

When it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation, Christ is the true author of radical pardon: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” He is dying on the cross when he offers that prayer; And in that prayer he reconciles us to God.

We are forgiven…but where, how, do we find the skill and strength to respond? Like the parable we hear today, how do we respond to this cleansing and liberating gift? In just five minutes‘ research I found 133 mentions of forgiveness in the Bible, and the intent is clear: Just do it, forgive. Do it each and every time we are faced with the choice.

The only way to gain faith is to practice it. The only way to truly experience reconciliation and forgiveness is to offer it. Practice prayer and you will receive God‘s help, practice forgiveness and you will be forgiven.

Forgive one another, put your energy into that law and that practice will bring you back into relationship with God and with your neighbor - not an easy practice to trust, I know: The neighbor might reject reconciliation and we might be left out in the dark the risk might not bring the reward, and yet God is relentless in modeling that reconciliation begins with a willingness to entertain that risk without assurance of return.

The only assurance is that God assumes ultimate responsibility…and that we can only do our small part in giving up some of our time, our pride, our will to the attempt to be reconciled to the person across from us in conflict. Jesus is counseling us: Do not hold on to anger and do not take revenge, for those things are not yours to carry and they will not bring you closer to your God.

The rich man in our story chose God‘s Law when he had every right, within man‘s law, to ask for
and to get his money.

He did as Jesus teaches. We each have that chance and the choice we make will be an offering to the world. When we forgive we bring something holy into the world. We offer up that cup that will always be full; And that cup can be a gift to others if we are willing to pass it along.

The land owner chose forgiveness that day. The servant had the same choice - and even though he was shown mercy he acted in a manner that did not bring love or joy. Instead he brought a cold heart and a cruel hand into the world. When we withhold forgiveness, when we act as the wicked servant did, then we reject the grace of forgiveness God has offered to us in our lives.

Paul echoes the parable in this: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why 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. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.”

God gave his only son life’s so that we would know forgiveness of our sins. That is a debt we cannot repay…and yet that is the debt we answer to. God’s law is not complicated - look for forgiveness in your heart and you will find it. Practice it often and it will become easier. Love one another as He has loved us.

“How many times must I forgive? Seven times? No, seventy seven times…” Until heaven and earth pass away, this is our call-to heal, to love, to be reconciled to each other and to God in Jesus Christ.

Here is where our faith is deeply challenged - and here is where actions speak louder than words:

“Forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those who trespass against us”


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