Sermon from Rev. Zickler for September 17, 2017

20170917 Sermon Proper 19 2017
September 17, 2017
Matthew 18:21-35

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.  This morning we meditate upon the Gospel Lesson which was previously read, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Last week we heard our Lord describe how we are to respond when someone sins against us.  We heard Jesus saying we need to confront them personally, to protect their reputation.  Then, if they won’t turn from the sin, we are to continue to try to protect their reputation by only telling two or three others to help them see their fault.  Finally, if that doesn’t work, we tell it to the whole Church.  And why?  Is it so that the Church can look down on them and mock them?  No.  It’s out of love to make the point that this sin harms their relationship to God.  Of course, this week Peter comes and thinks that this forgiveness is just about us and that person.  He asks that question, “Ok Lord, since we’re talking about forgiving our brothers, just how often do I need to do that?”  As he asks that, we have to ask ourselves how often is that our mentality too?  How often do we hear this and think, “I have to forgive someone to show them that I am the bigger person?”  Or think that our forgiving or not forgiving them gives us some kind of position over them?  All too often, if we’re honest.  In fact, so often that we perhaps don’t even realize that this is what we’re doing.  

A classmate of mine from seminary actually posted something this week that said this well in some other terms.  He asked the question of why we treat the words “I’m sorry” as though they are currency.  In other words, he said, why do we say things like, “I’m only sorry if they are,” or “I’ll just say ‘I’m sorry’ and then she’ll have to let me…” or “When he’s really sorry, then he will…”?  Why do we say things like that?  Because we think that those words earn something.  If someone rightly apologizes to me, then they’ve earned my forgiveness.  Or on the flip side, on the one hand if I apologize I have paid my due, or on the other, which can be the hardest part, I take on the debt of what I’ve done.  Yes, those words bear a lot of weight.

But when it comes to forgiving, is that what Jesus means by this passage?  When someone apologizes to you, then they’ve earned your forgiveness?  Or that you only have to forgive someone when they apologize to you?  Is He saying that you get to lord forgiveness over someone only giving it when they have satisfied their debt to you, that it is something that gives you power over someone, even if that power is anger?

No, in fact it’s the opposite.  You willingly give up that power.  This isn’t about power, it’s about your heart and your love toward them.  Think about what happens in this story.  In this parable, you have a King—right?—a King “who wished to settle accounts with his servants.”  And so this King brings in a servant with a huge debt.  “When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”  Ten thousand talents.  Now if you have an ESV Bible and you look in the note in there, it will tell you that a talent was about 20 years’ worth of wages.  So this multiplies out to 200,000 years of work.  What’s the point of the number?  Is it to quantify?  No.  It’s that He can’t pay it off.  He couldn’t do it.  Even if it were one talent, that’s 20 years’ wages. It’s not 20 years’ worth of living expenses, it’s taking you’re whole wage for 20 years and paying all of it.  And this is ten thousand times that.  You can see why the King wants some compensation, why he speaks of selling the man with his wife, kids, and all that he owns.  

But the servant knows he’s in trouble, so what does he do?  Jesus says he “fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’”  The servant falls before the King and begs him.  This word for imploring is the same as praying.  This man prays to the King.  Obviously the King is God, and the man begs for mercy and patience.  The King knows the man can’t repay the debt.  And so what does He do?  He not only doesn’t sell the man. That would be generous enough to try to recoup that much.  He also doesn’t keep the man around and garnish his wages.  No, what does He do?  He has pity on the man, and I’ve mentioned this word for pity before, it’s that pity you feel in your guts.  He feels it in his guts for this man, and so he forgives Him.  

But what does the man do?  He goes out and finds someone who owes him.  Does he show the same mercy?  No.  Instead, “seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’”  And how does the man respond?  Just like the first one, he falls down and he pleads—he doesn’t pray, but he pleads, saying–“Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”  But this servant won’t have it.  He throws him in jail.  Here this man has been forgiven 200,000 years’ worth of wages, and he throws someone in jail for owing a hundred denarii.  Now a denarius was about a day’s wage.  I’m sure you’ve thought about that before, but that’s a huge, huge difference isn’t it?  And again, that’s the point.

You know this, but the point is that when Jesus Christ came to this world and bled for your sins, He settled your account.  He paid your bill.  He gave you a blank check.  A check worth far more than 200,000 years’ wages.  An infinite check signed on the cross, and validated in the resurrection.  In fact, Jesus did this for you long before you could ask for forgiveness.  He won that forgiveness for you before you could say I’m sorry.  His grace was for you before you were.

So when someone sins against you, you can see that Jesus is saying you have to forgive them.  You can’t hold on to that anger.  You can’t hold onto the desire to have that power, that standing over them by holding onto what they owe you.  Think about it.  As a Christian, you come and you pray to God for forgiveness.  You come to this rail and ask for the gift of that mercy, that patience placed on your tongue.  You speak those words, Kyrie eleison, “Lord have mercy.”  And He does have mercy on you.  He does forgive you.  He won your forgiveness on the cross 2000 years ago, before you could even say I’m sorry, and He gives it to you now.  So, when your sin has been forgiven why do you cling to the debt of those who have offended you?  Why, when Christ fulfilled all for you?

All the more see how serious God is about this.  Look at what happens “in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  God casts into prison the one refusing to forgive, until the utter entirety is paid.  Do you see the size of that debt?  The debt is infinite.

Do you see it?  This is serious.  It’s serious because when you hold on to whatever that person has done to you, whether it be your closest neighbor of spouse, parent, or child, to a stranger on the streets, when you hold onto that, it shows that you don’t get just how deep God’s forgiveness is for you.  In fact, even if you hold onto a sin someone committed against a person you care about, it’s the same thing.  And as I say that, that can be the hardest, can’t it? A sin against a loved one?  But it still shows that we don’t grasp the depth of God’s forgiveness.  So why don’t you let it go?

Well, you see it comes down to faith.  We don’t believe this.  We don’t believe this in at least one of multiple ways.  We don’t believe this and so we like to cling to our own self-righteousness.  We like holding onto that power over the other person, and we like it because it satisfies some sense of being more virtuous than this other person.  If I know they’re sin against me or a loved one is bad, then I can hold onto it and look down on them, and pat myself on the back.  But I do that, what am I not believing?  That I really am just as undeserving of God’s love as they are.  So, that’s a lack of faith.  

Or what else do I not believe?  I don’t believe that God actually uses all things for good.  What do I mean?  Look at the story of Joseph.  We have such a great illustration of forgiveness there.  Joseph’s brothers come to him and they’re worried that since their dad died, now Joseph is going to exact revenge on them—which you wouldn’t blame him if he did.  After all, they threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery, where he was falsely accused, thrown into jail, and forgotten for years.  Joseph had plenty of reason to be mad.  But what did he say?  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Joseph saw how God had used this wickedness for good.  If that’s the case, can’t we trust that He will use offenses against us ultimately for good?  We should trust it because He will.

All the more, we should trust that even though this offense harms us—and it does.  Sin against us taints us, it makes us incomplete somehow.  But we know in the resurrection of Jesus that we will be made whole.  So as we trust in this, and as we look at how we still fail to forgive perfectly, what do we do?  We throw ourselves once more into the hands of God’s mercy.  We have no other hope from beginning to end.  Hope in the Lord Jesus who was the only one to trust this perfectly.  

In fact, Luther made the point that as we pray in the Lord’s prayer that God forgive our trespasses as we forgive, that no one ought “think that he will ever in this life reach the point where he does not need this forgiveness.”  He says that “this petition is really an appeal to God not to regard our sins and punish us as we daily deserve, but to deal graciously with us, forgive as he has promised, and thus grant us a happy and cheerful conscience to stand before him in prayer.”  And as we think about that, as we think about our Lord’s promises to grant the forgiveness of our great debt, as we think about His promises to restore us when we have been harmed, and finally as we think about how little the debt someone owes us in their sin, may God grant us to forgive that debt.  May He grant us to see that not only do we have not the right not to forgive, but no reason not to forgive.  May He grant us to see that “I’m sorry” isn’t currency, because confronting sin isn’t about justice for us—God will give us that.  But it’s about loving and helping the other person.  After all, God has helped us far more than we can ask or imagine.  And before we could even do so.  He has forgiven us, and far more than seventy times seven times. Amen.