Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 15

"Forgiveness: easier said than done."

Matthew 18:21-35

September 17, 2018

Let's get straight to the point. Forgiveness is easier said than done. I remember on 9/11, as the towers were falling, some well-meaning woman with her face in a TV camera saying, "oh, we forgive them." Well, I thought, that's easy for you to say if you didn't know anyone who died that day. Here's my dilemma. What happens when you don't want to forgive? What happens when the person(s) responsible don't ask for forgiveness? What happens when the pain is so great that you simply can't forgive?

If forgiveness is supposed to be so easy, why did Peter come to Jesus with his question? [Matthew 18:21-35] Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Even Peter found the idea of being constantly forgiving too hard. Forgiveness needed to have some limits. How about forgiving up to seven times? That seems reasonable. After the seventh time, you can wash your hands of these irritating idiots. Yet, imagine his surprise when Jesus told him that the number was seventy times seven. In other words, we are always to be forgiving. hat's easier said than done.

In order to help Peter, and us for that matter, understand the nature and purpose of forgiveness, Jesus continued.

"Therefore: the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So, the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the deb

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So, his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And 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."

In today's Gospel reading, Peter is speaking for you and me. We all know there are some people are never going to be sorry for what they do. They couldn't care less about your pain, your sorrow or your angst. The last thing those who flew the airplanes into the buildings 16 years ago would want is our forgiveness. They were not sorry in the least for all the pain and suffering they inflicted. As far as they were concerned they were doing Allah's will. Therefore, what they did needed no forgiving.

What about those who hurt you and don't care about your feelings. There's an old saying, "to err is human, to forgive is divine." There's more truth here than you might think. Forgiveness is of God. Forgiveness originates with God. In His mercy, Christ died on the cross for our sins. The horrible debt we owed God was paid in full by His Son.

Yet, there's a catch. If there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness. Yes, Christ died for the sin of the world but His forgiveness is only accessed through personal repentance. Nevertheless, that forgiveness is available to everyone who repents and calls on the name of the Lord.

Because we have been forgiven, we are now expected to forgive. Our feelings toward our neighbors are traced back to our relationship with God. This is why forgiveness is important for two reasons. First, we forgive because it is commanded. Second, we forgive because it is therapeutic. By learning to forgive we learn what it is to let go of all the hurts, big and little, real and imagined that fester in us. To forgive gives us the ability to begin anew.

Forgiveness is canceling debts that are owed. We let them go. There is no repayment possible or, now, required. It's moving on "as if" there was never a debt incurred. Then there's my football analogy. Think of the football as sin. If the quarterback doesn't pass the ball, he remains an open target for all the big, bruising linemen who want to take him out. If he doesn't want to find himself tackled and pounded into the dirt, the quarterback needs to get rid of the ball. In the same way, to forgive is to pass off the sin that will only bring us hurt and damage if we hang on to it.

Now, being forgiving doesn't mean that you also become a door mat for nasty people to wipe their feet all over. Once burned, twice shy. Being forgiving doesn't mean you have to let down your guard. Being forgiving doesn't mean that you have to stay in the company of abusive people. Being forgiving doesn't mean you have to continually subject yourself to the evil actions of bad people.

Our biggest problem when it comes to forgiveness is that most of the time, we don't want to be forgiving. We're like the first guy in the parable. We are willing to receive forgiveness for great debts owed but are unwilling to forgive the little ones owed us. Like the first guy, we're tempted to get physical with those who sin against us. Our cue comes from the world, "don't get mad, get even." There's no forgiveness in that attitude. Yet, it the prevailing attitude we find in the world.

The biggest obstacle in learning to forgive is our refusal to do it. The unmerciful servant refused to forgive his co-worker. When it comes to forgiveness, most people simply say, "I don't wanna'." Even when we were kids and were told to apologize: "say you're sorry;" we didn't want to and often didn't mean it. We resist forgiveness from the heart even if our lips have formed the words. In the end, forgiveness is possible only as the Lord cracks the hardness of our hearts and allows His forgiveness to us flow out of us to others.

Here's where the divine comes into play. We don't have to conger up forgiveness. Why is forgiveness such a long process for most of us? God has to help us work through the anger and pain. The Lord works His healing in our soul. It's only after He has helped us get through the anger and grief that we move on to forgiving, that is, allowing the forgiveness that is of God flow through us to others.

If you're having trouble forgiving, take it to the Lord in prayer. Pray for the Lord to work His healing love in our heart. Pray for His peace. You don't need to manufacture forgiveness. Forgiveness is of God. Forgiveness is allowing God to work His forgiving love in us and then through us. So, you see, forgiveness really is divine because it is God working to us, in us and through us.

Yes, forgiveness is easier said than done but it's not impossible. With the Lord all things are possible. He comes to bring us hope and healing. He comes to bring us peace of heart and mind. He comes in His power to help us to forgive. He changes our hearts, minds and attitudes so they become more Christ-like in every way. That's the Good News. In Christ, we are forgiven and in Christ we become forgiving. Amen.


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