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Sermon September 17 2023

Pentecost 16 A 2023 Forgiveness Sermon

Matthew 18:21-35

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In our Gospel text today, we pick up right where we left off last week and continue our discussion concerning Christ’s teaching on forgiveness and how to live in peace with one another.  Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us, how to live in the Kingdom of God, and one important feature is the need to be reconciled with those who have done us wrong.     

Now, I know this is hard.  Who wants to forgive someone who has harmed us?  Who wants to seek peace with someone who has taken advantage of us?  Nobody.  Nobody wants to seek reconciliation when great harm has been done to them. 

And yet, as someone wise once told me, “When a deep injury is done to us, we never fully recover until we forgive.”  Forgiveness frees us.  Forgiveness allows us to move forward.  Forgiveness releases us from the past so we can look forward to the future.

Simply put, forgiveness is part of God’s will for us.  Forgiveness is what God expects from us as we live our lives now.  Ephesians 4:32 sums it up this way.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it.  But it is not.  And that is why last week we heard Jesus teach His disciples a practical way to help us live out God’s expectations for us.  It was what I called “God’s Resolution Formula.”  It went something like this. 

First, we are to examine our contribution to the problem and get rid of everything in our lives that is contributing to the situation.  Second, we are then told to go directly to the person who has hurt us and tell that person what is wrong.  If they do not listen, or won’t be reconciled to us, then we may bring in another Christian to act as mediator or advocate, and if the other party  still will not listen, we are to call upon the resources of the whole church.

And three, if there is still no resolution, we are to treat the other person as a Gentile and a tax collector – in other words as an outsider. 

Some traditions interpret this to mean we are to exclude, or shun, the person.  But let me remind you that Jesus included outsiders in His life and work, and He invites us to invest in similar ministries with people that we might be tempted to exclude.

Now, I bring this all up again today because these three steps for reconciliation reflect a common practice in the Jewish first century world.  It was understood that three pardons were enough, and that a fourth offense did not need to be forgiven.

If I forgave you three times, and you wronged me again, I could hold a grudge against you, and I could still claim to be righteous.  You know the situation.  Three strikes, and you are out.  Maybe modern baseball today is the contemporary performance of this first century Jewish practice.

The last time I heard, we still sing during the seventh inning stretch “For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out, at the old ball game.” 

Well, back then the disciples were not aware of the seventh inning stretch, but they were certainly aware of this concept. 

So, when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, and offered as many as seven times, he thought he was being generous and that this would be more than enough to satisfy Jesus. 

But he was wrong.  When Peter mentioned seven times, Jesus looked Peter in the face and told him “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.”  And the point being the issue of how many times we should forgive is not about a number, but what is in our hearts.

After all, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  And since we receive forgiveness through His death and resurrection, our lives are changed, and we have become new people.  And because we are a new people, our behavior changes.

And if our behavior has changed, our ability to forgive others has changed. Therefore, when we pick up our cross and follow Jesus, we suddenly find that there is no room in our hearts for grudges.

And we discover that forgiveness is not a numbers game.  Jesus wants us to stop counting.  Forgiveness is not a legal procedure.  Forgiveness is an act of love.  Forgiveness is treating others the way God has treated us.

Jesus commanded us “Love one another.”  Mother Teresa once put it this way.  "If we really want to love one another, we must first learn how to forgive."

My friends, stop counting, and start following the One who forgives you and loves you without limits.  Since Jesus loves us enough to forgive us for all the thoughtless, selfish, unkind things we say and do to each other, let us love as Jesus loves. 

I would like to close with the words of a campfire song that I sang back in Luther League.  It went like this…      

It only takes a spark, to get a fire going
And soon all those around, can warm up in its glowing

That’s how it is with God’s love

Once you’ve experienced it
You spread his love to everyone;
You want to pass it on.

Let us pray: God of grace, you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son to be our Savior.  Help us to forgive one another as you have forgiven us.  Teach us to hold firmly to you, so that we may not wander from your will for our lives, so we may be a part of your active ministry in this world.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.