February 22 – Living Forgiveness

February 22 – Living Forgiveness

Living Forgiveness – A Sermon on Matthew 18:15-35

Lenten Journey, and Lenten Parables –> Parables that point to the kingdom of God not only as a future reality, but how it can be a present lived reality. I the coming Sunday’s we will look at stories Jesus tells about Great Banquets and Vineyard Owners, about Bridesmaids and Coins. And along the way hopefully our faith will be deepened in our wrestling with these stories.

The Narrative Lectionary has gifted us with a series of challenging parables this Lenten season. According to the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told these parables as a way of illuminating what the Kingdom of Heaven – that is God’s alternative world order – might look like. This week’s parable from Matthew 18 is often call the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant but the reality is no one in this parable is very forgiving… right before the parable Jesus tells the disciples that forgiveness has no limits… but the servant’s master takes back his supposed forgiveness in a heartbeat.

But that’s getting to the end of the story already… and before we do that, we should talk some first about parables –>

Parables are these wonderful little tales told by Jesus, often about what the Kingdom of heaven is like. They reveal to us truths about the life of faith we are called to live as disciples of Christ. But they are most often, tough to not only read, but to hear.

Amy Jill Levine in her wonderful book, Short Stories by Jesus writes:

Jesus himself, as we know from the rest of the Gospel tradition, cared deeply about reconciliation, and so he told stories about people torn apart and how they might be brought together. He constantly taught about laying up treasure in heaven rather than on earth, and so he told stories about rich men whose wealth does them no good and poor people who find the real treasure they need. Jesus insisted we should not judge, and that the criterion by which we judge others will be used to judge us. Therefore he offered parables in which those who judge others are trapped into being in relationship with them; he told parables in which those who judge themselves righteous may be wrong or may not realize the full implications of their righteousness.

He sought to prepare his people for the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven, the time when we would recline at table… so he set about enacting the messianic banquet among a mixed group of saints and sinners, tax collectors and patrons, women and men, faithful and doubters. He also told stories about baking and banquets and feasts and so in his stories nourished his followers even as he left them hungry for more.

To prepare his followers for that inbreaking, he also asked them to prioritize. What really matters, and what does not? The parables ask us questions. What is the pearl of great price? What would we do were we to find treasure in the field? What would satisfy us, and what should satisfy us?[1]

So this morning, on this first Sunday of Lent, we find ourselves with a most perplexing story by Jesus. Perplexing in a couple of different ways.

First – the amount of money the servant owes the king – how can a debt that large be not only forgiven, but taken on in the first place?!?

Second – how can the servant not forgive the debt of his fellow servant after he has had his debt forgiven?

And Third – how can the king go from all forgiving to punishing the servant so harshly? And is God really like this?

So in this Parable of the Unforgiving Servant we see a story full of contradictions –> And Jesus speech moves from normal story telling to hyperbole

But this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like Jesus tells us. It is like those who forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven. It sounds as if Jesus is saying forgiveness is less of a one-time action and more of a life choice.

At times we all find it hard – if not impossible – to forgive those who’ve hurt us most. This past week as I was listening to a couple podcasts about this parable from Matthew I heard the story of Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie had spent time in Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in her home during the Holocaust. 52 and unmarried, she had lived at home with her elderly father and older sister Betsie. All three of them had been sent to concentration camps when the Nazis discovered they had been hiding the Jewish refugees.

Corrie lost her freedom, her dignity, and her beloved sister and father in the span of a few months in those concentration camps. In God’s providence Corrie was released due to a clerical error, just one week before the other women in Ravensbruck her age were executed.

After the war Corrie was invited to speak all over the world. In her book The Hiding Place she tells this story:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsies pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preched so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggle to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my should along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on God’s. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command the love itself.[2]

We’re not capable of this kind of forgiveness. It is only God who is able share this kind of forgiveness.

Earlier this week we saw news headlines of the most horrific kind as 21 Egyptian Christians were brutally killed in Libya by members of ISIS. This weekend, responding to this tragedy, Bishop Angaelos, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom had a conversation with CNN. Angaelos admits that offering forgiveness after such a horrific crime may sound “unbelievable” to some. Still, he says forgiveness is his responsibility as a Christian minister.

“We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts,” Angaelos said. “Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.”[3]

Living a life full of forgiveness might be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, parts of following Christ. Yet maybe the greatest news in this tough parable is that we don’t have to forgive alone. It is only, only, only by the grace and love of Jesus Christ that we are able to show forgiveness to others.

And during this season of Lent, as we journey towards the cross together. That just might be enough for us to keep walking together. Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Amy Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus p. 276-7

[2] As recounted on https://barrywallace.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/forgiveness-and-corrie-ten-boom/

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/21/bishop-angaelos-forgives-isis_n_6725726.html?utm_hp_ref=religion