(sermon note: 02-26 sermon note)
[Jesus said,] ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man on his deathbed who was speaking to his wife. “Dear wife. As I’m about to leave you, I need to make some confessions to you. You remember the time we went camping? I cheated on you with the camper in the next tent over.” “Oh, darling,” answered the wife with a sorrowful face. “I suspected it but alas, it is forgiven.” The man continued. “And when that nice young lady moved in the house next door, I also cheated on you with her.” “Oh, loved one,” answered the wife with a pitiful look. “I knew but I also forgive you of that.” Still the man went on. “And my secretary. All the long evenings I had to do overtime I spent with her.” “Oh honey,” answered the wife with a soft smile, “that’s why I poisoned you.”
I know, I know, two weeks in a row with the husband and wife jokes! And no, my wife and I are doing just fine these days. I suppose as good as any couple after three months of a northern Wisconsin winter! But we know winters can be harsh up here, especially in these dog days of February. If you read our newsletter for this month, you know that I fully expect to suffer the most through this month. It’s no wonder I took my wife away to Hawaii to marry her at the start of February so many years ago! I just needed a little relief from this dastardly month of February! But getting back to our unfortunate ole boy on his deathbed…
Sure, he pushed his luck one too many times with his wayward ways but he sure lucked out marrying someone who was willing to forgive him multiple times, let alone at all. Perhaps his wife was simply following the advice of Jesus as heard in today’s reading. She had a long way to go before getting to the suggested 77 times but she at least forgave more than once. People have wondered why Jesus chose 77 times, or 70 times 7 times as some translations read. We know that the number “7” is a number in ancient culture that represented wholeness or completeness. Perhaps Peter and Jesus were simply playing off this understanding. You want to know how often you are to forgive someone? As many times as necessary to reclaim completeness or wholeness in the broken relationship. But 7 times ought to have been enough, 7 itself being the perfect number of completeness. Why compound it with multiple 7s? Perhaps because Jesus wants to convey that we are to continually forgive those who have harmed us. Just as Paul tells us to continually be praying, Jesus tells us to continually be forgiving. Why? Because only through praying and forgiving are we maintaining relationships. God is big on relationships…being in relationship…being in right relationship. God wants us to be in right relationship with him and with each other. Relationships are constantly growing, constantly evolving and sin is ever-present in all relationships. Sin is constantly trying to tear down our relationships and the only salve for broken relationships is through prayer and forgiveness.
What a powerful parable to accompany his lesson to Peter! Maybe through his own fault, the servant had accrued a debt that was impossible to repay. It was a debt that hindered his ability to be in right relationship with the king. He couldn’t fully serve the king because he was distracted in tending to his debts. He needed to appease or fend off the multitude of debt collectors but they just kept coming. He could never get away from them! Some of us may have experienced the nightmare that is caused by collectors…they’re relentless! Well, like anyone caught up in such a nightmare, the servant begged for a little more time: “I just need a little more time!” We hear the king not only gives him more time but forgives the debt altogether. God doesn’t just give us more time, He forgives our debt altogether! Why? Because He knows more time isn’t the solution. There is no amount of extra time sufficient enough to satisfy the debt we owe him. God just has to eat our debt. But it’s okay because remember his primary goal is to maintain relationships. God will do anything to maintain relationships with us! He’ll gladly eat our debt. He’ll even die for us! Thus is the importance of maintaining relationships to God!
And if they’re that important to God then they should be that important to us. Paul advises in his letter to the Ephesians, “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (4:32) Kindness and forgiveness are important for maintaining relationships with each other. Heck, love is essential! Proverbs says, “hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” (10:12) Love bridges all broken relationships. As we set out on our journey through Lent, let us be mindful of all our relationships both broken and unbroken. Let us work to mend the broken relationships through prayer and forgiveness. If God can forgive so greatly, then so can we! Let us give thanks for his gracious forgiveness. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.