There is No Limit- Sermon for September 13, 2020 from Pastor John

Sermon for September 13, 2020


     I met with my confirmation class in Conover last week. It has been a while since classes ended abruptly last March. The students looked taller—Middle School age can be a time of growth. But now as they began their second year I pray it will be a time of spiritual growth. We began a lesson on the Lord’s Prayer. Since all of the students have had history with the church we could all recite this prayer perfectly in unison with no one looking befuddled. But the befuddlement may come when we go beyond just reciting the words. The lesson material compared the petitions or requests of the prayer with an adventure kit—or one may say survival kit—to prepare a person for what comes in life. For example the petition “Hallowed be your name” was compared to rain gear, a poncho that protects and wraps us in God’s holiness. Then we came to the 5th request, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. This was compared to a mirror which helps us see ourselves for the sinners we are and confirms that God is beside us all the way. One student piped up “that makes sense’. It was good to hear that she understood herself as a sinner and her need for God’s forgiveness. This is the only portion of the Lord’s Prayer which specifically asked for God’s help in our relationships with others, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” I don’t know about you, but I find forgiveness difficult. When we have been hurt by someone it is very easy to think of judgment instead of justice. Justice in the Biblical sense means we seek to make things right and hope to heal broken relationships. Since forgiveness is hard thankfully Jesus taught us to pray for God’s help.

As we heard in the Gospel lesson Peter had a question for Jesus: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” As many as seven times?” A seven-fold offering of forgiveness would have been considered incredibly generous or foolish depending on your point of view. Jesus made his view shockingly clear: “Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven times.” This would need explaining so instead of giving a sermon Jesus told a parable about the Kingdom of heaven: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.” When the accountants started to do their auditing, it was discovered that a slave owed the King ten thousand talents. A talent was a whole lot of money; the study Bible notes say it was worth 15 years of wages for a common laborer. The CPAs said the debt was 10,000 thousand talents. The dollar equivalent today would be like the U.S. National Debt, trillions of dollars. The slave in question would have been a well-educated one, someone like a Chief Financial Officer. The parable simply said the obvious: ‘he could not pay.’ The King would get back what he could by selling the slave, his wife, children, and worldly goods. So the slave fell on his knees and begged for patience. The King had pity and did not grant the request for patience but released him and forgave him the debt of trillions of dollars.

It would be a wonderful sense of relief to be out from under such a crushing burden of debt. You might think he should go out and buy flowers for his wife and candy for the kids in a jovial mood of celebration. But then he bumps into a colleague who owed him in today’s money would total twenty dollars. He saw the man and greed caused him to grab the guy by the throat and demand payment this minute. When the man pleaded for patience it was ruthlessly denied. He had his colleague thrown into some kind of debtor’s prison. His cruel lack of compassion was witnessed by others and duly reported. The King ordered him to appear and he was told: “You wicked slave…should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave as I had mercy on you?” This time there would be no pleading, patience, or pity. The parable ended in a way which would cause us to take notice: the slave was handed over to be tortured until he could repay the debt. And Jesus concluded with a warning, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Jesus’ parables are made to challenge us. The parable was told in response to Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive people who sin against us. Peter was thinking that as followers of Jesus we must be forgiving, but there has to be a limit. Jesus responded by saying “there is no limit”; the core of our Christian faith is the forgiveness of sins. This is the forgiveness that comes from God as a gift. As the confirmation student said ‘it makes sense to look into the mirror and see the truth about ourselves, we are sinners. Psalm 103, for example, stresses the point by using three different words for ‘sin’. First there is the word ‘sin’ itself, meaning we miss the mark as far as God’s will is concerned. Another term is ‘iniquity’ referring to the guilt accumulated when we miss the mark of God’s will. Then there is ‘transgression’, which means an offense against the teaching of God’s word. Three times in the Psalm we hear the truth of our sinfulness, but four times we hear of God’s compassion: God has not repaid us according to our sins but as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is your steadfast love for those who fear you.” God knows all too well that we are but dust, the weakness of our human natures, but as a father has compassion for his children, so God has compassion for those who fear him. God knows the limited span of human life, but God’s steadfast love is forever for those who fear God. In summary the Psalm repeats the important confession of the people of Israel, “Lord you are full of compassion and mercy slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Are we worthy of God’s forgiveness? The answer is no but that does not stop God’s mercy or as the Psalm says, “As far as east is from the west so far have you removed our transgression from us.” We are asked to ‘fear the Lord’. In today’s culture we think of ‘fear’ as being frightened and running away. In the Bible ‘fear the Lord’ means to cling to God in faith.

In Jesus Christ heaven came down to earth to make clear the gift of God’s steadfast love and mercy. On the cross Jesus paid with his sacrifice the debt of all sins, past, present and future. In the Gospel of John Jesus was declared as the Lamb of God who takes away your sins, my sins, and the sin of the whole world. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus summons us to come to him, not for bruising guilt but blessed grace. Jesus promises to give us rest, rest from any burden of guilt we carry, rest from any worry that God is somehow against us, rest from any fear of condemnation for Jesus ever calls us to cling to him and his mercy and assured forgiveness. Tomorrow on the Church calendar is Holy Cross Day. The gospel for that day is John 3: 16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, what whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

As beneficiaries of such compassion and grace revealed for us in God’s Word, and God’s Word made flesh in Jesus, what does it all mean for daily life and relationships? Are we not, individually, and as a church, to show forth forgiveness? But we admit forgiveness can be difficult. In some cases it may be impossible if the person shows no interest in being forgiven and continues to act in ways that are hurtful. For broken relationships to be healed there has to be humility, honesty, accountability, and repentance. A lingering question from Jesus’ parable is will God not forgive us if we do not forgive from the heart? God does not will that we torture ourselves with guilt for our own sins. God does not will that we torture ourselves with anger that seeks revenge which wounds the spirit. Instead Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Behind such a petition is Jesus’ promise to be with us to guide our lives and guard our hearts. He also taught us to pray “Lead us not into temptation…. Lead us not into the temptation to forget about forgiveness. He also taught us to pray “Deliver us from evil….deliver us from the evil of becoming hard-hearted or heartless.”

A young black man sat in the witness stand of a courtroom in Dallas, speaking to a white woman on trial, Amber Guyger, an ex-police officer who had just been convicted of murdering his beloved older brother, Bothan Jean, in his own apartment. She had entered Botham’s apartment by mistake, thinking it was hers, mistook him for an intruder and shot him dead. At her trial, Botham’s heartbroken brother Brandt took the stand and told Amber that he forgave her, that he wanted the best for her, and that he wanted her to give her life to Christ, something that he said his brother would have wanted as well. And then, after asking permission from the judge and to the astonishment of all present, Brandt walked across the courtroom and embraced the woman who had killed his brother. She clung to him, sobbing. This was an incredibly courageous example of forgiveness.

We live in a time of incredible tension in the nation, and some will say terrible division. Signs appear everywhere “Black Lives Matter”. “Blue Lives Matter.” “All Lives Matter.” What truly matters is forgiveness. When there is forgiveness in our hearts then we know the liberating and joyful truth: Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. This parable Jesus’ told is so current and important for our times. Forgiveness from the heart comes from the heart of God, Jesus Christ who died and lived again, to be our Lord and live in our hearts, equipping us to love and forgive one another.