Friday, September 12, 2014

A, Post-Pentecost 14 Proper 19 - Matthew 18:21-35 "Kings of Forgiveness"

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 What is the thing that torments you most?  You know; the course of events that frustrates you no end because of an unjust agenda against you or your family or friends!  The person who picks on you and never seems to let up; perhaps they torment you!  Maybe, the success of one whom you believe has come at others’ expense; maybe at your expense! Does this torment you? It could be anything upsetting your perception of fairness or righteousness that torments and twists you as you try to go about your everyday life!
On the other hand, you might be tormented by guilt from wronging someone else.  Just like Joseph’s brothers who feared Joseph might take revenge after the death of their father, Jacob.  They were tormented by what they had done and by what might happen to them.
Or even when you haven’t wronged someone, but they believe you have done something against them.  There is still torment because of the soured relationship between the both of you.  Whatever the cause, torment can make one feel sick in the stomach, from the ordeal with others and from the stress within.
When we sin against each other, torment is usually not far away.  Loneliness, feelings of dread, deep deep sadness, anxiety, misunderstanding and a myriad of other sufferings wash over us and can torment us in the face of sin.  When sinned against; or, after sinning against someone else!
This torment arises from the hurt sin causes within us!  It matters not whether we’re the perpetrator or the victim; sin seems to wound both and then in the wake of sin comes torment and then perhaps more sin.  We would all agree, in spite of sinning or being sinned against, breaking free from this cycle of sin and its torment is a terribly hard thing to do.
 Practice has shown even when we remove ourselves from all company and isolate ourselves, the torment is not removed.  Rather, we might observe the opposite happening!  If I cut myself off from community to escape from torment, it leaves me vulnerable to the real source of my torment, myself — my old Adam!
Even more so when we isolate ourselves from God, the community of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, working in us, with us, and through us, we cannot escape our own torment. 
In fact, we need community to overcome torment.  And that community is a community of forgiveness. 
See what torment did to some of the lonely souls whom we hear of in God’s word.  Job, Jonah, King Saul, Simon Peter, and Judas Iscariot to name just a few!  Some ended up back in community — forgiven, and some were tormented into destruction!
 Looking at what goes on within ourselves helps us get a handle on the gospel reading for today, where Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21 ESV)  How many times does Peter have to put up with being sinned against before he doesn’t need to forgive?  How long do I have to sit back and take it before I can right my own wrongs?
Peter’s motives, my motives, all are called to examine their motives, as Jesus caries on with the parable comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a king settling accounts with his servant and that very same servant settling an account with his peer. Jesus calls us to look at our hearts and how we forgive. 
In fact, we can now look at not just how we forgive, but why it’s so crucial for us to forgive with a right heart, to free us ourselves and each other from subjecting ourselves further to the cycle of sin and torment.
God does not want you to chew on torment.  This is not the daily bread God wants you to eat.  Rather God’s will for you and me, between himself and us, and then, us with each other, is played out in the words of Jesus’ parable.  In fact, in this parable we hear Jesus petition us with the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6 to pray, “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 ESV)
Returning to Peter’s question, we might see his desire to be god of his situation.  How long does Peter have to listen to God before he can be god of his situation?  And we can hear and examine the very parable with which Jesus responds, showing a servant lording it over his fellow servant in the wake of his king lording it over him in a completely compassionate way.  If there is an end to when Peter needs to forgive, then surely there too is an end to when God needs to stop forgiving Peter!
And us too!  If you deem it necessary not to forgive, would you continue to stand if God were to use that very same judgement against you!  I know I need God’s grace and mercy, and so do you; if there is to be any peace in this life!
Rather, we are called to judge each other with a judgement that our Lord, our Saviour, our King, our Rescuer continues to use on us!  Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24 ESV)  This is a judgement that condemns sins to the cross, forgives and frees the sinner, and restores us to a community of peace, both within, with each other, and with our Father in Heaven.
But this decision to forgive is not meant to be a laborious task.  Yes it might cost us something to forgive, namely our pride, but in the wake of forgiveness, torment within is put to an end.  In fact torment can be turned into joy! 
No longer do we have to carry around our self righteousness as a badge of dignity.  Rather we can, take up our cross, but in doing so see that the Lord Jesus Christ has taken up our greater cross and made it his cross of torment and suffering.
Listen to this advice about Jesus and his motives and his forgiveness in Hebrews chapter twelve…
…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)
Now that Jesus has borne your sin on the cross, what joy is set before you?  Are you not called to be the righteous king of forgiveness for Jesus sake!  No longer do you have to torment yourselves with other people’s sin, even if it causes you to carry all kinds of crosses in this life.  Because Jesus has carried our eternal torment on “the cross” at Calvary and has risen in victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil! 
Nor do we have to hear this text and think we “have to” forgive because our Heavenly Father and Jesus, the King of Kings, will get revenge on us if we don’t.  Or say the Lord’s Prayer and fear the law heard in our torment, “if I don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive me!”
Rather we can forgive, because we “want” to forgive and because we “love” to forgive.  You are kings of forgiveness in the priesthood of all believers.  God has forgiven you, you can forgive yourself, and on learning Christ’s joy of eternally forgiveness you too can look to him to help you “willingly” and “wantingly” forgive others.  Times of torment can be opportunities of freedom and forgiveness in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Dear Lord God Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts so we no longer have to forgive each other, but rather because we want to, and love to forgive each other just as you have forgiven us and set us free to forgive, through our Redeemer, your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen!