Revision: Forgiveness

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Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

01/26/2022

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Revision: Forgiveness

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 18:21-22; Romans 8:1

Riding in his Popemobile across St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot by Mehmet Ali Aqca, who had escaped from a Turkish prison after receiving a life sentence for murdering a journalist. Two of the four shots struck the pope in his lower abdomen. Aqca, and an accomplice, were captured, arrested, and jailed. The pope survived his injuries, and then asked Catholics to pray for Aqca, whom he had forgiven. An Italian court sentenced Aqca to life in prison. In 1983, John Paul II visited him in his prison cell and the two spent time praying and talking. The pope stayed in touch with Aqca’s family and in 2000 requested his pardon. Italy granted the request. Aqca was deported to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for the life sentence from which he had fled decades prior. He converted to Christianity while incarcerated, and was finally released in 2010. In December 2014, Aqca returned to Rome and laid two dozen white roses at the pope’s tomb. 

For the past two weeks we’ve been looking at revising our faith – looking at what and how we believe, considering our faith in light of Scripture, and then taking out a red pen and making some changes. The first week we looked at what it means to have biblical hope, to live with our focus on God and what God wants us to do. Biblical hope points us to the kingdom of God where we live to serve God and others today, now, with the understanding that everything God has promised for our future will come to pass. Last week we looked at priorities, asking ourselves if we needed to reconsider, and change, our number one priority in life – because if it isn’t God, we have a faith problem. This morning we examine how forgiveness factors into our faith. The truth is, the act of forgiveness is something that many of us have yet to master.

The bottom line is, if we don’t understand forgiveness, we’re missing the whole mystery of faith. We’re still living in a world of you only get what you earn, of quid-pro-quo thinking, of performance and behavior that earns an award. Forgiveness is the great thawing of all logic, reason, and worthiness. It has nothing to do with logic; logic breaks down completely where forgiveness is concerned. It is God’s gift of unearned love and unmerited grace. As far as I can see, forgiveness is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the whole gospel. Without radical and rule-breaking forgiveness — received and given — there can be no revision or reconstruction of anything. Forgiveness alone breaks down our pitiful worldview of trying to buy and sell grace. Grace is the one gift that must always be free, perfectly free, in order for it to work. Without forgiveness, we have no future. We have hurt one another in too many historically documented and remembered ways. The only way out of the present division and hatred in this world is grace.

Just about two-thirds of Jesus' teachings are about forgiveness. A good third of Jesus' parables are, directly or indirectly, about forgiveness. In Matt. 18:21-35, Jesus tells another parable. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus spoke of forgiveness. In Matthew 5:23-24, he said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” In Matthew 6:14-15, he said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” What prompts the parable in Matthew 18 is a question. “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’" 

Jesus then tells this story: “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 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. The servant fell down before him, saying, ’Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord released him, and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe,’ Then his fellow servant 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 would pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what 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 servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger, his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. [Jesus then said,] So my heavenly Father also will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Peter knew he had to forgive. But maybe he was wondering if there was a limit on forgiveness. Peter seizes on the number seven, and it sounds good, generous even. Seven times is a lot of times to forgive someone. But Jesus responds, not seven times but seventy-seven times (some translations say seventy times seven, which is even worse). But whichever translation we use, Jesus wasn’t giving Peter a number. Jesus was telling Peter forgiveness is indefinite, that it was not his job to keep accounting of the wrongs committed against him. Jesus was trying to train his disciples to forgive unconditionally. There are three points made in this parable. The first focuses on the lord’s incredible mercy and generosity to the servant who was indebted to him. The second focuses on the servant’s unreasonable severity toward his fellow servant, forgetting his lord’s mercy towards him. And the third focuses on the consequence of not forgiving as we have been freely forgiven.

When it comes to God’s mercy, every sin you and I commit is a debt to God and God has said there will be a judgment day or day of reckoning. If that’s the case, we’re all in trouble because the debt of our sin is large. In the parable, it is represented by the sum of 10,000 talents. A talent was the largest measure for counting money in the known world in the times of Jesus. I’ve read that 10,000-talents is roughly equivalent to over five million dollars today. That is a debt that no servant could ever pay. It was literally impossible for this man to pay off this debt. The same is true of us. We are incapable of paying our debt with God. But suddenly, in the parable, the master is moved with compassion and forgives the debt. That is exactly what God has done for us: our debt is insurmountable and we can never repay it. And then Jesus spreads out his arms and reminds us that he was crucified, and he paid our debts, yours and mine, in full.

Just after this powerful reminder of grace and forgiveness, we come to the fellow servant. The debt owed to the one just released from a huge debt is small. But the one who has just been forgiven is unreasonable and inflexible. We say, ’I would never do that,’ but we do. We read this parable and we think how this one who has been forgiven be so mean, but we do the same thing, every time we refuse to forgive and harbor resentment and bitterness.

Finally, in this parable, Jesus makes it clear there is a consequence of not forgiving after being freely forgiven. God will know of our failure to give and will not be pleased. I am not sure of the full implications of the statement, ’So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother or sister.’ If it is to be taken literally, then I’m sure that many of us ought to be doing lots of forgiving. Jesus strongly hints that we will only be forgiven our sins as we forgive others. There doesn’t seem to be a sliding scale. 

Why is forgiveness so important? The truth is, we are punished by our sin way more than we are punished for our sin. God doesn’t say, “Do not gossip, or I will punish you.” God says “Don’t gossip, because it will wreck your relationships!”
God doesn’t say “Don’t be greedy or I will strike you down.” God says, “Don’t be greedy or it will cause harm to your heart and suck the joy out of your life.” What if God is not a traffic cop waiting behind a tree to bust you if you drive 1 mph over the speed limit? Instead, what if God is more like a loving parent calling out to his 16-year-old child, “Please don’t drive too fast on these icy roads. It’s dangerous. Come home safe!” Which brings us back to our parable. Maybe God is not saying “If you don’t forgive others, I will get angry and have you tortured”, but instead “The Kingdom of God is about grace, forgiveness, and second chances. Don’t let unforgiveness cut you off from this flow of grace, or you will live a tortured life.” God created us for love, for union, for forgiveness and compassion and, yet, that has not been our storyline. That has not been our history. It’s not that God doesn’t have rules, but as priest and author Richard Rohr says, "Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship God wants to create with us." 

So, how do we revise our view of forgiveness? Like so much of faith, it begins with us. We begin with learning to forgive ourselves. More people have a lack of forgiveness toward themselves than toward anybody else. We are simply unwilling to forgive ourselves. We play our failures over and over again in our minds. Our Scripture for this morning tells us that when God forgives us, God completely erases the sin. God remembers our sin no more. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Our sin is gone, erased. God won’t ever remind us of a forgiven sin. God’s forgiveness of us is a model for us. This means that after we forgive ourselves, there has to be forgiveness for anybody and everybody else who has wronged us. It may be that your resentment is justified, but this isn’t about them, this is about you and your faith. 

Anger, resentment, envy, vindictiveness, ruthlessness and rudeness are predominant in our world. Social media judges relentlessly and there is no grace or forgiveness. We are called to be exceptions. It isn’t easy. Jesus’ commands for faithful living rarely are. Author Max Lucado wrote, “When you forgive someone, you are as close to God as you will ever be, because in that forgiveness you are demonstrating the very heart of God." In the end, we don’t forgive to help the other person. We forgive because it’s a matter of faith – our faith. Failure to forgive eats at the person who cannot forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean staying in an abusive relationship or allowing yourself to continue to be hurt; what it does is place the matter in God’s hands, letting go of it completely, giving up the anger and resentment and judgment, and living by faith. Is there someone who you need to forgive from your heart? What is the next step you need to take toward forgiveness so that your faith will be made stronger? 

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Revision: Forgiveness

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 18:21-22; Romans 8:1

Riding in his Popemobile across St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot by Mehmet Ali Aqca, who had escaped from a Turkish prison after receiving a life sentence for murdering a journalist. Two of the four shots struck the pope in his lower abdomen. Aqca, and an accomplice, were captured, arrested, and jailed. The pope survived his injuries, and then asked Catholics to pray for Aqca, whom he had forgiven. An Italian court sentenced Aqca to life in prison. In 1983, John Paul II visited him in his prison cell and the two spent time praying and talking. The pope stayed in touch with Aqca’s family and in 2000 requested his pardon. Italy granted the request. Aqca was deported to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for the life sentence from which he had fled decades prior. He converted to Christianity while incarcerated, and was finally released in 2010. In December 2014, Aqca returned to Rome and laid two dozen white roses at the pope’s tomb. 

For the past two weeks we’ve been looking at revising our faith – looking at what and how we believe, considering our faith in light of Scripture, and then taking out a red pen and making some changes. The first week we looked at what it means to have biblical hope, to live with our focus on God and what God wants us to do. Biblical hope points us to the kingdom of God where we live to serve God and others today, now, with the understanding that everything God has promised for our future will come to pass. Last week we looked at priorities, asking ourselves if we needed to reconsider, and change, our number one priority in life – because if it isn’t God, we have a faith problem. This morning we examine how forgiveness factors into our faith. The truth is, the act of forgiveness is something that many of us have yet to master.

The bottom line is, if we don’t understand forgiveness, we’re missing the whole mystery of faith. We’re still living in a world of you only get what you earn, of quid-pro-quo thinking, of performance and behavior that earns an award. Forgiveness is the great thawing of all logic, reason, and worthiness. It has nothing to do with logic; logic breaks down completely where forgiveness is concerned. It is God’s gift of unearned love and unmerited grace. As far as I can see, forgiveness is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the whole gospel. Without radical and rule-breaking forgiveness — received and given — there can be no revision or reconstruction of anything. Forgiveness alone breaks down our pitiful worldview of trying to buy and sell grace. Grace is the one gift that must always be free, perfectly free, in order for it to work. Without forgiveness, we have no future. We have hurt one another in too many historically documented and remembered ways. The only way out of the present division and hatred in this world is grace.

Just about two-thirds of Jesus' teachings are about forgiveness. A good third of Jesus' parables are, directly or indirectly, about forgiveness. In Matt. 18:21-35, Jesus tells another parable. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus spoke of forgiveness. In Matthew 5:23-24, he said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” In Matthew 6:14-15, he said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” What prompts the parable in Matthew 18 is a question. “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’" 

Jesus then tells this story: “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 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. The servant fell down before him, saying, ’Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord released him, and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe,’ Then his fellow servant 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 would pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what 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 servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger, his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. [Jesus then said,] So my heavenly Father also will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Peter knew he had to forgive. But maybe he was wondering if there was a limit on forgiveness. Peter seizes on the number seven, and it sounds good, generous even. Seven times is a lot of times to forgive someone. But Jesus responds, not seven times but seventy-seven times (some translations say seventy times seven, which is even worse). But whichever translation we use, Jesus wasn’t giving Peter a number. Jesus was telling Peter forgiveness is indefinite, that it was not his job to keep accounting of the wrongs committed against him. Jesus was trying to train his disciples to forgive unconditionally. There are three points made in this parable. The first focuses on the lord’s incredible mercy and generosity to the servant who was indebted to him. The second focuses on the servant’s unreasonable severity toward his fellow servant, forgetting his lord’s mercy towards him. And the third focuses on the consequence of not forgiving as we have been freely forgiven.

When it comes to God’s mercy, every sin you and I commit is a debt to God and God has said there will be a judgment day or day of reckoning. If that’s the case, we’re all in trouble because the debt of our sin is large. In the parable, it is represented by the sum of 10,000 talents. A talent was the largest measure for counting money in the known world in the times of Jesus. I’ve read that 10,000-talents is roughly equivalent to over five million dollars today. That is a debt that no servant could ever pay. It was literally impossible for this man to pay off this debt. The same is true of us. We are incapable of paying our debt with God. But suddenly, in the parable, the master is moved with compassion and forgives the debt. That is exactly what God has done for us: our debt is insurmountable and we can never repay it. And then Jesus spreads out his arms and reminds us that he was crucified, and he paid our debts, yours and mine, in full.

Just after this powerful reminder of grace and forgiveness, we come to the fellow servant. The debt owed to the one just released from a huge debt is small. But the one who has just been forgiven is unreasonable and inflexible. We say, ’I would never do that,’ but we do. We read this parable and we think how this one who has been forgiven be so mean, but we do the same thing, every time we refuse to forgive and harbor resentment and bitterness.

Finally, in this parable, Jesus makes it clear there is a consequence of not forgiving after being freely forgiven. God will know of our failure to give and will not be pleased. I am not sure of the full implications of the statement, ’So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother or sister.’ If it is to be taken literally, then I’m sure that many of us ought to be doing lots of forgiving. Jesus strongly hints that we will only be forgiven our sins as we forgive others. There doesn’t seem to be a sliding scale. 

Why is forgiveness so important? The truth is, we are punished by our sin way more than we are punished for our sin. God doesn’t say, “Do not gossip, or I will punish you.” God says “Don’t gossip, because it will wreck your relationships!”
God doesn’t say “Don’t be greedy or I will strike you down.” God says, “Don’t be greedy or it will cause harm to your heart and suck the joy out of your life.” What if God is not a traffic cop waiting behind a tree to bust you if you drive 1 mph over the speed limit? Instead, what if God is more like a loving parent calling out to his 16-year-old child, “Please don’t drive too fast on these icy roads. It’s dangerous. Come home safe!” Which brings us back to our parable. Maybe God is not saying “If you don’t forgive others, I will get angry and have you tortured”, but instead “The Kingdom of God is about grace, forgiveness, and second chances. Don’t let unforgiveness cut you off from this flow of grace, or you will live a tortured life.” God created us for love, for union, for forgiveness and compassion and, yet, that has not been our storyline. That has not been our history. It’s not that God doesn’t have rules, but as priest and author Richard Rohr says, "Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship God wants to create with us." 

So, how do we revise our view of forgiveness? Like so much of faith, it begins with us. We begin with learning to forgive ourselves. More people have a lack of forgiveness toward themselves than toward anybody else. We are simply unwilling to forgive ourselves. We play our failures over and over again in our minds. Our Scripture for this morning tells us that when God forgives us, God completely erases the sin. God remembers our sin no more. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Our sin is gone, erased. God won’t ever remind us of a forgiven sin. God’s forgiveness of us is a model for us. This means that after we forgive ourselves, there has to be forgiveness for anybody and everybody else who has wronged us. It may be that your resentment is justified, but this isn’t about them, this is about you and your faith. 

Anger, resentment, envy, vindictiveness, ruthlessness and rudeness are predominant in our world. Social media judges relentlessly and there is no grace or forgiveness. We are called to be exceptions. It isn’t easy. Jesus’ commands for faithful living rarely are. Author Max Lucado wrote, “When you forgive someone, you are as close to God as you will ever be, because in that forgiveness you are demonstrating the very heart of God." In the end, we don’t forgive to help the other person. We forgive because it’s a matter of faith – our faith. Failure to forgive eats at the person who cannot forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean staying in an abusive relationship or allowing yourself to continue to be hurt; what it does is place the matter in God’s hands, letting go of it completely, giving up the anger and resentment and judgment, and living by faith. Is there someone who you need to forgive from your heart? What is the next step you need to take toward forgiveness so that your faith will be made stronger? 

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