Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 15: Shining in the Gift of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35

            May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.

            Just the other day, I was doing some over-due straightening in my office and I came across an old notebook, from before my time. 
            It was the two words on the cover that got me:  “Experience Grace”, they read.
            I didn’t know what was inside the large notebook, but those two words got me thinking – that’s the point, isn’t it? 
            It is to experience Grace, ourselves, and for others to experience Grace through us. 

            Where, When, in whom do you “experience Grace”?

            I’m thinking about these two words today in part because of the parable before us, the parable which we often call “The unforgiving Servant.”   
            And to me, reading the parable, it’s pretty clear that this servant did NOT experience Grace.
             Or at least that’s what it seems like.  This story is troubling in so many ways. 
            The behavior of the servant is shocking and cruel, especially after his master forgives him so much.    
            And it might not be clear from our translation just how much the servant is forgiven.  What did we just hear?   
            The servant owed the master 10,000 talents.  That seems like a large amount of money – but do you know how much one talent is worth? 
            One talent is about 15 year’s worth of wages for a common laborer.  Think about that.
            And what the slave initially says to the master is, “be patient with me, and I will pay everything back.” 
            And, let’s be honest here, there’s no hope that he will be able to do that.  Unless he wins the lottery, which they didn’t have at Jesus’ time. 
            So he asks for patience, and he gets something much more – his master forgives him the whole enormous debt. 

            He gets grace. 

            But it seems like he doesn’t really “get it”.

            Because after receiving this incredible news, this unbelievable blessing, that his whole unpayable debt is gone and he is free – he goes out and shakes down the first servant who owes him one hundred denarius (and one denarius was about a day’s wage
             He even has the other servant thrown in prison. 

            It’s impossible to know what was going through this servant’s mind. 
            Could he still be trying to pay back that impossible debt, even though it’s gone?
             Or could he be thinking that now that he’s free and clear, now is the time for him to get a little ahead.  Or something else entirely?
             This servant has been given Grace --  which is extravagant forgiveness – but he somehow doesn’t get it.

            Where – or when  -- or how have you experienced Grace?

            I think that this story is also troubling because what the servant should do in this case is so obvious – it’s so clear – that it doesn’t seem possible that anyone would react this way. 
            How could anyone be forgiven millions of dollars in debt – and not be transformed by this experience? 

            Of course, you receive forgiveness, and you pass that forgiveness along.

            But in truth, we know, that this parable is a story.  It tells us the truth, but we also know that forgiveness is not always so easy or obvious, that some offenses are not just a hundred denarius.    
            I will always remember one Sunday morning in my first congregation. 

            I remember that the gospel reading was on Forgiveness – and I had, sometime during the week, decided that I was going to preach on one of the other lessons, because (for some reason) I didn’t want to preach on forgiveness. 
            I don’t even remember why I thought that. 

            And there I was, with my fine sermon in front of me, and I got up in the pulpit and in front of me sat a mom whose young son had been beaten up for $2.00. 
            Two bucks he had to buy treats for the 4th of July. 
            His leg had been broken in 3 places and he had to spend the rest of the summer in a cast.  And the other boys – there were 2 or three – none of them had called to even say “I’m sorry.” 
            All of this happened in rural South Dakota.   Should she forgive them?  What would you do? 

            So forgiveness is not so easy to practice.  Is it?  It’s complicated and messy, and even though we know we have been forgiven, it is not automatic.

            But this parable does tell us some truths about forgiveness.  And the first truth this parable tells us is that forgiveness is a gift.  And that the gift of forgiveness  -- of grace – from God is a gift almost unfathomable in its depth and breadth and height ….
             Wait – not “almost”  according to the parable,
            it’s like being forgiven millions of dollars, it’s a gap that can never ever be closed. 
            Do we even think this way? 
            That there is a uncloseable gap between God and us – and that Jesus has closed it by his death and resurrection.  And there’s no way we can pay it back. 
            Don’t even try.   Don’t even try.

            There’s no way we can pay it back.  But you know what – we can pay it forward.   Forgiven people – forgive people.
             Loved people – serve people.
             That’s another truth of the parable – that the King who forgives the slave – expects that slave to pay it forward – expects the slave who has experienced grace – to help other people to experience it too.

            When, where, in whom have you experienced -- Grace? 

            A number of years ago I was visiting at the hospital. 
            Somehow I had gotten my car into a small space, and when I tried to leave the parking ramp, the space was even smaller than I remembered.
             So I was having some difficulty trying to get out.  And as I was moving inch by inch I happened to bump another car.  While I had my head on the steering wheel in despair, I saw that the driver was in that car. 
            He actually helped me get out of the jam, and afterwards we exchanged numbers and I said that I would pay for any damage to his car. 
            But after a couple of weeks, I realized that he never called me.  “I think he forgave you,” was one opinion.

            When where, in whom have you experienced – Grace?

            Have you received a smile in return for a harsh word, an unexpected gift, a hand up when you were down?  Have you seen something beautiful in the darkness? 
            Have you been welcomed when you never thought you would be?  Have you been forgiven when you did not deserve it?   
            Have you come to the table and had the bread of life put into your hands, your open hands, and heard the words, “The body of Christ is given for YOU?” 

            When, where, in whom – have you experienced Grace?

            Because Forgiveness is a gift that we have been given – but like every other gift from heaven – it is a gift meant to be shared. 

            And again, this is stewardship –stewardship of forgiveness – (because it was never ours to begin with) -- to take that grace we have experienced and to pass it along – to the weary and the hard-hearted, to the down and out and the up and coming, to the young and the old, to everyone who needs it.  70 X 7….

            It is not easy – O brothers and sisters – it is not easy – it’s not any easier than loosening our grip on our pocketbook –and we will fail a lot just like we fail at everything else that we practice. 
            But God picks us up and keeps pouring that Grace into our hearts, every single day.  

            So that the world – so that our neighbors – so that we – may experience Grace.






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