Learn Forgiveness from Your King (Matthew 18:21-35)

Sermon for Pentecost 17 (10/5/2014)

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

Theme: Learn Forgiveness from Your King!

            Let’s begin with prayer: Our Father in Heaven, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Amen

Every week that prayer I just prayed flows past your lips and bounces around in this sanctuary (hopefully more than once a week!). This prayer, the Lord’s Prayer) has become second nature to you. You’ve said it countless times in your life. This prayer has been carved in the tablet of your heart by constant use – you couldn’t forget it if you wanted to.

Forgive us our sins (or trespasses) as we forgive those who sin against us.

It’s an easy prayer to say, and that’s good because it is a good prayer, but doing it… actually forgiving as God forgives us… that’s an entirely different matter.

Forgiving can be a really, really hard thing to do. Sure, there are little things that are easy to forgive. If I stepped on your toe in a crowded room, I don’t’ think any of you would withhold forgiveness from me. But we all know by experience that people can, and do, hurt us in ways that are much more painful and lasting than just stepping on our toes. It’s hard to forgive when someone has hurt you, and I mean really hurt you. It’s hard to look someone who just hurt you in the face and forgive them from your heart, as Jesus tells us to do today, with no trace of lingering bitterness, resentment, or anger.

It’s hard to forgive when, often, the person who hurt you isn’t just some stranger on the street, but someone near and dear to you. It’s hard to forgive when sometimes the people who hurt us in the past seem to misuse our forgiveness as they keep on hurting us, over and over and over again.

It’s hard to really forgive which means our gut impulse, as humans, is to turn forgiveness into something that is earned. Our gut impulse is to withhold forgiveness until they’ve said they are sorry, or if they are one of those people who have hurt us before, until they prove they are sorry by how they live.

It doesn’t make it any easier to forgive when you realize that we are surrounded by people who are really bad at forgiving. I’m sure all of you have had more than your share of family, or friendship drama where friend A is mad a friend B because of the look he gave her, or some other perceived slight. I’m sure all of you have seen lifelong relationships torn apart by petty differences founded on a stubborn refusal to forgive – maybe you are now or have been a part of one of these all too common refusals to forgive.

It’s hard to forgive in a dog-eat-dog world like this. It’s hard to just forgive and forget in a world where it often feels like if I don’t look out for myself, no one will – and so if someone has hurt me I need to remember that, not forgive and forget it, or else they might just hurt me again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, right?

Today we get one more example of how, even though the Bible is a very old book, it’s still an incredibly relevant book. Jesus’ disciples were wrestling with the very same thing I have just been talking about – forgiveness: when to forgive, when to withhold forgiveness, how often to forgive, how completely to forgive… Continue reading