• Text of Gospel Reading
  • In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst!
    This morning, Christ tells us a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Now, before we can even look at what this parable says and means, we first have to consider what Christ means here by saying “the kingdom of heaven is like…” Does He mean “the kingdom of heaven” as in what we often think of when we say “Heaven?” Being in Heaven, in the presence of God, is like this parable of the King and his servants? That doesn’t seem quite right It seems to fit the pattern of Christ’s parables much more to say that in some way, this parable shows us the way to the kingdom of heaven. Christ speaks of things that are hard to receive in parables, so that those who truly want to hear, can. But those who aren’t ready to receive the difficult words of the teaching in the parable won’t be exposed to teachings they aren’t ready to hear. In this parable, a king settles accounts with his servants. And one particular servant owes his king quite a lot of money, and to pay his debt he is going to be sold along with his whole family. But because of his pleas for mercy, the king’s compassion is moved, and he not only doesn’t sell the servant, but he entirely forgives the debt. He doesn’t put him on a payment plan–he erases the servant’s debt. But then the newly forgiven servant goes out immediately and finds one of his fellow servants that owes him money. And he demands immediate repayment. The pleas of his comrade do not move his compassion, and he has his debtor thrown into prison until the debt can be repaid. When the master hears about this– right after had forgiven the servant’s debt, the same servant went out and had a man thrown into prison over debt– the master the infuriated. And takes the wicked servant and delivers him to torture until his debt can be paid. Christ then ends the parable with a sort of “the moral of the story is…” “So my heavenly father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” The meaning of this particular parable is very thinly veiled. God is the Master, and His allowing us into the Kingdom of Heaven is by His washing away the enormous debt of our sin Every sin is huge. Nothing we do could ever even dent the debt of one sin. This is why the master delivers the servant to torture until he can pay his debt—he can’t earn money in prison, his debt is huge, he can never pay his debt on his own. Adam’s sin has cosmic consequences—now all men die. But we don’t often realize is that every single sin has cosmic conseqeunces. Not only the big sins, like murder, or the medium sized sins, like petty theft, but even the little white lie contributes to the fracturing of creation. All of creation groans and travails because of our sin. Every transgression of the law of God—everything that happens in this world that’s not supposed to happen—contributes to the fracturing of the very fabric of creation. Nothing we can do on our own can have any healing effect on the destruction of God’s creation that we cause by our sin. But the Master, in His love and compassion for man, offers us forgiveness. He offers to remove our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west, and to remember them no more. In the language of the Scripture, He sent the Son to die for us, as a propitiation for our sin, in order that we could be forgiven. What He asks for this forgiveness is that man truly desire it. That we give up our sinful ways and dedicate ourselves to Christ. “If you love me, keep My commandments. And He asks… that we forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Forgiveness is a very difficult topic for us to discuss. It’s hard to do sometimes, and even hard to accept sometimes. But it’s something we all must do in following the way of Christ in our lives. Now, when we think about forgiveness, our ideas are often muddled. Most people aren’t entirely clear on what happens when I forgive. What does it really mean? The saints of the church are so filled with the light of Christ that they can take things like passion or forgiveness and explain exactly what is happening when man is doing these things. Their insight and explanations are scientific in their precision, and accurate because we all share the same broken human nature. So taking their path as our guide, let’s look at the anatomy of forgiveness. First, let’s look at what forgiveness is not. So often we find ourselves struggling to do something that we’re calling “forgive,” which is not what we’re called to do at all
    1—Forgiveness is not forgetting.
    Throw out that old adage “forgive and forget.” It’s offensive to human cognition and contrary to biblical teaching. In the parable of this morning, the master forgives the servant, but he doesn’t forget. And later the servant is punished because he fails to mirror his master’s actions. When we hear it said, “forgive and forget,” we often hear the biblical quote that God remembers our sins no more. But we forget that all of our actions are written in heaven and at the end, Christ says we’re judged and rewarded by the things we have done. Our actions are not forgotten. And many times we won’t forget, at least not initially, but at the same time we can’t dwell on the wrong. So forgiving is not just forgetting.
    2—Forgiveness is also not excusing the wrong we’ve suffered.
    It’s not minimizing or trivializing the offense. Just like with trying to forget—excusing doesn’t make sense on a human nor divine plane. God forgives, but he does not excuse our sins. We still suffer the consequences of our actions. God forgave Adam but Adam still died; Christ forgave the thief on the cross and even promised him paradise that same day, but still had to suffer the consequences of his life’s actions. When we forgive we’re released from the pain and anger we hold, but we don’t release the other from accountability for their actions. Rather, we place all judgment and justice into the hands of Christ.
    3—Forgiveness is not tolerating the wrong.
    God forgives us our sins but he expects us to struggle to change our ways and to stop the sin. God doesn’t offer us this blanket forgiveness and just allow us to continue in our sin with no intention of changing. God forgives the repentant sinner—the one whose desire is to change. In this same way the child or spouse who is abused at home will one day forgive their abuser, but they are not expect to tolerate continued abuse. Forgiveness is the grace of healing extended to the person—it is NOT a toleration of that person’s sin.
    4—And finally, Forgiveness is not trust.
    When we are wronged and have to then forgive someone, forgiveness does not necessarily mean that the relationship is restored to where it was before the offense. Trust and relationship may need to be built up again after it‘s been damaged or destroyed. Our relationship to God is not entirely healed just because we’re forgiven. We will still struggle with sin until the time comes when we either die or become saints.

    So now what’s left? It really seems like we’ve said a whole lot of things forgiveness is not. It’s not forgetting, it’s not excusing or tolerating wrong, and it’s not immediate restoration of trust and relationship. So what is it? It’s a mystery! But in the attempt to say what this mystery is, we could say–Forgiveness is our conscious and voluntary release of all ill will and hurtful emotions that we hold toward someone for some wrong they’ve done us. In the world’s terms, we don’t hold it against them anymore. And it’s a process! Sometimes we don’t see that it’s a process b/c we don’t think about things in that way very often. But forgiveness is a process. We feel the pain of being hurt. The pain mutates into anger or hatred or desire for revenge—and these aren’t emotions that are easily dealt with. With all of the passions, our concern is to keep Christ as the central reference point of our life. To not allow our natural zeal for justice on the human level to be transformed into the sinful “lust of the flesh” that has man acting as judge and jury. Forgiveness is releasing all of these sinful feelings. And not just releasing them into the clouds and saying “O, that doesn’t bother me anymore.” That would be dishonest. You may still hurt, the relationship may still suffer, further healing may still have to happen. And this notion of Christian forgiveness is impossible outside of the life in Christ. We can only forgive because we’ve been forgiven. We can only do it, because we’ve experienced it. And in some sense its not even something we do. Every act of forgiveness has God as focal point. He is the acting agent. We forgive because God forgives. And as we draw closer to Christ, we become more like Him in every way, and one characteristic of God is forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally in this fallen world—it’s a Christian virtue with God in the center. He is the ultimate Source and Dispenser of all forgiveness and justice. In a Christian context, we have no right to not forgive—all judgment is reserved for Christ. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” In Matthew chapter 6 Christ says, “if you forgive men their trespasses, your Father in heaven will forgive you; but if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.” We hand things over to God. Not like the Prophet Jonah who was waiting for God to punish the sinner. We simply place the situation into the hands of God, for Him to deal with. And we release our pain and forgive those who trespass against us. In the parable Christ says we must forgive from our heart. Not just with our lips, but from the depth of our being. This is why remembrance of wrongs is such a great sin—it is tantamount to rejecting the gift of forgiveness that we’ve offered to another through Christ. Its vital to a healthy spiritual life that we understand what forgiveness is not, and that we know what forgiveness is. So we don’t drive ourselves crazy by trying to do something we’re not called to do. But rather we can walk in the footsteps of Christ, forgiving others as readily as Christ has forgiven us.
    Glory to Jesus Christ!