Forgive As We Forgive

Sermon Text – 03.24.2019
[Matthew 18:21-35 and Matthew 5:23-24]

          Today we are continuing with part three of our four part series called Foundations: The Lord’s Prayer. We’re taking apart the pieces of the Lord’s prayer, and today we’ve come to the line, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Today we’re talking about forgiveness. More and more I’m realizing that forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has to give the world. Last week I was reminded of this incredible story of forgiveness. Did you all hear about the Robert Godwin shooting back in 2017 on facebook? It was a horrible story. If you missed it, real quick, a young man, Steve Stephens from Cleveland, who was 37 years old, was upset about some relationship trouble or something. So he approached a 74 year old man named Robert, who he’d never met before, and shot him in the head. He recorded the shooting in a video, and posted it to facebook, for everyone to watch. You could literally watch this man get shot in the head. It was taken down 20 minutes later, and there was a huge manhunt. By the time they found him, Steve Stephens had driven to Pennsylvania and taken his own life. The reason I share such a terrible story this morning – is because of what happened next. Robert had several children various ages, but two of his daughters came forward. They spoke proudly of their father’s example in faith and forgiveness. When they were younger, she told a story where people would hurt their family, and she asked her dad, the man who was murdered, “Dad, are we going to forgive them really?” And he would say, “Yes, we have to.” She said, “It’s just what our parents taught us. They didn’t talk it, they lived it.  And one of them had this quote: “Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him…To the young man who murdered my daddy, I ask that you please surrender. I forgive you and I love you, but most importantly, God loves you. God can heal your mind and save your soul.” In that moment of pain and heart-break, where not only has this man committed murder, but he posted for the world to see, to watch over and over in very graphic detail. And her response, as her she was taught by her father – is to hope that that man could be healed – that he could find God’s love. Robert’s son, Robert Godwin Jr pleaded, “Steve, I forgive you…I’m not happy with what you did, but I forgive you.” What kind of people could let this go? What kind of people could forgive like this? Let’s find out.


          We get started in our first scripture lesson in Matthew chapter 5 where it says, [read 23-24]. It is not enough to simply try to get right with God. These few words have a powerful conviction for each of us. Back in this time period presenting a sacrifice or gift at the altar was all they had. It was the only way to restore their relationship with God. The only way to connect with this all powerful thing that was out there. And yet here we have God saying, No. Wait. If you have a problem with someone – leave your gift at the altar, I don’t want it, and first be reconciled with your brother or sister. Do you understand what that means? You don’t get to do the whole religious-i-love-God and-we’re-best-friends-and-I’m-forgiven-so-things-are-okay thing at all, until after you have fixed your earthly connections, or at least tried. This boils down to a very simple phrase – forgiveness is important. Let me say that again – forgiveness is important. And right from the beginning God ties our relationship with him to our relationship to others. It is impossible for you to love God and hate others, because it means you’re not really loving God. Leave your gift, I do not want it, until you have fixed this thing with your brother or sister. Forgiveness is not a good idea. Forgiveness is not a polite suggestion. Forgiveness is a necessity to the Christian life – like breath is to the lungs. Forgiveness is preparation for worship. If you thought that worshipping God was all prayer and nice songs and coming to church on Sunday. No. Sunday bleeds into the rest of your week. Like it or not, the way you treat people out there affects your connection to God. And if your connection to God means anything to you – it will affect how you treat people out there. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor. If you want to get right with God, we have to figure out how to reconcile with our brothers and sisters. Whew – well okay, we better figure out forgiveness.

       So, we switch over to our second scripture lesson, where we get a parable from Jesus. Now, I know we’ve done forgiveness as a topic a whole bunch of times – but I actually found a few things that I really want to show you this morning, so follow along. [Read v23-25]. Now, I don’t know about you – but last time I tried to go to the grocery store they didn’t accept “talents” as currency. So we need a little translation. I have a footnote in my bible that say, no joke, “a talent was worth more than fifteen years’ wages of a laborer.” Yes, you heard right. One talent is worth 15 years wages. Now I’ve always bragged at being good at math – so let’s do a little math. 15 years per talent, 10,000 talents. Well that’s no problem. All he has to do is work all day every day for the entire year for…. 150,000 years. Well, technically he’s a slave and we’re talking wages of a laborer. Slaves probably make less. So, just to be safe – let’s round it up to an even 200,000 years. Say, 36-$40,000 income – it’s just like 8 billion dollars. For a slave to come up with. Couple thousand years ago. Let’s bring it into the modern world – now the highest the powerball has ever been was 1.6 billion. So you just need to win the powerball lottery at the highest it’s ever been, five times in a row, without spending any money. What I’m trying to show you with these numbers is something Jesus’ audience would have known right away, when you talk about 10,000 talents – you are talking about an impossible debt that could never be paid back by a slave. So let’s keep going [read 26]. Wrong. 8 Billion dollars, 200,000 years of work for a laborer. Wrong. This slave is a liar. He could never pay this back. [read 27]. I mean, that’s insane.         
     [read v.28-30]. Two things on that. First, when you throw someone into prison – how are they supposed to pay you back? I’ve never understood that. They making a lot of money in the prison cells back then? How is that supposed to help? The implication being that, because he can’t make money in prison, he’ll never pay off the debt – so he’ll be in prison forever. Second, for those who are curious. A denarii was a usual day’s wage. 100 denarii is 100 days. Using our measure from before – it’s like eleven grand. $11,000. It’s not nothing, but seriously – 8 billion against eleven grand? You want to know the percentage? 11,000 is 0.000001% of 8 billion. And then the story ends, [read v.31-35]. So my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive. Again we get that push – forgiveness is important. Our relationship with God, by necessity, bleeds into our relationship with others. You cannot separate the two. It’s a very simple formula. God says to us, “I forgave you all that debt, because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” What we find is that all God asks from us is the tiniest percent of what he has already given to us. What was it? 0.000001%. God leads the way, God sets the example. He does not ask us to do anything he hasn’t already done for us. God forgives us, so we forgive others.
       The last thing I want to point out are the last three words of the chapter. Verse 35 one more time says, [read it]. We must forgive from the heart. We’ve all heard the message – you must forgive others. But Jesus pushes a little harder. You can’t just say, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness comes from the heart. Here’s the thing – for a lot of us, forgiveness is that thing we feel obligated to do. We say it without actually feeling it. And what that leads to is something I call “fake forgiveness” So many of us in the room today, we have been forgiving the people around us in the wrong way. Not from the heart, but from the lips only. We have been fake forgiving. For most of us forgiveness is akin to letting it go. Acting like it doesn’t bother you anymore. We lie to ourselves until enough time has gone by for us to hopefully forget. Do you know the problem with fake forgiveness? Is does not heal your soul. It does not actually help. It’s that moment when we confuse peace with quiet. Fake forgiveness keeps things quiet, but it does not give us peace. Real forgiveness comes from the heart. Real forgiveness comes with repentance. And repentance cannot happen without telling someone how you have been hurt. Some much of the conflict around us stems from the fact that we cannot be open about when something hurts us. We lost something very valuable when we threw away the practice of confession. We don’t know how to communicate with one another.


Let me show you what I mean. Say someone offends you. Not in a big, obvious way – but just a slight, a little bit more than rude. Do we tell that person? No, of course not – I don’t want to make a big deal about it. So I’ll complain to my buddy, or some confidant, and then I’ll just forgive them. We brush it off. We forgive someone without ever telling them how they offended us to begin with. Then they do it a second time, it’s not worse than the first time – but we get more angry. Why? Because we didn’t really let it go the first time. We didn’t tell them, so of course it’s going to happen again, but we forgave them without giving them a chance to repent – so there was no reconciliation, there was no healing. There was no change – and so we have fake forgiveness. Our lack of communication keeps us from healing. When you are hurt by something someone does or says – we need to come to one another, confess our hurt, let them know how they hurt you and ask for repentance. Offer forgiveness. Forgive from the heart, and remember – real forgiveness requires repentance. We’ll come back to this later – but there is a difference between loving someone and forgiving them. Pastor JJ, you’re being a little dramatic. Somebody upsets me a little bit, I’m not going to make a big deal out of it and confess my hurt and make them repent. Okay – so match the confrontation with the offense. If it was a little hurtful, make a little issue out of it. But don’t do nothing. Little problems pile up, and then suddenly you have a big problem with someone and you can’t figure out why. Nip it in the bud, address the problem while it’s still small. Communicate with one another. I can’t tell you how much drama exists in the church because people don’t tell one another when they are upset. They use fake forgiveness to brush it off, and there’s no healing. They think they are being a good person by forgiving, but really they are avoiding the healing their soul needs. Forgive from the heart.

          God forgives us when we repent. When we turn away from the wrong we’ve done and turn to God instead – then God forgives us. This is the example he sets for us. And remembering our forgiveness is one of the greatest aids to forgiving others. When we remember the 8 billion we owe God – when we remember the impossible debt a laborer could never pay – we take on a new attitude of humility and gratitude. God forgives us when we repent, and so we must forgive others.

        Here’s the part that blew my mind – I’d never really thought about this before. Forgiveness is about reconciliation. It’s not just about moving on, or getting past something – it’s about healing. The purpose of forgiveness is to heal a relationship. It drains us of vengeance and anger. But you can’t just jump right to forgiveness. I used to think we could just forgive, no big deal, just forgive and get it over with. Who cares if they repent? I used to say that forgiveness is all about you. Let go for your own peace of mind. But I was wrong! You can’t just skip to the end of the process. You can’t cut corners in the healing of your soul – it will leave you empty. You need to walk through grief and justice to get to forgiveness. First grief – when someone hurts you, there is pain and we need to acknowledge it. Second, justice. Forgiveness is about healing relationships and so it requires repentance. One sided forgiveness is nothing more than ignoring justice and sweeping it under the rug. But forgiveness was designed for reconciliation – to bring people back together. It requires repentance to heal. We walk through grief and justice to find forgiveness. Think about the story of the cross. God walked through both grief and justice before the world found forgiveness.

          Two pieces of application to wrap this up. First, when there is repentance, we must forgive. If someone comes to us, with sorrow for the hurt they’ve caused us – we must forgive them. And sometimes that requires a little communication. You can’t forgive someone if they have no idea they hurt you. Doesn’t work. Peter asked Jesus, “How many times do I have to forgive someone – seven? Jesus responded, “Nope, seventy times seven.” As much as God forgives us – we must forgive others. So when there is repentance, we must forgive. Second, when there is no repentance – the Christian response is to love. Forgiveness comes with repentance, but love does not. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. If they will not repent, if they do not care, if they laugh at our offer of forgiveness, our hope for reconciliation, for healing the broken relationship – our response is to love. Even though they will not come back to reconcile – we are not held captive by their brokenness. We may not find forgiveness, but we will always have love. Love is what gives us the power to look at those who hurt us and say, “I will not let your actions control my world anymore.” We stand on justice, hoping to forgive, offering forgiveness, waiting in love. Just like our God does.

     On April 9, 2017, Palm Sunday, a couple years ago, Suicide bombers blew up two different Coptic Christian churches in Egypt. At least 44 people died, and more than 100 were injured, because of course the church was full of worshippers that day. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. There was a popular talk show host, Amir Adeeb, in Egypt who sent a crew to interview a woman whose father had been killed in the blast. A Christian woman. The interview is all in Arabic, but they have the subtitles on the screen. She says and I quote, “I’m not angry with the one who did it, I’m telling him “May God forgive you.” Again and again in the forty second interview she keeps saying it, “Please believe me, may God forgive you.” After she finished talking, twelve seconds of silence go by. They zoom in on the talk show host for twelve agnozing, silent seconds, he just stares at the monitor, blinking a lot. When the Muslim talk show host finally is able to speak, he says, “Egyptian Christians are made of steel.” Then he starts to go on and on about how Christians have been persecuted, and how incredible is their love and their hope to forgive those who hurt them. Finally he says, “These people are made from a different substance.” When there is repentance – we forgive. When there is not – we love. Just like our God does.        And so I’ll leave you with this. May you find true healing and reconciliation in the warm of embrace of God’s forgiveness. May you offer that forgiveness into a world full of pain. And when the world refuses to repent, refuses to change, refuses to heal – love them anyways, as your Father in heaven taught you. Amen.

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