Pastor Chris Enstad
Matthew 18: 21-35
Brothers and sisters, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Rally Sunday has become in our church culture another high holy day. The air is festive, the choirs are back in full swing, Sunday School and Confirmation, Adult Education, all of our new Health and Wholeness offerings, things are back in gear at Elim Lutheran Church. But, we have not been hibernating over the past three months, when we put our regular ministry offerings on hiatus, it gives the church as a whole, a chance to breathe and think and pray. We are putting together at this very moment our Community Ministry Project Team who will work with our Consultant, Joy Skegstad, and me to plan for our next 90 years of ministry on the corner of 40th and Broadway. Our mission is not longer restricted to inside these walls but, we aim to be a church that equips our members to serve their community and their neighbors, multiplying our reach and our impact throughout Robbinsdale, North Minneapolis and beyond. I invite you to pray for the team as they begin their work next week and then, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to become a part of this work.
But, today also carries with it an air of remembrance of the events of 10 years ago. I’m sure just about everyone in this room who was alive that day remembers where they were and what they were doing when those planes hit the World Trade Centers.
That day changed us as a country and a people in some good ways but, also some bad. I received an email written by the CEO of Meetup.com on how he saw an opportunity in the shadows of 9/11 to help neighbors come together, to see each other and perform community service and other things together.
But, we also have retreated to many stereotypes and tribal instincts. When we are threatened it is easy to respond with a defensive stance that means we begin to distrust people who look act or talk differently than us. Those things have and continue to happen today, yes, in some cases it has proved to be worth it but, I continue to wonder if our ability as human beings to grow in our understanding of people who may not have been born in the same circumstances, or who believe in quite different things than we do, I wonder if that ability has been stunted in some way and if that is a permanent condition. The hatred and fear of Muslims and Islam, or dark skinned Arabs, is deep. It’s all over the internet and on the 24 hour news stations. People are profiting from keeping us afraid of each other.
Fitting then, that this Matthew text might appear today, on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, this text from Matthew 18 on forgiveness.
Forgiveness. That has got to be the trickiest part of the Christian message that there is. Peter approaches Jesus and asks, “How many times should I forgive my brother if he sins against me, seven’? You see, traditional Jewish faith taught that forgiving somebody three times was a sufficient display of a humble and forgiving heart.
But, Jesus responded, “No, seven times isn’t enough. How about seventy times seven?”. In fact, Jesus is saying, you shouldn’t even keep count... just keep on forgiving.
And, he then, tells the tale of the unforgiving servant. The servant had a debt of ten thousand talents. It was forgiven. Do you know how large a debt ten thousand talents is? Well a talent was roughly equal to 20 years of labor. If a laborer earns $15/hour and works about 2,000 hours/year he earns about $30,000 a year. So, a talent would be equal to $600,000. So, 10 thousand talents is worth, in today’s terms, about $6 billion. In other words, that servant was forgiven a whole lot of money... an unpayable debt was forgiven.
That servant then went and found a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii which was about 20 weeks worth of labor or $12,000 and had him thrown in prison.
The one who was forgiven an unpayable debt repaid that grace with impunity at someone who owed him so little.
Brothers and sisters, forgiveness is tricky isn’t it? So often we want to hold onto our grudges or the wrongs that have been done to us in an effort to wait for our offender to ask for forgiveness. But, what if that conversation never happens? We think that holding a grudge means that we have power over another person, but, in reality we are still allowing our offender to have control over us because, that grudge or fault eats away at our very soul.
How many times must I forgive a brother that has sinned against me? Seventy times seven times.
Remember this,God did not wait for us to come to him to ask for forgiveness. God did not wait for us to get our act together and come on our knees asking for admittance to the kingdom of heaven and the family of God.
No, while we were still dead to sin, God wiped our debt clean. Our invoice from God says, “You owed me $6,000,000,000 but, that debt has been paid in full by my Son, Jesus Christ.
How do we repay that debt? By forgiving our brothers and sisters from our hearts. whether they ask for it or not. Whether or not their heart has experienced God’s forgiving Word, yours. Yours has.
May God continue to work his transforming ways with each of you today and in all the days to come. It has to start somewhere, why not start with you. Today.
A little girl heard this passage one day and said to her pastor, “You know, forgiveness must be like the aroma of a flower after it has been crushed.”
Life does that to us, doesn’t it? Who of us has not been hurt at some point or another.
May each of you be given the power to forgive by the Holy Spirit, that we might each become the aroma of Christ in an unforgiving world.
Thanks be to God.