Yesterday was a long day for me at St. Thomas's. It was great day, though. We commissioned the Sunday school teachers and students as they began their year, and welcomed the choir back from their summer hiatus and commissioned them too. I was truly amazed when the entire Sunday School came up to the Altar - we had probably twenty-five kids and six teachers and assistants! And with all members of the choir returning, I have to say we are truly blessed indeed!
In the Gospel for the day Jesus gives us a soliloquy on forgiveness, perhaps the least understood of Christian duties. Here's my take on it, in note form (PS - does anyone know an easy way to copy notes into Blogger and keep the formatting?) :
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 19A RCL 2008
Ex 14:19-31; Ps 114; Rom 14:1-12; Matt 18:21-35
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar
In the Name of Him who forgives us our sins. Amen.
• Money and debt on our minds this past week
• Today possibly the most important lesson from Matthew short of the Resurrection itself
• What is forgiveness?
o Definition: Looking forward to a future unaffected by the actions of the past.
o Can only be offered by one wronged
o It implies repentance, the turning away from an action or habit that is or has been hurtful
o It’s the key ethical concept for Matthew for life in community
• So last week we learned a bit how to live in community.
• Peter continues the conversation, asking about forgiveness.
o Would 7 be good enough?
o J says not 7, but 77 times! Or maybe seventy times seven even.
o Tells a story to illustrate this
• Unforgiving Servant
o Key point here is the talent and the denarius
10,000 talents is something like 750,000,000
The slave owes an absolutely unimaginable amount of money
A denarius is one day’s wage, or maybe $80 or so in today’s money
o The first slave got all his debt forgiven – in Greek it’s the same word, for both monetary and spiritual forgiveness
o He didn’t forgive the other slave who owed him a lot less
Not like he was trying to scrape up the $750 million – he didn’t owe it anymore
o When the king – who is obviously God in this parable, hears about it, he takes back his forgiveness and tosses the guy into prison – which would obviously be for life.
o A hard saying: So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
M likes to exaggerate – 10,000 talents? Even King Herod’s annual income was estimated at 900 talents.
This is an exaggeration, but it is a warning too: don’t take forgiveness lightly. Work at it! Keep trying.
• So how to forgive?
o Imagine a future with the person needing your forgiveness. What do you have to do to get to that future?
o Talk to the person who needs your forgiveness – remember last week! Stay in positive relationship as much as you possibly can.
o Maybe you can’t yet imagine such a future. The hurt you have felt may be very strong – so pray for that person at a minimum.
o If you can’t pray positive things about the person, at least name her or him before God, confessing that you can’t even wish God’s blessings on such a one but you know that God can and does. It’s a start, and will be efficacious.
• Forgiving 77 times or 70 x 7 does not mean putting up with abuse or addiction.
o An addict can’t help but hurt the ones around him or her, and will keep hurting and asking for forgiveness as long as he or she is actively using or drinking
o Imagine the future with that person as one of that person whole and healthy and in recovery
o In such cases, your forgiveness may be to help that person get into recovery!
o Insert in the bulletin about Episcopal Recovery Services
• Another point: holding on to hurt is not healthy for us. Holding it in, bearing grudges, not only contradicts what we are so clearly called as Christians to do.
o Bearing grudges and hurt just poisons our own hearts and souls.
o God does not want that. He cares about each of us as individuals. He wants each of us to be whole and healthy. Nursing our grudges, feeding them, caring for them, doesn’t hurt anyone else but else.
o God invites us to let go of all that!
• Sometimes the hurt is against our own selves.
o Often easier to forgive others than to forgive oneself. We beat up on ourselves when there is no need. We place higher expectation on our own lives than others or God even does. We don’t let go of our own baggage
o Use the same approach to forgive yourself:
Imagine your life without the baggage you’re carrying around!
Stay in positive relationship with yourself. Odd concept, but true – our relationships with our own selves are often the worst ones we have.
Name yourself before God and ask God to help you forgive yourself
Or, at least name yourself before God. It’s a start, and, over time, it will be efficacious.
• We will shortly pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
o Only petition in the LP that is conditional
o Of course God’s forgiveness is not conditional – it’s unconditional
o The “as” here doesn’t mean only get forgiveness as much as we forgive others
o It means that we pray that we may learn to forgive other folks just like God has already forgiven us. We pray to work hard at it.
o Only direct thing we sign up to do in the LP
• None of us, I don’t think, owe anyone $750 M. But it’s as if we did owe it, and owed it to God. God continually forgives to the tune of $750 M, $750 B, $750 trillion!
• Our solemn obligation is to keep trying to forgive those who have hurt us just as much.
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.