Sermon - Ordinary 24 (Pentecost 17) Year A - | DB Home | RCL Resources Index |

If you do not forgive!

How would you like a good Hell fire sermon today? It is a while since you had one. I could take my text from the gospel for today

Do these words of Jesus not threaten you with torture? The parable of the two debtors ends with this warning: in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. Certainly, it was not direct speech to his listeners, but a parable, a story with a message, but the message is quite strong. The lord of the servant who was to be punished was clearly identified with our heavenly Father, and we who listen to the story are the people who are in danger. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. It is intended that we should take it seriously.  Suffering was to be expected as a consequence of failing to forgive.  Nor is it the only time that Jesus spoke of the pain to be experienced by those who did not receive the favour of his Father in heaven because they had failed to meet the needs of others. For example, in the parable of the sheep and the goats: Perhaps I could have begun by recalling the foundation on which forgiveness is possible, and then gone on to speak of the love of God which makes all forgiveness possible. It is quite true that the love of God is the foundation of the love in which we can forgive others. The divine process of transformation - of saving grace

People are strengthened by being loved and are then able to do things they might not otherwise have done.  Receiving love makes forgiveness possible and forgiveness in turn releases people to love. So the grace of God in forgiving us spreads love abroad in the world, transforming, redeeming, saving, liberating, and sanctifying creation which has fallen away from God. As with all manifestations of saving grace, the initiative is with God our creator and redeemer. His saving grace enables us to do what he requires us to do for others.

So we become participants in the work of salvation. One act of love begets another.

But what if, instead of being channels of grace we become blocked drains. Not that grace flows quite like water. It is more like a succession of relationships in which wholeness of life spreads to others as our primary relationships are set free from fear and guilt. When we are open to the grace of grace of God in our lives, allowing ourselves to be transformed by it, we in turn we are free to spread that health and wholeness to others. But, do we find it easy? Are so sure of our own acceptance by God that we are free to treat others as God in his gracious way has treated us, far better than we have asked or deserved? Do you begin to see the terrible consequences of not forgiving others as God has forgiven us? We can really stand in the way of what God is doing. He has given us power to frustrate his cosmic purpose for humanity. In the long run the result of that can be very serious.

The parable of the unmerciful servant

The parable of the two debtors or the unmerciful servant was presented by Matthew following Peter's question about forgiveness: how many times:-

So Jesus told them of a ruler who had a servant who owed a ridiculously large debt and was let off. The debt described in terms of thousands of talents was the sort of debt that a whole nation might have, tens of thousands of times more than even a wealthy man might earn in lifetime. No one could ever be expected to pay it. That is the sort of debt we owe to God for our life, and being, and all that are and have and enjoy in his creation. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that we give in exchange for it. As Jesus said in a different context we have considered recently: Forgiveness is beyond calculating

The value of forgiveness is measured by the value of life, and that means not only life in this world in a living physical body, but life in the kingdom of God in the perfected body or personhood of the resurrection. Our forgiveness is the cancellation of our debt to God. Have you ever thought of the value of owing God nothing, and yet knowing that you owe God everything? What a strange economy is the economy of salvation! As we have seen before in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, it is one in which late comers are paid as much as those who have worked through the heat of the day. In God's way of valuing things, is not a matter of counting or calculating as we might normally measure what we deserve to receive;

The repeated accumulation of debts is never to too much to be redeemed, nor forgiven in the economy of salvation. It is because the redeeming value of forgiveness in which we share through the work of Christ is, like the value of love, beyond calculating. Jesus used his common technique of dramatic exaggeration to make this point, both in multiplying the number seven to Peter and in the parable: The accent falls not on behaviour in general but on relations within the household. Jesus was not setting out a new set of laws about paying or not paying debts. On the contrary, on another occasion as we saw recently, he said Owe no-one anything. The point is not that debts do not matter. If we have done harm to someone, or we have sinned against another, in the language of the gospel, we are in debt to the other person. We owe them something. We should make it up to them if we can. We should help them to recover what they have lost because of what we have done. The debt is real and serious. There is no suggestion that it does not matter. It is, indeed, because it matters so much that forgiveness is necessary. Much of the time what is done is done, and there is nothing we can do to put it right. We should certainly do what we can to restore the damage, but it is often beyond us. That is the point at which we can only beg forgiveness, asking to be relieved of a debt we cannot pay. If we could pay it there would be no need for forgiveness. The need to forgive comes in precisely at the point where what we owe is beyond our available resources. When it is beyond a debtor's resources to make things right again, the one who is owed the debt can chose to make fellowship more important than equity. We can choose to forgive in order to restore relationships, which are, like life, more important than the debt.

None of this means that discipline is not required in personal life, or in the church, or in society at large. The church like the Father, though ready to forgive, is forced to discipline those who jeopardise the fellowship. That is really a separate topic. It is sufficient to remember here that the requirement to forgive is based on the reality and seriousness of sin, not on the libertarian notion that there is no such thing as sin. Nor is sin to be permitted on the grounds that God is gracious and will forgive:

We cannot go on giving offense when we know the cost of it.  Christians know that the cost of it was the cross of Christ.  The new relationship into which we enter in faith puts us on the other side, joined with Christ in his costly recompense for the sins of others. There is no basis in Christian life for easy sinning in expectation of forgiveness. Our appreciation of the value of forgiveness comes, as we have seen, from the seriousness of sin whether it is against God or against our fellow human beings.  We value it because, when we sin against God, the debt is too great to be calculated and we know in our hearts gift of new life that God has given us in forgiveness.

The Lords Prayer

Matthew's record of how Jesus taught his disciples to pray concludes with an explanation which picks out and emphasises just one of the important themes in the prayer: it can hardly be an accident that the one point emphasises has to do with forgiveness: There could hardly be a clearer way of emphasising the message that comes to us from the parable of the two debtors in Matthew 18. If you forgive, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; and if you do not forgive, neither will your heavenly father you. The alternative is severe if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. It is not, I believe, that God is a tyrant, or a disciplinarian who delights in making a person feel bad when he or she has done something bad. After all, if Jesus could teach people to expect something better than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, doing better than balancing the books of damage as it were, it can hardly be true of God that simply acts to even things up. There must more and better reason for God not forgiving when we do not forgive. After all did not Paul write: That was in the context of Paul speaking of how the faithful are united with God in the purpose of Christ's work. And the purpose is that all things might be brought to a unity Christ. It is when we understand God's purpose in sending Christ into the world, God's reconciling purpose, that we can see why it is necessary for us to forgive. Taking part in that ministry of reconciliation we are necessarily engaged in the restoration of human relationships and that must include forgiveness, just as God is reconciling the world to himself and forgiving us. In terms of the purpose of God for us in creation, it is not so much that God will punish us simply for not forgiving as we are commanded to do, as it is a matter of the impossibility of the fulfilment of God's purpose in and through us if we do not forgive. That is what it means to take part in the great mission. Put it another way: the original sin of man and women was to try to be like God and it was that desire which led to their separation from God. It is a similar desire or pride which makes us demand all our rights, and expect to collect all that is owing to us. It is only when we can give up that demand that was are able to see how much more we owe to God and our own great need to being forgiven. Then we are in position to be reconciled to God. It is by taking part in the reconciling work of Christ that we are open to reconciliation with God.

How you work this out in your own life is for you to discover. Will it relieve you of some anxiety about success, and getting all you deserve? Will it help you to restore broken family ties? Will it lead you again to the Lord's Table with renewed expectation of the food for eternal life? Will you consciously be a minister of reconciliation? Will you learn with renewed trust to say "Lord have mercy on me"? Above all will you be able to pray, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors? And know with peace that Jesus said, For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

The good news is the we can have sufficient confidence in the love of God to be able to rely upon him and rather than on what is owed to us by anyone else. Our final word then should not be one of fear, but of thanksgiving for the grace of God:

| DB Home | RCL Resources Index |

| Christian Beliefs | Family History | Public Affairs | Higher Ed Research | Hobbies and Interests | Issues in the UCA | Personal Background | Psychological Research | Templestowe UC | Worship and Preaching |