“Over the Top!”

Matthew 18:21-35

13 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! 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?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Prayer.

Without question,

Jesus is making preparations

For his imminent absence.

What happens with his followers after he ascends to the Father?

He’s going to great efforts to school his disciples;

Teaching them

How to become effective Apostles

Called and sent throughout the world,

How to become his living Body,

How to behave and act,

How to organize the Church,

And, of course, what to teach.

From this eighteenth chapter of Matthew

It’s quite clear that Jesus has a realistic expectation

About what the Church will face and how his disciples will respond.

To address these issues,

Jesus teaches with parables that exaggerate and are amplified;

Creating, for some, a disturbing image of the Church.

Disturbing?

Yes, disturbing.

Let’s think about it.

Cause a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble?

Anchor him down and throw him into the sea to drown. (18:6-7)

Tempted to stumble yourself?

Cut off your foot and throw it away. (18:8)

Tempted to look at something you shouldn’t?

Pluck out your eye and throw it away. (18:9)

Missing a member?

Leave the 99 surrounded by wolves,

And search for the lost until he or she is found. (18:10-14)

Have a conflict with another church member?

Go directly to resolve the issue.

If that doesn’t work, take a witness.

It that doesn’t work, take it before the church.

If that doesn’t work, keep reaching out until the sinner is returned and restored. (18:15-17)

Bind the good,

But damn to hell the sin and evil of the church. (18:18)

Church.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

His expectations were realistic.

The way Jesus taught church leadership was over the top.

(It’s not like we haven’t been exposed to hyperbole in our lives!)

The way Jesus teaches is over the top.

Then Peter came and said to him,

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (18:21)

Nice try, Peter.

Nice try with that attempt to impress the Master

With that hyperbolic impersonation.

Peter probably was thinking to himself,

“If I inflate forgiveness from a one-to-one

To a seven-to-one prospect,

Jesus will be impressed with my grasp of forgiveness

And with my ability to adapt to his teaching style!” 

Ha! Peter.

You’re such a smart guy.

You’re not even in the same league.

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (18:22)

For those of you attempting to do the multiplication in your head,

The answer is 539.

That’s a whole lot of forgiveness.

That’s over the top forgiveness,

A command to forgive

Unlike the world has ever seen before.

This Gospel passage and parable

Has caused me to consider, and reconsider,

A lot about forgiveness,

Both in the context of the Gospel

And in the context of the daily life of Jesus’ disciple.

This is what I am led to share with you:

1. First, the statement “if another member of the church sins against me”

Implies some other person in the church is actually guilty of sin

And I am the victim.

Sometimes this is the case.

Sometimes, however, we mistakenly believe ourselves

To be the victim of sin,

Blaming others,

When no sin was intended or committed.

There have been times in my own life

When I have felt like someone hurt or harmed me,

When, actually, I wasn’t.

I was wrong.

I responded like every member of the Goddard family tree

With the good old fashion Pennsylvania Dutch pout-and-silence treatment.

I responded with sin of my own: unwarranted anger, hurt, and judgment.

Many times it is my wife, Cynthia, who wakes me up to my error.

Other times awareness comes through reflection, prayer, or therapy.

Awareness of my own fault

Calls me back to the altar of forgiveness.

2. Secondly, I believe it is important to distinguish between

An apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Compare and contrast these three …

… apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation …

… to more fully explore our Lord’s Gospel instruction and intent.

An apology is simply “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

(Definition by Google)

An apology begins with self-awareness

And ends with an “I’m sorry.”

Short. Sweet. To the point.

It begins internally.

Courage is revealed when it is taken externally to the one who was hurt.

Saying “I’m sorry”

Is the foundation,

The beginning step that leads to healing.

That courage is the catalyst that can propel the offended

To the next step towards healing

Our prayer of Confession Sunday during worship

Serves as our apology to God

For our prior offenses and failures.

Our Lord’s response is Holy Communion,

Sharing His Body and Blood.

The gift of the cross

Is Christ’s response to our apology.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Contrasting with an apology,

Forgiveness is the next step on the journey towards healing.

Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary.

Forgiveness does not require the participation of the offender.

Forgiveness is an internal process

“by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”

(Definition by Wikipedia)

Forgiveness sets you free.

Working through the hurt,

Drawing insight about what happened,

Making a decision to let go of the anger and grudge,

Rebuilding your safety net …

All this is an intentional decision to move forward

And not dwell in the past.

The past isn’t erased,

But the painful memory from the past is changed

Into an optimistic hope for the future.

Pain from our past

That is transformed into hope

Is God’s gift to us when we make the decision

To engage in the hard work of forgiveness.

Jesus wants us set free;

Free from our sins,

Free from the hurt others have done to us,

Free from everything that inhibits us from moving forward with hope.

We’ve got to want it.

We are called to do it.

Take responsibility, Jesus tells us.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Unlike an apology and forgiveness, which are internal,

Reconciliation is interpersonal;

Between two people.

Reconciliation requires the work and cooperation of two individuals,

The offender and the victim.

Therefore, reconciliation is not always possible.

It is terribly frustrating when one desires reconciliation,

But their efforts are rebuffed by the other.

This prevents healing from taking place.  

Standoffs can take years.

Barriers can remain for generations.

Reconciliation requires dialogue;

The two parties to sit down and talk,

To sit down and listen to one another.

Stories need to be exchanged.

Hurt must be expressed.

Empathy must be given room to grow.

Like lancing a boil

Remorse must be genuine and authentic.

Restoration must be made.

Repentance, with the vow to never re-offend,

Is the beginning of rebuilding trust.

That’s reconciliation.  

Reconciliation is complete

When the kingdom of God is complete and sin is no more.

Reconciliation is complete

When the relationship between God and humankind

Is completely and eternally restored.

3. Third. Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 18

Tells us about the intensity and frequency of forgiveness.

Forgiveness isn’t a one-and-done type of thing.

One doesn’t forgive then “get over it.”

Forgiveness is a process,

Ongoing,

That never ends.

Seven times seventy-seven

Speaks about over the top quantity of forgiveness.

Perhaps Jesus is suggesting with his hyperbola that

Seven times seventy-seven

Speaks about the duration it takes to accomplish forgiveness.

Forgiveness never ends.

Early on, when one makes the decision to begin forgiveness

With the goal to be freed and have hope restored,

The intensity will be enormous.

The pain is raw and visceral.

The offense still hurts.

But, with time, and with intentional effort,

Intensity does lessen its grip.

Air returns to the room.

Despair fades.

Hope grows.

It’s almost possible to taste God’s gift of freedom.

Time doesn’t heal old wounds by itself.

Time must partner with an intentional effort to forgive.

I’m still working on forgiveness from forty years ago.

I’m still working on forgiveness from what I’ve done

… And from what has been done to me …

Just this past week.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Keep at it.

It gets better with time and effort.

4. Lastly, it is important to observe

From our parable for today

That forgiveness always has a social consequence.

The other slaves witnessed the injustice being committed

And reported the offense directly to the king.

There is always a ripple in the social fabric

When forgiveness is made

And when forgiveness is withheld.

The social reality of forgiveness

Is easily understood when viewed through an economic world view,

Like how Jesus constructs this parable.

Money that is loaned, debts are paid or debts are forgiven;

Or not.

Courts award fines in an awkward effort to maintain a semblance of justice.

We, western, modern Americans understand money.

Money is quantifiable. Countable.

We understand money.

So Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Is easily understood by most of us here today.

But what if

We view our Lord’s command to forgive

Frequently and lavishly and extravagantly

Through the world view of a victim of a violent sexual assault?

Forgiveness might take a lifetime,

Or it may never come at all.

If, thanks be to God, the victim of a violent sexual assault

Is able to bring herself to a place of forgiveness,

What happens to the rest of the world?

Other victims?

Other families?

What takes place in the thoughts of future jurors sitting in a court room?

Does this bring healing to the police officer who completed their investigation and made an arrest?

Or is the police officer disgusted with a victim’s forgiveness

And testimony at sentencing?

Are there other world views through which we can

Discover new characteristics of forgiveness?

I suspect there are.

Forgiveness not only changes the victim.

Forgiveness changes the world.

This is Christ’s intent.

Forgiveness must be frequent, lavish, and over the top.

Forgiveness must be enormous, beyond imagination.

Forgiveness must be ongoing, tenacious, relentless.

Efforts to forgive must never end.

On our journey towards reconciliation,

Jesus recognizes that

Not everyone will be able to turn that corner of forgiveness,

Not everyone is capable of forgiving and being forgiven.

This is precisely where life intersects with faith,

Where atonement compliments our failed efforts,

Where Jesus completes forgiveness

And we are set free.

What is unforgiveable to me,

Is forgiven by Jesus Christ.

Seven times seventy-seven is over the top forgiveness!

To the best of your ability

Be the forgiveness in this world.

Set yourselves free and set others free.

What happens when and where

You and I fail to forgive

Or are unable to forgive?

Leave the rest up to Jesus.

His cross will do the rest.

Amen.

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