“How About Once?” September 13, 2020

“How About Once?”

A sermon based upon –

Matthew 18:21-35

Genesis 50:15-21

The Coach of the Detroit Lions had put together the perfect football team. But then his quarterback got blindsided and was out for the season with a knee injury. Then his backup went down with a concussion. He tried the trading route, free agents, but nobody any good was available.

One evening while watching the news from Iraq, he saw a young Iraqi soldier with an amazing arm. The soldier rifled a grenade on a perfect arc into a 4th story window from 100 yards, bam! He tossed another directly into a tight group of 12 enemy fighters 80 yards away, ka-bam! Then a Humvee passed, going 40 mph, boom! Another perfect shot!

Coach said to himself, “I got to have this guy. He’s got the best arm I’ve ever seen!”

He tracks him down and convinces him to come to Detroit. The kid takes to coaching perfectly, makes all the plays, and long story short, the Lions win the Super Bowl.

The Iraqi is now the Conquering Hero in pro football, and a huge story. But when the broadcast team tries to interview him, all he wants is to phone his mom.

“Mother,” he yells over the phone, “We just won the Super Bowl!”

“Don’t talk to me,” the woman says. “You abandoned us. You can’t be my son.”

The young Iraqi begs, “Mom, you don’t understand! Our team won the biggest game here in the U.S. Thousands of fans are screaming for me. The American President is going to call me!”

“I don’t care,” his mother snaps. “Right now I can hear gunshots everywhere. Our block is like a ruin. Your brothers were beaten half to death last night, and your sister was nearly raped.”

Then she says, “I can never forgive you for making us move to Detroit.”

Ah, forgiveness. That illusive thing that everyone seems to want but few are able to give. You know, I have never liked this passage from Matthew’s gospel. It starts out as a brag and ends up ridiculous. It begins with Peter asking, Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister that hurts me? Seven?  Now, I need to interrupt here to say that according to the law of the Jewish people, you were required to forgive 3 times. If you asked a Rabbi Peter’s question, that’s what they would tell you. So Peter doubled that number and added one to make the biblical number of 7. If you’re going to take a guess, this is as good as any. Jesus answers him almost comically saying, “No, not seven, but 77. (or 70 times seven, depending on the translation.)” Now as we read this, there is going to be a brief moment of panic. “That’s a lot of math: 3 +3 makes 6 plus 1 makes 7 plus 70 or times 70…. so what is it really?”  But it doesn’t take long to understand that – really – the numbers don’t matter. What matters is finding forgiveness in our hearts. What matters is knowing and loving and living in the forgiveness of the cross. That’s what matters.

But back to our gospel text. After Jesus answers Peter’s question with multiples of 7, he proceeds to tell the disciples a parable. The king is going through his books and notices that one servant owes him a lot of money.

He calls the servant in, demands payment, and when the servant can’t pay, orders him and all he owns to be sold to pay off the debt. The servant begs and pleads until the king takes pity and forgives him of his debt. Now, here is where things can get muddy so it’s important that we keep things in perspective. A direct translation from the Greek tells us the servant owed the king 10,000 talents. What the heck is a talent? Well, a talent is the equivalent to the amount of money a laborer would make in 20 years. So you see where I’m going with this? This is a ridiculous amount of money! Doing the math (again), this servant would have to work 200,000 years as a laborer to ever pay it back. Let’s face it, this is a debt that could never be repaid. Yet the king, in his mercy, forgave the debt and sent the servant on his way. The forgiven servant, however, doesn’t waste any time in calling in a much smaller debt with no thought of forgiveness. The forgiven servant doesn’t waste any time demonstrating that the gift of forgiveness needs to be understood as just that – a gift. It wasn’t simply a stroke of good luck that he was forgiven; it wasn’t the result of his great negotiating skills. It was a gift: holy and blessed by God. We who worship the crucified Christ know of this gift. Our faith is built upon it. Our hope for a kingdom to come depends upon it.

This Friday was the 19th anniversary of the destruction of the twin towers in New York City. As I watched a broadcast of the memorial ceremony, I tried to rekindle the feelings I had the day I first learned of this tragedy: the hurt, the anger, the hate. But try as I might, I couldn’t do it. “You’re getting soft,” I said to myself. I tried it again, but still no good. All the while, the parable of the unforgiving servant was rattling in my head. “Have I forgiven those that caused this to happen?” I thought. “Have I wiped the slate clean in my heart for all the misery that followed this awful event?” The answer again was no. Time heals all wounds, so they say. But time also grants us perspective. We are a Kingdom people and as a Kingdom people, it can never be our job to hold the hurts of this world. As a Kingdom people we, like the servant, have experienced an utterly unexpected, completely beyond-our-wildest-dreams, life-changing moment of grace. But unlike the servant, we rejoice that our God gave his blood for the forgiveness of sin. There is no evil, no malice, no suffering that we can’t offer up to the Christ who redeems.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We say this every time we meet as a church body. So, how many times must we forgive? How about once, because that’s all it takes if we offer it up to the source of our salvation. Once is enough when handed to the one who is without sin. Once will be more than enough for a God who continues to send his blessed forgiveness to the likes of us. Once is plenty. Once is more than enough.

Amen & Shalom

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