Here's this evening's homily. Pr. Weedon may remember the substance of it from the time three years ago when I preached for "Mission Sunday" at St. Paul, Hamel, IL, but it has been adjusted for inflation and local circumstances. :-)
Forgiven and Forgiving
Trinity 17 Midweek (A-Proper 19)
Peter would fit right in with our business-minded, consumer-driven culture here in America. He wants to keep his accounting book on how many times he has to forgive his brother. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Can’t you just hear the click, click, click of the old fashioned adding machine of Peter’s brain as he punches the number keys every time someone sins against him? And when he exhausts the pre-paid limit of his forgiveness, he pulls the lever and you can almost hear that infamous “ka-ching” sound as he thinks, “Okay, I’ve forgiven you enough; now it’s time for you to pay.”
For just a moment, Jesus plays along with Peter’s accounting nonsense. “No, Peter, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” At first, we bookkeeping, accounting-minded sinners try to do the math. “70 x 7 = 490. That sounds quite good. After all, it’s a lot more forgiveness than Peter wanted to give.” The problem is: we’re still trying to cook the books in our favor and put a limit on our forgiveness for Bob or Henry or Sally or Matilda. Even though Jesus plays along and uses accounting language, He’s really trying to throw our spiritual accounting books in the trash bin. He’s trying to uninstall our spiritual versions of Quicken from the hard drives of our minds and hearts. Even if the current rate of forgiving our brother is 490 times, and even if we try to keep records, we’ll probably lose count somewhere along the way. And when we lose count, well, we’ll just have to start the count all over again and just keep on forgiving. That’s Jesus’ message, both to Peter and to us!
And just in case Peter and we don’t get the point, our gracious, forgiving Lord tells a story that should lead us to unlimited, free-flowing forgiveness. A King, no doubt the Divine King, the holy Trinity, wanted to settle accounts with His indentured servants. You see, He did not want those debts to get in the way of His servants enjoying life in His kingdom. He figured that if He could settle the accounts, get all the debts and IOUs out of the way, then everyone would enjoy “[living] under Him in His kingdom and [serving] Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” He wasn’t punishing His servants; after all, He didn’t need their money. He wanted them to enjoy life in His kingdom without their debts hanging over their heads.
But one servant owed the King a tremendous debt. He’s a good picture of us. If we use the Missouri minimum wage of $6.65 per hour, it works out something like this. A denarius, a day’s wage, for an eight-hour day is $53.20. One talent, then, would equal $266,000. And this man owed ten thousand talents! That makes the total of all his credit card bills a whopping $2,660,000,000! (Yes, that’s “billion” with a “b” and “million” with an “m”!) And this servant thought that he could repay it, with a little time and patience? How foolish! That’s just as foolish as when we think that we can pay God back for all of our millions and billions of sins we commit each day and every week. And how do we try to pay God back? It’s usually when we say silly things like, “I’ll do better next time,” or “I promise it won’t happen again.”
But notice the wonderful, sweet, precious, life-giving message of mercy: “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” No, the Master did not make him pay the debt. No, the Master did not make someone else pay the debt. Instead, the Master forgave the debt, wiped it out, considered it a tax write off, simply erased the multi-billion dollar figure out of His ledger and out of His mind. As St. Paul said: “And you, being dead in your trespasses…[God] has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14, NKJV). Yes, my fellow servants, our gracious and merciful God has wiped out the enormous debt of our sins against Him, erased them from His ledger and deleted them from His memory. Each one of us has a huge, insurmountable debt of sins. But our debt of sins was nailed to the cross with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our debt was cancelled “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
Now isn’t this great news! Every week we get to come to this place, our King’s Palace at Neosho and Brannon, and we get to fall down before Him and beg for His mercy and patience. And, just as in Jesus’ parable, our Master, our loving Triune God, is moved with compassion as He releases us and forgives our billion-dollar debt of sins against Him. No matter how many times we keep coming and falling down before Him, He still forgives the debt, still keeps wiping the slate clean. He erased the debt in our Baptism. From our perspective our debt of sin may seem like it’s written in permanent ink, but Baptism treats the writing against us as water-soluble ink and completely washes it away. When our pastor speaks the words of Absolution directly into our ears, he is releasing us yet again from our debt of sin. And in our Lord’s Holy Meal, King Jesus strengthens us in that wonderful freedom of debt cancelled forever. Yes, our debt of sin is completely forgiven.
But the story does not end there. That servant, who’s a good picture of each of us, goes out and wants to settle his own petty, personal accounts. One of his friends owes him a whole $5300. Yes, for most of us, it’s a good chunk of change, but it’s really nothing compared to our own debt that’s already been forgiven and cancelled. It’s easy to see the rudeness and hostility of the unforgiving servant. But is it easy to see those problems in ourselves? Remember, he’s a good picture of us!
When your spouse irritates you, do you hold it against him or her? When your child gets into trouble again, do you remind him or her of all those other times? How long do you remember what your co-workers or next-door neighbors have done against you? And what about your brothers and sisters in the congregation? Memories get awfully long with all those ill-spoken words or misguided deeds. It’s far too easy to keep mental ledgers of how others have wronged us, and far too hard to forgive—that is, cancel out—their puny little debt.
And here’s the real point of Jesus’ parable: just as God forgives each one of us our debt of sin against Him, each of us gets to forgive our neighbor’s debt against us. St. Paul said the same thing in Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). And just in case we don’t catch on the first time, the Holy Spirit had St. Paul say it this way to the Colossians: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:12-13). Since God has forgiven our debt of sin, each of us gets to forgive our neighbor’s debt of sin against us.
Brothers and sisters, how can we not forgive our brother his trespasses? Jesus has wiped clean our billion sin debt; what’s a handful of sins committed by our friend or neighbor? And besides that, think of this Holy Meal we’re about to enjoy. Not only does it unite us with Jesus Himself, but it also unites us with each other. What we do to others, we also do to Jesus. But the great news is this: when He forgives our debt of sin in this Holy Meal, we get to do the same. In fact, we get to look at each other as already forgiven and free. Amen.