October 08, 2023
• Rev. Jen Gibbs
2023 October 8 Sermon 2 of 3 on Forgiveness
Topic: The Pathway of Forgiving Others
Scripture: Matthew 18: 21-35 NRSV
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[i] times.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him, 25 and, as he could not pay, the lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 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.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Good News: You have already been forgiven by the God who knows your credit score and continues to rip up your debt notes. Endlessly. You are free.
Mission: Live as one rooted and transformed by the love of the unconditional forgiveness of God.
Image: Banyan Tree in Lahaina, Maui, HI: ROOTED
SLIDE: BURNT BANYAN TREE
Wildfires swept across the town of Lahaina, Maui in early August, It claimed the lives of over 100 with more missing. And it nearly leveled the town.This included courthouse square with the famous 150 year old Banyan tree. Having grown 16 trunks and a web of roots. 60 foot tall and a quarter mile wide. The white-hot fire passed over it, stripping every bit of it. Leaving it desolated. Made of wood. Consumed by fire. But still standing.
SLIDE: BURNT BANYAN TREE with NEW SHOOT (was on BBC, NBC, etc.)
Six weeks later on the news, brand new shoots were pictured sprouting from the burned tree.
What allowed the Banyan tree to sprout new life in the very place it had been hurt? What allowed the Banyan tree to survive and in its own time… thrive… despite the harm done to it?
Arborists say, it has to do with how it’s rooted. It’s true for the tree and for you and me.
That’s what we’ll consider today, but first let’s pray a prayer that a long tradition here. Let us pray:
SLIDE: SERMON SERIES COVER SLIDE
Help us become masters of ourselves that we may become the servants of others.
Take our eyes and see through them.
Take our ears and hear through them.
Take our minds and think through them.
And take our hearts and set them on fire.
In Christ’s name we pray. And we all say, Amen.
In this morning’s scripture from the book of Matthew, we join Jesus in an ongoing discussion. It’s about living as a thriving community. Jesus has just finished explaining the ways the community of faith would devote ourselves to the work of forgiving each other and renewing relationships.
SLIDE: QUOTE BELOW
It’s like Bishop Desmond Tutu says, “The quality of human life on our planet is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions. Forgiveness is the way we mend tears in the social fabric.”
SLIDE: COVER SLIDE
I imagine that’s why Jesus makes such a call for us to work work with each other’s competitions, insults and blatant wrongs. To find the lost ones and separated ones and enfold them with love. To forgive and do all in our power to strengthen and nourish the bonds between us.
In response, Peter pipes up and asks, “So how often can another hurt me and I then forgive? Like 7 times?” Peter’s has given a generous offer. Because Rabbinic tradition at the time would say give it three times. Then if they keep on doing it, you’ve done your part. They’ll have to take up their repeated debts with God on the Day of Atonement. Oof.
So Peter might say seven, thinking, “I’ve been really generous, but at least there will be a limit.” And we get it, ? Because I’m guessing Peter knows as do we, how beautiful and amazing human connection can be, and it can also come with hurt.
Which means Peter could forgive hurt done to him, and the person might just do it again. Never apologize. Or apologize and do it again. Peter wants to be forgiving but he doesn’t really want to condone their hurt. He wants to protect himself in and have an out.
SLIDE: Forgiveness can feel vulnerable and costly.
It seems Peter knows as do we… with the hurt we might be carrying this morning… that real forgiveness…Feels vulnerable. Exposed. Like we’re saying hurting us is ok. Forgiveness comes with a cost.
Which is why Jesus’ teaching this morning can feel a bit sticky. Jesus responds to Peter and says, not just 7 times. But forgive 77 times. And something clicks with those hearing Jesus. As they remember their scriptures from Genesis. Where a guy named Lamech said, “For anyone who attacks me, I’ll come back at them 77 times.” And that’s the system he took up to deal with harm. Pay back. A system of accounting. Of relational payment or retribution.
Though now softer, I’m not so sure a relational accounting system has completely changed.
SLIDE: Photo of nice restaurant table set with nice glasses, stemware,etc.
Episcopal Priest Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way. She says, imagine you make plans to meet a friend for dinner and you go to great lengths to do so. You make reservations. Drive a distance. Get there early. And after waiting and sitting there alone… you realize you’ve been stood up. You pay the bill and leave. A few days later your friend contacts you to apologize profusely and explain. You’ve not seen them for a while so you reschedule. Only to do the very same thing and realize you’ve been stood up again. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. And we kind of live that. We certainly aren’t likely to forgive 77 more times. We’d give our investment elsewhere.
SLIDE: Pic of accounting ledger
As Taylor suggests we might admit quote, “We have little calculators in our heads, keeping track of how much we are putting into our relationships versus how much getting out. Not many of us pursue those with a negative hurt balance. We prefer cost efficient relationships with a better rate of exchange. We want to get about as much as we give.” End quote. We humans can have a kind of accounting system. And that’s why we, like Peter might prefer a debt limit when it comes to forgiveness.
But consider…there’s also a cost to accounting more and forgiving less.
The Journal of Behavioral Medicine shows that failure to practice forgiveness creates risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression, insomnia, ulcers, migraines, backaches, heat attacks and even cancer. And the reverse is true. Forgiving can transform these ailments as well as reducing anger and improving hopefulness, spiritual connection and confidence.
So Jesus drives it home by ending this dialogue with a story about forgiveness. At the beginning of the story. The King does an operational audit and calls in the astronomical debt owed to him. By one of his governor’s, named as servant in the story. Who owes the King a Debt of about 1.5 billion dollars in today’s market… likely accrued through collecting the King’s taxes.
SLIDE: DEBT CANCELLED STAMP PIC
The servant begs for mercy and promises to repay an unrepayable debt. Somehow, the King is moved. He cancels the debt. Withstands the cost.Chooses to remain in relationship. Wipes the ledger clean and the servant carries on. Being forgiven of the unforgiveable is how Jesus opens the story.
Because HE knows that forgiveness can transform us. Our ailments. Our hearts. Our lives. So much so that we would be able to forgive another. That’s why at the end of the story Jesus talks about forgiving from the heart. A healed and transformed heart.
And you know this if you’ve ever accepted forgiveness. Maybe you like me have had someone forgive you. Someone dear to me who my words and actions hurt. Someone I owed. And likely couldn’t repay enough to make it better. And they took out an eraser and slowly and intentionally wiped the ledger clean. A gift of grace, I didn’t deserve. Because they wanted repair. And wanted to be in relationship. They forgave. And accepting it changes you. You realize you’re fragile. And flawed. And still valued. And it leaves you humble and soft. And open to forgiving others who are all fragile, flawed like you. And you realize that what seemed too damaged and lost can have something new grow. In you. And between you.
That’s the surprise of the story Jesus tells. The servant who was forgiven an unforgivable amount of debt, was not two steps later… unwilling to forgive. A much lesser debt of about $4000 today. Though the debtor who couldn’t pay begged for the same mercy, the forgiven servant grabbed him by the throat, and threw him in jail.
SLIDE: Jail bars pic. No person or hands.
I guess being forgiven never really reached his heart. It never really reached his soul, or his life. The King offered him a different life. Rooted in being forgiven, which in turn offers forgiveness. But instead the servant held onto what’s owed to him. And the story ends with the King returning the servant to the natural consequences of what relational accounting lands in our life… jail. When we don’t forgive, we too wind up in a kind of jail. Penned in and pinned down. Spending our lives trying to get our due or protect from loss. Instead of being free to spend our time loving and tending to each other.
Jesus ends his focus on nourishing relationship with this stunning story. Because he’s inviting us all… he’s me and you.. to root your lives beyond the ledger. To root your lives in the deep well of forgiveness that he will later stake his very life upon and lovingly seal into the web of creation. Through his death and resurrection.
SLIDE: pic of beautifully wrapped gift… for you tag if possible
Hear the invitation. To live as one who has come to know. Who understands. The gift is yours. You are forgiven. Already. By God who has relished in giving you the breath in your lungs and your place on the planet… among the orange and purple sunrises and sunsets. By God, who’s given you every great laugh you’ve ever had and every great love you’ve ever known. From your love of spaghetti, to the loves you hug in your own arms. You are beloved and forgiven by the Divine who keeps on giving. Who when you exceed and when you fall short, loves you just the same and then turns around and offers you more. And as the Divine One gives and gives. And forgives and forgives. Beyond what you could ever earn or repay, The one just keeps erasing the ledger. Leveling the score to 0. Because this One doesn’t spend His time keeping score but instead…tending to relationship with you. And so through Christ, you forgiven and free to live and love.
And also… called to let your life be rooted in that. Grown in that. Maturing in that.
SLIDE: Banyan tree with growth. Same as before.
Like a Banyan tree with 16 trunks and a web of roots that didn’t even crack when burned. Because it was rooted in a place deeper than what happened to it. Rooted in the groundwater and the soul of the earth. In the web of creation. Which sustained it, until it could heal and grow again. It took it’s time. Drew from the waters of forgiveness. And then new life sprouted in the very place it was hurt.
You’re invited to do the same. To root yourself in what’s deeper than what happens to you. Root yourself in God’s love and forgiveness for you. Draf from those roots when you get burned. And then in your own time, forgive. Because new life will grow.
Here’s a way to begin. Consider a person or experience that has hurt and you’re still holding onto. And when you’re ready…
SLIDE: (Slide that builds 1,2,3,4 as I share them. List parts in bold. Bottom: Book of Forgiveness, Tutu and Tutu)
Tell the story of what happened. As Desmond Tutu and his daughter suggests in the Book of Forgiving, Fourfold path of forgiveness. Tell just the facts of the story. Tell them to God. To someone trusted. Tell them in your journal. Small or large. All is deserving. Tell the story.
Second. Name the hurt. Don’t try to minimize it, judge it or fix it. Bravely name the hurt. Let yourself feel it.
Third. When you’re ready. Begin to grant forgiveness. Accepting what happened and the hurt as real. Beginning to acknowledge how fragile and flawed the ones who hurt you really are. And eventually forgiving. Letting go. And letting yourself move from hurt to one who heals.
Finally. Renew or release the relationship. The hope is always to renew and let new life grow in you and between you. But sometimes health. Safety. Wellbeing means forgiving then releasing that relationship. Today is a good day to begin to forgive somebody.
Good people of God, today we admit. Forgiveness is, costly. Hard. You are rooted in the deep well of love and forgiveness God has for you. And know this. It’s greater than what has or will happen to you. And it never runs dry.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.