SERMON by the Rev. Amos McCarthy
15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 17, 2017.
Title: “Riding with Unforgiveness”
Text: Matthew 18:21-35
21. Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgave my brother or sister who has sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22. Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times but seventy times. 23. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged,’and i will pay back everything.’ 27. The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. 28. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servant who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30. “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31. When the other servant saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? 34. In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35. “This is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The story is told of a Christian lawyer who read his bible on a regular basis. After reading some scriptures that talk about forgiveness, he decided to forgive seventeen of his clients who owed him some money. The lawyer drafted the letters and explained the biblical basis, for sending out the letters, for the cancellation of the debts of the clients. The lawyer sent out certified letters to his clients, forgiving them of all their debts. Sixteen of the clients refused to signed the letter, fearing that the lawyer was suing them for the money they owed. One by one, the letters were returned by the postal service, unsigned, undelivered. One of them opened the letter and signed it and received the debt cancellation with great relief. In our world today, many Christians are faced with the painful decision of forgiving others who have offended them. Why is that so? Is it that forgiveness is a difficult thing to accomplish? Is there fear of reprisal from others? Do we comprise justice when we forgive? What does it mean for a person to forgive the man who took the live of a family member? Are we compromising justice and accountability? Is it because of fear, or hurt, or pain? Or are we too prideful to ask for forgiveness, when we hurt others? Forgiveness is a difficult deed to accomplish. Sometimes, people who offend us have no remorse, for the hurt that they caused us. Sometimes we are fearful of the fact that people who hurt us will come again to hurt us. Pride is also a factor in people not asking for forgiveness. Give and take, God has called us to forgive those who hurt us. It is a divine command. It is important for us to listen to God’s word, and what He says about forgiving others. God is willing to cancel every debt we owe. But we refused, to open the letters of scripture to us on forgiveness. We continue to ride with the sin of unforgiveness. Let us consider this divine summon from God, to forgive, so that we can receive forgiveness ourselves. We will look at what forgiveness is, the origin of forgiveness, and the consequences of not forgiving others. In the first few chapters of the book of Amos, one can see that Jewish culture demanded that a person forgive three times. On the fourth count, a person was not forgiven. It was Rabbinic teachings, glean from the 8th century prophet Amos, that a person be forgiven three times. So in the passage of scripture, Peter gets the confidence, that he would be commended, if he made that seven times. But Jesus in his answer, demanded that a person be forgiven seventy times seven. This simply tells us that there should be no limited to forgiveness. In essence, forgiveness is a big deal. What is forgiveness?
I want you to forget about every other word on your mind this morning and reflect on the word forgiveness. When we understand what forgiveness is, then we will understand what unforgiveness is. According to the Greater Good Magazine, psychologist generally define forgiveness as “a conscious, deliberate attempt, to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person, or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” If this is true, then forgiveness means to allow ourselves to let go negative thoughts of bitterness, and resentment toward another person. It is to let go the thought to do something to someone, for what that person did to us. It does not mean to forget about what someone did to us. It does not mean that we condone it, when people hurt us. As humans, we will always recall what a person did to us, but when we forgive them, we let go the bitterness. We also let go the mindset to harm the person in words, thoughts or deeds. The Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis, in English is release or let go. In 1 Samuel 24:1-15, the record tells us that David had the opportunity to revenge, against all the wrong King Saul did to him. Saul sought to kill David, by taking three thousand of his young men. As Saul went into a cave near the sheep pens to ease himself, David had the opportunity to kill him. David did not kill Saul, but cut a piece of cloth from Saul’s robe. In verse 12 of 1 Samuel 24, David told Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hands will not touch you.” David had the chance to kill Saul, for the hurt he caused him, but David forgave Saul. David let go the bitterness, resentment, and release Saul. It is important for us Christians to learn that forgiveness is just, when we leave those who hurt us with God. David made an oath not to touch the descendants of Saul, as a sign of forgiveness. Here David realised that forgiveness comes from God, that forgiveness is a divine. In our the passage under consideration, one can see that forgiveness is divine. In this parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus clearly points out that forgiveness is a must. In this parable, Jesus metaphorically talks about the kingdom of heaven being like a king who settles account with his servant. Forgiveness is an issue between Christian and God. God commands us to forgive because He forgave us. In verse 22, Jesus tells Peter that forgiveness has no limit. In Matthew 5:46, God urges us to love our enemies, and pray for those who do harm to us. Doctor Luke says the same thing in Luke 6:27-28, He urges us to love those who curse us. This is a very hard thing for us, I must assume. The core of the matter is our love for God. If we love God, we ought to do exactly what God wants us to do. God does not give us an option, when it comes to forgiving people who hurt us. God is clear on this subject. No Christian is allowed the luxury to keep grudge in his or her heart for others. God does not want us to even be angry, with the person who hurt us for a day. God does not want us to even speak evil or slander the name of the person who hurts us. Seriously? Yes, God wants us to even initiate the process of restoring all relationships that has been broken. If you will take a ride with unforgiveness, there would be consequences. In Genesis 45:4-8, Joseph having endure prison and a life of slavery, forgave his brothers, who had come to beg for food. How many of us today will pardon a human trafficker, who sold us into sexual slavery or forced labor? How many of us will forgive a person who took the life of our love one? But I tell you the truth, God knows who molested you, God knows who rape you, God knows who stabbed you in the back, gossip about you, robbed you. He God said in his word, that vengeance is His to repay and not ours. All God is telling us here is, “In anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” Ephesian 4:26 Our inability to forgive has consequences. In verse 32-35, Jesus Christ informs us, that the unmerciful servant was turned over to the jailers, who tortured him till he paid his debt. Christ likened this to how God is going to treat people, who refused to forgive from their heart. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. Matthew 6:14-15 repeats the same command from God: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your father will not forgive your sins.” The consequences for our inability to forgive is that God is not going forgive us. It is even mentioned in scripture that before you bring your offerings to God, you must consider reconciling with people who you have quarreled with. It spells it out that people must make peace, with those with whom there is a problem, before you come to the altar. It does not only involve bring your offering, but praying to God. If we do not forgive and keep malice in our heart for someone else, God will not answer our prayers. In the resurrection narrative, Jesus Christ on the day he died on the cross, asked God to forgive the folks who were killing him. They were casting lots for Jesus’ garment, while Jesus was praying for them. John 23:33-34 Stephen prayed for those who stoning him. He prayed, even as they were stoning him. Acts 7:58-60 All of these actions, shows the significance attached by Christ and the apostles, on forgiving those who hurt us. This is important because our inability to forgive can cause health issues. This is not a professional advice. It is an opinion of mine based on reading reports from researchers. According the Forgiveness Project, researchers have proven, that continue anger and hatred can cause chronic anxiety. It further explains that chronic anxiety can produce more adrenaline and cortisol the body needs. These things can deplete the natural killer cells the body needs to fight cancers. We will all agree that anger causes our blood pressure to rise. This is not healthy. It is important for us, to do away with bitterness, resentment, malice, as these things will prove bad for our health. Our inability to forgive will deprive us of blessing from God. Church, let us be a church of forgiveness.