Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 22

19 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 18:21-35 (Mic 6:6-8)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. What a disturbing story our Lord tells! Can you imagine a more despicable character than this “unforgiving servant”? This parable reads like a Stephen King short story, a horrific tale of evil with a twist in the plot. At first, the parable sounds like a Hallmark card, like a beautiful story of redemption. Our main character, a slave, is so far in debt that he could never pay his way out. He is to be sold. His family is to be broken up. He pleads with his master for patience. He begs for more time to pay his debt.

And then a beautiful thing happens. The master, “moved with compassion,” not only grants the request for patience, but goes a step further and cancels the begging servant’s debt. His wife and children will remain with him. He no longer has this burden looming over him. Can you just imagine the exhilaration this servant must feel to have such a load lifted from his shoulders? Like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, he must feel like a new man. Surely, he is filled with gratitude that will bubble over into every facet of his life from this life-changing day forward.

And so what happens?

The servant finds a fellow servant who owes him a tiny sum. One can only imagine that the result is going to be that the servant will forgive the debt as he has been forgiven as a debtor. Here is his opportunity to display the same nobility and grace as his master.

But here is the twisted twist in the plot. To paraphrase Avril Lavigne – “so much for our happy ending.”

Instead, our main character grabs the one who owes him a small debt by the throat and threatens him. He then has him sent to debtor’s prison.

This matter comes to the attention of the master – who is less than impressed. His gracious offer of full forgiveness is revoked (more accurately, the master realizes that the wicked servant has rejected the master’s grace). And it is this servant who is sent to prison, suffering the same fate he wished upon his fellow servant and debtor.

At the end of this short thriller we don’t hear the voice of Rod Serling narrating the moral of the story, but rather our Lord Jesus, who explains: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Our Lord isn’t just telling a story for the sake of entertainment. Rather He is teaching us about God’s kingdom. Perhaps more specifically, He is teaching us about ourselves. For Jesus isn’t telling this story to the Godless Romans nor to the self-righteous Pharisees. To the contrary, He tells this story in response to a question about forgiveness asked by St. Peter, the one whom Jesus would call “the Rock” because of His steadfast confession of Jesus’s divinity. This is the same Peter who has written two of the books of the New Testament, who was the first leader of the Christian Church, the first Bishop of Rome who was martyred by crucifixion for the sake of the Gospel. It is to the Apostle Peter that Jesus gives this warning not to take the grace of God for granted, never to lose sight of our own debts that have been cancelled by our master. We, the redeemed of God, must never become too conceited to forgive those who trespass against us.

For that, indeed, is how we are. This terrible character from Jesus’s parable is not some nightmarish lunatic fringe from the recesses of a horror-writer’s imagination – it is a sadly accurate picture of all of us!

We are all too quick to take grace for granted and too slow to forgive. We are all too eager for others to overlook our faults and foibles, while demanding an accounting for every slight against us, real or perceived. We have been so corrupted by sin that we resist applying this description of hypocrisy and wickedness to ourselves – but deep down inside, we all know it’s absolutely true.

“We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

Nor do we heed the prophetic Word revealed to Micah: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; / And what does the LORD require of you / But to do justly, / To love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God?” The Lord doesn’t want our sacrifices. For the Lord Himself has provided the “all availing sacrifice.” That’s the point. We are the recipients of the grace of that sacrifice of “His only begotten Son on the cross,” the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We have no reason to boast, no claim to credit. We are nothing more than unworthy servants of our master, men who have been released of all of our debts – not because we have deserved it, but rather because our Master is merciful.

And so what does the Lord require of us? Mercy. Just and humble mercy. Our Lord has forgiven us our own debts of tens of thousands of talents, a sum of sins and offenses that would have landed us in hell many times over but for the grace and mercy of God. But what do we do? We demand settlement of a few hundred denarii in spite of the mercy shown to us.

Is it any wonder why we repeat again and again in our liturgy and in our prayers: “Lord, have mercy”?

It should cut us to the quick, brothers and sisters, that we are the “unforgiving servants” in the Lord’s parable. And it should drive us to the cross, to the blood of Christ, to our Redeemer-Master Himself. We must repent of our callous, unloving hypocrisy. We must plead with our Master to give us the gift of being able to forgive our brother seventy times seven times, and to do so from our hearts. And even that forgiving heart is something we can only have purely by God’s grace and mercy.

We have been forgiven! We have been forgiven of everything! The gates of heaven are open wide to us. What could we possibly to with the meager debts that are owed to us even if we were genuinely wronged? Surely, to a billionaire, an IOU for a penny is not worth the effort to enforce.

This is our Lord’s lesson in this parable, dear friends. And it is an important lesson. And if we harden our hearts to it, we are doing nothing but resisting the Lord’s grace, and defying him to condemn us.

You have been baptized, redeemed, and sanctified. You have been forgiven all your sins. You have been privileged to be here today to hear the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord’s forgiveness and mercy. You are heirs of eternal life. What a source of joy! And what a way to live out this joy given to us by Christ Jesus than by sharing that joy with others by forgiving them of their sins against us. That, dear brothers and sisters, fellow redeemed people in Christ, is the true joy of the Christian life, a joy that will be with us, the forgiven who have been taught to forgive, both now and unto eternity! Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: