Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 22

8 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 18:21-35 (Micah 6:6-8, Phil 1:3-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord’s parable gets to the heart of the Christian faith: the forgiveness of sins.

Satan loves for people to misunderstand Christianity – both inside and outside of the Church. If you ask a hundred people what the point of Christianity is, you’re likely to get one hundred and one different answers.

People often think the main point of Christianity is to get to heaven when they die, or to make us better people, or to create an ethical society. Some believe it is to teach young people morals, or to perform acts of charity, or to provide a social network for adults and children to have fun. Some believe Christianity is mainly a way to learn facts and figures about the Bible or to provide the United States with a worldview in support of the Constitution.

But all of these miss the point.

The point is to rid ourselves, the Church, and the entire world of the one thing that destroys: sin. Sin corrupted the Lord’s perfect creation. Sin makes us live in a world filled with heartache, sickness, and sorrow. Sin is the very reason for death.

In His mercy, God chose to fix us, rather than throw us in the garbage and replace us. It is often cheaper to get something new rather than mend the old – but the latter is the more loving solution – especially when we are the ones in need of repair.

The Christian faith is about God Himself taking up the needle and thread and sowing our broken bodies and souls back together, and in the process, His own hands are pierced, and His own blood from his own broken body is spilled on our broken bodies and souls. We are being repaired of our sins, and sin can only be fixed by forgiveness.

And so the entire point of the faith is for God to take flesh, for God to die for us as the one all-availing sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, and for the world to be repaired, with all of our sins being forgiven – all by the merciful and nail-scarred hands of God in the flesh.

And though the following are not the goals of Christianity, they are wonderful results of the forgiveness of sins: the hope of eternal life, growing in faith and love, and the cultivation of a worldview based on good rather than evil. Young people are indeed instructed in wisdom, the hungry are fed, and the Body of Christ becomes a community in which to work and play. And in the context of the forgiveness of sins, learning Scripture is a devotion, a meditation, a discipline of prayer, and not the mere acquisition of trivia. And when people in this country and elsewhere turn to the Lord in the forgiveness of sins, we fulfill our mandate to bring the Gospel to all nations, giving us a yet more glorious citizenship in heaven.

Of course, it is all too easy to miss the point, as St. Peter did when he asked our Lord “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Peter was seeking a benchmark. For he saw forgiving his brother as a chore, a legalistic hoop to jump through. He wanted to know when he had done enough, in other words, when he could stop doing it.

Our Lord’s reply, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” is a way of saying we can never stop. Mathematical purists can interpret the Lord’s reply as “infinity” and young children might see it as a “bezillion billion million” times.

Forgiving sins is not a chore. It is not something for us to put on our to-do list. There is no merit badge after we have completed so many forgivenesses of sins. Rather forgiveness is a way of life. It is a constant practice, because it is what we Christians have had done for us. The Lord’s parable puts it all into perspective.

In His parable, the main character, a servant, owes the king “ten thousand talents” – a comically huge sum. Our Lord might just as well have said “a bezillion billion million dollars.” Of course, the servant can’t even begin to hope to even service the debt, let alone pay off the principal. The king prepares to liquidate the debt by selling the servant and his family. The pitiful servant pleads pathetically: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”

Of course, this is impossible, but thanks to the king’s “pity” – in the Greek, “being moved by compassion,” the King “released him and forgave him the debt.” The word translated as “released” conveys the sense of being liberated from shackles. Anyone who has ever been in debt knows exactly what our Lord means. “Forgiveness” means setting the scales back to zero from a “bezillion billion million.”

The servant, however, is also himself a creditor. Having been forgiven, being what is essentially the recipient of more money than anyone could ever earn or spend in a lifetime, we would expect the servant to have learned a lesson about pity and compassion, about patience and forgiveness, about humility and empathy. But not so. There is no conversion, no Christmas goose and a trip to Bob Cratchet’s home in this tale.

The unforgiving servant finds a fellow servant who owes him “a hundred denarii” – a large amount of money, but not an unrealistic amount that the ungrateful servant was forgiven. But instead of being moved with compassion, the servant has forgotten the grace shown to him. He becomes greedy to the point of violence. He had his own debtor thrown into prison. A fate shared by the unforgiving servant himself when the master revoked his grace and forgiveness and treated the unforgiving servant in the same way.

And in this short tragedy, our Blessed Lord explains that forgiveness is not a chore, a series of deeds that can be tabulated and benchmarked, but is rather a way of life. It is freely and liberally received and is to be freely and liberally given. He says that forgiveness is to be “from your heart.”

Dear Christians, we have been forgiven a debt of infinity. The deficit has been filled by the blood of Christ – which is of infinite value and is not for sale. We are the servant who has been forgiven the astronomical sum through the Father’s pity and mercy, grace and compassion. We have been released by virtue of the Son’s passion and death. We have been called to “go and do likewise” by the Holy Spirit’s calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying.

We would all do well to meditate on the Ten Commandments, as our sinful nature always seeks to minimize our own sins and maximize those of others – when the Lord’s teaching bids us to do the very opposite. Our own sins are as ten thousand talents, while those who sin against us as a mere hundred denarii. And since we have been forgiven all of our sins, since we have been given a gift too large to number – how can we, the forgiven, justify our own bloodthirst and demands for justice for our own sake?

And so, dear friends, as a result of this great forgiveness, the Christian faith is not a chore, but a labor of love, a life of redemption and service. We make no sacrifice seeking forgiveness, but rather our sacrifices are thank offerings, Eucharistic sacrifices of walking “humbly with your God,” seeking how we can serve the cause of justice and in love of kindness.

Instead of seeking reward, our good works seek only to spread the kingdom, to serve others in need, to offer our thanks to our merciful Lord, and to partake in the Lord’s transformation of creation unto its once and future state of perfection. Our forgiving others a bezillion billion million times, our living a humble life of daily repentance and forgiveness, our giving of mercy even as it has been shown boundlessly to us, are all part and parcel of our Christian life of thanksgiving and praise.

This is the very essence of the Christian faith. All of the impediments to a new heaven and a new earth – all sin, and all the resulting sickness, disease, and death – are being rolled away as we await the consummation of our Lord’s Kingdom. We already have our dwellings assigned in the New Eden, and there is no mortgage, for as we pray in Blessed Martin Luther’s Eucharistic hymn:

All our debt Thou hast paid;
Peace with God once more is made.

O Lord, have mercy!

And it is St. Paul’s prayer that our...

love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that [we] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.


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

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