Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 22 - 2017

22 October 2017

Text: Matt 18:21-35

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

People used to collect things like stamps and coins and baseball cards.  These hobbies got people from every walk of life together to cooperate with each other to complete their collections.  Nowadays, these hobbies have been overshadowed by “grievance collecting.”  In other words, trying to outdo one another in being outraged and being victimized – whether real or imagined.  Because in today’s society, being the victim is how one gets power, the right to control others. 

And so people even complain about things they call “micro-aggressions” – which if you think about it, is an amazingly silly word.

And as a result, we rarely see people of all ages and walks of life getting together to trade cards or to learn about other cultures from stamps.  Instead we see people polarized into angry groups, we see political violence, we see an endless parade of isolated, unhappy individuals trapped in a lonely spiral of negativity.

It’s no wonder that depression runs rampant, and that families lie in tatters today.  It’s no wonder the country is so divided and unable to find common ground.

Instead of letting go of grievances, the thing to do today is to hang onto them for dear life, and even add to them, like new baubles on a charm bracelet – only with grievances, they are more like balls and chains.

There is only one solution to this negativity that tears apart countries and communities and individuals: forgiveness.  And this, dear friends, is why Jesus came.  He has come into our grievance-laden world to release those burdens, and to give us our lives and our freedom back by the Gospel, through His own release of grievances on the cross.

For who is more aggrieved than God?  And who suffered more cruelly and unjustly at the hands of men than our Lord Jesus Christ?  He took all the grievances, all the real injustices, all of the monstrous aggressions of all of mankind upon His shoulders, and allowed them to be out to death with Him on the cross.  He rose again from death in order to give us new life – a life freed from grievances and bitterness and wrath – that which we deserve, and that which others deserve from us.

This is why, dear friends, our Lord seems to defy justice when He answers St. Peter’s question: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?  Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” 

Forgiveness strikes us as unfair.  And especially in our current culture, it seems downright foolish.  For being sinned against gives us bragging rights, and may even pay off with attention and power, with the right to get revenge, or even with positions of authority or money. Why should we let someone off the hook when the name of the game is to get people on the hook and to keep them there?

But this is exactly what our Lord counsels Peter to do.  Forgive.  And to “forgive… from your heart.”

He tells a parable to make the point.  There is a very rich king and a very poor servant who works for him.  The servant has somehow gotten into a situation of debt to the king: a very large debt that he could never repay.  The king proposed to recover some of the money by selling the man and his family into slavery.  “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’”

So here, dear friends, is the crucial part of the story.  In this fallen world and in our current state of culture, this is the moment of triumph, where our enemy is trapped and helpless, where the king has the opportunity to milk this situation for all that it is worth.  He could complain to his friends, he could use social media, he could go on TV even, complaining about how he has been wronged.  He could start an angry advocacy group and maybe even a legal foundation for people who have been ripped off by deadbeat servants.  He could turn it into an ethnic thing.  He could blame it on the servant’s station in life.  But at any rate, he could make himself seem the innocent party. 

But what does our king do?  “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”  He had “pity” and he “forgave.”  He released the grievance and did not clutch it to himself.  He not only made the world a better place, but he freed himself of the stress and burden of revenge, and the trap of self-isolating negativity and hatred that can eat  person alive.

But what did this forgiven servant do?  Our Lord’s story continues: “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him” a small debt.  He grabbed him, choked him, and said, “Pay what you owe.”  The pleading of that servant fell on deaf ears.  There was no pity.  There was no forgiveness.  There was not a sharing of the grace that was shown to him by his master.

The ungrateful servant saw a wonderful opportunity to collect a grievance.  It wasn’t even that he needed the money.  It was a small amount.  This was about what he had to gain by refusing to forgive.  He sent his fellow servant to debtor’s prison.

But the master hears the prayers of the servants’ friends.  The king will provide justice for him.  The unforgiving servant’s pardon was revoked.  The king asks: “‘And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.”

Jesus concludes with the very clear warning from God: “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Dear brothers and sisters, although this is a harsh warning from our Lord, it is a merciful reminder of the power of the Gospel!  Jesus has come to free us from the interconnected chains of sin, of injustice, of grudges great and small, of the web of aggressions and retaliations, of broken relationships between individuals and between nations.  There is no justice and no peace for grievance-collectors.  Justice, peace, and a true life of joy can only be found in Jesus and in the peace won for us at the cross.  We are the servants who are in debt to our King and Master by reasons of sin, debt that we can never repay.  We are the cause of all injustice and conflict in our lives and in the world.  It can’t be resolved by constant escalation.

It is only solved by Jesus shattering the chains and setting us free: from our own sin and the sin of others against us.

How many times, dear friends?  As many as seven times?  Our Lord says, “seventy times seven.”  That is, an infinite number of times.  For we should show mercy as we have been shown mercy.  And this is the Good News, dear friends, you have been shown infinite mercy from your Lord, and He offers you infinite freedom from sin in all of its monstrous effects.  Every time you ponder your baptism, it is a reminder.  Every Divine Service is a renewal of this forgiveness and life.

We have been forgiven seventy times seven times; out of pity for us, our Lord has released us and has forgiven us all our debt, and has given us something infinitely more powerful than a grievance, and that is the power to forgive, even as we have been forgiven.  Amen!

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

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