Sunday, October 19, 2008

Trinity 22

Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35
For Lamb of God Lutheran Church, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin
October 19, 2008 (The 22nd Sunday after Trinity)

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What does this mean? “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” Forgiveness is the very center of the Christian religion. The whole reason Christ became man, lived a perfect life, and died an innocent death, was so that we might be forgiven. Forgiveness is what we come here on Sunday mornings to receive. Its what is given to us in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. The fact that God graciously and freely forgives us our sins is what Christianity is all about.
But the fact that God graciously and freely forgives us our sins has implications. We live our lives in this old world, and both we and those around us remain sinners. And so as we go through life we will be offended by others and we will offend others. We will gossip, we will make poor assumptions about what is going on in others’ lives based on flimsy evidence, we will be prideful and boastful and put our wishes in front of everyone else’s. In other words, forgiveness is something that governs not only our relationship with God, it is something that is to govern our relationship with one another as well.
The parable that Jesus tells Peter today illustrates for us what this means. The servant in the parable owed a grand total of ten thousand talents to his master. A talent was a rather large gold coin, and ten thousand of them would be worth millions and millions of dollars. Most of us can’t even imagine having, let alone spending, the amount of money that this man was in debt. But like him, we are deeply in debt to our Lord. We are born sinners. We haven’t just done some things wrong in our lives, we were born oriented against God. We were born with God as our enemy. Even now, there is still that Old Adam in us that is nothing less than a stubborn, unrepentant enemy of God. We cannot truly comprehend how offensive we are by nature to our God, not only because of our actions but because of the corruption that is simply inside of us which we have inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. The debt we owe God because of our sinfulness is so huge that we cannot hope to pay it off, just as the servant could not hope to pay off his debt to his master because it was too huge.
But God does forgive us. Unlike the master in the text, God doesn’t simply say, “Oh don’t worry about it,” however. Instead, he applies our punishment to His own Son in our place, sending Him to die on the cross. It’s easy to take God’s forgiveness for granted. We hear it every Sunday, when we make the general confession before the service and the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That declaration is most certainly true, but it’s too easy to forget that our Lord Jesus Himself had to die and rise again in order for that absolution to be true. God is not some tolerant grandfather who sits up in heaven and spoils his children by letting them do whatever they please. And God did not give us His forgiveness so that we can have an excuse to continue doing things that are an offense and a mockery to Him. He gave us His forgiveness so that we can be with Him and be restored to His fellowship, and that includes being willing to fight against our sin, and not to indulge in it, and that includes the sin of not forgiving our fellow sinners.
You are forgiven. Your sin was borne by Christ, and so it no longer applies to you. Great. Wonderful. But now let’s think about the implications of that. You are supposed to forgive those around you too, since they have also been forgiven by God just as you were. I know it hurts when someone sins against you, lies about you, says hurtful words or even hurts you physically. I know it hurts when someone you trusted betrays you, cheats you, or otherwise uses you. It hurts when someone else does the very thing I’m talking about, being unforgiving towards your mistakes. But how do you think God feels when you sin against Him? Just like you feel when you are sinned against, except infinitely worse. And, since He has forgiven you, He has given you the ability and the duty of forgiving those who sin against you. The fact of the matter is, the forgiveness that applies to you from God also applies to the person who has sinned against you. If you don’t forgive them, even though God has forgiven them, then you are setting yourself up against God. You are calling God a liar. And if you call God a liar when He says, “I forgive you” to your neighbor, you are also, whether you realize it or not, calling God a liar when he says the same thing to you. After all, what you owe God because of the absolute corruption of your sinfulness is much greater than the small amount that your neighbor has done against you. And because of this, if you do not forgive you are by that action refusing God’s forgiveness, and your debt still applies to you, just as the unmerciful servant was called back into his master’s office and then thrown into prison after he refused to pardon the debt that was owed to him by a fellow servant. That servant was only owed a small amount of money. It was larger than could be paid right away, but it was payable on an installment basis. We might think of a debt of three or four hundred dollars in this connection, which is hardly a drop in the bucket compared to what the first servant owed his master.
When I pronounce the absolution upon the congregation, it not only applies to each of you personally, it applies to the guy sitting across from you as well. This is also true of those fellow church members that maybe you haven’t been getting along with. Not only are we forgiven, but our neighbor is forgiven as well, and if God has forgiven them, we dare not do otherwise. To do so is to call God a liar. And the thing of it is, if you call God a liar when He says, “I forgive you” to your neighbor, you’re calling Him a liar when He says it to you, too, since both you and your neighbor are forgiven by the same Word, based on the same once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Even though we are not worthy of it, God has had mercy on us. Our sins are forgiven. It is precisely through us, then, that God has mercy on those around us, through me as the one who preaches the Word and administers the Sacraments, and through you as you love each other because God has first loved you. His forgiveness is a precious thing. It is literally the difference between eternal life and eternal death for us. And thus we are to live as those who are forgiven. We are to live, also as those whose neighbors are also forgiven. Christ died for them at the same time He died for us. We forgive because He has forgiven us. Amen.
✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠