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Good morning! Wherever you are this morning, you are watching this sermon on Sunday, September 13 (or shortly thereafter!). This date is significant, because it was exactly six months ago, on March 13, that we received notice that our schools and churches would be closing our buildings for at least two weeks. Clearly, we underestimated the ultimate duration of this pandemic. But here’s the thing, March 13 was a Friday. Friday the 13th no less. And here we are on Sunday the 13th. And today on Sunday the 13th, as you watch this virtual church service, our leadership team is gathering for our trial run of in-person worship. In other today marks the beginning of our return to worshipping and gathering as God’s people and it’s been a journey from a Friday to a Sunday. A Friday to a Sunday.
That should sound familiar to us, because, of course, we are Christians because of another journey from a Friday to a Sunday. From Good Friday to Easter Sunday. From the cross to the empty tomb. From death to new and abundant life. From Friday to Sunday.
Now we are, of course, a Sunday people. A resurrection people. A new creation people. But the reality is that in the course of this life, we often find ourselves on this journey from Friday to Sunday. It’s not a journey we take only once. It is the paradigm for our lives. Continually moving from death to life. From grief to hope. From the old life of sin to the new life of grace. We are continuing on the journey from Friday to Sunday. Are you with me this morning?
Because today I want to talk about one piece of that journey and that is forgiveness. At the heart of the Christian gospel is the promise that God has forgiven us in Christ, that we have been washed and made pure and made worthy to stand before Christ. We are part of God’s new creation. And because we are the recipients of God’s extravagant grace and forgiveness, we are called to extend that same forgiveness to others, even those who have hurt us, even those whom we might consider our enemies.
In today’s gospel reading, Peter says, “Lord, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times.” Now, in the first century, it was common for rabbis to instruct their followers to forgive 3 times, which was based on a passage found in the prophet Amos. So, I can imagine Peter standing next Jesus thinking to himself, “The rabbis say we should forgive 3 times, the prophets say that we should forgive three times…so if I double that and add one, that’s seven…and seven is the biblical number of creation, the number of completion…and so Jesus is really going to love this answer!”
But Jesus just shakes his head and says, “Not seven times, but seventy seven times, which would have been considered a crazy, ridiculous, outrageous number of times to forgive.” In other words, Jesus is saying to Peter, this is not a matter of human calculations. This is about God’s generosity! God’s abundance! God’s extravagance!
To drive home his point, Jesus then tells a parable. In the parable, a servant owes his master, the king, 10,000 talents. Now 1 talent was the equivalent of about 15 years wages for a servant in the 1st century…and so 10,000 talents would have been the total wages for a servant for approximately 150,000 years…nevertheless, the king forgives this debt. This forgiveness is extravagant and generous beyond measure.
And yet, the servant goes right back into the street and pulls out his ledger. He finds the first fellow servant who owes him a hundred bucks and throws him in prison. Even though he has just experienced generous, extravagant forgiveness, this guy falls right back into the pattern of judgment others based on human calculations.
We do the same thing! We are the recipients of God’s extravagant grace and abundant forgiveness and then we still hold onto judgment, resentment, bitterness, and anger.
And so, the question is “why?” Why is it so hard to forgive?
Well, think one of the reasons why it is so hard for us to forgive is that our culture has turned forgiveness into a feeling instead of action. And this fits the paradigm of our culture in which feelings are supposed to precede actions. One of the messages that we are confronted with all the time is “If it feels good, do it.” The implication is “if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.” And anybody who has raised a teenager knows this is true. Because if you ask a teenager, “Why didn’t you finish your homework? Why didn’t you take out the trash? Why didn’t you clean up your room?” What’s one of the most common responses, “I didn’t feel like it.” We have bought into the lie that somehow feelings have to precede actions.
But with forgive it is more often the case that our action results in feeling. In other words, it is the action of forgiveness that leads to feelings of compassion and kindness, not the other way around.
One of my favorite stories is about Corie Ten Boom. She and her sister Betsie were prisoners at a concentration camp called Ravensbruck during WWII. Corie made it out alive. Betsie did not. Years later, Corie was speaking at a church in Munich and she shared about her experience during the war. After her talk, a balding man in a grey overcoat approached her and said, “That was a fine talk. You mentioned the camp at Ravenbruck, I was a guard there. But since that time I have become a Christian and I believe that God has forgiven me, but I need to hear those words from your lips. Will you forgive me?
Corie Ten Boom recounts that moment standing in front of one of the people she hated the most. And she said I knew that I should forgive, but all she felt was anger, bitterness, and resentment. And so, she prayed. She prayed and said “Jesus help me. I can raise my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
As she raised her hand, she felt a deep release inside of her. As her hand embrace the hand of the guard, she was able to say, “I forgive you with all my heart.” She raised her hand and God supplied the feeling.
My friends, we are on continual journey from Friday to Sunday. From death to life. From grief to hope. From the old life of sin to the new life of grace. And part of that journey is learning to forgive with all our heart. In the midst of a world that is gripped by pain and division and fear, we are called to be a people of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It’s hard work. It’s work we will rarely feel like doing. But maybe we can all start by simply raising our hand.