Creekside Church
Sermon of September 13, 2020

"Hidden Talent"
Matthew 18:21-35

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! What a happy day in the life of our congregation, to be able to welcome new members into the family of faith. A result of that welcome and service is that there is less time for the sermon this morning, and that may be a happy occasion for you, too. I’m reminded of the preacher who was asked to speak about sin and said “I’m against it.” And sat down. I could preach a very short sermon about forgiveness and say “I’m for it.” And I don’t know if that’s all you need to know, but it’s a good start.

I will say that I believe Jesus’ words about forgiveness to his disciple Peter and the parable which Jesus tells afterward to illustrate forgiveness are some of the most difficult teachings in the Bible. Christians disagree about all sorts of things, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, women in ministry: things which we don’t have any record of Jesus speaking to directly. These are issues which have divided churches and threaten denominations, including the Church of the Brethren. There aren’t statistics about this, but I would guess that the issue of forgiveness -- and specifically the lack of forgiveness -- has divided more churches than all of those other issues put together. It isn’t that there’s debate about Jesus’ teaching--it’s pretty clear that Jesus is commanding his listeners to forgive their brothers and sisters from their hearts-- it’s just that forgiveness is a tall order. We’d rather fight than switch.

I know that forgiveness doesn’t get a lot of traction in popular and political culture. It’s tempting to say that it’s worse now than it’s ever been, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think forgiveness has always been viewed as weakness or capitulation -- something for losers who don’t have the guts to carry a grudge or the resources to exact revenge. I have listened to plenty of stories of how folks have been hurt by family members, friends, and fellow church members. I know those are real injuries, and I don’t want to minimize the hurt they have caused. I have had people tell me “If I’ve been treated badly, I will never forgive that person.” I understand that sentiment; I’ve felt that myself. What I don’t understand is sharing that as if it is something to be proud of. It’s like saying “When I make up my mind, I never change it, even if I’m wrong” or “I just have to ignore other people’s feelings, because that’s the way I am.” It’s difficult to square any of those statements with Jesus’ commandment to forgive in Matthew 18.

I think when Peter questions Jesus in verse 21 about how often he should forgive: is 7 times enough? And Jesus says, Nope, seventy times seven, the intent is not to say You can stop at 490: Jesus is implying that you gotta forgive a LOT. As much as it takes. And then he tells a parable to illustrate that. I’m not going to re-read the entire parable. There is a man who owes the king 10,000 talents: this was an enormous, unimaginable sum of money. We noted several weeks ago that a talent is a weight of precious metal equivalent to 20 years of a day labor’s wages. Ten thousand talents is an astronomical amount of money. We are not told how the servant wracked up that much debt, but the only way to pay it off would be his life and the life of his wife and children: they would be sold into slavery, along with everything they owned.

It doesn’t take a huge mental leap to figure out where we fit into this parable, especially because we know what is going to happen a couple chapters later in Matthew, and toward the end of each one of the gospels. We are those debtors, those sinners, those who are in need of mercy and forgiveness, and Jesus Christ is going to pay that price for us by dying on the cross. Not because he was sinful, because we are. Jesus’ death doesn’t pay his debt, it pays ours. If you believe that -- feel free to honk if you believe that -- it’s pretty hard to argue with the rest of the parable.

Because Jesus paid such an extraordinary price for our forgiveness, we ought to forgive our sisters and brothers: our literal sisters and brothers, as well as those within the church. Maybe even beyond the church. Forgiveness is not weakness, it is a superpower. Forgiveness is the power which changes death into life; it is the power which resurrected Christ. It may be a secret superpower; it doesn’t necessarily change other people -- speaking from experience, forgiving someone does not magically make them agree with me, do things the way I want them to, or even make them aware of what a jerk they have been. Forgiveness changes me -- the one who forgives. It doesn’t make invulnerable to being hurt again -- even by the same idiot who did it the last time. It changes me from being angry and bitter and entitled and holding on to my grudge to being able to move on with a clear heart and a clearer head. And that takes a power greater than my own. Forgiveness enables me to leave behind all the rattling, clanking garbage of what people did to me in the past and move on. Forgiveness makes me a little bit more like Christ; which is the goal of a Christian life. And as someone who has experienced being forgiven -- not only by Christ, but by Christ-like people who had every right to be angry and hurt by my actions -- there is no greater gift than to be told that I am free. That debt that I could never repay in a million years is gone. That is amazing grace.

I will stop there, and add only that I wish we could have the service of anointing this morning. Part of that sacrament is to make the sign of the cross on your forehead with oil and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence with you for healing of mind body and spirit, strengthening of faith, and confession of sin. Your forgiveness has already been accomplished by the work of Christ. The question now is, Will you rely on the power of Christ to accept that forgiveness and share it with others? Amen.

 

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