Sermon: “Counting on Christ’s Forgiveness”
LSB Series A; Proper 18
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 13, 2020
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will by 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” (Matthew 18:21-22).
What are some things that you count? Do you count sheep at night as you try and fall asleep? Do you count dollars in your savings account to see if there is enough there to retire? Do you count bushels of grain per acre when the harvest comes in? Do you count the days until school starts for the year, or the days until school is out and summer vacation is here? Do you count the minutes that each sermon lasts or this service lasts? What are some things that you count?
Do you count sins? Do you count your sins? Do you count the sins committed against you?
You see, today’s sermon is about forgiveness, and the practice of counting sins runs ‘counter’ to forgiveness every time.
Peter wanted to know something we all want to know. He wanted to know when he could be done forgiving his brother, whoever his brother was that he was talking about. He thought counting up to seven times was enough. Jesus told him, not seven times, but seven times seventy.
So, does that mean that we are done having to forgive someone upon the 491st sin committed against us? Hardly.
The point being made here is that when it comes to forgiveness, the key is not to count at all.
In the parable that Jesus told to help Peter sort this out, there was a man who owed the king an enormous debt. The king then called the debt due. But there was no way the man could pay it, so he begged for patience, and he would pay back the debt.
Let’s stop there for a second to explore what this man was asking. 10,000 talents is equivalent to 3.5 to 4.5 billion dollars. So, let’s take the lower number, just to be nice. That would be equivalent to 200,000 years in labor or 60 million working days. (Pause) And he wanted the king to have patience with him so he could pay it all back (said sarcastically)? Yeah, right!
But, instead of locking him and his family up, the king had mercy upon him and forgave him the entire debt…all 10,000 talents…just like that. Gone…forever.
Unfortunately, such mercy did not serve to be contagious in the life of this man. He turned around and took his newfound freedom to be an opportunity to demand that a debt be paid in his favor. The debt was far less, just 100 denarii, or 100 days wages. Still a fairly large sum, but nothing like what he had been forgiven.
Well, word got around, as it always does, and the king heard about it. And though the forgiven servant begged for patience again, he was imprisoned nonetheless, until he could pay back all of his debt, something that was never going to be able to happen. (Pause)
This is a grave warning to any of us who have ever desired vengeance or held on to a grudge against someone who has sinned against us. It is as Jesus said in the sermon on the mount earlier in Matthew, chapter six: For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).
The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “And 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.”
The expectation here is not that my forgiveness is dependent upon my forgiving someone else. That would put my salvation in my hands. The expectation that Jesus has here is that in any and every situation, we are to forgive. As God forgives us, so we are to forgive others. Don’t count the sins committed against us. Instead, if there is anything to count, it is in thanksgiving for all of the sins that we have had forgiven by our Father in heaven thanks to Jesus Christ.
But if we choose to hold on to the grudges against someone else because of their sins, we are choosing to reject Christ’s forgiveness for us. And yes, there are those who have been terribly sinned against. There are those of us who wonder, “Why should I forgive them, if they have never apologized?”
This call from Jesus to forgive is not to negate the hurt you feel in your heart because you have been wronged. But it is a call to stop holding on so tight to the need for grudges and vengeance, and start holding onto God’s mercy given to you. Start holding onto mercy, and let go of the grudge.
How long have you held onto your anger? How long have you held onto your hatred? How many times have you counted the sins of another committed against you? For most of us, the answer is far too long. So now is the time to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.
See here that this text is all about restoration and reconciliation that comes in forgiveness. Think of it this way. Think of a tank of gas. If the tank is full, the car will go where you want it to go. If it is empty, it won’t go anywhere. But here is another thing to consider. Even if the tank is full, if there is a kink in the hose, the car still won’t go anywhere because the fuel can’t get to where it needs to go.
The same can be said when we behave like the servant who had his debt forgiven. Instead of rejoicing and giving thanks for the forgiven debt he had been afforded, instead of sharing his celebration with others by forgiving them, he chose to put a kink in the hose and cut off the forgiveness by demanding that a debt be paid by someone else.
The same can be said of us whenever we walk away from church having received God’s gifts, but then we turn around and fail to share God’s gift of forgiveness with others. It is entirely inappropriate to ask God for forgiveness, and then in turn not forgive someone else.
So, who do you want vengeance against? Who are you bearing a grudge toward? Whose sins are you counting? (Pause)
The apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1st Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).
Did you catch it? Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love doesn’t keep count of sins. This is the love our God has lavished upon us. We didn’t deserve it in the least. Our sins are far more than we can count. And just one of them separated us from Him forever. Just one. That’s all He would have had to have counted. Just one.
But our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us. He forgives all of our iniquities. All of them (Psalm 103).
His love is patient and kind. It doesn’t keep record of wrongs. His love never fails (1st Corinthians 13).
Nor will it fail in our lives either. No matter how deeply imbedded the hurt, anger, vengeance, grudge, what have you, there is forgiveness there to be received and to be shared. It is not yours to keep to yourself by putting a kink in the hose. It is yours to give.
From His cross, His never-failing, steadfast love poured out for you. Just think of all of those sins of yours He took upon Himself. Just think of the awful things we have thought, said, and done. They are just too many to count. Yet, He took all of them…every last one of them, and He took them from you, and now not-a-one of them will be counted against you. Not-a-one. Your slate is clean. Death is no longer yours to endure. Hell is no longer your fate. Now you can rest easy in the patient forgiveness of Jesus, your king, who has graciously forgiven you.
Let’s be honest. We are incapable of forgiving others. We can’t do it seven times or seven times seventy times. But with Christ’s forgiveness in us, we can forgive others.
So, go forgive, not because you are saved by what you do, but because you are forgiven. Go forgive, not to save yourself, but because you are saved. See here that when God tells us to forgive, He does so for our good. What God desires of all of us is that you and I forsake counting sins and instead count on Christ’s forgiveness so that we may forgive others from our heart.
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, You have forgiven us all of our sins. We did not deserve such a gift, yet You gave it to us anyway. And though this gift is more than we need, we often struggle to share it. You know our hurts, You know our anger, our hatred, our bitterness and grudges. Soften our hearts with Your love. Make us bold to seek reconciliation. Help us not to count the sins of others, but instead help us to rejoice in the forgiveness You have freely given to us to be shared through us with those around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.