Forgive Us Our Debts
This is a sermon about the life-and-death importance of forgiveness.
According to Jesus, forgiveness, unlimited forgiveness is critically important, in your personal life and in the life of your congregation.
But before we get into the ins-and-outs of forgiveness, I want to begin the sermon by airing one of my pet peeves.
One of my chief beefs is what I call “The Disney World View.”
Most of us grew up watching Disney cartoons and movies.
These shows always start out happily.
Then a conflict emerges.
As the story unfolds the conflict worsens.
But in the end, all is well.
The problems are sorted.
And all the characters live happily ever-after.
Now, I realize that these are just stories, told to entertain or amuse.
But stories told often enough tend to form how we view the world.
The cultural upshot of these happily ever after stories, told over and over again, is that we come to think that everything in this life will end well regardless of our actions.
And if things don’t end well, then we think something is wrong; with us.
Or more likely we think something is wrong in our life because of what someone else did to us.
So, we blame others for the troubles in our lives, troubles that are simply the result of living in a broken world; troubles often magnified by our own choices.
In this life troubles, conflicts, arise daily.
Sister argues with sister, brother with brother.
Very friends are divided by unresolved conflict.
When it comes to the church, self-interest (selfishness) often trumps trying to see the issue from the others point of view.
And as a result, conflict arises and whole worshipping congregations are destroyed.
But back to my gripe with Disney for a moment.
What also annoys me about the Wonderful World of Disney isn’t just their relentlessly happy endings.
I am also annoyed by Disney’s unrealistic and overly sentimental portrayal of nature itself.
According to Disney nature stories, wild creatures are pretty much harmless; even bears are portrayed as cute and cuddly.
According to Disney’s view of the natural world, critters that are large enough to eat you, or run over you without noticing that you are there, should not be of any particular concern.
As a result of Disney portraying wild animals as nearly human, every year we see news clips of someone who, believing wild animals are harmless, feeds a bear and gets chomped, or gets up in an elk’s grill and is trampled or gored.
Thanks, Disney, for leading unsuspecting city folk, like us, astray when it comes to understanding that wild animals are inherently dangerous and should be dealt with, with respect and caution.
So, what does my long-standing grievance against what I have just described as the Disney World View have to do with today’s sermon on forgiveness?
Well if we take a Disney approach to our life in general, and our life in the church in particular, we tend to not see the potential for disaster that arises when we minimize or dismiss outright, God’s absolute requirement for us to forgive one another.
Failing to recognize an elk’s ability to mow you down if you get too close and being crushed as a result, is just like minimizing the danger of failing to forgive a sister or brother and thereby receiving a serious injury to our personal spiritual progress and to the life and the work of your congregation.
Disney would say, not to worry, elk are people too.
The Christian who holds a Disney world-view is prone to say, “Not to worry, the monster of unforgiveness is a toothless one that will not really do any harm if I get up-close, pet it and let it into my life.”
The Christian who treats the beast of unforgiveness the way Disney treats bears says, “I can feel free to exercise my personal freedom to bear a grudge against my brother.
And God, good guy that he is, will wink, look the other way and forgive me my unwillingness to do as Jesus told me; forgive.”
Here we have the Disney world view in full bloom in the life of the congregation.
And as a result, the death-dealing beast of conflict blossoms and goes unchecked; in your life and in the life of your congregation.
Clearly Jesus did not hold with this Disney laisse-faire way of seeing and doing things.
In fact, the last too verses of today’s lesson could not be less Disneyesque.
I’ll repeat Jesus’ words to reinforce my point.
18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
18:35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
Not much there in the way of soft and fuzzy is there?
We live in a world that does not like the idea that God will judge us for our actions; including the act of failing to forgive our sister or brother.
Rather than live in the real world where our actions matter and, in the end, we are accountable to God for them, we prefer to live in a Disney world of fairy tales.
A world of fantasy, where anything goes.
Most of us Christians see God as our benevolent grandfather.
As a lovingly indulgent elderly man who would not think of requiring much of us in the way of right behaviour.
Perhaps especially when it comes to forgiving that person in the next pew over who has annoyed me for years.
Well, Matthew 18, verses 34 and 35 certainly put the lie to the idea that, when it comes to us forgiving others, God is our friendly grandfather.
These two very stark verses from Matthew lay out for us the very real danger of the consequence of our misbehaviour when it comes to failing to forgive.
Our God is indeed a loving and gracious God.
Our God is extravagant in all areas of life, including and maybe even especially in the area of forgiveness.
A Lord who would forgive a debt of ten thousand talents is a Lord who would forgive virtually anything of someone who appeals to him for mercy.
The internet says 10,000 talents is equal to $4,567,000,000.
That’s a whole lot of money, more money than you could spend in a lifetime.
$4.5 billion dollars worth of forgiveness is a whole lot of forgiveness.
It might as well be an infinite amount of forgiveness.
That is the kind, the quantity, of forgiveness our Lord showers on us.
And in return, our God calls us to go and do likewise in our dealings with our sisters and brothers.
Jesus himself tells us in the parable we read today to pour out our forgiveness lavishly on one another.
Jesus tells us, to freely give away to the one who offends us, more than a lifetime’s worth of forgiveness.
And he ended his parable with a very non-Disney warning; if you fail to forgive, even as you are forgiven by me, you will suffer the consequences.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
Lord Jesus, help us to humble ourselves, help us to hear your words of warning and admonition today.
Help us to forgive one another from our hearts, so that we, and this your congregation, may prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper.