Living a life of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:1-20

September 13th & 14th, 2008


          There is probably nothing more basic to life than breathing.  There are two parts to breathing; inhaling and exhaling.   It is such a part of living we do not even think about it. Those who have asthma or experienced breathing difficulties  , know that without proper breathing little else in life can be accomplished.  Today we are going to look at two parts of forgiveness, the first is the inhaling part, that is taking in God’s forgiveness.  The second is exhaling, that is taking his same forgiveness and bringing this to the world around us.  What is the problem?  We naturally want to breath incorrectly, and this evening/morning its Jesus job to get us on the right breathing rhythm. 

          Peter goes to Jesus, and thinks that what really matters is exhaling when it comes to forgiveness. “How often, when my brother sins against me, and I have to forgive him”.   Now, note this is a brother, someone who knows better.  One who is part of the family.  The Rabbi’s at the time said you needed to forgive three times, and  after that you can withhold forgiveness.  Peter, knowing Jesus is compassionate and probably wanting to impress his teacher, states “what about seven times.  Now this was over double the going rate of the day.  They thought, and logically so, that there must be  a line drawn in the sand.  There has to be an end point.   The problem with the Rabbi’s and the problem with Peter is they ask the question in order to set limits on forgiveness.    What’s the most I have to forgive someone?   Translation I don’t really want to do it anyway, but since the law says so, I’ll do my duty.  Give me a number, so we can exhale properly.     

          Jesus then says your exhaling will have to keep on going, seventy times seven.  Not a new limitation, 490 as opposed to three or seven,  but rather a number of perfection, and completeness.  An infinite number.  Go ahead and try this, try to exhale, stop, and not breath out.  If you work at it you may be able to do seven times, but 490 times is virtually impossible.  For that to happen, you have to inhale.

          Jesus then turns the question around to inhaling.   If we do not have the air to breath in, how in the world can we breath out?   This is not small problem, life itself is at stake.  Jesus tells them a story of a servant, who worked for a king, and he owed him 10,000 talents.  According to one source, one talent equaled 15 years of labor for most workers, and so it would literally take 150,000 years of labor to pay the debt at hand.  This debt was simply not manageable.  A financial advisor would look at this kind of debt and probably throw up his arms.  One of the greatest challenges in bringing the Christian gospel to bear on peoples lives, is their view of sin and debt.  While few if anyone, would say that we are without fault,   most do not believe the debt that has accumulated because of our sin is that substantial.  Yet the bible says the debt between humanity and God is simply insurmountable.     The book of Romans says Yet the wages of sin is death.  Our debt even started to accumulate even at conceptions, Psalm 51 says “in sin my mother conceived me”.  This debt grew exponentially not only through our active sins, but failing to do what we should have done.    We are delusional if we think, we can take a chunk out of this debt by showing God we are sincere, or because we make good investments in this life.  This approach would be the equivalent of having our congregation say all our offerings for the next month will go to help relieve the nations debt.  Not only ours, but all the Clinton County Churches for one month will send their offerings to the National Treasury.  As of this week the national debt is 9.5 trillion, and increases to the tune of 1.95 billion a day.   According to the bible our approaches to get ourselves back with God, are simply fruitless.    What happened in our story, the master fell on his knees and of all things said “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything”.  Now notice what it says next, he had pity on him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  He didn’t pay the debt because the servant promised to pay him back in full, rather he paid the debt because of his mercy. 1 Peter 2:24 says “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”  Folks if the debt is there, and it surely is, only Jesus can, and only Jesus has wiped our debt clean.    If that is true, now we can really live, and while inhaling is important, so to is exhaling.

          The servant then turns to someone who owes him the equivalent of $200 he fails to exhale properly.  He grabs the servant around the neck, refuses to have mercy on him, and put him in prison.  Now we may look at this and think, while he just didn’t apply mercy properly.  Yet there was another problem here, might it be that he thought he was forgiven by the king because of his good, sincere, confession.  It wasn’t just that he failed to exhale properly, it was that he failed to inhale the complete and total forgiveness for your sins.  Friends in Christ, you and I are not part of the kingdom not because we have felt sorry for all our sins.   We are not in Jesus kingdom because he saw something in us he doesn’t see in others, we are in his kingdom solely and completely because of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.  It is a mercy that even covers our failure to inhale and exhale properly.  It is a mercy that has allowed us to inhale so we can exhale.

          Forgiveness of our neighbor is no more an option for us then breathing is an option.  Joseph in our OT reading gives us a marvelous example; his brothers had thrown him into a pit, and left him for dead.  Yet, vengeance was not on his mind when the opportunity arose to get back at his brothers.   By the grace of God he was allowed to say “But you , mean t evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  Did he forget what they did to him, obviously not according to this, but it didn’t any longer hinder their relationship.    There is marvelous good news here, that is the debt, no matter how large has been repaid.  It is easy, no, which is why the Christ of Calvary and the open tomb bids us to pray week after week even day after day “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  How does this happen?  It doesn’t start with exhaling properly, it begins by inhaling all Jesus has done for you, and by the grace of God the rest will follow.  Lord help us to inhale your mercy, that we might exhale your love to the world that desperately