Monday, September 18, 2017

Seventy Times Seven

Matthew 18 21-35
September 17, 2017

So Peter asks, “How many times should we forgive someone?
Seven times?
He probably thought he was being generous with that.
But Jesus says No, a lot more than that.
Try seventy and seven times.

Now these numbers were not just picked out of the air.
Their linked to an important reference in Genesis.
After Cain kills Abel, Cain is banished from his home and
sent to wander around the earth. He tells God that
he can’t live with that punishment, and
someone will surely kill him. So God protects him
with a seven times vengeance against anyone who does.

Then Cain’s great, great grandson Lamech,
brags to his wives saying,
“I killed a man for wounding me,
 And even killed a kid when he hit me.
If Cain is avenged seven fold,
then anyone who hurts me
will be avenged seventy-seven fold.”

Which I’m sure made him sound honorable then,
but now, it kind of just makes him seem sad.

It important to remember that in Jesus time
and before, revenge was a way of life.
Forgive Thy NeighborScott Erickson
If someone did something 
to you or your family,
you didn’t just brood over it, 
and internalize it
and stopped talking to the person or leave the neighborhood,
you got back at them. 
It was your right and obligation.
If you didn’t, you and your family’s 
honor was at stake.
In Leviticus 24, 
it’s spelled out and kind of tried to temper it,
“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”
You hurt me, then you owe me.

Jesus says that the call of the Christian 
is not seventy-seven fold vengeance, but seventy-seven fold forgiveness.
Jesus is calling for his disciples 
to undo the curse of Cain
and the vengeance of Lamech 
that has trapped their
people in endless cycles of hate, 
vengeance, and violence,
over the generations.

In this system, it wasn’t just willy-nilly wild west violence,
although there was some of that.
The promise of vengeance was kind of the legal system
at the time, you knew if you did something,
someone would get back at you for it.
And like anything, counting another’s sins against you
and retribution owed to you had been turned
into a commodity. The ones who could tally
up the most sins were the most powerful,
and the ones with the most sins tallied up
against them were losers, or if you were a loser,
that was the assumption anyway.

So now knowing some of that, we can look at Jesus parable.

In the parable, A slave owes a king a ton of money.
Remember, exaggeration is one method of parables.
And 10,000 talents was a lot.
One talent was 15 years wages, this was 10,000 times that.
Basically It’s a lot of money. More money than can be repaid.
This means that king had a lot of power over his subjects.
He could do almost anything he wanted.
And if he held onto that debt, he could leverage it
over this man and his whole family not just now, 
but for years to come.
And what does he do?
He releases the slave of the obligation of the debt.
Not just some of it, all of it. That must have sounded ridiculous.
And scandalous and radical.
Holding onto debts and grudges maintained power,
the caste system, a pecking order.
If the king started just forgiving people it would be
mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together,
you wouldn’t know who was who, slave or free,
man or woman, Jew or Greek.
This would be a new world, new freedom, new life.
Jesus meant to overturn a basic system of society.

For this now former slave, it could have been
a new morning, a new day, a new life for everyone.
He could have passed the Kings forgiveness on
and created a new reality in his community.
But as soon as he left that meeting with the king,
the slave forgot the new world he was given.
He went out into the world and forgot the forgiveness he was given,
and resumed the old way. The counting every debt,
the demand, the violence and the torture.

Now Matthew’s Jesus is always taking it over the top
in God’s justice department, but this old way
of accounting sins is torture –
 for the counted and for the counter.

Have you ever been in a position of not being able to forgive someone
for something they’ve done, whether it’s a large or small offense?
Of grumbling every time their name comes up
and relishing every bad thing that happens to them?
Of course you have, just like I have. Everyone has.
It’s human nature. And I can tell you it’s not good for you.
You think about it, you relive it, you imagine you’re offense over and over again. 
The one who’s done it has probably moved on and doesn’t
think much about it. But you can be held by the offense for years.

A society that is build around revenge and getting even cannot move on.
It cannot sustain itself, it will eventually blow itself up
with depression, or addiction, or guns, or nuclear bombs.
Jesus wants to overthrow this system with our forgiveness and love.
  
Now a days, we’re more sophisticated than they were in Jesus time,
we like our retribution for sins taken care of by our institutions,
we like our justice departments, we like our revenge meted
out by solitary confinement and the death penalty,
we like our debts counted by credit agencies and payday loan companies,
we still like the church to divide us
into holy and not holy, sinful and righteous.
We’re comfortable with the caste system
created by sin and debt and we are reluctant to give it up
but still and all, it’s torture for everyone.
It cannot survive.
And that is why Jesus made forgiveness front and center of his ministry.
And that’s why God’s forgiveness comes first
and sets us free so we can pass it on and
create a new reality in our community.

Here’s an example.
So the parents of the victims of Sandy Hook,
the school shooting where 20 first graders were killed in 2012,
They have a foundation who’s purpose it is to curb school shootings.

Their foundation works on reasonable gun control
and all of those safety precautions.
But their main focus is mental health reform,
getting young people, like the one who shot their children,
help they need before they reach a crisis.

They’re also working on an effort to make sure that
all children have friends, they started a program called
“No Child Eats Alone”, which encourages students and staff
to go and eat with children who are eating alone.
And “Know Me Know My Name” an effort for every staff teacher and administrative person to know every child’s name and use it regularly.
  
Now they could have easily gone to work on tougher sentences,
or more security in schools. Or they could have done nothing
and walked around bitter and scarred from this tragedy.
They have every reason not to be sympathetic,
to hold on to a grudge, to be angry and not forgiving.
I met a couple of them two years ago,
and they still missed their children,
you could still feel their pain.

And they hated what the young man did to them
and to their children,
but they didn’t call him a monster they didn’t dehumanize him.
They realized that he was troubled,
that he fell through the system,
and should have had help, he should have had a friend.
They went to a place of compassion for the man who offended them.

And I don’t know what their religious background is,
or whether they’re Christian, but this, I think,
is a profound example of forgiveness,
Even thought they didn’t call it that.

Forgiveness is such an important part of our faith.
But from bible studies and discussions, I still think
we’re unsure about what that means.
So I made a list of some thought that I’ve had,
maybe you have more.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that people who have
committed crimes and hurt people should be free and prisons emptied.
But it does mean that as Christians we should demand that
prison be centers of rehabilitation and not punishment and torture.

Forgiveness does not mean that we shouldn’t  demand justice
And speaking the truth to power.
We can forgive and still try to correct systems and people that
use their privilege to take advantage of others
It doesn’t mean stopping to demand that things change.


Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we should continue to take abuse.
too often this parable has been used to give abusers a free ride
and to return people –usually women and children –
back into situations of sexual and domestic abuse.
Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation, that takes both people.
Forgiveness can only happen after the abuse is over.

Forgiveness doesn’t always mean telling someone they’re forgiven. Sometimes the person doesn’t need to know,
sometimes it’s too dangerous and sometimes the person is dead,
Sometimes we forgive people who aren’t even sorry.

Forgiveness isn’t only for the offender. It is for us.
It releases us. Some have said its, disempowering the past,
It’s not letting bitterness and anger to eat away at us.
It’s stopping the torture in our own brains.

Sometimes forgiveness doesn’t come to us.
That is where we need to rely on God’s power
and grace and love to help us.
Forgiveness isn’t easy,
 Jesus asks us to do a lot of things that aren’t easy.

And finally, forgiveness starts with remembering we are forgiven.
In Jesus parable, the first thing that happens is that the
king forgives the servant everything. He is released and freed.
He was able to start a new day and a new life.
But the servant forgot that, and that’s where the trouble began.

We have been forgiven by God through the grace of Jesus Christ.
We have been loosed, released from the bonds,
 set free, free to live and new day and a new life.
And that is where our own forgiveness of others starts.

And that is why we have a rite of confession and forgiveness in our worship.
So I ask you right now to stand, and remember you are forgiven.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen


In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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