Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered on the
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 13, 2020
Genesis 50:15-21 & Matthew 18:21-35
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
“Living in God’s Limitless Forgiveness”
Have you ever heard this warning: Be careful what you pray for – you might get it. Here’s a prayer many of us pray at least once a week – forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Is that what we really want? We know we want God’s forgiveness. Of that, we are quite sure. However, we are not so sure about the second part, about the way we forgive others. We know that we are not nearly so quick to forgive others as we hope and pray that God forgives us.
I mean, we’ve heard the proverbial phrase attributed to Alexander Pope, “To err is human; to forgive, Divine.”
But, limitless forgiveness is so hard.
We’re talking about forgiveness like the story of Joseph mentioned in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures. You remember, Joe-Joe-Joe-Joseph and the technicolored dream coat. Joey, the dreamer. Joe-Joe whom his brothers left him for dead, lied to their father about saying he was killed type of forgiveness.
In our Gospel lesson, Peter comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, if someone sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Seven times is a lot. It is a lot of times to turn and forgive someone who has sinned against you.
But, Jesus says, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” New Testament scholars debate whether the Greek text means “seventy-seven times” or “seventy times seven times.” But that is beside the point, because either way, Jesus is holding up an enormous number, a number so big that we can’t begin to calculate it in terms of forgiveness.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus tells Peter the story about the unforgiving servant, a story where the numbers don’t add up, because the numbers can’t be added up, when it comes to what Jesus has done for us. In the story, a servant owes the king ten thousand talents. Now, this is a crazy number.
A single talent was more than 15 years’ worth of daily wages. So, when Jesus says, this servant owed the king ten thousand talents, he’s effectively saying he owed him a bazillion dollars.
The servant, no surprise, couldn’t pay back the debt, so the king orders him and everything he has to be sold off. So, the servant falls on his knees and begs for an extension and promises that if he gets some extra time, he will pay everything back. Since there is no way the slave will ever be able to pay back what he owes, the king just forgives the debt, every last cent, and sets the slave free.
Yet, when the servant, who has just been forgiven a debt of a bazillion dollars, runs into a guy who owes him a hundred denarii – which amounts to a few bucks in comparison to what he owed the king – what does he do? Well, he grabs the guy by the throat and demands that he pay up. And when the king finds out that the servant for whom he had just forgiven an unimaginable amount wouldn’t forgive the pittance that was owed him by another, he had the servant thrown into prison.
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has taken upon Godself all our burdens and sins and debts and has forgiven them. Completely, irrevocably, utterly forgiven and healed by Jesus. God is the God who forgives. Yes, forgiveness can restore a life, a community, and even become contagious.
In 1995, Raymond Johnson drove by and shot Casson Evans, the three-year old son of Sharletta Evans. It wasn’t until 17 years later that a truly deep and meaningful conversation between a victim and offender was able to take place. She and Raymond rose from opposites sides of the table and approached each other He extended his arms. She asked him to turn his palms facing up. She then clutched his hands and said a prayer. She said, “I prayed that they would cause no more harm, that they’d be hands of comfort, that they would bring help and serve people and that they would no longer be hands of destruction but hands that bring life.”
We forgive, then, because God forgives. The forgiveness that we are to pass on to others is the forgiveness we have in union with Christ. Not because we are moral heroes or because we seek our own wellbeing, but because we are forgiven sinners. Amen.
~Fr. Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church