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September 17, 2023

16th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 50:15-21

Psalm 103:1-13

Romans 14:1-12

Matthew 18:21-35

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

from the one who calls us to lives of forgiveness, grace and mercy. Amen

Our lessons for today

deal with forgiveness,

this complex action that rests at the heart of Jesus’ ministry

and the way of life to which he calls his disciples.

all throughout his teachings

he has reinforced the idea

that forgiveness is key,

even to the point of teaching the disciples to pray,

“forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.”

now Jesus and the disciples

are talking about what happens when relationships in community are broken,

Last week we heard

Jesus detail a path to reconciliation with specific steps

So for Peter now seems like a good time to clarify

once and for all

what Jesus expects when it comes to forgiveness

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Once again

by opening his mouth

Peter shows that he has missed the point,

Jesus responds “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Forgiveness is not a box to be checked off on a to do list

it is a continual action, a way of life

and often has more to do with the one doing the forgiving

than the one being forgiven.

The best definition of forgiveness that I have come across

came from a speaker I heard when I went to Israel/ Palestine in seminary,

she was a part of a group of families

who had lost loved ones to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,

families from both sides

came together to share their grief and to work for peace,

for this presentation there were two speakers,

a Palestinian woman whose husband had been killed by Israeli defense forces

during a random traffic stop

and an Israeli woman whose son had been killed by a Palestinian sniper

while he was on patrol as part of his monthly army service.

It was the Israeli mother

who tried to define forgiveness,

and while I’m sure it is not original to her,

I always associate it with her.

She said that for her,

her working definition of forgiveness

was giving up the right to revenge.

This definition rings true to me for a couple of reasons,

first it is from the perspective of the one who has been wronged,

and it acknowledges that in many cases

the wrong would understandably be cause to seek revenge,

the old an eye for an eye justice,

which according to Jesus

makes the whole world blind

Also, Revenge has a way of consuming the individual seeking it.

In the movie the Princess Bride,

the character Inigo Montoya

has spent his whole life seeking the six fingered man who killed his father.

His waking hours have been practicing sword fighting

and he knows exactly what he will say when he meets the man

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

In the course of the movie the six fingered man is killed

and then Inigo reflects

“I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.”

In seeking revenge

Inigo allowed the six finger man

to take his life as well as the life of his father.

Forgiveness as giving up the right to revenge

also allows space for anger,

often the words forgive and forget are paired together,

but more often

that is not possible, nor is it practical

and it is right for the one wronged to be angry.

Forgiveness does not mean that the wrong done to a person is okay,

it means that the person who has been wronged

has chosen to stop the cycle of violence,

and to move forward with their life

and this takes time,

not seven times but seventy-seven times,

committing again and again

to moving forward with life,

working for peace in community

and sometimes

when the one who has sinned is repentant,

relationships are able to be repaired.

Our reading from Genesis is one such example,

the scene is the culmination of a long and tumultuous relationship

between Joseph and his brothers.

Remember Joseph is the youngest brother,

the favorite Daddy’s boy

who gets the fancy coat.

His brothers are jealous

so they sell him into slavery

and fake his death to their father to cover their tracks.

Joseph ends up in Egypt

and after much hardship rises high in the ranks of advisors of the pharaoh.

When the brothers come to Egypt seeking food during a famine

Joseph recognizes them and pulls a couple of tricks on them

before revealing who he is,

forgiving his brother’s and sending them home with food.

Now we have another forgiveness scene,

Much time has passed and Jacob dies,

Now Joseph’s brothers are worried

that Joseph only forgave them

while their father was alive

and now that he is gone

he will take revenge on them,

so they plot to secure their safety,

through inventing a final wish of their father,

that Joseph forgive his brothers

and once again they fall before their brother weeping

and seeking forgiveness

Joseph’s response is remarkable

he says “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”

Over the long arc of his life

Joseph has not only given up the right to revenge

but he has been able to see how God

was able to make the best of a bad situation,

to bring good out of evil,

Joseph has made it to a place

where he and his brothers can be in relationship,

even without their father.

This didn’t happen overnight,

it took a lifetime.

Which begs the question,

what do we do in the meantime?

As we’re working toward forgiveness

but not there yet

as we still have to live in community

with those we are trying to forgive,

but with whom we disagree,

how do we do this?

I think even if we’re not fully to forgiveness

we can still try to offer one another grace,

the grace of acknowledging

that we have different opinions or preferences,

or ways of communicating,

the grace that acknowledges

that we don’t know what all is going on in a person’s life,

that something we dismiss as unimportant

holds great meaning to them,

that we are different and yet we are one in Christ.

This is Paul’s message

in our passage from Romans this morning,

people are quarreling over what is the right way to live a life oriented to God,

some think they shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols,

others say idols don’t exist so if you’re worried about the meat

you have weak faith.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter Paul says,

both are, from their own perspectives

a faithful way of being

and besides it’s not about us and how we live

it’s about Christ.

“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

The true grace in all of this

is that Christ has already extended us

abundant grace and forgiveness beyond what we can even imagine

and given this

we have no room to be cheap

with our own grace and forgiveness

and it is distressing to others when we are,

as it was to the fellow slaves in the parable,

when they witnessed the first slave be forgiven a huge amount

and then turn around

and refuse to do the same for another who owed a paltry sum.

It should be obvious,

and yet it is still difficult.

Jesus knows this

which is why at the last supper with his disciples

he promised to come to us

in bread and wine, body and blood,

forgiveness tangible in the crumbs between our teeth

and the wine sliding down our throats,

forgiveness literally becoming a part of who we are.

That is the point of Jesus’ response to Peter,

forgiveness, grace and mercy

is a way of life,

a way of life Jesus lived,

for us.

Now we in grateful response

Are called to live lives of forgiveness, grace and mercy as well.


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