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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Forgiveness - 09/17/2017

Well we've pretty clearly got a theme going on in our readings today.

Forgiveness.

The word itself or elements of it appear in every reading.

It makes sense to how we understand ourselves as faithful people that we think and talk about and live into this virtue “forgiveness” – this behavior that shows something of our moral values. I mean think about it just from the point of logic. If we accept that we are slaves to our sin – that sin is a persistent challenge in our lives – then we must also accept the other side of that coin, which is God's forgiveness of that sin. It is what makes the way for us to be saints as we are still sinners.

And that is the side of the coin we have today. Forgiveness. It's laid out plainly in our reading from Genesis and this amazing story of 12 brothers.

This is the very end of the story we have here. It is a story of brothers who could not forgive Joseph for being the child finally born to Rachel after so many years of waiting. They could never forgive him for being his father's favorite. The story tells us, “Now Israel,” ...who remember was named Jacob before wrestling with God on a muddy river bank all night … “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age...” (Gen 37.3)  That's when – you may remember –  his father gave Joseph that amazing technicolor dream coat. His brothers couldn't forgive that coat either. And they couldn't forgive him those dreams he told them about … dreams about sheaves of wheat and even the sun, moon and stars bowing down to him. The brothers were not about to let Joseph rule over them in anyway.

So they tried to kill him, but that was just too much for one of the brothers to bear, and they sold him instead to a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead on camels. They were on their way to Egypt. They bought Joseph and sold him into slavery there. Joseph's life changed abruptly. He went from being a well-loved teenage son in a wealthy family, not to mention the great-grandson of Abraham himself, to being a slave and a prisoner of the worshipers of false gods and other idols.

This matter of forgiveness in our reading today is pretty weighty. It's a bit more complex than brothers scraping over the last piece of bread or the XBox controller.

If we turn to our Psalm, we find themes of forgiveness there too – this time it's about the wide and deep forgiveness that God chooses for us.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,

   and do not forget all (God's) benefits—

who forgives all your iniquity,

   who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the Pit,

   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

who satisfies you with good as long as you live

   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Ps 103:2-5)

It reminds me of that beautiful line from our Prayer of the Day … “you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness,” we said as we praised God at the start of our worship.

And then we have our Gospel reading today where Peter's putting it out there in ways only Peter can. He has a knack for this, it seems, asking the questions or making the outbursts that lead to Jesus revealing more about what God is up to in him, even when these questions or outbursts lead to some itchy situations for Peter. “You are the Messiah, the son of living God!” remember that one? And then two seconds later Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan, you are a stumbling block to me!” (Mt 16.23)

And now – “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Mt. 18.21) I hear Peter asking this with this kind of a spirit: “How many times should I forgive this turkey who keeps interrupting me when I ask you questions  – or how about this bozo who keeps taking my place at the table – how many times, Lord? Seven?” I think Peter thinks he's being clever and witty here – seven is the number of completion. He knows he should forgive, even if it's as many as seven times!

But Jesus uses this opening to raise the bar on forgiveness higher than ever – higher than anyone else could attain. I can think of two reason of why Jesus  does this. First, he makes it clear  that this is how important this virtue is to us as his disciples. And, second, Jesus says to us, listen to this parable too. It will help you understand how forgiving God is … “the kingdom of God may be compared to a king …” This is a king who desires that the people be free of debt and burden in their lives. The parable gives us two examples of people indebted to someone else, two people asking to be forgiven the burden of these debts, and two responses to those appeals. We also have different monetary amounts. The kings' servant owed 10,000 talents and the king's servant's servant owed 100 denarii. Now even without understanding ancient currencies, I think we can pick up from just the context of the story that 10,000 talents is more than 100 denarii. But I wanted to know just how much more. Here's what I found in a commentary on the reading.

“... a talent was about 130 lbs. of silver and would take a laborer about fifteen years to earn. Which means that the servant owed the king about 150,000 years of labor! In other words, he would never, ever be able to pay this debt back. A denarius, by comparison, was worth about a day’s wage, which meant that the second servant owed the first about a hundred days of labor – no small debt.” (https://tinyurl.com/ycj39e3j  David Lose, In the Meantime, 9/13/17)

And that I think gets us to the heart of this story – if the King's servant is unburdened so radically by the forgiveness of the king, why wouldn't he in turn let that forgiveness continue to flow through him to his servant?

Likewise – if we are unburdened so radically by the forgiveness of God, why wouldn't we in turn let that forgiveness continue to flow through us to those in our lives?

It's a powerful and compelling reminder, I would hope, for all of us to do a bit of a self-check. Do I hold asking forgiveness and being forgiving at the core of what is most important to me? Is that part of what identifies me as a student and follower of the Jesus Way?

This is a very big thing we are asked to do in the face of a world that is often not as generous as God with forgiveness of the impossible debts and burdens we sometimes end up carrying.

And this is not necessarily an easy thing to do either. I found that out in a very personal sense this past week when an old wound was reopened and I realized that I hadn't quite forgiven those I felt had inflicted that wound. And it's one of those areas where I don't think those who have trespassed against me are seeking my forgiveness. But this lesson on forgiveness from Jesus pushes me to realize that it is not healthy or Gospel-centered for me to hold onto that burden, to let it bind my heart, and I have to work toward forgiving still, even though I have a really hard time being forgiving in this particular area. So I'll keep at it, in my imperfect ways that are not nearly as wide and deep as God's … maybe always wondering if I've truly forgiven.

So yes, it's hard for these kinds of situations and for situations in which we are faced with trying to forgive the unforgivable.

Because of that I also have to share something else I realized as I recalled the story of Joseph this week. When Joseph's brothers come to him asking for forgiveness, they are not really doing it out of a sincere sense of grief over how they wronged him. They are worried about their own skins. Now that their father is dead, they wonder if Joseph will continue to look after them, protect them from famine and drought, give them land so they can protect and grow their wealth. They weren't sure maybe because if they were Joseph, they couldn't imagine being that forgiving. And so they go to him asking forgiveness as if it were one of their father's dying wishes. It wasn't. And yet the story ends in a scene of truly reunited family despite the less than honest motive that moved the brothers to ask for forgiveness. God knew what was really on their hearts and God still worked forgiveness and restoration through that imperfect family situation.

Because … Forgiveness.

It is not only what God asks of us, it is what God has chosen for us. Thanks be to God for the “inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness” we receive in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and victory over the tomb, a gift that freed us to be the beautiful and imperfect forgiven and forgiving disciples of Jesus in the world today. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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