Sunday, 11 September, 2011
Year A Sunday 24. Exodus 14:10-31, Psalm 114 or Ex 15:1b-11, 20-21; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20; Green.
Call to Worship
Give thanks to God
who guides in difficult times
who gives strength when we are weak
who gives hope when we despair
who gives meaning when we don't understand
who gives peace when we are troubled
who gives courage when we are frightened
who gives wisdom when we are confused.
Give thanks to God!
Hymn 474 Here in this place new light is streaming.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession.
We do give you thanks, God,
for all of the good things you give us.
We give you thanks for your love for each one of us.
For love great enough to willingly
share our lives in Jesus.
For love great enough to pay the price
of all that we have done wrong.
For love great enough
to give Jesus
so that we might be forgiven.
We confess that we have not always loved you
with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
We confess that we have not always loved others as ourselves.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us
We confess that we have sought your forgiveness, but been unwilling to forgive.
Forgive us our sins and teach us to forgive those who sin against us
In Jesus' name we pray
Hymn Together in Song 607 Make me a channel of your peace.
Sermon: Forgiveness isn't easy
The parable is a story about forgiveness, and about what the royal reign of God is like.
Let's start as the parable does, with the King and the first servant.
A debt this big was probably from mismanaging the king's funds. It was absolutely impossible that a servant was going to run up a personal debt of this amount.
The amount Jesus quoteed, 10 000 talents, was not a credit card that had got out of hand. The annual tax income of Herod the Great's territories was only 900 talents. This servant owed the king something like America's national debt. He was never going to repay it. There were only two options: jail or forgiveness (declaring bankruptcy.)
The king opted for forgiveness. If we left it there. What this story would tell us about God's royal reign, is that it's God's nature to forgive, no matter how big the mess we make of things. That is a comforting thing, and it does tell us exactly what God achieved in Jesus – to wipe the slate clean, clear our debts and let us start again.
All would have been well, except the first servant then went and saw the second servant.
Servant 2 owed Servant 1 a hundred denarii. A denarius was a day's wage for the average worker – so a hundred denarii was about two-fifths of his annual income. It was a substantial amount, and would take a while to repay, but it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that if Servant 1 was willing to wait, he could get his money back.
You might expect that, given what Servant 1 had just been through, he might be willing to be a little gracious and exercise some patience at least. But it was still quite a lot of money. (So much, that the mind could wander to the possibility that maybe it came out of the money Servant 1 had lost the king through his mismanagement.) Servant 1 was anxious to get the momey back, and he was legally entitled to redress for an unpaid debt. Instead of waiting for payment, or even forgiving the debt as he had been forgiven, Servant 1 had Servant 2 jailed.
And now on to Act Three.
The rest of the King's staff were unhappy, and someone went to complain.
The King was more than mildly annoyed. Servant 1 had failed to follow the King's example. Given the choice between being gracious as his King had been gracious, Servant 1 had chosen to be selfish. The King's response was to act in exactly the way Servant 1 had acted – jail the debtor until his debt was paid. We know the debt could never be repaid, so Servant 1 was in jail for life.
Now it's a bit shocking tho think that this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Would God withdraw forgiveness? I wonder, if we don't forgive others, have we actually received the forgiveness God has tried to give us? If we haven't been changed by it; if we don't feel a great need to respond; have we really accepted anything at all?
The King willingly forgave this unimaginable debt. Think about it: if you owed an amount of 10 or 11 times Australia's annual tax revenue, and earned just the average wage, how would you feel about being forgiven the whole amount? The King really was incredibly compassionate and forgiving.
But, he still had certain expectations of his servants. He expected that they would treat others the way they had been treated. What the King was not willing to forgive was Servant 1's failure to even try to be gracious.
It is actually tough to forgive. We may well be aware of God's forgiveness, but we may also be very well aware of what others owe us. Remember the debt Servant 2 owed to Servant 1 was a considerable abount. To be patient and wait for payment, or to go all the way and forgive the debt, would have been a difficult choice to make.
There is no denying or downplaying that people do horrible things. Today is the 10th anniversary of the 11th September attacks in the USA. That memory is a reminder to the whole world of the depths to which human beings can sink – the harm we can do each other.
So how should we as individuals, and we as part of a society, respond to those who harm us?
Forgiveness is the ideal that we must always aim for.
Forgiveness, however, doesn't come instantly or easily. It is a part of a very long process of coming to terms with what has happened.
Forgiveness doesn't invite the other to reoffend. The King was not at all impressed that Servant 1 went straight out and did something else horrible after he was forgiven. Just because you forgive, doesn't mean you are weak or that you are going to accept being walked over. It's not permission to do the same things all over again.
Forgiveness comes from a position of power. To say “I forgive you”, means, “I have it in my power to do something other than forgive you – I could condemn you – I could take some justified action against you – I use the power I have to choose to forgive you.”
Forgiveness frees the person who is giving forgiveness. When you forgive someone, you choose to stop carrying the burden of what they have done to you. You give it back to them. When a survivor of child abuse goes back to the perpetrator of the abuse looks them in the eye and says: “I'm not a frightened child any more. I'm an adult I'm in control of my life, and I've chosen to forgive what you have done to me.” That puts the responsibility for what has happened back were it belongs – with the person who has done the wrong thing. Far too often victims of abuse don't forgive, because they think they are the ones to blame. They carry the burden, the guilt, that belongs with the perpetrator. Forgiveness is about freeing oneself from the burden, and placing the responsibility back where it belongs. The person who has been forgiven, then has the choice about what they will do with it.
The alternative to forgiveness is to carry a grudge – to stew in one's own anger – to relive the hurt perpetually. A grudge doesn't hurt the person you haven't forgiven. It just eats away at the person who won't forgive.
In the real world, the transition from hurt to forgiveness is incredibly complex.
When we are hurt, we are in danger of reacting in anger – of seeking revenge, instead of justice. There is a huge gulf between revenge and justice. Revenge excalates the hurt – each side trying to get the other back.
So we need to handle the first shock of a hurt with care. Even when we're still too hurt or angry to forgive, we need to try to use wisdom. We need to aim for justice – for putting things right – not for getting even.
We need to see that we are more than the situation – we are not just “victims” - we are whole people to whom something bad has happened in this area of our lives. Just because something bad has happened to us, does not mean that we are any less than what we have always been – whole human beings created in the image of God, and worthy of love and respect because we are loved by God. The other person is a whole person – not just the bad thing they have done. They too, have been created in the image of God and designed to be loved by God.
We need to rely on God for strength and wisdom to get through the time between when we are hurt and when we reach the point where we are able to forgive.
Let's get back to Jesus' story.
If Servant 1 hadn't just reacted, but thought out the situation, he would have realised that revenge (putting Servant 2 in jail) wasn't going to fix anything.
To be able to pay the debt back, Servant 2 needed to be able to earn money, needed to be free to work.
Even if Servant 1 was still to hurt or angry to forgive, taking a step back, he might have been able to work towards a more fair and just solution. Justice would have hand the money restored.
Forgiveness is never as easy as it sounds when we read the parable, or when we say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The worse the thing that's been done to us, the harder it's going to be to forgive.
It's a goal, something to aim for in itself. A point where we can let go of the hurt and pain, live our lives free from what has been done to us.
It's something that we have to work towards. And working towards it may require seeking some sort of justice – some means of having the harm put right (but never of revenge – to meet evil with evil will only ever increase evil.)
No matter how hard the going gets, we need to always leave the door open to the possibility of forgiveness.
I wonder what would have happened if Servant 1 had gone to the King and asked for advice or help with his situation. We can always go to God for help and strength.
Prayers of the People
We thank you for the love and forgiveness
you freely offer to us and to all people
We pray fo all the people of the world
who have experienced things that are hard to forgive.
Today, we especially pray for those people
whose lives were changed by the tragic events in the United States
ten years ago -
and for those whose lives have been changed in Afghanistan and Iraq
following on from that.
These things are hard to understand,
hard to accept,
and incredibly hard to forgive.
We pray you give strength
to everyone who has suffered loss:
give them your support,
and give them hope -
so that one day they might be free from the pain
of all that they have suffered.
Be with the leaders of this world
may they always work for justice, not retribution.
Protect us from nations meeting evil with evil
and compounding the evil in this world.
In a time of silence, we pray for the needs we are most aware of.....
We pray all these things,
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Passing the Peace
Hymn Together in Song 584 Just as I am, without one plea
Service of Holy Communion
Hymn Together in Song 530 Now let us from this table rise