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Bible Talks


Stephen Hall, September 14, 2014
Part of the Lectionary series, preached at a Lismore Sunday service

EXODUS 14:19-31 Romans 14:1-14 Matthew 18:21-35

At the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa a court like body was formed called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Anybody who felt they had been a victim of violence could come forward and be heard. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution. The first hearings commenced in 1996. (18 years ago)
Many of the atrocities were truly horrific. At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it. The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond.“What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement. Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”
Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed. Justice was not done in South Africa that morning....... Something beyond justice took place.

A most beautiful act of forgiveness that I could never imagine happening. I ask myself could I have been that forgiving ? How could she act like she did?

I would like to suggest that possibly it was because of her understanding of today’s gospel reading. The parable Jesus taught was in response to Peter’s limited understanding of the act of forgiveness. The rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offend them – but only 3 times. Peter trying to be especially generous asked Jesus if seven which was understood to be the perfect number was enough times to forgive someone. But Jesus answered “try seventy times seven” meaning that we shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive someone.

This passage of scripture follows straight on from last week’s gospel reading and for those who attended the 7/30am service Rev Alan’s message had us look closer at the issue of resolving conflict within the community of faith – the church. So whilst the context of last week’s gospel and this weeks, refer particularly to the church, the principle of today’s parable should reach out to everyone.

It is a familiar parable to many of us. We try and imagine just how big the debt is. Bible commentators are at odds with one another trying to put a modern day dollar figure on it. One thing for sure is they all agree it is a huge amount, some say equivalent to between 15 and 20 years salary.

Like me you have no doubt marvelled at the king’s mercy in cancelling the debt instead of applying the horrible punishment of being sold into slavery along with your entire family. Then, like me you are probably angered at the way the servant treated his fellow slave who owed him the equivalent of perhaps only 100 days salary, yet refused to grant mercy let alone cancel the smaller debt. And then perhaps like me you agree the king’s punishment of the wicked servant was just. Jesus finishes his parable with these words;

“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

These are scary words.

In the parable the king represents God, the debt represents sin, and the servant every human being. If this parable is speaking to me where do I see myself in this scenario? Where do you see yourself in this story? Obviously I cannot be the King. There is only one place I fit in and that is in the role of the first servant who owes so much. I am totally indebted to God for my life, my livelihood, my family, everything, yet by my thoughts, words and actions I offend Him and in sinning build up a large debt. That debt has been cancelled Praise God, so what right do I have, to hold onto anger, bitterness and grudges when I have sought mercy and forgiveness from God.

Every time we utter the words of confession we throw ourselves at the mercy of God, just like the wicked servant – “ we repent and are sorry for all our sins. Father, forgive us” Do we mean it? Of course we mean it and we take great comfort from the words of Absolution.

Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Do we mean it? This is where we have to be careful.

I remember from my younger years the saying, “ sticks and stones will hurt my bones but names will never hurt me” – believe me that saying is false. It is not true. I can remember being called names and it hurt. It hurt more as I dwelt on it and harboured resentment and grudges against the name callers – how I longed to get even – to retaliate. Have you ever felt like that?

You would have heard it said, I will forgive, but won’t forget. How would we like God to tell us he will forgive, but not forget? We are human and so we cannot help but to remember certain things and it is not easy to put events out of our minds, but we must do our best to treat people we say we forgive as if the wrong never happened, for that is exactly what God does with us. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the day when God will forgive the iniquity of his people and remember their sins no more.
Many people forgive, but they never forget or even let the offender forget what they had done, that is not Biblical forgiveness. Biblical forgiveness keeps no record of wrongs.
?Perhaps you have heard it said “I will forgive but things will never be the same.” That is true from a human point of view however, there is one problem with that, from God’s perspective - the purpose of forgiveness is not just overlooking someone’s faults, but it is restoring a relationship back to the way it was before the wrong took place, it is reconciliation. This is exactly what God does with us, not only does he forgive us of our sins, but he restores our relationship with him to the way it was intended to be. As a matter of fact, after we wronged God and after we received His forgiveness we are placed in a better relationship than before.

Jesus is our best example of forgiveness. He not only preached it, but he also lived a life of forgiveness. Some of his last words before his death were for the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him.

In January 1945 the Soviet Army liberating the Auschwitz concentration camp found among the survivors 200 children the majority of whom had been subjected to nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s unspeakable genetic experiments. One of the children was Eva Mozes who had become deathly ill but through sheer determination, she stayed alive and helped her twin sister Miriam to survive also. They were only 11 years old.
Eva now in her eighties continues to speak wherever she can sharing her message of forgiveness. She says that everyone has the power to forgive and that once she was able to forgive, she was able to overcome the psychological damage she had suffered. She said.” I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz. I was no longer a victim of my tragic past.”

No Eva wasn’t a victim, she was a Victor. When someone does something hurtful to us, we are the victim of their meanness or their thoughtlessness. Forgiveness however, makes us Victors we can boldly stand and say, “ you will not dictate the way I respond, you will not dictate who I am.”

Non forgiveness creates a burden so heavy that it is almost impossible to carry. There is an old Chinese proverb which says; Whoever opts for revenge should dig two graves.” The burdens of anger and bitterness need to be lifted otherwise they gnaw away at us and the longer they stay the stronger they get and the harder it becomes to forgive, we find it harder to daily take up our cross and live the way Jesus wants us to live. It can also make us sick physically as well as emotionally.

When Avalon and I got married one of my aunts gave us this advice from Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 “ Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” Not only is this good advice for married couples, it is good advice for us all – the devil loves it when we are unforgiving. Forgiveness is risky, but it is the only road to freedom. The other road leads to self destruction.

We need to recognise that there are two sides to the forgiveness coin. On one side we need to forgive those who trespass against us - those who have made our lives difficult through their words and actions. On the flip side, we have to ask ourselves the question do I have to seek forgiveness from someone whose life I have made difficult through my words or actions.

I have looked at this passage many times in recent days and have come to the conclusion that Forgiveness is not Jesus’ suggestion –it is clear that forgiveness is Jesus’ command. For the obedient Christian it isn’t simply the wisest choice, it is our only choice and that is where I believe for us in the community of faith it becomes scary - Dare I say it, for a person who cannot, will not forgive, l pray they do not fall into sin.

Jesus said, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, IF you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Last week Alan’s sermon finished with the words “ We forgive because we have been forgiven.” At the risk of being labelled a copycat, LET US LEAVE HERE WITH THOSE WORDS RINGING IN OUR EARS;
We forgive, because we have been forgiven. Thanks be to God. AMEN


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