Forgive As We Forgive

 

Matthew 18:21-35

Grace, mercy and peace t you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

Old Joe was dying. For years he’d been at odds with Bill, formerly one of his best friends. Wanting to strengthen things out, he sent word for Bill to come and see him. When Bill arrived, Joe told him that he was afraid to go into eternity with such bad feelings between them. Then, very reluctantly, and with great effort, Joe apologized for some of the things he had said and done. He also assured Bill that he forgave him for his offenses. Everything seemed fine until Bill turned to go. As he walked out of the room, Joe called out to him, “Now, just remember, if I get better, this doesn’t count.”

Today we continue on in our study of Luther’s Small Catechism, specifically on the Lord’s prayer, and today we study the phrase, “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and as with every section of this amazing prayer, there is a lot packed into its words.

First, let’s see what Luther has to say about this section of the prayer. He says, “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them.” Right away, Luther gets into what true forgiveness is, the complete wiping away of hostility, vengeance and even remembrance of past offenses.

A tall order to be sure for us hostile, vengeful and ever-remembering people. In fact, such a tall order that there is no hope of accomplishing it apart from the Holy Spirit’s work within us. God has the power to wipe our slate of sin clean, we, however, must put our unforgiveness in His mighty hands if we ever hope to accomplish such a seemingly insurmountable task.

Luther goes on to say in the same explanation, “We are neither worthy of such things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So, we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

Imagine a friend who you KNEW would always forgive you just in the asking, every time, without a shred of doubt, no matter the size of your offence against them. In our earthly lives there are probably none to be found, yet this is what our Father in heaven does, every time, without a shred of doubt other than the doubt we have because of the enormity of the gift. Things like that just don’t happen in our worldliness.

And that’s what forgiveness is, a gift. That’s why we don’t like to give it to the people we feel have wronged us somehow. That’s why true forgiveness apart from the Holy Spirit is impossible. Why would we give a gift to someone who has hurt us?

Yet every day, we do to God what we hope no one ever does to us. We break His command to love each other no matter what. We daily trespass on God’s perfect will in favor of our own. We replace the guidance of the Holy Spirit with the temptations of the world. Everyday. Every one of us. Yet God keeps gifting us forgiveness just in the asking every time we ask for it. In fact, it was so important to Him that we would qualify for this gift that He sent His only Son to take on all of the sin of the world so that we might be seen clean as He is clean. Because of this most unselfish act, we are now seen through the prism of Christ and our sins have become as white as snow and as far from us as the East is from the West in God’s eyes. Now that’s a gift worth telling others about.

In this prayer, we confess that we sin every day and deserve nothing but punishment. Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

A vital part of forgiveness is confession, another thing we faulty earthlings have lots of trouble with. No one likes to do it because it’s an admission of guilt. It shows that we had a part to play in the grievance and, often, that’s a hard thing to admit, even to God. Yet, true forgiveness cannot come without it.

I think of this latest episode in Charlottesville. When President trump neglected to single out the very vial and evil acts of white supremacy, instead saying that there was fault on all sides for the unrest. People went insane. Somehow starting a riot and beating others with clubs is ok to some and not a sin to have to be given forgiveness for if it’s against an adversary that we perceive is more evil than we are. Riots are still going on to this day because people can’t see that hate is evil and something of which we should be ashamed of. Confession of sins is the furthest thing from their minds when people perceive they are doing good, even with hate and vengeance in their hearts. This is a symptom of our fallen condition, when we decide what is righteous and what is not. White supremacy and Nazism have no place in a civilized world and should be condemned, but so to must hate, vengeance and hostility. Love is always more powerful than hate. Forgiveness is always more powerful than vengeance. Confession is always more powerful than pride. Imagine what our world would look like if we simply started to confess our sins, forgive and listen.

In this petition, Luther says, “We ask that our Father in heaven would, for Christ’s sake, graciously forgive our sins.” Even for those times we have put our own righteousness before His. Even for those times we thought we were doing good by hating others.  

Psalm 51 conveys this most precious request saying, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! And Luke 18:13 says it all in very few words, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

So, other than the ability to ask for the great gift of forgiveness, why else does Jesus include this petition in the prayer He taught us. Luther would say it is because, in praying this prayer assured of our forgiveness because of it, we can approach God confidently and with a good conscience in all areas of our lives.

God would have us free from sin so that we might go about the work of His kingdom without being weighed down with the guilt and regret that is associated with sin. He would have us free from sin so that when we approach Him in prayer we can do so in the sure confidence that He both hears our prayers and answers them according to His perfect will. Luther says that we can approach God “With a confident and joyful heart that springs from nothing else than the certain knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.” From Psalm 32, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Yet, because forgiveness is so Godly, we will always struggle to give it to people who have hurt us or wronged us in some way. This doesn’t change the fact, however, that God wishes us to do it with every opportunity. Instead of hating your enemy, He wishes you to love him. Instead of wishing for God to strike him down, he wishes for you to lead Him to righteousness.

In our Gospel lesson Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” Now, Scripture likes to paint a picture using numbers sometimes and in this case, Jesus is saying that our forgiveness should be without end. As God’s chosen people we are to strive to match the character of our God who forgives sins without fail, every time we ask.

When we forgive others, it shows others that we truly believe that God has forgiven us and that we believe that our forgiveness is complete. Luther says, “Just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence and wrong, shows malice toward us, and so on. If, therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you.”

And this brings us to our final challenge in today’s section of the Lord’s prayer. Jesus makes it clear here that we are to ask for God’s forgiveness in the same measure as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

In theological terms, this is called holding the office of the keys. Imagine a key to imprison and another to release from prison. At this time, Jesus was talking to His disciples, so many have mistakenly suggested that it was a power given by Christ to His disciples alone. Yet, it is included in Scripture because God wishes all to follow that same example. In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, we recognize that the people of our congregations have power to forgive or condemn through Christ. These keys are then given to the pastor as a representative of the whole. When I forgive people their sins, it is not I doing it, but Christ. None of us, in ourselves, have the power to forgive sins. Yet Christ works within us to pass on His forgiveness to others.

This power is given because forgiveness is expected from us. As children of the one true God, we are expected to set an example in our Christian charity, included in this is the forgiveness we give even from grace.

Let’s look again at the final verse from this morning’s Gospel lesson: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother.”

In this story the king forgave much but the servant would not forgive at all. As a consequence, the slave was reinstated with his debt and thrown into debtor’s prison until such time as he could pay of his enormous obligation. So the Father will do to all those who lack forgiveness in their hearts.

Everyone here this morning has been wronged by someone at some time. Some of these sins against you have been very great indeed. And every time this has happened, you’ve been given a choice, to forgive or not to forgive. And if we’re honest, all of us have wronged others, some of these sins might be every bit as great as the one’s levied against us. And every time, those we have wronged have been given the same choice.

I repeat again Matthew 6:14-15: “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

An unforgiving spirit can bring with it the harshest of God’s judgements.

After the Civil war, Robert E Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she cried bitterly that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Yankee artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her in her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it. It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain, let bitterness take root and poison the rest of your life.”

God is calling you today to come to forgiveness. He wants you to lay down that hurt, agony and pain by forgiving those who have trespassed against you, those who have harmed you, those who have betrayed you. Forgive that person with all of your heart and move on with the blessings of forgiveness you have been given by our gracious God.

We all need forgiveness. Forgiveness from each other and forgiveness from God. Where do you stand today? In need of forgiveness or in need of forgiving?

Father forgive our sins as we forgive others. Give us strength to forgive even in the hardest of circumstances. Help us by Your grace to shed the burden of hate and vengeance we so easily grasp onto and make us one with you in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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