Focus: God forgives our debt on the cross.
Function: that the hearers rejoice to forgive the debts of others.
Grace which manifests itself in peace, to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Do I live my days as if the forgiveness of sins is the best thing ever? That’s a question that Pastor Griffin’s posed to our congregation and to me personally a number of times. Do I live my days as if the forgiveness of sins is the best thing ever?
And that’s the question that I thought about a few weeks ago, after I was done teaching my 5th and 6th graders. I asked one of the kids out into the hall to talk about their behavior. I ask, “Do you know what you did?” Yeah… “Do you know why it was wrong?” Well… “How was it disruptive or disrespectful?” Ummm. “What do you have to say?” I’m… sorry?
Clearly, that young one didn’t get it, Clearly, if I said that he was forgiven, he wouldn’t “learn his lesson.” It was easy to look at forgiveness as a burden, as an easy out, as that kid cutting the fuse on my rant seconds before I was really going to let him have it…. It was easy to think that the forgiveness of sins was a stumbling block, a hindrance. It wouldn’t have helped him in the way he needed.
But that’s not the only issue. When we think about forgiveness, we have to go to the battered woman who thinks about forgiving her husband. We have to go to the much-publicized rape cases in the news these days. We think about the convicted felon that asks for forgiveness from his victims, and then it becomes tough to see forgiveness of sins as the best thing ever.
Today, we think about what it means to forgive, where forgiveness leads, and what it does. You have two passages before you today. Two men, caught in two sins, told two parables. You see David and you know that the story which started in adultery and lies, continued with murder, but finds its end in repentance. You hear Simon’s story that begins with a meal, continues with a thought – Simon never says what he’s thinking, he only thinks it – and a parable, and then just… ends. The camera loses Simon, focuses on Jesus and away we go, off to the races.
And we’ve been walking through Luke 7 now for a few weeks. Two weeks ago, we listened in as Jesus healed a centurion’s servant from afar, without even pronouncing it out loud. Last week, we followed as Jesus took a dead young man, told him to stand up again, and gave him back to his mother. If you look through the rest of the material between last week and this week, you see John the Baptizer’s disciples come up to Jesus and ask him, “Are you the Christ?” He responds by healing what could’ve been hundreds and says this: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
These weeks have been building up to something. If this were a movie, there would’ve been dramatic music playing the background. Somewhere after verse 10, the low woodwinds would’ve come in. Somewhere after verse 17, you could’ve heard the timpani drumroll. Snare drums popping, trumpets blaring, after hundreds of miracles, thousands of lives changed, do you know what it’s all been building toward?
Toward this story. Toward the forgiveness of sins.
There’s a reason why Luke lists it last – listen to verse 22. The blind receive sight. The lame walk. The lepers cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised up, but the greatest fulfillment of the Messiah is coming. And, as beautiful as it is that Jesus heals hurting folks, as beautiful as it is that Jesus helps all kinds of people along, as beautiful as it is that lives were changed in this way, the real answer to the question of John’s disciples, “Are you the Messiah or should we look for another?” is that Jesus. Forgives. Sins.
All the rest serves this fact, that Jesus forgives sins. Without this, it would be meaningless for Jesus even to raise the dead, because without forgiveness, the dead would just live another life to die another death and go the same way they went before.
Jesus says it a different way a couple of chapters ago in Luke 5 – the crowds are around Jesus so thick that some men drop their paralytic friend through the roof, because they wanted Jesus to heal him. And do you know the first thing that Jesus does? He says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven… But, so that you know the son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
All Christ’s miracles, all his healings, all the dead who were raised, all these miracles were undone in their time. They lasted as a sign for a time, but in the end they were like manna in the desert; they perished in the night. They were like dew of the morning; their beauty burns away in the coming sun.
But the cross of Christ and the forgiveness of sins, this is a miracle on a different level. It grants forgiveness to all sinners and guards and protects us from every evil. It seals our souls for eternity, even if the signs of our day are full of decay. It looses our bonds of hell and gives us the guarantee of the Holy Spirit.
Forgiveness costs something. Jesus’ parable tells us as much. Two men had debts, and both were significant. As far as the size of their loans, it’s comparable to one man halfway through a car loan and the other halfway through a mortgage. Both are significant, but one is way more significant than the other. And the moneylender – the word in the Greek is related to Charis, grace – he graces their debts.
Especially in these days, there are government programs for teachers, that, after a certain number of years, they will “forgive” your loan. But, when your obligation to pay a debt gets cancelled, it means that another is eating the cost. “He paid the debt of canceled sin; he sets the prisoners free; his blood can make the foulest clean; his blood avails for me.” Your sin doesn’t just go away. It has been bought and paid for by your savior. Your slate gets wiped clean because it’s given your savior has a dirty sleeve.
Three thoughts on how forgiveness works in our lives. First, when Christ forgives you, and when you forgive, it costs you something too. Now, I’m not saying that you participate in your salvation. I’m not telling you that you have to do good enough to get the rest of the way. No, the cross of Christ is sufficient. What I am saying is that forgiveness costs you all of the sin that so easily entangles. It costs you your anger. It costs you your guilt. It costs you your shame. It costs you the burdens that weigh you down. It costs you the deep desire for revenge. It costs you every little bitterness that would keep your heart hard. The paradox of the victims of crimes is that those who move forward are those who forgive. You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again and again: on the cross, Jesus takes it all of that from you and he will not give it back.
Second, forgiveness looks toward resolution rather than punishment. Look through the Gospels and you will find a Jesus that immediately turns from judgment to mercy at the repentance of his people. Just take a look at him working through Paul. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul sees a congregation that followed his instructions. There was a family that wasn’t living right, and he told them to follow their policies and with tears in their eyes to treat them like outsiders, and they did that. But here, the family had repented and yet the punishment continued. I don’t know if they thought they needed more, or if they thought that the apology was insincere, if they thought it was just too large a sin to forgive, or what…. But I do know that Paul himself when he writes to the Corinthians begs them once again with tears in his eyes that they would look toward resolution rather than punishment. A question for you to ask, in my relationships, am I moving toward resolution? Resolution for the battered woman does not start by staying in the ring. It begins with getting out of there – by not allowing your partner to sin more, even while keeping your wedding vows to help him make the choices he should.
Third, forgiveness does not divorce truth from love. So easily do we divorce truth and love. We think that either we can live apart from the world, or we can live as part of the world. Either Jesus condemned sin or he loved sinners. Either we forgive them and let them skate or we hold them accountable and end up hating it. Either we can preach the Law or we can preach the Gospel. But Lutherans aren’t really “Either/Or” people. We’re more “Both/And.” It’s our task to live apart and as part. It’s our calling to call others out and love them. It’s our life to forgive and hold accountable. It’s our job to speak Law and Gospel. And to that end, I’ll tell you something that’s been sticking in my head in these days: It’s the way that our 7th and 8th grade teacher talks. Especially when she’s bringing a student along into better behavior, she winds up and says, -- and this is a pastor Muther impression, so take that with a grain of salt -- “Honey, I love you and that’s why I’m not going to let you do this. Honey, I love you and that’s why I’ve got to hold you to this. Honey and I love you and that’s why.”
The question we asked at the beginning of this sermon was, “Do I live my days as if forgiveness of sins is the best thing ever?” And to that end, my concluding thought is that it seems as though there’s a tendency that we all have to be like my bouncing baby boy, itty bitty Benjamin, when he wakes up in the morning and I set him on the bed, and his first toy is my ring. It’s a bright spot on my hand. It makes funny noises when it knocks against something. He loves my ring, but he doesn’t understand why he should really love it; he doesn’t yet love it for the reason he should. No, the reason he should love it is that it’s a symbol of the faithfulness that ties me to his mom. It a symbol of the faithfulness that brought his life into the world. It’s a symbol of the stable, faithful marriage that leaves him to be him.
And I tell you that to tell you this: We can love forgiveness for all the social benefits, for the relationship help. We can love it for its many great qualities. But let’s set our minds to that which is just beyond our ken: how the greatest miracle of all is that our God loves us more than we can imagine and when he forgives us, he pays more than we can understand to deliver us from sin in a way that we know only now in part, even as he leads us in the sure, Christian hope that in his time we will know it in full. Amen and Amen.
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