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Pentecost 16 2023, Proper 19
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 17, 2023
Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35


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            The archaeologist/adventurer has just found what he believes to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and after prying open the ancient chamber’s roof he peers down in the darkness and it looks like the floor is moving. He throws a torch down to the floor and finds the source of the movement.  The floor is covered with a thick, squirming carpet of snakes.  Indiana Jones moans, “Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?”  Indy hates snakes.  Now, this is a movie I have seen many times over the years, but I should not have checked to see when it came out because it makes me feel old that the film came out 42 years ago when I was a sophomore in high school.  Snakes, why did it have to be snakes? 

            Some Bible lessons are easier to learn than others because some lessons seem like they are more about someone else’s sins and not so much about you.  This Gospel reading today hits home for all of us because it is about the necessity of forgiveness.  Peter asks about forgiveness thinking he is being generous.  Matthew 18:21–22 (ESV) 21 Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Just keep on forgiving.

As you peer into this lesson you want to moan, “Forgiveness, why did it have to be forgiveness?” Forgiveness is tough.  It is very difficult to forgive someone when they hurt you.  As natural sinners, it is not natural to forgive.  Revenge is natural.  Resentment and bitterness are natural, but forgiveness is supernatural.  When someone hurts you it is your right to be angry and wounded and want to get even.  It is your right. And as Americans we cherish our rights. We have a whole bill of rights and don’t let anyone try to take those rights away.  When you are sinned against you have the right to be mad and get revenge.

            The master in the parable in our Gospel reading today has every right to sell his servant and his family and all that he has in order to try to recover a small part of the servant’s ginormous debt. He has the right, and yet, when the servant begs for mercy, the master shows mercy and forgives the entire, unpayable debt.

            The servant justly deserves the punishment he is going to receive, but the master has mercy and does not give the servant what he deserves.  The servant is released from his debt and is returned to his family.  His relief must be overwhelming at being shown such great mercy.  What joy must fill his heart?

            Soon after, the forgiven servant encounters a fellow servant who owes him money. It is a chunk of money, but nothing at all like the unpayable debt the first servant owed the master.  Like his master, the forgiven servant has the right to demand repayment; but he himself has just been shown great mercy.  What will the he do?  The forgiven servant, who should be full of joy at being shown mercy, grabs his fellow servant by the throat and chokes him, demanding payment.  The second servant begs for mercy, but the forgiven servant shows no mercy and has the other servant put in prison until he can pay.

            What happened to the joy?  What happened to the mercy?  This servant had an amazing opportunity to pay it forward with mercy and forgiveness, but instead, asserted his rights.  How could he do that after what the master did for him?

            The master hears what happened and summons the servant and lays out the truth of the situation.  Matthew 18:32–33 (ESV) 32 …, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  Is it not necessary for you to have mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you? Is it not necessary?  Yes -- it is necessary.  It is necessary for you to have mercy on others because Jesus has had mercy on you.

            Forgiveness?  Why did it have to be forgiveness?  Forgiveness is very difficult, it really is impossible for you to do.  Overcoming your naturally sinful urge for revenge takes supernatural strength.  Thanks be to God that He gives you this supernatural strength.  The power to forgive others does not flow from inside of you.  The power to forgive flows from Jesus to you.  The power to forgive comes from the blood of Jesus shed on the cross at Calvary.  The power to forgive flows to the Church from the resurrected Jesus breathing on His disciples John 20:22–23 (ESV) 22 …“Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  

            The Holy Spirit and the power to forgive others is delivered to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, it is delivered through Christ’s Words spoken by the pastor, “I forgive you all your sins,” it is delivered through the Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Christ, given and shed for you, and given you in the Holy Supper.  Jesus is mercy and it is His mercy that you give to others by forgiving those who sin against you over and over and over. 

            I think forgiveness can be tricky because we misunderstand forgiveness.  If I accidently bump into someone in the hall I might say, “Sorry, forgive me, I should have been more careful.”  The other person likely will say something like, “It’s okay.  No big deal.”  And that is fine for a bump in the hall.  But there are times where to say, “It’s okay,” would be a lie.  It is not okay.  It is a big deal.  What they did to you is anything but okay.  For you to forgive is not to declare that what they did was okay, but to declare you are not going to hold it against them.  You are not going to seek revenge.  Even if the person does not repent, vengeance is not yours to have. St. Paul writes in Romans 12:19 (ESV) 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

 In the Kyrie you sing, “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.”  And do you know what they Lord does?  He has mercy upon you. 

            When you were baptized, when you were confirmed or joined the congregation you declared, “I renounce the devil and all of his works and all of his ways.” We confess this together whenever we baptize a baby.  “I renounce the devil and all of his works and all of his ways.”  One of the ways of the devil is to tempt you into unforgiveness so that bitterness and anger can eat away at you from the inside like a spiritual cancer -- and destroy you. Renounce the ways of the devil by forgiving.  When you forgive someone their sins, you renounce your right to revenge because God renounced His right to punish you and instead punished Jesus for you.  Because God has forgiven you in Jesus, you have the supernatural power to say, “I forgive you.”  You will soon confess in the creed that you believe in the remission of sins. Forgiving others is your confession of faith in action.  You forgiving others is your confession that you believe that Jesus forgives you.

            The devil wants so much to deceive you.  “Did God really say…” that you should forgive others.  The devil whispers to you, oh, come on…you do not need to forgive, you have good reasons, you have real hurt, you have a right to be angry.  “Did God really say you must forgive?”  Yes. Jesus says you must forgive.  He even puts it in the Lord’s Prayer.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  And immediately after teaching the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says, Matthew 6:14–15 (ESV) 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  

            God has the right to punish you.  You said so yourself.  You declared this morning that you justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment; His punishment now and forever.  And yet, God does not assert His right to punish you; rather He forgives you; He washes away all your sin.  In the Kyrie you sing, “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.”  And do you know what they Lord does?  He has mercy upon you.  He does not give you what you justly deserve.  He gives you His perfection, His righteousness, His innocence, His blessedness. He takes away all your sin and declares you to be a saint of God.  This is the power of forgiveness that flows into you.

            Forgiveness, why did it have to be forgiveness?  Forgiveness is so challenging.  If you are struggling with forgiving someone, recognize this struggle for what it is, know that it is a temptation of the evil one, and confess that sin.  Know that your sin is forgiven, and then love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.  Renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  Renounce your right to revenge and forgive the one who does not deserve to be forgiven.  Forgive them as the Lord Jesus has forgiven you.