Sunday Sermon 13th September – An Unthinkable Question

An unthinkable question…

Matthew 18: 21-35

If you have forgiven me six or seven times for getting things wrong since I have been in Broadway I have a lot of credit to use up. If you have forgiven me seventy times we have a problem, but multiply that be seven and I could be on my last strike and out the door.

If you don’t like what you hear today, or at any other time, it is a question from my heart and I hope you can forgive me from yours as we grow together to know Jesus better. As I was reflecting on this parable I was introduced to another side of God that will be unthinkable to some, but could reconcile many more brothers and sisters together in the kingdom to come.

I have heard so many sermons on this parable, and been as guilty as others on simply reminding myself, and anyone who happens to be listening, to endlessly forgive while missing a hidden message at the end. That’s the mystery and power of parable for you which IS a story with hidden meaning. We think we have it all sorted in our head, then the Spirit turns our thinking upside down.

The parable is like a prelude to a new story and the end of it is where our journey can begin as we seek an escape from the prison in which we find ourselves. So that’s where I start, from the dark places we can’t escape from until we pay back what we owe. It can be the beginning of a story rather than a brutal end because we know there is the potential of forgiveness.

The beginning can happen when the reckless servant pays back what he owes and is released from his self inflicted torture and forgives his brothers and sisters from his heart. There is a ‘get out of jail card’ for him to pick up if he pays back all that he owes so enter with me the land of imagination where even the most impossible debt can be repaid.

Paint a picture in your mind of this wicked servant. His debt is so immense at the beginning of the parable that he can’t possibly repay it in a lifetime on his salary. It’s all bluff and bluster when he says he will pay back everything he owes. It’s the attitude of an addict who makes impossible promises so is gambling the cause of his debt or drugs that make him irrational and aggressive? Imagine, if you can, the worst of humanity trapped in this servant. The door to a new life can be open to him if he should pay back all he owes…..

Is that the amazing grace of God that we celebrate and freely give or can you, like me, hear people shouting, “it’s not fair!” Did he get what he deserved when he was thrown into the prison cell? That was justice. He had his chance and didn’t take it!

Have I been looking in the wrong place for the biggest challenge in this parable? Imagine you are the other servant, the victim of the one who had been forgiven. There are many like them in the world who have had their last shreds of dignity stripped from them or life choked out of them. To them it isn’t fair that the King might forgive what has been done to them. Imagine how you would feel if the abductor of your child; the rapist or the terrorist who has caused you pain was forgiven, not by you, but by God!

It’s tough being a victim with the expectation to forgive the abusers; the oppressors; the persecutors; the bluffers; the mockers and the scoffers. It’s hard being in that dark place and hearing how God expects us to forgive when we need healing first. As unthinkable as it may be do they need to be encouraged to forgive God so they can draw closer to him? Can we forgive God?

I hear two shouts from the cross, one asking: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?” (Matthew 27: 46) with a response: “Father, we forgive you for you know what you are doing!” (Luke 23: 34)

We don’t know what we are doing, or why we are experiencing what we are, but our Father does and we shouldn’t be so quick in attributing blame. Because we don’t like something doesn’t equate to a sin but we can still forgive the hurt we feel. Can we forgive God for placing us in situations we don’t like and asking us to do things we don’t want to do? Can we forgive God for giving us a cross to carry which is painful and heavy?

I was speaking to someone in the week who is being challenged by an ugly work situation where there is bullying and intimidation that is polluting the work environment for many people. It has been eating away at the fabric of the organisation for many years. It’s horrible just to hear about. It’s a nightmare to be living through. “Why oh why have you forsaken me?” I heard this person cry.

It’s the old question of why does God allow so many things to happen, but it’s us who makes them happen. Can we forgive God for asking us to sort it out when we don’t know how or don’t want to? Why me, God?

Sometimes we need to forgive God in our heart for putting us in certain situations before we can listen and understand that we are the people who can make the change happen. If we forgive God for choosing us we will then do better what God has chosen us to do.

Forgive God for where you are. Forgive God the anger that is directed at you because it is inspired by love like that of a parent who wants the best for a child. Mum! Dad! I forgive you for how you disciplined me as a child because it has shaped me into the person I have become. This is how our heavenly Father treats each of us so that we can learn to forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts.

Our greatest sin is when we can’t even forgive what isn’t a sin. It’s not a sin to burn the dinner; arrive late for a meeting or forget to do something you promised to do. It’s not a sin for someone to get something wrong when they were doing their best to do something right. It’s not a sin to understand something differently to someone else. It’s not a sin to be angry with people because God does that. Forgive God for being angry with you because there is a good reason! Can we forgive God?

The parable Jesus tells is emphasised in his teaching about how we should pray. In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer Jesus concludes:

For if you forgive people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive people their sins your Father will not forget your sins.” (Matthew 6: 14-15)

So the Kingdom of heaven is like a community of servants who freely forgive each other for their sins, but also all our differences. That’s a good community to be part of and I will say ‘AMEN’ to that and it won’t take for ever and ever to achieve it if we can live the prayer in the power of the Spirit and for the glory of God.

We, as a Christian Church, can be quick to define what sin is and it doesn’t make any difference in the context of our faith because anything that offends us or hurts us it is to be forgiven as often as is necessary. The domestic squabbles; the global conflicts; the cultural differences or our broken promises are to be forgiven. It’s a tough demand of the victims because Jesus doesn’t say forgive people who repent, say sorry or change their ways. Forgive your brothers and sisters from you heart….

We are not given the choice of WHO we forgive so we don’t select the rags from the riches; the black from the white; gay from straight; the guilty from the innocent or the sick from the healthy because if Christ is in them we also forgive HIM in the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick and the prisoners! (Matthew 25: 31-46)

It’s not that God has done anything wrong, but can we encourage people to forgive our Father for what they are experiencing so that they can draw closer to him and be healed? Forgive me for asking such an unthinkable question?