Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
In many a great businesses and organizations there is a culture of “Lead by example”. The Army, for example, actually grades their subordinate leaders in how well they lead by example in order to better foster a desired culture. Say a company prizes humbleness, then a CEO may lead a life of humility at their company and through such actions encourage their employees to do likewise. Or say you have a Boy Scout group, and the scoutmaster wished to foster a troop culture of masculinity, just like the creator of Boy Scouts intended, then said scoutmaster would be reliable, protective, firm, a steady rock, etc.
All of these are but examples in how groups of people would utilize their authoritative structure to not only demand a certain culture but to also initiate the fostering of said culture by leading from the top, leading by example.
Within the Church, such a desired model exists between her people and the figurehead, God, Himself. We say what would Jesus do, or how has the Father reacted in similar situations. We don’t just listen and obey their commandments, or attempt to, but we observe the actions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit throughout Scripture and try to model our lives after their “leading by example”. And God encourages this; be Godly, be like the “Holiest of All that is Holy”, be like He who is perfect and has done no wrong, model your life after Him so that you may be more like Him. But what has he done?
Jesus gave himself up on the cross, died, gave up his life, so that through Him, we may receive the means of Salvation through faith in Him. For we are dreadful sinners who deserve to go to Hell and nothing we do, by our own devices, can earn us a ticket into Heaven, but through the Grace of God, Jesus died on the Cross so that he could take on our sin and shove it into Hell. Someone had to go to Hell. Jesus said he would go to Hell, so he willingly, knowingly, took on all of our sin, suffered death, and suffered Hell, so that through Him we would not suffer Hell. He took on our sins, thus, through Him, we are forgiven of our sins, and through this forgiveness we are made clean, washed of our sins, so that we may enter Heaven.
Yet this gift was not forced on us, it is a gift. What that means is that you must accept the hand from which this gift comes from. Not all are forgiven, but all who believe in Jesus and only Jesus are indeed forgiven. For he says that if you have faith in Him and repent of your sins then He will take on your sins so that you would not have to; there are no other conditions, in fact there are no conditions at all because Jesus wants to give us forgiveness, but will not force it on us. He wants to free us from the chains of sin, not put us in new chains of forced forgiveness.
Speaking of chains, in the past I mentioned chains a lot in reference to our enslavement to sin under Original Sin, but there is another meaning to the word chain. For the purpose of this Gospel and Sermon, I wish to use the other definition of chain in reference to what most would understand as, “the chain of authority.” In order to lead by example there needs to be a chain of authority, and within the Church this chain of authority begins with God.
So what in today’s Gospel is Jesus trying to impress upon us? What culture is He desiring to foster through this “chain of authority” and “leading by example”? Forgiveness. Christ is instructing a culture of forgiveness, and he does so by opening our eyes to the fact that God Himself forgave you first, and thus you must do so too for your brothers.
Peter asked how many times a day should he be willing to forgive someone. When is enough enough? Is seven enough? Not seven, but seventy seven; in fact, not even that, there is no limit. If anyone is repentant then forgive them their sins. And if they keep on coming back to you, as long as they are truly repentant then you must forgive them.
Pastor please forgive me from doing this and that.
Again!? I just forgave you an hour ago for exactly that.
I know, but I did it again. I’m terribly sorry, I promise I won’t do it again, honest to God, I mean it this time.
You truly mean it?
Then you are forgiven.
One hour later… Pastor I did it again.
Ok, I’ll forgive you again.
So Jesus tells Peter that you must continually forgive your sinner, as long as they are repentant, but continues onward with a parable. In this parable, Jesus tells us of a King who forgave the entire debt of a servant who repented and asked for debt forgiveness. Then his servant goes out to another servant who also debt, but far less. The lesser servant does the same as the first, begs for forgiveness, but instead of forgiving this servant acts wrathfully. The king is then angry at his servant and throws him into jail. The point of the parable is to show that God is forgiving and if you are repentant then he will forgive you your entire debt, but that he also expects you to act like him and to treat your brothers and sisters in the same fashion. And as Christians we know with sure certainty that God has indeed forgiven us our sins by looking at the Cross. Thus should we not also observe Jesus’ example? Should we not observe his forgiveness? And, in reference to “leading by example” and “the chain of authority”, should we not also observe this, what I would call, “Chain of Forgiveness”?
On an interesting note, here Jesus is comparing sin to debt, which is a comparison I make very often. God demands perfection, thus a good action, in the eyes of God is a net zero; whereas sin is a net negative, where you incur debt. Nothing you do will resolve this debt back to a net zero because all perfect actions are already net zero’s, they are already required. Anything positive must be above and beyond perfection. So as a sinner, you are racking up a lengthy debt and nothing you can do will ever make that debt go away and bring it all to a net zero. Yet here is Jesus saying as long as you have faith in me, I will provide for you debt forgiveness. A lovely picture, which is present throughout scripture showing us that we are save by faith alone and not by any amount of good works, which is Pelagianism, a heresy denounced by the Roman Catholic Church during the first millennium.
So this “Chain of Forgiveness”, Jesus has forgiven us and demands that we follow his example and forgive our brothers. How many times a day? As often as your brother repents; continual forgiveness. And what if they are not repentant? Well you may forgive them, but the requirement to forgive is attached to repentance. For if a person comes to you truly sorrowful of their sins and wishes to change their ways then you must forgive them just as Jesus first forgiven you. That is what is meant when I say, “Chain of Forgiveness”.
For the history of Israel is a history full of God’s wrath and forgiveness. God doesn’t change his mind like humans, willy-nilly; nor does God give forgiveness like candy during a parade. Because of our sins He is wrathful, but is swift to forgiveness if we repent. Jonah went to Nineveh, well he was forced to go there, and preached that God was going place his wrath on them. The King and all his subjects repented of their sins, and, to Jonah’s dismay, God forgave them and relented of His anger.
What am I trying to say? Let me begin with this, whereas God is gracious and merciful, swift to anger and swift to relenting of his anger, He does not cheapen His grace; he does not hand out forgiveness like some rich man who throws money at every single cause without looking up to see if the causes are good or nefarious. Now do not be mistaken, this does not imply that God does not withhold his grace to only those who are repentant, only that He does not cheapen His grace, and above all else He will never withhold His grace to those who repent.
Because of this, we should do so too. We should be swift to forgiveness to those who repent, just like God who is swift to forgiveness when we repent. But we should not cheapen this grace. Why should we not cheapen grace? If you remember last week, I gave a plethora of examples why, but this week I’ll reflect on Bonhoeffer. When asked how the Church allowed the Nazi party to exist, Bonhoeffer, knowing through experience, said that the Church allowed the Nazis to exist because they cheapened Grace. His quote goes as such, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Basically, when you cheapen grace, you allow evil to flourish.
So how do we not cheapen the grace of forgiveness? Maybe the first step is to, in a loving fashion, help each other realize our sins, and, as Christians, when we acknowledge our sins we are lead towards repentance, and because we repent of our sins we forgive each other. This does not mean we look for sins nor arbitrarily say someone committed a certain sin such as the wolves-in-sheep-clothing who preach that all white people are guilty of racism and need to repent (which is anti-Christian in of itself and is sinful for it is bearing false witness, is technically a form of racism, and breaks at least on top of my head three of the articles in the Augsburg Confession). What this means is that when a brother or sister does sin against you, you help them realize their sin so that they may repent and so that they may be swiftly forgiven and so that the weight of sin would be lifted. For even if we are not aware of our sin, the weight of our sins can still be felt and our soul will be weighed down by the Guilt and Shame of our sins, but through forgiveness, not only are we released from our sins but also the guilt and shame that comes with sin.
So forgiveness is a beautiful thing, and know this, through your faith in Jesus Christ, you have been forgiven, and as loving Christians, let us walk in the example of Christ, forgiving each other.
Let us pray,
Heavenly Father, through you our debt is forgiven and the doors to heaven are open. We ask that you embolden us with your loving generous Spirit so that when we approach our repentant siblings in Christ we forget not your forgiveness but act in similar fashion. In your most holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray, Amen.