Pastor's Sermons

Hope Lutheran Church at Bethlehem Retreat Centre

Sermon for Pentecost 14 ~ September 14, 2014

 

Matthew 18:21-35

Have you witnessed this scene?

Parents are with a troublesome preschooler. The child isn't listening.  The mother is frustrated.  The father is aggravated.  Then comes the moment: "I`m going to count to three… ONE… TWO… THREE…" and again, "Okay, now I'm counting to three… ONE… The child stops for a moment and then gets in trouble again.  Maybe the one, two, three is more to calm the parent down than to straighten out the child.

 

Peter has a question.  How much do I have to put up with from others?  When do I strike?  Jesus uses a story to tell him that we are the ones needing calming.

 

The Question

 

Maybe Peter was frustrated with his little brother Andrew….again.  Maybe he was tired of slippery Judas and his whining about money.  Or was it James and John, so loud and annoying with opinions about everything.  He remained nice and patient, but enough was enough.  At least once a day he was ready to blow, surely 7 times was sufficient forbearance.  You gotta put others in their place.  You gotta read the riot act.  You gotta show them the door.  Right Jesus?

 

The response was deflating.  Seven times?  How about 10 times longer… and after that, how about another 10 times?  Think about yourself Peter; are you the guy in the story?  These stories drove him crazy…

 

Peter was on a journey – like we all are.  When Andrew first introduced him to Jesus, Peter was almost done with God, prophets, messiahs, priests and temples.  Nothing worked for him.  He trudged to the beach, was not particularly successful as a fisherman, and hauled his stuff home again.  He used to have more passion for life, but that fire needs fuel and he was running out.  Jesus did no song and dance, in spite of Andrew's enthusiasm.  He just said, "Hi, you want to come along?  Come on then."  There were no fish anyway.  He left the boat.

 

Jesus had encounters with everyone.  He would not abide religious game playing, revealed motives and called for the truth.  When alarm was expressed over the company he kept at meals or in the crowds, he would simply respond, "Don't worry, it will be okay."  He said to the poor, the sick, the broken and the rejected, "Have faith, it will be okay."  When people raged in despair or roared in needy frustration, his response was that broken hearts can draw peace. They weren't forgotten, he assured each one.  He touched, he smiled, and he calmed the person.  Even as he spoke of his own suffering and death, it was always with a whisper, "It'll be okay, trust me." His disciples always wrestled with what they learned.  People found each other and that helped as long as they got along.  That could be tough.

 

Peter was getting wound up again lately.  Maybe he needed to look at himself.  Jesus was usually right about that.  "Let me tell you a story," Jesus said.  It was like holding up a mirror.

 

Stories

 

This one was ridiculous in its extremes – but that is why he told it.  A debt that would take 150 lifetimes to pay!  Extreme.  An impossible offer out of pity. Extreme.  Debt forgiveness that no one would give.  Extreme.  Relief that was immeasurable.  And then the slave attacks another who could have worked out a payment plan. Extreme.  And others blow the whistle because people who care look out for each other.  And this slave's attitude was responsible for his own lock up and torture. Clearly he had the biggest problem. It too was extreme.  "Wait a minute," Peter thought, "that's me.  I drive myself crazy with my own attitudes. I need to calm down."

 

Here is another story – a mirror I look into sometimes. 

Sam was almost ready for parole consideration.  18 years was a long time.  He lived with his guilt every day.  For the first 8 years he lived like an animal in the prison jungle.  But a church volunteer got his attention saying that, because of God's forgiveness, life could still be okay.  That drew his attention.  No song and dance.  Just a simple statement.  He started to follow. Christ was his focus.  Somewhere along the way he started believing that there could still be life for him.  People would hate him, reject him, but there was a road where it could be okay.  Jesus' words "Come on…" led the way.

 

A few months before his hearing, there were good reports all around.  Successful passes. People standing up for him.  His aging parents were supportive.

 

Then came the day he discovered that someone had gone into his open cell and shredded all his clothes.  He stomped to the chapel, slammed the door, went into a leatherwork room and pounded on the stone table with all his might. When I asked him what was wrong, he spoke to me with strange eyes, "I have narrowed it down to three possible people.  When I figure out who did it, well, you wouldn't want to be that guy."  I said, "Sam, you have to calm down."  "Right." was his reply.

 

He brooded for days. I asked him, "Why are you letting this guy control you? Why are you giving him your life? Why should this change you? What price will you pay?"  He grunted.

 

The next day, he walked in quietly.  He brought me a coffee and said, "I've been thinking about this.  I`m not going to let him control me.  It's my life not his.  He's got the problem.  I`m letting this go. It's not easy, and I don't like him, but that's forgiveness. I`ll be okay."

 

Sam would not be tortured and imprisoned by his own attitudes.  It was okay.  It still is okay. He has a life and still follows the one who said, "Come on."

 

Life

 

Life can be okay.  But it very much starts with us.  When someone wrongs us, what will we do?  What will we say?  How will we react to the sin, the pain, the situation?  How wound up will we let ourselves get?  What will we sacrifice?  When will we see that life can still be okay – without winning, without striking back?  When will the promise register that God is present for us, that we are held and loved and cared for in a caring community if we have everything or if we have nothing.  When will we let ourselves calm?  When will we have peace?

 

The tortured soul in the story insisted on getting his pound of flesh. My friend started becoming a person I didn't know.   Will we sell ourselves for revenge, or hurt feelings?  It's an extreme price to pay.

 

We don't forgive to set others free.  We forgive to set ourselves free.   

 

And that starts with God…

Amen.

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