Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sermon for September 25, 2005

Original Sin
Romans 3:20-26; Genesis 3:1-21

I couldn’t make this up if I tried. My mother calls her tax accountant. The accountant is excited. She says to my mother, “Oh I’m glad you called. Your sister is sitting right in front of me. So is your brother and your mother.” Strange coincidences happen all the time right. It’s really not that unusual. They all use the same accountant. Here’s what threw my mother off. My mother’s mother -- my grandmother -- has been dead for almost three years. We always called my grandmother Mom. I had to ask – how did Mom get to the accountant’s office? And of all the places for the spirit of the dead to visit, why would she choose the accountant’s office? It all started a few months ago when my uncle talked taxes with the accountant Mid sentence, she suddenly freezes, and then she starts to zone off and stare into the distance, and then her eyes roll back in her head. My uncle thinks she’s having a seizure, and when he goes to help, she snaps out of it and says that Mom, my dead grandmother, is in the room with them. She starts giving messages from beyond the grave. Visits from dead relatives have become a regular feature of tax appointments. My grandmother and grandfather have talked through the accountant, as well as other relatives. Apparently, they have good tax and business advice for the whole family. I think it’s a little weird. When I go to the accountant, I plan to talk about . . . well, taxes. I think this accountant is overstepping her professional boundaries a bit. It says even more about my family that they are willing to stay with this woman. The spiritual visitations freak them out. However, I think they like it at the same time. Plus, the woman is a wonder of an accountant.

I wonder if the accountant’s behavior is a blessing or a curse. Is her behavior helpful, or is it sinful? In fact, I can ask that about a lot of people’s behavior, including my own. In my relationships with people, do I bless them with my words and actions, or am I liability? How about our relationship with God. Were we created to be blessings, or do we carry the mark of original sin in us. Is it written into our genetic code that we will always say the wrong things, make the wrong decisions, and alienate ourselves from each other all before we even get out of bed in the morning?

The traditional way of thinking about sin comes from our understanding of what happened in the Garden of Eden. The snake tempts the woman, the woman tempts the man, the man and the woman eat the fruit, gain knowledge of good and evil, and the man, the woman and the snake are cursed by God. Not only that, their offspring is also cursed. Not only those, the consequences of their disobedience are passed on from generation to generation forever. This is the idea of original sin – what Calvin called hereditary depravity. Here’s our question for today: do we enter a torn and sinful world as blotches on existence, as sinful creatures, or do we enter the world as original blessings?

If I asked a group of kids what the first story in the Bible is, I bet many of them would say Adam and Eve. It’s not true. We learned last week, the Bible starts with the story of creation. God’s word does not begin with a story of temptation and failure. The Bible begins with blessing. Each day God creates something, and he calls it good. Listen to this poem by James Weldon Johnson:
And God stepped out of space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely –
I’ll make me a world…
After the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the seas, the green living things, the creatures of the air and land, “God looked on His world/ With all its living things, /And God said: I’m lonely still…
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled Him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God,…
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay…
Then … blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
And it was not just good; it was exceedingly good.
We are created with such great possibilities…. fragile, radiant beings. How is it that we grow our souls within a culture that scares and scars so many because they are infected by the sin of original sin.

Most of us have heard about original sin plenty of times. If you grew up Catholic, it was ingrained in your faith. In Catholic teaching, the evidence of original sin is losing control. Any passion is a loss of control. Lovemaking is seen as a loss of control. How many Catholic kids and adults had to sit through scary lectures about the evils of their bodies and how they were all one slip away from burning in the fire of hell? The Catholic church declared God has no passion. God never loses control, and never has to repent. Unlike us, God is unchangeable, even to the point where the Father did not suffer on the cross with his son, Jesus. It’s called antipatripassionism. The New England Puritans were not much better. Today, the word puritanical means sternly moral – close-minded fundamentalists. In truth, they were really no different than other Reformers who ran away from the decadent culture of the day. No matter our tradition, we all hear about original sin. But rarely do we hear about original blessing. Get out your Bible sometime and scrutinize the texts. The doctrine of original sin is not found in any writings of the Old Testament. It is certainly not in chapters 1-3 of Genesis. Look closely at what the basis of humanity is again. It’s not the curse, but the blessing. Original blessing is the basis of all basic human trust and faith.

What if we took this idea of original blessing seriously? How would it work out, how would if affect the ways in which we look at ourselves and at each other? If we begin with the blessing of God’s creative energy and understand ourselves as originally blessed, rather than originally cursed, how much better we may feel about ourselves.
· Instead of being suspicious about our bodies, we would welcome our bodies and we would be gentle, instead of combative.
· Humility would no longer mean despising of one’s self. The word humility and human come from the same root – hummus. It actually means dirt. Humility literally means to befriend one’s earthiness.
· Instead of trying to control everything, we would be more ready to experience and celebrate the passions of life.
· Instead of our focus on eternal life after death, we would understand eternal life as beginning now. The longer I am in the ministry the less I am concerned with life after death and the more I am concerned with life after birth.
· Instead of regarding humans as sinners we would regard ourselves as people who can chose to create or destroy.

There’s another part of Adam and Eve’s “Fall” in Genesis. Instead of being called “The Fall”, it should be called “The Slide” because in the 3rd Chapter of Genesis Adam and Eve sort of slide, or segue into their condition of irresponsibility and dishonesty. The “original sin” is not so much a rebellion but rather laziness, passing the buck, blaming the snake, and not owning up to responsibility (This is sort of like all of the finger pointing that’s going on during the response to Hurricane Katrina, but that’s another sermon). In other words, we are originally blessed, but for some reason we can’t handle it. We were supposed to be the co-pilots – co-creators with God -- but we decided to reach over and take the controls away from the captain. Here was our downfall; our slide into hubris, a condition called, well, . . . sin.

But, is it original or is it learned? Ask any teacher about the saintliness of their children and they will be glad to testify to their uncanny ability to fight, hit, steal and hoard, as well as to their ability to learn, charm, love, and share. But ask Kindergarten teachers about children who are entering schools now. More and more children entering our school systems are morally challenged, that is their moral compass is dysfunctional. We are finding, regardless of socio-economic level, children who seem to have no conscience. How they got this way is a complex environment of causes, but in some way, by influence or lack of influence, by omission or commission these children learned … nothing. And who teaches them … nothing. Well, I guess the adults do. But who taught us? Our parents. Who taught them? You get the idea. The spooky thing about all of this is that the sins of the parents seem to stretch out several generations long after the parents are dead.

It seems that in the past 10,000 years we all learned something rather well, and it is not a reflection of our original blessing. As Paul reminds us, “All sinned and have fallen short of the glory [blessing] of God.” That is, despite living with a positive attitude about our originally blessed selves, we will have times when our ugliness will show through much to our embarrassment.
· We still look at other people who are different than us with fear. We judge others. We protect ourselves from “them.” We talk about “those people” but fail to think about how we function in the system.
· Instead of celebrating and being gentle to our bodies we are hard on them, working them long hours, depriving them of sleep, putting all kids of foreign substances in them and otherwise wearing them out before their time.
· Instead of emphasizing the healing of the whole people of God, the whole earth, we want our own personal salvation, our own piece of the economic pie and we want it now, even if two-thirds of the world must suffer to support our selfish standard of living.
· Our desire to experience ecstasy and the joy of sexuality turns on itself and we use the blessing of sexuality to sell cars, and boats, and facial creams, and of course, Viagra. I watched an interview with Barabara Streisand the other night. She was talking about her sexual modesty and how embarrassed she gets when she sees Cialis commercials on TV. Cialis is a competitor with Viagara. During the commercial break, what commercial do you think the network ran? Cialis! I don’t agree with Babs on most things, but some of those commercials make me blush, too. As we regard ourselves as persons with the freedom of choice, we choose a number of good things but so often we chose those things which destroy rather than create.

So which is true? Are we originally blessed or originally cursed? Let me wind us down with a story. Fred Craddock, a teacher and preacher, was driving through Tennessee some years ago. He stopped at a restaurant for a meal, and he was intrigued as one man went from table to table greeting everyone. When the man came to Craddock and learned he was a minister, the man insisted on telling a story. He said that he had been born in the mountains not far from where they sat. His mother was not married when he was born. In that time and culture, the mother and her son were scorned. The boy grew up feeling the love of his mother, but also the contempt of the townsfolk. He was known around town as the bastard kid, or the son of the whore. At recess, his classmates would exclude him, and he learned to keep to himself in order to avoid getting teased. At age 12 the boy took up going to church on his own. A new minister had come to the church near his house. The boy would slip into the back row just as the services began, and leave before it was over so that no one would ask him, “What’s a boy like you doing here.”

However, one Sunday he so wrapped up in the service that he forgot to slip out. Before he could quietly exit, he felt the big hand of the minister on his shoulder, light and gentle. The preacher looked at him and asked, “Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?” The boy’s heart sank, and perhaps his pain showed on his face. But then the preacher answered, “Wait a minute. I know who you are. The family resemblance is unmistakable. You are a child of God.” With those words, he patted him on the back and added, “That’s quite an inheritance. Go, and claim it” The boy was now an old man greeting people in a restaurant. He told Craddock, “That one statement literally changed my whole life.” The man’s name was Ben Hooper and he elected the governor of Tennessee -- twice.

Do we hurt others, live by our compromises, and forget some of the important things
Do we take what God created as good, and manipulate it for our own gain?
Of course we do.
Do we suffer the consequences of the other’s bad decisions.
Yes, we do.
Are we the bearers of hereditary depravity, cursed and rejected by God? All I can say is this, I know who we are. The family resemblance is unmistakable. We are the children of God. You bear the image of God. Our legacy, and our potential, is exceedingly good.

Works Consulted

“Original Sin or Original Blessing” by The Rev. Rod Frohman
“Original Sin” at Wikipedia.
“Puritans” at Wikepedia.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sermon for September 18, 2005

Hi All.

Because of vacations and general laziness, etc., I haven't posted for a while. I am back to posting my weeky sermons from TCC on this site. As always, let me know what you think.

Lessons from Creation
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; John 1:1-2

“It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside . . . watched TV “storm teams” warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday. But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party. The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in . . .As it reached 25 feet over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.”[i]

I just quoted an article written by National Geographic in October, 2004. Almost one year ago, the author forecast the consequences of Katrina with eerie precision. The article claimed that a year ago, The Federal Emergency Management Agency listed a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation. While we listen to politicians blame each other for the response, we sink under the dawning realization that some preventive steps were never taken to protect the city. One of the key reasons Katrina devastated New Orleans was the loss of coastal wetlands. Healthy wetlands provide a natural buffer against storm surges. But the Louisiana wetlands have been steadily disappearing for years. Some of the erosion is natural. Humans have had their hand in it, too. Deep offshore wells now account for nearly a third of all domestic oil production. For decades, geologists believed that the oil deposits were too deep for drilling to have any impact on the surface. But three years ago, a petroleum geologist noticed that the highest rates of wetland loss coincided with the period of peak oil and gas production in the 1970s and 80’s. The removal of millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, caused a drop in subsurface pressure. Nearby underground faults slipped and the land above caved in. It’s like when you stick a straw in a soda and suck on it, everything goes down.

In the days after Katrina, politicians passed around blame for mismanagement like it was a game of hot potato. We heard little about our responsibility for the environmental factors. We no longer think of ourselves as intertwined with our environment. It’s as if we humans are no longer part of creation. We stride the earth as gods, and the ground beneath our feet lives only to serve. In the wake of Katrina, we face the same lesson once more: short-term advantages can be gained by exploiting the environment. But in the long term we pay for it. Just like you can spend three days drinking in New Orleans and it’ll be fun. Sooner or later you’re going to pay.

Many human beings misunderstand our true place in creation. We think the natural world is merely the place where we live. Creation is a commodity, and we are the consumers. In the process, we are alienated from the earth, and from each other, and also from God.

Creation implies relationship. When I read the creation epics in Genesis, I sense that God created us for relationship with God, and with all of creation. Relationships rupture when we treat the world around us as merchandise we can accumulate. Instead of relating to creation as a gift, we act as if the world around us exists solely for the satisfaction of our supposed needs.

Martin Buber was a philosopher and social activist. In 1923 he came out with a groundbreaking book called I and Thou. He talked about two different types of relationships. Some people have I-Thou or I-You relationships. An I-You relationship is a true dialogue. A person relates to another with mutuality, openness, and directness. There are also I-It relationships. In an I-It relationship, a person learns about another, and experiences another, but never enters into a relationship. I-It relationships are entirely objective. I have an I-It relationship with my doctor. We don’t get together and enter into one another’s profound hopes and fears. He doesn’t even know me. He looks me over and objectively compares my health to other males of my age.

Take the example of a tree. You see a tree in the middle of summer – a rigid green pillar in a flood of light. You can feel its movement and sense the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core. You can sense the sucking of the roots and the breathing of the leaves. You can name put the tree in a category– call it a maple, an oak, a birch. You can tell with some predictability how it will grow and when it will lose its leaves. But, up to this point the tree remains an object – an It. You have only experienced the tree.

But, it can also happen, when will and grace are joined, that as you contemplate the tree you are drawn into a relation, and tree ceases to be an It. All of the sudden you notice the unique features of this tree. It is not just a maple. It has original features that make it different from other maples. It’s still a maple. It still has a predictable form, color, and chemistry. But now, it’s as if you are confronting this maple as an individual. As the breeze tickles its branches, the leaves shake and the limbs sway, and all of the sudden this tree is dancing with you. You are in a relationship. And relation is reciprocity.[ii]

I’d think that we are I-It people with creation. We think that if we have enough objective knowledge and experience and science and can pour it all into new technology, then we will be saved. It’s a lie that we can manufacture our own health and happiness. Many of us are I-It people with our heads stuck in a synthetic world that is cheap and impotent. Our ability to enjoy one another, and the rest of creation is dammed up by greed, corruption, fractured relationships, boredom, and injustice. And so we find it easier to objectify and accumulate. But God’s creation will not be tamed. Leonard Bernstein reminds us of this in some words from his Mass:
You can lock up the bold men,
Go and lock up your bold men,
And hold men in tow.
You can stifle all adventure
For a century or so.
Smother hope before its risen.
Watch it wizen like a gourd.
But you cannot imprison
The Word of the Lord.
No, you cannot imprison
The Word of the Lord.
Buber plays on the words of the creation story and writes, “In the beginning is the relation” (69). This is one lesson of creation. If we want to recover health and harmony, our broken relationships need healing. The process begins when we can see the image of God around us. I’m not talking about pantheism here. Pantheism is when you look at a rock and think, that rock is a god. So is that tree. So are you and I. Pantheism states that everything is God and God is everything. But, the lesson I’m learning from creation is to add one word to this formula: God is in everything, and everything is in God. That includes you and me. Creation reveals God to us and allows us to experience God’s presence.

I’m talking about I-You relationships with creation – transforming every experience into a unique connection. I-You relationships draw us closer to one another and to God. Nature’s abundance and beauty reveals God’s generosity and majesty. Creation’s healing, nourishing and life-giving properties reveal divine love.[iii]

God is in everything, and everything is in God. Isn’t this the message in the opening lines of John’s gospel? Jesus is God in the flesh – the eternal word of God wearing human skin and living among us. Jesus came to reveal a God who calls us into relationship. Jesus is Immanuel, God With Us. He experiences everything we do. He lives through pain, and hunger, and happiness, and temptation, and death. Jesus doesn’t relate to us just as human beings with DNA and predictable gene patterns. We are not called into a clinical relationship with Jesus. He doesn’t look at you and say, “A typical Christian of your spiritual age should be healthier,” as he rips off a prescription for more prayer and selfless giving. Jesus relates to you as an individual. He knows your pain. He knows your trials. He knows what excites you and what scares you. And he loves you.

The question is whether we can relate back to God. Remember what Buber said: Relation is reciprocity. If relating to another means give and take, then we have to give and not just take. A new relationship with God and creation means being vulnerable to God’s Word-- the ongoing, creative energy of God. Our spiritual task is to get out of the way enough so that we might be filled and renewed with God’s Word so that we can go about our work of healing, celebrating, and co-creating.[iv]

What I’m really talking about today is the power of love. I’m asking you to love creation and to love one another, and to love God. The love I’m talking about involves some risk. Think of a two people who fall in love. In a moment of passion, a guy says, “I love you.” And the girl says, “Wow, I love you too.” I see it in the movies all the time. The guy might mean it with all of his soul. But he is only into experiencing the moment: the rush of excitement. He says, “I Love you,” but he might really mean, “I love girls,” or “I love how I feel right now.” If that’s the case, then what he calls love is really using the woman as an object to fulfill his supposed needs at that moment. How many people do you know who have heard the words “I love you,” and then left the relationship feeling cheap and used? We might call it love, but it’s not a relationship.

Think of what happens with another couple when they say “I love you” to one another. They look, and listen, and touch one another, and they know that what they see, hear, and feel has been kissed by God. This is not just any person. This is not just MY wife, or MY husband, or MY lover. This person represents the image of God, and we are given to one another as a reminder to enjoy the gifts of God.

Sure, we can live in an orderly, detached reliable world. We can categorize people and judge them, and distance ourselves from “those people” who are always screwing things up.
We can suck the life out of those around us, and our earth, until we are bloated and satisfied while others are tossed aside like second-hand remnants after they’ve served their purpose. There is another way.

We can approach one another, and the world around us and realize that that we see, or touch is a single unique being, interconnected yet unique. This week I want you to look. Really look. And listen, and touch know that what you see, and hear, and feel, has been kissed by God.

[i] “Gone With the Water” by Joel Bourne in National Geographic, http://www3.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0410/feature5/
[ii] from Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribner, 1970), 56-58.
[iii] “The Call of Creation: God's Invitation and the Human Response,” http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/resource/GreenText/
[iv] Some ideas in this sermon were freely lifted from Original Blessing by Matthew Fox (New York: Putnam, 1983).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sermon for September 11, 2005

Forgive Us Our Debts
Matthew 18:21-35

How do you respond when a mistake has been made with your fast-food order? If you’re 6’3” and weigh 270 pounds, people don’t recommend crawling through the drive-through window. But that’s exactly what happened when a University of Kansas football player realized a chalupa was left out of his Taco Bell order. He got so angry that he tried to climb through the 14 X 46-inch drive-through window and got stuck. The frightened manager and employees locked themselves in an office and called the police. The police pulled up to the drive-through and laughed hysterically as they discovered the legs and back end of the football player kicking in midair.

We hear stories of rage all the time. Two shoppers in a Connecticut supermarket fall to fist fighting over who should be first in a newly opened checkout lane. A Continental Airlines flight returns to base after a passenger hurls a beer can at a flight attendant and bites a pilot. During an argument over rough play at their sons' hockey practice, a father in Massachusetts bludgeons another father to death. I remember a long time ago I accidentally cut a man off in traffic. He followed me all the way to my home. As soon as we parked, he ran over to my car and he began screaming and shaking. I would not come out of the car, so he began pounding his fists on the hood of the car as he swore at me. I just sat there, scared, hoping the man would go away. My infraction didn’t seem to warrant his reaction.

Rage is literally all the rage today. A June, 2005 study estimated that roughly 1 in 20 people has had “intermittent explosive disorder” -- a form of destructive, uncontrolled anger. The numbers translate into many millions of circles of trembling misery and anxiety. Wives live in fear of their husbands' next tirade, and wonder if they dare bring children into such a violent world of wrath. Husbands find that sometimes the smallest provocation of their wives brings on a firestorm. Parents struggle to understand why a son puts his fist through things, kicks pets, or screams at siblings.

It’s easy to see the problems in others. But if we’re honest, we’ve all done it. At one time or another, someone says something innocent and we take it as a personal attack. Or we feel that a certain person is intentionally doing something to make us angry, and we seethe in resentment. We’ve all exploded irrationally at something minor and let the situation control us.

And then, every Sunday, we come to church and pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” If you are like me, you are good at praying the first part of the prayer. But when it comes to forgiving others just as God forgives us, that’s a whole different story. This morning we are going to look at forgiveness through the lens of one of Jesus' parables.

Like usual, the Apostle Peter asks one of his famously reckless questions: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive a person who sins against me? Should I forgive up to seven times.” I have to give Peter some credit. Seven times is a lot. Have you ever had the opportunity to forgive a person seven times? If you offended me or I bailed you out of trouble three or four times, I doubt I would want to be anywhere near you. Even the Rabbis in Jesus’ day taught that forgiving someone three times was enough. Peter takes the Rabbi’s three times, doubles it, adds one for good measure, and suggests with eager satisfaction that it will be enough if he forgives seven times. Jesus says, “Peter, you don’t have to forgive seven times.” I can imagine a satisfying smile beginning to stretch across Peter’s face. Perhaps there’s a split second of gratification gleaming in Peter’s eyes. And then Jesus says, “You need to forgive seventy times seven times,” or depending on some translations, “Seventy seven times.” Either way, ifs a lot! Christ’s answer is that there are no limits to forgiveness.[i]

Lets give Peter a break. We all want to feel good about how good natured and forgiving we are. We also know that most of us have at least one person who knows every button to push to upset us. The mere sight of the person causes us to make up excuses to leave the same room. The German philosopher Schopenhauer compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night. He said, “The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills. And in the lonely night of earth’s winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness."[ii]

It always amazes me how unwilling we are to forgive others, especially after we know how willing God is to forgive us. I read a quote from a biography of German poet Heinrich Heine which said, “Forgiveness was not Heine’s business or specialty.” Heine used to say, “My nature is the most peaceful in the world. All I ask is a simple cottage, a decent bed, good food, some flowers in front of my window, and a few trees beside my door. Then, if God wanted to make me completely happy, he would let me enjoy the spectacle of six or seven of my enemies dangling from those trees. I would forgive them of all the wrongs they have done to me -- forgive them from the bottom of my heart, for we must forgive our enemies. But not until they are hanged.”[iii] Humans tend to hold grudges. It’s hard to let go of the past - to forgive completely.

I can imagine what might happen if we appointed a committee of people to write the Lord’s prayer. It may have come out like this:
“Call in the debts, O God. Avenge the sinner who ruined my life, O Lord. See the injustice and strike down the wrong-doer. You know the tormentors of our tortured world. Break them in pieces and cast them away. Get rid of that one competitor, the one associate, the one person who has shattered my life. And if it's your will, use me as your instrument of revenge."

But, Jesus teaches no such thing. He refuses to be the spokesman of our natural instinct for payback. Instead he teaches us to say: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.[iv] “I tell you to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”

To drive the point home, Jesus tells a parable about a king and his servant. The servant owes the king an amount nearing national debt -- 10,000 talents. Just to put it that into perspective, King Herod annual tax revenues were about 900 talents, so 10,000 talents would have been equal to the national revenue for more than eleven years. The desperate debtor asks to be released from his daunting debt, and the king forgives the financial obligation. The king just writes it off when the servant pleads for mercy. A debt is something that we owe and have not paid. When we fail to do what we should, God has every right to demand payment from us. We become debtors to God. But instead of punishment, God cancelled our debt. God offers total forgiveness to all who come want it. We stand before God as debtors who deserve punishment. But through Christ, we are set free.

How do we respond to grace like this? We should fall on our faces in thanks. We should commit our lives to showing the same mercy to others and doing everything God wants us to do. But Jesus knows that this is not always the case. As he continues his parable, the forgiven servant walks arrogantly away from the king. After being forgiven for a mind-boggling debt of worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the foolish servant goes to one of his co-workers who owes him one or two grand. The coworker pleads for mercy, but the servant will hear none of it and has him thrown into jail. The rest of the servants can’t believe what’s happened, so they tattle to the king. The result is not pretty. I believe Jesus is saying this: a person must forgive in order to be forgiven. The one who can’t forgive a fellow human being, especially for a trifling offense, cannot expect to be forgiven the great debt we owe God.

What is your reaction to forgiveness? Is it grateful thanks or repeat offense? Do you forgive others, or continue to hold grudges? A devout Christian man named Chet has a whole lot of trouble offering total forgiveness. In 1991 his son was shot and slain during a robbery. So far as he knows, the killers have not sought his forgiveness. From what he knows of them, he doesn’t think it’s likely, either. So, he does not feel obliged to forgive them now. Chet says, “Don’t try to tell me I should feel guilty, because I have no intention at this point to forgive the animals . . . who viciously murdered my son. And anyone who disagrees has never walked in my shoes.”[v]

Chris Carrier. might disagree. Chris was kidnapped on Christmas Day, 1974 when he was 10 years old. When he was finally found he had been tortured, shot, and left for dead in the Everglades. Miraculously, young Chris recovered, though he lost sight in one eye. No one was ever arrested. A few years ago, 22 years after the kidnapping, David McAllister - confessed to the crime. McAllister was 77 years old, blind and dying in a nursing home. Chris Carrier, now a minister, forgave his abductor. Everyday Chris visits McAllister. He prays with the man, reads the Bible with him, and he’s doing everything he can to help the man make peace with God in his remaining years of life. Chris says, “While many people can’t understand how I could forgive David McAllister, from my point of view I couldn’t not forgive him. If I’d chosen to hate him all these years, or spent my life looking for revenge, then I wouldn’t be the man I am today, the man my wife and children love, the man God has helped me to be.”

I wish it was easy to forgive like this. The truth is it’s easier to be like Chet -consumed with pain and searching for understanding. Forgiveness is supernatural. We just can’t seem to muster it up on our own power. But Jesus can show us the way, because he knows the freedom in being able to forgive. He knew it on those last awful moments on the cross when he cried out, Father, forgive them . . .” Is there someone you need to forgive? Someone you’ve been avoiding? Is there an offense from the past . . . an insult . . . a cold-shoulder . . . perhaps a travesty that lingers on and needs to be pardoned? Forgive, the debt. Do it today. Because no matter what has happened, it's nothing in comparison with the debt that God has canceled for us.

1. See David Leininger, “The Freedom of Forgiveness” ( 1/15/96), www. sermoncentral.com, and William Barclay, Matthew II (Louisville: WJKP, 1975), 193.
[ii]. Fresh Illustrations for Preaching, 135.
[iii]. John Story via Presbynet, “Jokes” #3543
[iv]. Helmut Thielike, Our Heavenly Father (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960), 104.
[v]. Quoted by Leininger.

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