Archive for March 24th, 2018

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As a hospice chaplain, I have learned to be more adept at bi-translationally praying the Lord’s Prayer.  With so many Presbyterians in Rockbridge County, when it comes to praying tonight’s sermon text,  when I meet a Presbyterian, it is:  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  The Reformed  have the correct translation of the Greek. Debt:  what someone owes me and what I owe someone else. “You owe me one” “I am in your debt”  “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine”  “What can I ever do to repay you?”  Jesus knew about business and in fact many of his parables are about business. In Matthew’s Gospel the next time the word “debt” occurs is in Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving  Servant which we heard tonight in Matthew 18.   Matthew 18 is the Lord’s Sermon on Forgiveness.

A talent was a weight of silver, and one talent was 20 years worth of wages.  Owing his king 10,000 talents, the servant  would take some 200,000 years to pay it off! Then the servant/slave goes to his fellowslave who owes the first servant 100 denarii.  A denarri was worth 1 day’s wage and so the fellowslave owed the first servant about 3 months wages:  nothing to sneeze at!  No, any debt of wrong is nothing to sneeze at!  Debt is a burden.  The fellowslave fell on his knees and plead for mercy after the 1st servant, forgiven monstrous debt was choking him, PAY WHAT YOU OWE. The second part of forgiveness is to forgive our fellow servants when asked.  Asking for forgiveness is humbling. As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism on tonight’s petition:

“…(the Christian) will find that he is no better than others, and that in the presence of God all must lower their plumes, and be glad that they can attain forgiveness. And let no one think that as long as we live here he can reach such a position that he will not need such forgiveness. In short, if God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost.

“…must lower their plumes”.  I think that refers to the fashion style of having a feather in one’s cap as sign of pride, so lower your plumes.  My Grandmother would say to me, Do you want a feather in your cap?  As a saying that I was wanting reward for my pride.  No, pride bends in asking the Lord, and each other, for forgivness. Not having the willingness to so forgive others, as we have been forgiven is, well, unforgivable. 

When we owe someone something, when we do wrong, the first impulse is to hide. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus falling into sin…they hid.  The Lord called out in Eden, Where are you? I was afraid and so I hid, came from Adam cowering in the bushes.  The Lord in His Law finds us out and in the Gospel.  He finds us so we are not lost, but found.

Now you can forgive another in another way, a false way.  “If I die, I forgive you;  if I recover, we’ll see.” (Spanish proverb) In other words, to forgive and release someone else so that if I die, I have accrued a favorable balance on the Lord’s scales. It doesn’t work that way as it does not work because it is self-serving disguised as religious/spiritual and don’t you think God knows that?  So the king throws into prison the forgiven unforgiving servant. Jesus is clear:  “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 

Once forgiven, the devil puts rationales into our heads:  oh, it wasn’t THAT bad, or, what I’ve done wrong isn’t as bad as…fill in the blank.  That one is just spiritual pride comparing myself. “A man isn’t honest simply because he’s never had a chance to steal.” (Jewish proverb). He’s dishonest and that tendency is there. Even when I say, oh it wasn’t that bad, but the guy who owes ME, done me wrong,  is REALLY BAD!

Then there is fear of punishment that prompts confession, or just being caught. “The thief is sorry that he going to be hanged, not that he was a thief.” Roman Catholics and Lutheran agree that contrition, sorrow over sin leads to confession and forgiveness, but they also say, attrition, that is fear of hell, fear of punishment.  All those sexual predators become mighty sorrowful that they are  going to lose their positions, money and power, i.e., there’s hell to pay, when caught…but not because they hurt many women…and men. A blanket apology is not the same as forgive me.  (And even though someone who has hurt me has not asked for forgivess, the willingness in the Lord is there to forgive when asked.) True contrition and forgiveness does not seem to happen because they still don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, just like the thief on the cross on Jesus’ left hand;  but the thief on his right, knew they had done wrong and he said we are under the same condemnation, but this Man has done nothing wrong.  The thief on His right hand  prayed, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (The only time anyone calls Jesus by His first Name alone!) Truly, I say to you: today you will be with me in paradise.

In blazing light your cross reveals/The truth we dimly knew:/what trivial debts are owed to us,/how great our debt to you!

There is no karma, only forgiveness from the Lord. Karma depends on works righteousness that we can pay off our debt load of sin, even in 200,000 years of reincarnations or purgatory.  If there was karma or purgatory, the Father would not need to send us Son to buy us back. He has.   We can’t  pay the debt off, or pay it forward, as God’s Word shows us the reality of sin and forgiveness, our sin and His forgiveness, and the immensity of both sin and His forgiveness.  He forgives and it’s a bloody and cleansing and soul renewing.  The parable of the unforgiving servant should really be called, the parable of the forgiving King.

“For the Church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins.” (Rev. Professor Hermann Sasse)

It is by His cross the Lord baptized us and called us into His kingdom gathered around the crucified and risen Lord. The church is the assembly of forgiven forgiving servants, sons and brothers of Jesus, the fellowship of the king. In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is blessed now and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.


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