Oct 2, 2016 – Forgive!

Oct 2, 2016 – Forgive!

Garrison Keillor, in one of his monologues from Lake Woebegone, remembers a headline following a tornado that read: “First Lutheran Church Destroyed; Town Unaffected!” What a thought! Can you imagine a disaster completely destroying Zion Lutheran Church, and seeing the headline: “Zion Lutheran Church Destroyed; Bolivar Unaffected.” Would Bolivar notice if we disappeared? Would the loss of our influence be felt? Would the loss of our witness matter?

“You are my witnesses” is what the banner for this LWML Sunday reads. But what is it we’re to witness to? And what is the influence of our witness to look like. That is something we can hardly ever predict or anticipate.

Like this story from the mission field back in the ‘50’s. Johnnie Hasegawa was the houseboy of a Lutheran missionary in Tokyo. The missionary taught Johnnie the good news of Jesus Christ. Johnnie was so overjoyed with the good news of forgiveness and life in Jesus that he had to find a way to share it.

His father had a large office in the farmer’s cooperative in Totsuka. All on his own, and unknown to the missionary, Johnnie started a Sunday School in his father’s office. In just a short time more than 100 children were attending. With the room busting at the seams, Johnnie asked for help from the missionary and a larger space was provided. Imagine how overjoyed the missionary was to discover that his witness to his houseboy had resulted in a Sunday School of more than 100 students.

As we remain faithful witnesses to God’s love and mercy we simply can’t foresee how God may use our influence. And it’s important in our witness to proclaim, as Jesus tells us in the Luke passage on the banner, “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” That is the influence we bring to Bolivar. We bring a witness to the repentance and forgiveness that comes to us in Jesus Christ. That is what influenced little Johnny to start a Sunday school class. Jesus makes that clear in the words on this banner and also in the words from the gospel lesson today.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Confession and absolution are God’s only remedy for the sickness of sin that we carry. That remedy is what God has prescribed for our relationship with Him and our relationships in our congregations, communities and homes.

In the gospel lesson today Jesus is referring to relationships that need the healing of forgiveness. “if your brother sins… comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Those are Jesus words to us about how we care for one another in this church and this town.

Are there offenses and hurts that need to be healed between brothers and sister here? What about in our own families? Are there hurts between spouses or siblings, between parents and children that need the soothing balm of forgiveness applied to them? I’m not talking about something that’s a ‘one-time’ cure-all either.

No, forgiveness is our lifestyle as Christians. We’re in the ‘business of forgiveness’. That is our ‘family’ business. Our business is the reconciliation we share with one another which stems from the reconciliation we’ve been granted from God through the work of Jesus Christ alone. And telling that, letting others know that that forgiveness is for them as well, is our family business. Like Johnny the Sunday school leader.

Forgiveness is an act of will, not of feeling. Forgiveness is an intentional choice that does not deny the hurt, does not excuse the sin or pretend the offense never happened, rather it allows the blood of Jesus to cover, cleanse and wash away the guilt of the offense. It frees both parties to move beyond the hurt to the restoration and rebuilding of relationship, no matter how many times forgiveness is asked for.

The only other alternative is to remain closed-off and hurt. That means we deny that God has first forgiven us. And who among us has suffered hurt to the extent that God has suffered? Who has suffered their own creation rebelling and turning against them as God has? For us to hold onto our hurts and to deny forgiveness to others, is to tell God that our hurts are greater than His.

That brings us right back to the Garden of Eden where we again tell God that He is not God but we are. When we refuse to forgive, we say that God’s way of restoring relationships is not valid for us. And so we deny God. So how then do we see the forgiveness God has given us? Perhaps we can think about how often and how to do forgiveness this way – from something St Cyril of Alexandria said,

“We must… imitate those whose business it is to heal our bodily diseases and who do not care for a sick person once only or twice, but just as often as he happens to become ill. Let us remember that we also are liable to infirmities and overpowered by our passions… It is our duty, having common mutual infirmities, to bear one another’s burdens, so we will fulfill the law of Christ.”

You don’t go to the doctor only once when you’re sick do you? No. You go as many times as needed to receive the healing medicine or care that they provide. That is true for us with repentance and forgiveness. We forgive others as often as we’re asked. And what if repentance is not forthcoming?

Then Jesus makes it clear we seek out the other person and let them know we’ve been hurt. This is no less than what God has done with us in the law. God’s law is one way He tells us how we’ve offended and hurt Him. And with Him there is no end to His forgiveness as we come to Him in repentance. So also with each other, we are to put no limit on our forgiveness toward one another.

Why do you think after saying, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” that the apostles said, to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” ?

That’s because as good Jewish boys they learned from the Pharisees that forgiveness is something that you are not to be too free or too generous with. In fact, it was the common understanding that 3 times, three times was the limit to a person granting forgiveness in a day. So when Jesus said, to forgive up to 7 times, He was blowing the doors off their understanding of forgiveness.

That was unheard of, to forgive not just twice ‘the limit’; but twice the limit plus 1. The point of what Jesus is saying and the reason the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith is that God’s forgiveness is total and complete and is without limit.

Let me give you two examples of forgiveness: 1. You sin (scribble on a clean sheet of paper) and ask for forgiveness. I wad up the paper and throw it in a wastebasket. You sin again and I do the same thing. (Repeat this) 2. Now the second picture. You sin (scribble on a chalkboard) and ask for forgiveness. I erase the sin and forgive you. You sin again and I do the same thing. (Repeat this)

Which way does God forgive? They’re not the same because in the first example I can go to the wastebasket and count the number of times I forgave you. But on the chalkboard the evidence is gone. We cannot keep count of how many times we forgive because forgiveness is the complete removal of guilt. There is no record of the previous sin.

That is how God forgives us, completely and with no record of it. And that is what we are given by the blood of Jesus Christ shed from the cross. God forgives us completely because Jesus has paid the price completely for us. So in our relationship with God, God has provided, through the death on the cross and resurrection of Jesus for our forgiveness.

We are called to repent, that is, admit and confess our sin, turn from our sin, and and trust God’s work in His Son Jesus Christ that has atoned for our sin and our sinful nature. We now have no shame or guilt and instead, possess the promise of God in the forgiveness of God. That forgiveness is now our life and cannot be taken away from us.

I’ve read, “The society of the forgiven has no meaning if those who are forgiven are themselves unforgiving.” (X2) Forgiveness now becomes our default position with each other because that’s how God has treated us. We’re given forgiveness both to sooth and comfort us in our broken relationship with God and then we turn and use that same forgiveness to sooth and comfort each other. In the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘forgive us our trespasses… as …we forgive those who trespass against us.’ We can say that because forgiveness is what God has first given us. We’re then in the position of passing that on. We’re not in the position to judge others, but to be sympathetic toward them knowing our own sin and God’s forgiveness.

Remember as Christians, our business is forgiveness. As the first missionaries among the Eskimos in North America sought to translate the Scriptures, they often had difficulty finding Eskimo terms equivalent to biblical words. One such word was ‘forgiveness’. They could find no single term that was identical in meaning, so they made a compound noun which literally meant “Not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.” That is how God treats us.

And that is how we are called to treat each other. You and I, have been treated so much better than we deserve by God, the One who, for the sake of the blood of Christ is-not-able-to-think-about -(our)- sin-anymore. As the banner reminds us You are His witnesses… of forgiveness.
Go and do likewise, in Jesus name. Amen.

Sermon #847 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Old Testament Reading                                                              Habakkuk 2:2-4
2 I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

2 Then the Lord replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.

3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come     and will not delay.

4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;     his desires are not upright—     but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.”

Epistle                                                                                                   2 Timothy 1:7-10
7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Holy Gospel                                                                                     Luke 17:1-5
17 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”