Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35, for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, "God's Mercy Received is Mercy Lived"

Sermon Outline:
1. Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness, repentance, and now mercy, begun last week. Various pitfalls to salvation.

2. Peter asks about forgiveness. 7 times is generous? Peter is asking the question out of the sense of fairness, not out of the sense of mercy. Mercy doesn’t deal with what is fair, but what is undeserved! No, 70 x 7. “Jesus raises the debt ceiling.” Don’t keep a record or count of sins. “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). A lesson in mercy and forgiveness: Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. God’s mercy received is mercy lived.

3. Important details: 1) scenario of master settling accounts like the final judgment we all have before God, 2) 10,000 talent debt was beyond payable. 1 talent = 20 years wages for a laborer. 10,000 talents is 200,000 years of work!! Millions or billions of dollars. Like a single individual being held responsible for paying off the US national debt. 3) ‘Have patience with me and I will pay you everything’ was a futile cry--impossible to pay. But implored the master’s mercy 4) Incredible compassion of master to cancel (forgive) the entire debt--nothing still owed. Didn’t work out a payment plan or refinance. 5) Reaction of the servant (expected vs. actual) 6) 100 denarii debt-- 1 denarius = 1 day’s wage. 100 days’ wages or about 5-6 months. A very payable debt. About 600,000 times smaller than the first servant’s debt. 7) the unforgiving servant did not hear his own words in the 2nd servant’s plea, chokes him, shows no mercy 8) community is scandalized by his selfish misuse of his freedom and the mercy shown to him. 9) Mercy shown to him by the master is revoked after the servant shows an attitude utterly opposite of the master’s mercy toward his fellow servant.

4. “Living mercifully is a high holy art of faith.” (Harrison). Doesn’t come easily; selfish, sinful nature rebels against it. Receiving God’s incredible mercy for our enormous, unpayable debt to God is how we learn to live mercy. Compassion, undeserved kindness, grace. Mercy as Jesus teaches it is always a conviction or emotion that leads to merciful action. Mercy is not true or complete in just feeling sorry for someone, it leads to a compassionate action. Like forgiveness. Like feeding the hungry or clothing the poor. God’s mercy received is mercy lived. His undeserved gift, first given, translates into action on our part.

5. “As much as we Lutherans harp on the importance of forgiveness, it forever amazes me that we can be so inept, so silent, and so unable to speak absolution to one another. We daily live the parable of the unforgiving servant. Our innumerable sins (even those of which we are unaware) are forgiven by Christ. Yet we obsess, we stew, we fret, and we grind our axes over one sin committed against us. After one untoward word from a brother or sister in Christ or one of off-the-cuff remark from a family member, we are shouting “Pay what you owe!”” (Harrison, 80-81).

6. If anyone of us cannot forgive our brother from our heart, we should hear this warning from Jesus carefully. The scandal of what the unforgiving servant did is that he acted so completely contrary to the mercy that the master showed to him. Utterly selfish misuse of the richly given freedom and mercy from the master. It was a denial of Christ to deny forgiveness to his fellow servant who sought the same mercy from him as he sought from the master. If anyone seeks our forgiveness or mercy, we cannot and should not deny it. If we do, God will withdraw His mercy from us.

7. As for someone who is unrepentant, Jesus already explained in vs. 15-18 about seeking repentance from the brother. If the person is still unrepentant, those steps apply first until they repent. But we’re not free to store up bitterness and vengeance or malice until they repent. We still are to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and forgive. Maybe our forgiveness cannot bring them to repentance, and that’s the closest we can get to reconciliation. Bitterness and malice are utterly foreign to God’s mercy received in Jesus, and serve no purpose either for the believer or for God’s glory. Rather, we are to root out any hint of bitterness in us.

8. But here Jesus is addressing those who will not forgive even those who are sorry and seek forgiveness. Again, if we cannot forgive our brother from our heart, we must repent of this selfishness and sin, and plead ourselves for God’s mercy. For it is only by again and again, daily and weekly and yearly receiving the mercy of God, that we will be filled with the mercy that enables us to forgive incomparably small debts (sins) owed to us. If we find ourselves unable to forgive, we must plead and fall at God’s compassionate mercy and receive, receive again His mercy. So our heart will be filled with His mercy toward others. So our heart will be able to forgive the greatest sins against us. Only by God’s mercy have Christians been able to forgive such a terrible sin as murder or something similar against them. Forgiveness of that kind isn’t easy, but it is possible, and this is the true power of God’s mercy.

9. Truly living mercifully is a high holy art of faith. It means that we will be able to endure being wronged, even many, many times, but still find the mercy to forgive. We plead to God for our own incapacity to forgive, and ask for Him to fill us to overflowing with His forgiving love.

10. Thanks be to Jesus that He paid our unpayable debt to God. We must know how great and indefinite our sin is before God. The infinite debt of sin that none of us could pay, that no human being could pay back in 200,000 years, in an immeasurable amount of time--Jesus was able to pay in full through His death on the cross. Thanks be to Jesus that He saw our unforgiving hearts and taught this parable so that we might see the danger of forsaking His mercy by blatantly denying it with unforgiveness and selfishness in our hearts. Thanks be to Jesus that He supplies an incomprehensible patience and mercy to us, in forgiving our sins, so we can overflow with that same patience and mercy to others. In Christ we will find a bottomless well of mercy, from which to draw, from which our hearts are filled with forgiveness like His. Instead of grinding our axes and stewing over old sins, we will run to others who have wronged us with the joyful message: “I forgive you! The debts are canceled! Our master has forgiven us an infinite debt! Spread that forgiveness to others!” Know what Christ has done for you on the cross and you will know the joy of forgiveness--in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What did Peter think was a “generous” amount of forgiveness? How far was he off the mark, according to Jesus? What did Jesus intend to teach Peter when He said to forgive seventy times seven? Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5

2. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, how great was his debt to the master? What does this unpayable debt represent for us? How did the master respond to his plea for mercy?

3. How much smaller was the debt his fellow servant owed him? What does that debt represent for us? How did he respond to his fellow servant’s plea for mercy? What was naturally expected from the master, as to how he should have responded instead? (vs. 32-33) How are we to respond to the pleas of forgiveness from those who “owe” debts of forgiveness to us?

4. What is the challenge and difficulty about living mercifully? What works against this high, holy calling? Why does mercy necessarily translate into merciful action?

5. What is the danger of abusing the mercy and forgiveness that God has shown us, by displaying an utterly opposite attitude of unforgiveness or selfishness? 1 John 4:7-21 (esp. v. 19-21).

6. How do we receive the mercy needed to forgive others? Who paid our unpayable debt to God? How did He pay it? 1 Pet. 1:18-19.

7. In contrast to the unforgiving servant’s attitude, what ought the life of a forgiven Christian look like? How will he or she respond to the mercy they received from God? How will they respond to the sins committed against them?

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