Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19)
17 September 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Rose Sapp-Bax+
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean
St. Barnabas Church, DeLand
Church of the Advent, Dunnellon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
As we consider about today’s gospel, I invite you to think about all the sermons you have heard on this passage. Perhaps some of those sermons included: A discussion of Peter - bless his heart - always asking the difficult questions, “how many times must we forgive’ he asks, “as much as seven times”? or perhaps that sermon on
Just how much is Ten Thousand Talents and hundred denarii worth today? and even the question, “Does God torture his children?”
I don’t believe Jesus’s parable was ultimately about money or debt; it’s not about how many times we are to forgive; it’s not about God punishing us. Today, I want to explore cost of UNforgiveness.
Before we can talk about UNforgiveness, let’s talk a bit about what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is NOT. Forgiveness does NOT negate the harm, the hurt that was done. Forgiveness is NOT pretending that the situation didn’t happen, that somehow it doesn’t matter or isn’t important. Forgiveness is NOT ignoring the situation, pushing the hurt even deeper. Forgiveness is NOT attempting to pretend your hurt isn’t real or that your feelings aren’t important. Forgiveness does NOT mean that you are to stay in any situation that incurs further abuse. Forgiveness is NOT about what the other person deserves. Forgiveness does NOT even require the participation of the one who caused the hurt. Because forgiveness is NOT about them - it is about YOU. It is the act of ONE!
So why forgive? Aside from the obvious reason - that it is the RIGHT thing to do . . . and that scripture calls us to it. Consider the Lord’s prayer that we say - often without thinking - at every Eucharist service. “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” The saying ‘be careful what you pray for’ is especially poignant here. But, there are personal, even practical reasons why forgiveness is so important.
Now most sermons are not interactive, but I invite you to try something with me . . . . Close eyes - remember a deep hurt . . . how it felt . . . how it still makes you feel when you remember. Think about that person who hurt you - how he/she made you feel. Can you feel it? Can you connect to those emotions?
STOP - - - - Can you feel physical changes in your body - BP?? knot in your stomach? jaw clenched? Tension? Tears? How long ago was that event? days, weeks, months, years, decades? While the memory may not always be that vivid or even a conscience one - are effects of that hurt take a toll on your body even today. We have all heard about the negative effects of stress in our lives - making us more vulnerable to sickness, even common colds or stomach issues - ulcers, headaches, muscle tension, anxiety, even cancer! Unforgiveness works in the same insidious way - robbing us of our happiness and even our health! Unforgiveness is literally making us sick!
Even doctors recognize the physical effects of unforgiveness. Some oncologists - cancer specialists, are now offering forgiveness classes for their patients who admit to a history of unforgiveness.
How does this information speak to us about God’s will for us? It is my hope that everyone hearing this believes that God’s will for us is wholeness and physical health. So, are we - is our sin - our anger, our unforgiveness keeping us from what God wants for us? Do we need to re-evaluate what we believe about the causes of our disease - at least to some extent. Do we blame God for all our sicknesses, our chronic disease, when it could be we, ourselves that have either invited it in or at least welcomed it by our own lack of forgiveness?
NOW, please, I am in NO way, saying that everyone who suffers from any condition or illness has caused it themselves. But what would happen if we could all practice forgiveness in the same way that God forgives us? What would happen to disease? Something to think about?
Now that is just some the physical effects of unforgiveness. If our lack of forgiveness can cause those effects on our bodies, what about the spiritual effects of unforgiveness. How does our lack of forgiveness affect our relationship with God?
Think for a moment about the cross - the very shape of the cross. One vertical beam - one horizontal beam. Think of those beams as channels of communication, as the flow of relationship - the vertical beam is our relationship with God - open communication, giving and receiving. Think of that horizontal beam as our relationships with each other. again - free flowing relationship, giving and receiving - unless there is unforgiveness - which clogs up the flow of relationships. There is a point of intersection - where the horizontal and vertical beams cross one another. If both channels are open - communication, relationship is free and open. But, if we have blocked the communication with our brothers or sisters through unforgiveness - that blockage not only blocks the horizontal flow of relationships, but at the intersection of the beams - it blocks the vertical flow of relationship as well. We cannot have an open, full relationship with God if there is a blockage in our human relationships. Forgiveness opens the channels for both relationships creating a full and open relationship with God and with each other.
Scripture tell us, so far as it is up to you, live peaceably with everyone. Your relationship with God depend on it.
Let’s go back to our text for a moment. We read, The Master said:
You wicked servant, I cancelled all your debt because
you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on
your fellow servant just as I had on you? In anger his
master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured,
until he should pay back all he owed:
I know of nowhere in the NT that I see the Father portrayed in such anger. Frankly, I don’t like this portrayal of God - it isn’t the God I want to know. He is rightfully angry - but what is He angry about? But he appears vengeful - a torturing God . . . or is He?
The passage tells us that the master ‘turned the slave over to be tortured’. It was the slave’s choice to withhold forgiveness and mercy, which earned him a life of torture - a torture of his own choosing. Perhaps God is angry - not AT us, but profoundly sad at the choices we make. So, today, I would ask - Who or perhaps What is your torture?
Has unforgiveness in your past kept you for all the joy, the peace, the very life that Jesus promises? If we consider the pain and anguish that unforgiveness causes - if we consider all emotional, spiritual and physical torture that it brings, there is no need for God to inflict more torture or pain - we have already accomplished our own life of pain. God - the master in the parable - simply leaves us to the hell that we have already created for ourselves. A life of pain and bitterness, a life without forgiveness or mercy - a life without meaningful relationships. A life filled with emotional and spiritual emptiness. A life more susceptible to physical ailment and disease. No, God does not need to inflict any more pain than we have already created for ourselves.
Life inflicts pain - we are broken people - we are hurt people, and unfortunately - hurt people - hurt people. But, in Christ Jesus, we are given a perfect example of how forgiveness can soothe that hurt - how forgiveness can and does heal the brokenhearted.
I will not insult you by telling you that forgiveness is easy or that it is simply a choice - a simply prayer, a one-time decision that we make. It is often a decision that we must make each and every day - a decision that we cannot make even once without the help and model of Jesus Christ. Each and every day - we can move closer to real and total forgiveness - just a little closer to the perfect forgiveness that each of us has received.
I gave a talk on Forgiveness just over week ago at St. Edwards in Mount Dora, and while I was preparing for that talk and for today’s sermon, God did what he often does by providing an example for me - a situations in my own life. My path crossed with two people that I had not interacted with in years - people who had hurt me deeply. People who I thought I had forgiven completely. When I saw each of the people, I felt that old pang of hurt -remembered pain - that knot in my stomach - that physical response we talked about. I had to go through the steps of forgiveness once again - until the thought of them and of the situation was only a memory. This situation reminded me that we often have to go back again and again - to learn to forgive from the heart.
If you are stuck in that pattern of unforgiveness and can’t seem to break the cycle - get help - there is hope and healing, even for the deepest wounds.
First John tells that that “we love because He first loved us.” I would submit to you that we also ‘forgive, because He first forgave us’.
When we can consider the cross - the unbelievable and incomprehensible love and forgiveness that it represents, we know what is possible. We know what God wants for us. But we must choose forgiveness. We must, over and over, with the help and intercession of Jesus Christ work toward achieving it.
The rewards are waiting for us - the peace, the joy, the freedom, that forgiveness brings in this life - and the life of eternity with God. Don't wait another day!
Cover Image: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/forgiveness/commentary-on-matthew-1815-35-3