In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
Text: Matthew 18:23-35
THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.
Dear fellowed redeemed in Christ,
If you don't forgive others, if you continue to harbor a grudge against someone, do you think God forgives you? Every day we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Is that truly what you desire? Do you want God to forgive you exactly the same way you forgive your husband or wife, your mom or dad, your brother or sister, your co-worker, or others in your life? Jesus told the servant in the Gospel today: "Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?"
It is very hard to forgive others. Even when we say "I forgive you," it is hard to put another's sin out of our minds. Too often we will find that we are like the servant here who was forgiven much, and yet could forgive little.
Why does this happen? Why can we be so in despair over our own sins, desiring help and begging for the mercy of God which we do not deserve, and then when we receive God’s pity we turn around and treat our neighbor with contempt, failing to forgive?
What we see in ourselves is the perverse nature of our sinfulness. Our lack of forgiving others is a sign to us that we really don't think we need God’s forgiveness, or that we simply take it for granted, as though we deserved it.
Think of the times that we are most generous in life. It is usually when we consider ourselves to have more than enough for what we need. It doesn't matter how much we have, what matters is how we think of our situation. A person who makes the minimum wage can be more generous than a billionaire. Not measured by how much is given, but by the spirit in which people are helped. We might have little left over in the checking account at the end of the month, yet we should examine ourselves to see how that affects our generosity, not in terms of numbers of dollars, but in terms of our attitude. If we are worried about debt, then that may affect our desire to help others: "helping them won’t get us out of debt" we'll think.
Forgiving others is like that. We will find it hard to forgive when we don’t know what it means that we are forgiven. So we need to ask: what is the forgiveness of sins?
It starts with knowing sin. Sin is what we are born with, original, inherited, sin; we are by nature sinful and unclean. The newborn baby is a sinner. The aged person in the nursing home is a sinner. We are all sinners. That is how we come into the world. Besides the inherited sin, we add our sins of commission and omission. We do things we should not do, against God, against our families and friends; we don't do things we should do, again, against God and neighbor. God's law shows us our failure to do as God commands. This failure is sin. And the wages of sin is death.
In the story Jesus told, the debt of the first servant is like our sin against God. It is so huge that we can never repay it. But do we really believe our debt of sin is so large? Or are we so accustomed to hearing about how we are forgiven that we ignore the fact that there is a good reason we need that forgiveness? Do we truly comprehend what we deserve from God for our sin? Where would we be without God's pity and mercy? Where would we be if He did not desire us to be forgiven? We would have no hope whatsoever.
So, whoever wants to truly confess that he is a sinner must see to it that he is not confessing any dreamed up or imaginary sins. He must confess that his sins are just as real as adultery, theft, murder, and the like, that is, that these sins are so great that they will take you to hell unless they are forgiven (Hauspostille, 3, 137).
He goes on to say: "if the forgiveness of sins is to be genuine, then the sins themselves must also be genuine" (138). Forgiveness is not needed for fake sins, or imaginary problems. No, the forgiveness is offered because of the true need.
And so we confess each Sunday, "I believe in the Holy Spirit...the forgiveness of sins." This is an article of faith. We cannot see the forgiveness from God. But it comes to us through God's Word. We trust what He says, that He does not lie, but through the life and death of our Savior Jesus He has taken away the sins of the world, our sins: "Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death...." This forgiveness is showered on us, the one baptism for the remission of sins. It is given to us through Word and Sacrament, available as the on-going help against our sins in whatever form they make take.
This is the great gift of God for you: the forgiveness of sins, the taking away of the debt you owed. Now, what does this mean for you and your life with others? Will you be like the first servant in Jesus' story? Will you be forgiven your billions, and not forgive the $10 your wife owes you? Or your husband, or children, parents, or whomever else the Lord has put in your life? Can we be so stingy towards others when God is so overwhelmingly generous toward us? We can – but only if we failed in the first place to confess our sins and understand their true implication for our eternal destination.
If we find ourselves failing to forgive others, then let us take to heart as a sign of our own pride, our own inability to confess our sins as real sins that deserve damnation. God help us to be humbled by our lack of forgiveness, and use that sign to grow in the knowledge of our sin so that we may confess honestly and rightly, receiving the gracious forgiveness of all our sins. Then, too, may God help us to see in our family, our friends, and all others whom we meet, people who like us need to hear a forgiving word, a word of help. We can do that, as we learn more and more about what a truly merciful Savior our Lord Jesus Christ is. God grant us faith toward Him, and fervent love toward one another, in Jesus' name, Amen.