20th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 17:1-10 Sermon
October 16, 2004
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
126 "Come, O Come Thou Quickening Spirit"
568 "If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee"
370 "Just As I Am, Without One Plea"
551 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"
FORGIVE AND FORGET
TEXT: (vs. 3-4): “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
This is an old story, but one that I think bears repeating. This happened in Muncie, Indiana. A young Mennonite couple was traveling down a road one day in their horse and buggy. In the woman’s arms, she was holding their baby.
All was going well, until a car with some teenage boys sped past them. One of the boys threw a Coca-Cola bottle out of the window. This was one of the heavy glass bottles, in the days before the plastic ones with the screw-top lids.
Anyway, the Coke bottle struck the baby on the head, and he was killed instantly. The young man who threw the bottle was apprehended and arrested. When the case came to court, it was pretty much an open and shut case.
However before the judge pronounced the sentence, the Mennonite father came before the judge and asked if he could speak.
Now this is paraphrased, but essentially this is what this father had to say: “Your honor, before you pronounce your sentence, I’d like you to consider something. My son is dead, and no sentence you hand down to this young man is going to bring my son back to life. What happened was an accident, I fully realize that. This young man intended no harm to my son. Just because my son is dead is no reason this young man’s life has to be ruined too. Go easy on him, your honor. I forgive him.” And that is exactly what the judge did.
Wow. That is one incredible story, which shows an almost unbelievable amount of wisdom from this Mennonite father. Now I’m sure this couple went through all of the tears and anger and the whole gamut of emotions. I’m sure this couple loved their son very much, and his death wasn’t an easy thing to accept. But yet, this man was able to put the Christian principle of forgiveness into practice in an almost impossible situation. Even though the young man who threw the bottle didn’t go to the Mennonite father begging his forgiveness, yet this Mennonite father forgave him anyway.
The one thing I think that makes this story so incredible, is that it completely goes against everything the world believes. We live in an age where revenge is the thing on people’s minds, where lawsuits and punitive damages reign supreme, where people get ahead at the expense of other people.
This Mennonite father certainly had every right to see this young man prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He could have very easily filed and won a wrongful death lawsuit against the young man. There are so many things this Mennonite father could have done. He could have cashed in big-time.
But he chose none of that. Instead, he let it all go with the simple words, “I forgive him.”
In our text for today, Jesus is teaching some lessons to his disciples. This lesson on forgiveness is but two verses in this section. Also included in these first 10 verses of Luke 17 are lessons addressing temptation, causing someone else to sin, faith, and the responsibility of doing one’s duty. All of these topics are sermons in and of themselves, and none of these things are easy issues in the life of a Christian.
But the forgiveness thing is especially difficult. And it isn’t like it’s a topic just limited to these two verses in the Bible. Forgiveness is a refrain that’s repeated throughout Scripture, both God’s forgiveness given to us, and how we are to forgive others.
If we examine the text of the Lord’s prayer, we find the words, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Of course we know that the word “trespass” is a synonym for “sin.” We say this prayer often—but do we fully realize what we are saying?
It almost sounds like we are asking God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others. Is that what we really want? Do we forgive others perfectly like God does with us?
When it comes to human beings forgiving other human beings, people can be so fickle and inconsistent. I personally know some people who would, for all intents and purposes be good church-going Christian folk, who have a very poor grasp on forgiving. I’ve known about individuals who have done something wrong, who have gone to these Christian people, legitimately sorry for what they did, begging for forgiveness, only to be given the proverbial cold shoulder. I’ve heard the excuse, “well, they’re not sorry for what they did, they’re just sorry they got caught”—and I know that is not the case at all.
And so grudges are held and nursed, anger continues to slowly burn, and reconciliation is next to impossible to achieve. The repentant person is sorry, but receives no forgiveness. The offended party continues to hold a grudge, and the offending party is left frustrated. The good thing, is that the offending party knows they are forgiven before God in heaven, and so all is square in that department. But still the offending party feels a sense of sorrow that the offended party still continues to wallow in misery.
Or I’ve known people who will say, “Well, I’ll forgive you; but don’t expect me to forget about it!” Now that one is tough. We are cursed with good memories. I’ve heard husbands and wives argue and fight, where one spouse will say something like, “I remember what you did back in 1989…” and a lot of old baggage that should have been left in the past gets regurgitated and re-hashed.
It is very hard to forget sometimes. When you see a person who did you wrong and look them in the face, a flood of old memories come back automatically. It happens; it just happens even though we might not want it to happen or we didn’t plan it that way. That’s the curse of a good memory.
But the worst thing anybody can say is, “I’ll never forgive you for what you have done.” It’s especially bad when a Christian person says that. When they do that, they are saying that they want to hold a grudge, and that they want to be angry and bitter. They just simply refuse to let go of something. They would rather have it engulf their life.
When I lived in Georgia, there was a very tragic accident that happened. Five high school girl cheer leaders piled into a Chevy Cavalier late one night, and drove to the house of another cheer leader. They proceeded to “tee-pee” the trees—you know, string toilet paper all over them.
Well, the girl’s father woke up and caught them. The girls jumped in the Cavalier and drove off. The girl’s father jumped in his pickup and chased after them. The girls went down a road that had a sharp left curve, and they didn’t make the corner. They crashed into a tree. Three of the girls were killed, and two girls (one of which was the driver) survived. The girl driving was the daughter of my veterinarian. The whole thing was so sad.
I attended the funerals of these girls. At one, which was a double funeral in a very large fundamental Christian church, the mother of one of the girls who was killed got up and spoke to the crowd. Her words were full of Christian hope. She was obviously a woman of faith. And based upon how active these girls were in their church, there was no doubt that they were in heaven.
About a month or so afterward, I was watching the evening news on TV. They showed a picture of this same mother who had given such a great Christian testimony. The news item was that this woman had filed a multi-million dollar wrongful death suit against the parents of the girl who was driving the car—my veterinarian. This was in addition to the various motor vehicle charges already pending against her.
When the woman was interviewed, she said she needed to do this to have “closure.” What I really think was that she was “cashing in” on her daughter’s death. She should have listened to the story about the Mennonite couple and their baby. This Christian woman was basically out to ruin the lives of an entire family because her daughter died in a car accident. I know the girl driving and her parents were very sorry for what happened. But somehow for this woman, that just wasn’t good enough; there had to be a dollar sign attached to it.
As we consider the human version of forgiveness, we need to see how God forgives. King David committed adultery, and then committed murder to cover up for it. God forgave him; in fact David was called a man after God’s own heart. Jesus, while hanging on the cross forgave the Roman soldiers who were putting him to death. The Israelites, especially during the time they were traveling in the wilderness committed sin after sin after sin against God, and he forgave them. They continued to be God’s chosen people.
In Psalm 51, David prays for God’s forgiveness when he says: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgression. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin….Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”
David could pray that prayer because he knew it would happen. He knew that forgiveness was his just for the asking. He knew how God worked and how he would forgive.
There are a couple passages that I believe are germane in understanding how completely God forgives. Psalm 130 verses 3-4 says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” And Jeremiah 31 verses 33 and 34 says, “…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people….For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
What this means, is that perfect forgiveness is more than just forgiving; it is forgetting as well. With God, there is no “curse of a good memory.” When he removes sin, it stays removed and is completely forgotten.
If it were possible, you could walk up to God and say, “Hey God, do you remember that terrible sin I committed a couple years ago?” And God would say, “No, I don’t remember. I have no record of it.” It’s just like it never happened at all.
As we bring this down on a personal level, it is so very easy to see how imperfect we are at forgiving others. We might even see this as such an impossible task, that we don’t really want to even try it. It almost seems like an exercise in futility. How can we ever achieve the level of forgiveness that God shows us?
But in our text today, God tells us that we are to forgive. Even though we will not do it perfectly, yet God tells us to do it. In this section, Jesus tells us to do it as much as seven times in one day. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us to forgive 70 times 7. But don’t let these numbers fool you; these are just metaphorical ways of telling us that our forgiveness is to be an infinite number of times, and that we must always be ready to forgive regardless of the frequency.
And so we come to God confessing our failure and weakness in forgiving as we should. We come to God knowing that we haven’t forgiven our brother or sister from the heart. We come seeking the forgiveness we have so often neglected to show others.
We can be glad that through faith in Jesus, we are forgiven, completely and perfectly. We know that whatever sins we have committed have been entirely eliminated from our record. And we know that God forgives us because he wants to, not because he has to. He sent Jesus to suffer and die for our sins so that we would be reconciled to him, so that through faith in him as our Saviour, Christ’s sinless record would become ours. It’s just that easy.
I know that in our lives, there are people who need to be forgiven. There are people who have done us wrong, those who have openly sinned against us—maybe many times. But in our hearts, we need to simply let go of any anger or hatred or wrath, and just forgive them. And if they come to us wanting our forgiveness, we have to be ready and willing to assure them we have forgiven them. We can’t allow whatever wrong they did to us control our lives.
And so when we pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we are in effect asking God to help us to forgive others in the same way he forgives us, regardless of the number of times we need to do it. Through Jesus, we know God does hear our prayer and will help us forgive others from the heart. God will continue to give us strength as he forgives us for Jesus’ sake. And so we can come before God’s throne with all of the assurance spoken by the hymn writer:
Just as I am, thou wilt receive
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.