Peter Came and Said..., Proper 19 (A) - 1996

September 8, 1996

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:21

  • Note: The opening within the parentheses is a personal reflection that may not be appropriate to your use.

[From almost the day she learned to walk, my daughter Elizabeth created an extension of the liturgy for herself on Sunday mornings. If I was the Celebrant that day, as I would process out of the sanctuary Elizabeth would follow along, soon learning that we could walk hand in hand. In the narthex, as I stood greeting the people, she would begin a dance in and out about my chasuble. A playful little girl!

This was her liturgy that she continued doing until her first day of Church School. At the parish where I was serving, Church School ended about the time we were doing the Peace in the service. The children would come in and stay with us for Communion.

On this day, the liturgy was ending and we began our procession out. Elizabeth, as usual walked with me, But in the narthex her usual dance changed quite dramatically. On this day, instead of going in and out of my chasuble, she stood right in front of me looking straight my at my face. Our eyes connected. "Daddy! she said with a voice filled with the conviction of a street corner preacher. "Yes," I answered. Continuing to look straight at me, she proclaimed, "Daddy, I love you because God loves me... 1st (first) ... Jesus 4:19" (note to preacher: refer to 1 John 4:19). It was a holy moment for me, for it became clear to me that on her very first day of Church School, Elizabeth had captured the very essence of the Gospel. She loved because God loved first!]

We forgive because God has first forgiven us.

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins again against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times."

Let us look at what it is to be forgiven by God. The Parable of the Ant:

I don't know abut you, but if I see an ant walking along the kitchen counter top, I don't even think twice about smashing it (make appropriate hand gesture). I have done this for years. One day, while I was at home minding my own business, there I saw yet another one of those blasted ants making its way around the sink. In almost a reflex movement, my hand reached out, index finger poised, pressure to the counter top, ant is gone.

Then, half-way kidding with myself, I asked, "Why don't I feel awful when I kill an ant?" The answer was obvious... I am this tall (move hand to my height) and the ant is this small (put fingers together to show the size of the ant). Such a great difference in size allows me the freedom to feel nothing when killing the ant. And then, do you know what occurred to me? As large a difference between the ant and myself, this difference is nothing compared to the difference between me and God! Yet, God does not go around squashing us (hand gesture). In fact, God does something very different. God offers an arm outstretched calling us into divine presence. An outstretched arm asking us to stand in the midst of God's love. In spite of the difference between us and God, God cares for each one of us. Enough care that Jesus dies for our sins. Enough care that we are forgiven.

We forgive because God has first forgiven us.

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times."

To not forgive is to be held in judgement. Not God's judgement but a self imposed judgement.

In our reading this morning from Ecclesiastics we hear the words" "Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them." (Ecclesiastics 27:30)

So many of us hang on to idols we create out of hatred, fear and anger. We refuse to see God when someone has done us wrong. We allow the darkness to creep within our souls. Prayers are not freely given.

We find ourselves caught in a prison we have created not being able to let go of the pain and hurt. We forget to forgive. To forgive is not to deny our humanity. To forgive is not to put oneself in harms way as some might think when we hear "turn the other cheek." To turn the other cheek is not to say "hurt me more," but to say "I am human, created in the image of God, DO NOT hurt me!"

Imagine the freedom if for a moment you could forgive all wrong done to you. Imagine the freedom if for a moment all you have ever done to wrong another was forgiven by the person wronged. Imagine the freedom. Imagine a world, not caught often in despair, wars which have continued for generations, imagine this world, for a moment looking at each other as a creation of God. Imagine for a moment and we together have a taste of the Reign of God.

To not forgive is our prison. "Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them."

To forgive is our freedom.

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times"? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times."

Imagine the freedom.

Many of us hold a shared image of God's judgement at the point of our death. Death, clouds, passing lights, a feeling of flight, being led forward. Clouds clear, courtroom scene (much better than the People's Court), a judge's chair positioned very high. "Present your case," says the voice from the bench, "no, don't bother, I have the list right here." Seconds feel like eternity.

Judgement is passed.

Let me offer a different image. The basis of this image on the following things:

1) The compassion of God at the moment of Creation.
2) The desire of God to have the Hebrew people show the love God has to offer to the world.
3) A faithful God even when humanity is not faithful.
4) The unconditional sacrifice of Jesus, arms stretched out on the cross.
5) The eternal hope expressed in the empty tomb.

An image of judgement--- God's judgement... Death, passing lights, a feeling of flight, being led forward, clouds clear, warmth. God stands before us, arms outstretched. God calling OUR name. God's love calling to us, overwhelming/ embracing us with this love. A love which is all power, yet not controlling. God calling our name.

"Forgiven. Forgiven. You are forgiven." Most will follow the call. Some, in blindness will even then, walk away.

Peter came and said to Jesus, Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy- seven times."

We forgiven because God has first forgiven us.

And so we must ask how to begin to forgive when we find ourselves captured in our own prison. How can we find this freedom God offers to us? Let me offer one simple way. God is the one who leads, so let us allow God to lead.

A prayer. You might consider doing a ten second pray everyday for two weeks. Picture the person who has done you the most harm. Picture the person who captures you, the one who causes you to experience emotions which hold you in prison. Offer this prayer:

Gracious God, I lift up to you (insert the name of your "favorite" enemy), that they may know the love you have for them. Amen.

Pray the prayer. See what might happen. Let God in. Let God work. Let God offer you freedom in forgiving. Imagine what will happen. Imagine what God will do. God will move us from pain -- to death - - to the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Resurrection. If we allow Christ into the process and allow for transformation, new life will occur.

This is the promise given to us.

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times."

We forgive because God has first forgiven us. Amen.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Contact:
Christopher Sikkema