Listen to it:
“Forgive Us As We Forgive”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you would, open your hymnals to page 324, and the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean?” “We pray….” We pray that God would forgive us, unworthy and evil servants though we are. We pray that He would release us from this debt of sin that we carry, which is far too much for us ever to pay back. The amount that the servant in the parable owes-ten thousand talents-would take him at least a thousand years to pay back, and that’s assuming he could pay back ten talents a year. But since he is a slave and a single talent is the pay for about twenty years of regular wages, it would require 200 years’ salaries to pay ten talents a year. I’m thinking that a one-thousand-year term is a little too optimistic. In that light, the servant’s words are completely absurd: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (Matthew 19:26, ESV). It’s simply not going to happen. But the servant’s words are no more absurd than thinking that you could put even the smallest dent in what you owe to your Creator. It’s just not going to happen. It should set us dizzy and sick with shame that not only can we not do anything to earn God’s forgiveness, it is far too late to try. It is the shame of a thousand murders that you cannot undo. It is the shame of a thousand adulteries that cannot be erased. It is the shame of a thousand lies, a thousand idols, a thousand blasphemies-and you cannot take them back. You have already done them, you are doing them this very moment, and you will continue to do them until you go back to the ground from which you came. There is as little hope of making up for those sins as there is of paying back a loan that equals 200,000 years of your salary. “For we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment” (Luther, SC). “In short, unless God constantly forgives, we are lost” (Luther, LC).
But your God is merciful. He does not desire the death of sinners, nor that a single one of His children should be lost eternally. So, beloved, He sent His Son. It is not an abstract ideal or a simple historical truth. He sent His Son for you. See if what He paid matches up to what you owe: you owe an eternal debt, and the Son paid an eternal death. No mere man could do that. Only one who is Himself eternal could die a death so sufficient that it was worth more than the deaths of all the people before and since. His death is more than sufficient for your sin and mine. Jesus’ death is eternal; not that He dies eternally, but that He died once for all. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, ESV). He paid what you owe and so your Father, out of His great mercy, forgives you, releasing you from your debt. You are that first servant. The question is, how will you act toward your fellow servants?
The second servant in the parable owed the first servant about three months’ salary, which is not a trivial amount. You know and I know that others have sinned against us and some of their sins are terrible and painful. Perhaps your husband committed adultery, maybe more than once. Your wife had sex with someone else before you were married, and every time you think about it, hatred burns inside you. Your friend told someone what you told her in confidence, and now everyone knows. The members of the congregation don’t talk to you, and you feel out of place when you come here. Someone lied about you, preventing you from getting a promotion you deserved. I don’t know what sin someone has committed against you, or whether it is big or small. They owe you. But think of your sin, and what has been forgiven you. The truly golden rule is: do unto others as God has done unto you. Do not mock the mercy of God and refuse to forgive the one who has sinned against you. God forgives you an eternal debt; do not hold someone else’s sin against him. Would you, like Peter, put a limit on your forgiveness, when God’s forgiveness knows no bounds? Do you think that the sacrifice of Jesus cannot cover the sins of your neighbors? If it cannot cover their sins, then it certainly will not cover yours. “If you do not forgive, do not think that God forgives you” (Luther, LC). Repent, brothers and sisters, of your lack of forgiveness! Repent that you hold that grudge or cling to that crystallized hatred. If there is someone here who has sinned against you, and if you have been holding back forgiveness, go to that one-even now before you come to the altar of God-and speak the forgiveness of Christ. All you need to say is, “Jesus forgives you and I forgive you.” You can work out the details later. Your word will be the cool kiss of peace upon that hot, unhealed wound. And then come together to the Table and be joined again in forgiveness to the Body of Christ.
Here is the cross, beloved, and here is your Savior. Here is the Body and here is the Blood. You cannot be forgiven if you refuse to forgive, but neither can you forgive unless you are forgiven. Do you seek the forgiveness of God in Christ for your sin? Do you want to be free of the bitterness and the rage and that black hole in your gut that sucks in all the light? Then know that all is paid for, all is forgiven. When you cannot forgive, when you do not have the strength, your Lord waits, persistent and patient, to tell you that the payment is finished for your sin and the sin of all people. He waits, unfailing and unwavering, to put into your mouth His purifying Body and His cleansing Blood. He waits, radiant and rejoicing, to give you peace and a forgiving heart. He, against whom your sin fell as hammer on nail, has put the desire to be forgiven in your heart; He alone can give you the desire to forgive those who have sinned against you. “Lord, I fail, for you give yourself so richly and abundantly to me, and I cannot do the same to my neighbor. I regret this before you and pray that I may become so rich and strong that I may do to my neighbor as you do to me. Dear God, I have been wronged. Why? I do not deserve it of this person. But I must remember and understand who I am to you. There is a long complaint against me, proving that I am ten times worse and have a thousand times more against you than my neighbor has against me. Therefore I must agree with your wish by sincerely praying: O Lord, forgive, and I will also forgive” (Luther’s Prayers, 85).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/9/08