What About the 78th Time?

Bible Text: Matthew 18:21-35, Colossians 3:12-17 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Getting to Know Me | Good morning again. Last month our sermon series was titled, “Getting to Know You,” when I preached on some of your favorite passages, including those that give you hope and encouragement, as well as some that you find challenging or difficult. I hope you found those messages helpful and I know they have helped me to get to know you a little bit more.

This morning we are starting our new sermon series titled, “Getting to Know Me”. Through the next four weeks I am going to be preaching on some of my favorite passages from Scripture to help you get to know more about me and how I understand faith, love, God, and humanity’s relationship with God and one another.

Forgiveness. It’s not always an easy topic or reality in which to operate. But it is one that many people have offered their thoughts and opinions on. For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

Or what about American author Marianne Williamson who once wrote that, “Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” Dutch-American television personality and former model Yolanda Hadid was once quoted as saying, “I believe forgiveness is the best form of love in any relationship. It takes a strong person to say they’re sorry and an even stronger person to forgive.”

In our first reading from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, Paul is again trying to help instruct and encourage a congregation on how to live into the teachings of Jesus Christ. This epistle is actually attributed to both Paul and Timothy, an early Christian evangelist and the first Christian bishop of Ephesus. Paul was a mentor to Timothy and would often entrust him with important work. Timothy would become Paul’s disciple, and later his constant companion and even co-worker in preaching and teaching in their travels to evangelize.

Now in verse thirteen, the Church in Colossae is told, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” So right here the church, and us now today, are told very clearly that we need to forgive each other, just like God forgives us. You may notice the language here echoes the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught the disciples.

Now in our second Scripture reading today from the Gospel of Matthew, we heard about forgiveness as Jesus spoke with Peter and the other disciples. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. And Peter even offers a suggestion of seven times to forgive someone. SEVEN!

So, just to give you some background on why Peter would even ask Jesus such a question, we need to know what was going on with the disciples at this time. There was most likely a recent dispute where Peter had been some kind of object of special envy. And Peter tended to be pretty forward in continually answering for all of the other disciples, which caused some tension to say the least. And as insinuations were perhaps made over and over again, Peter wanted to know just how often and how long he had to stand it. But can you really blame him?

I want you to think about someone in your life, someone you love very much like a spouse or a child or a parent or a friend. And think about how many times just this past week that you forgave them, whether out loud to their face or quietly in your heart. Chances are that if we followed Peter’s suggestion of just seven times, we would soon run out of people in our life who would be forgivable. Our lives would be empty of loved ones and I think as a whole, the world would become a miserable and lonely place in ways we can only imagine.

And what about our world today? Where do we see the message of forgiveness portrayed? Not too much in popular culture that’s for sure. One only needs to turn on the TV to one of the live competition-type shows like Big Brother or other reality shows like the Real Housewives to find a much different message than forgiveness. Although for those of you unfamiliar with Yolanda Hadid whom I quoted earlier, she has starred on one of the Real Housewives shows before, so maybe there is something there.

But to be honest, from my experience one of the primary messages in many of those shows is revenge and retaliation, and definitely not forgiveness. Even in many of the cooking competition shows that I personally enjoy, the need to win seems to trump any sense of forgiveness for others. And not that we should be taking our ques for living from television shows, but it does show where our priorities lie sometimes over what God’s priorities may be.

It seems any time anyone feels wronged in any way by another, the first thoughts are revenge or retribution. Now I am not saying that you should not watch these types of shows or you should not seek justice. Not at all. It just seems to me that forgiveness has gotten a little lost in our world today. Peter talked about only forgiving someone seven times. It sounds to me like the world Peter lived in is not that different from our own today in some respects…

But when we look back at what Jesus responds to Peter with, we find not only hope, but an important lesson. Jesus says to Peter, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Now some translations actually say seventy times seven which would be almost 500 times! 500! That’s a lot, right? 500? That’s way more than all these fingers!

I mean I think we are going to start having to carry around big notebooks or binders full of paper to keep track of that many times forgiving, right? Or is there an app for that? There’s a business opportunity, someone get on that. No, no – that is not what Jesus meant. His point was that we should always forgive each other and not keep track or stop forgiving one another.

Did you know that the words forgive, forgiveness, forgiven, and forgiving appear almost 150 times in the Bible? Seems to be something of a reoccurring theme.

As I mentioned earlier, Jesus even includes it in the Lord’s Prayer he teaches to the disciples in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, using the words “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” Probably safe to assume that is where Paul was drawing from in that epistle to the Colossians.

But did you notice something? Jesus makes an important distinction in that statement. Forgive us as we forgive others. We are asking God to forgive us for the things we have done wrong, just as we forgive others who have done things wrong to us. So, logic dictates that if we do not forgive others, how can we possibly ask God to forgive us? If we are not willing to forgive the sins of others that they commit against us, we are not only failing to follow the teachings of Jesus, but then we are also failing to even try to live our lives as Jesus lived.

So, I stand before you this morning as your new pastor. We have survived the first four weeks together, although in my case just barely with catching pneumonia, but we have survived. And even though people sometimes have the idea that because you are a pastor you are somehow perfect or do not make mistakes, I am here to tell you that is not true. Shocking right?

Just like you, I am human, and I sin. I make mistakes. Really, I do! Promise. I have said things I don’t really mean and wish I could take back. I have sworn when I cut myself trying to do home improvement work or when someone has cut me off in traffic. I have hurt people and caused pain to people. And I regret those actions every day, praying for forgiveness not only from God, but from the people I have sinned against.

And there will come a time, I promise you, that I will say or do something that will upset or hurt each and every one of you. It’s going to happen. I will forget your name or fail to recognize a contribution you have made to the church or community. I will sin against you at some point, because I am human, and I am flawed. Now I also promise that these sins and failings will not be done with malice or evil intent. But they will happen, and I hope in those moments, you will be able to forgive me.

Something else that I know from my time in ministry and just in life, is that there will be moments that each and every one of you will sin against me as well. You will say something hurtful or maybe do something to be disruptive to the ministry work I am leading you in. Because just like me, you too are human and have not yet moved on into perfection. And I also believe that these sins will not be done with malice or evil intent. But again, they will happen, and I promise you right now, in this moment together today that in those times, I will forgive you. Because that is what Jesus has taught us and called us to do.

Throughout the New Testament in the teachings of Jesus, he challenges and calls his disciples, as well as us, to be different than the dominate culture of the day. He calls us to care for each other, to forgive each other…to love each other. Jesus calls us to change the world in which we live through our own actions and how we live our lives. Think about how this world could be better if we all forgave and loved each other like Jesus forgives us and loves us.

So, as you leave this space today, I give you this one challenge, this one request. Forgive. Forgive one another and also forgive yourself. And that is an important part of this challenge – forgive yourself. God calls us to forgive and if God forgives us, we need to also then forgive ourselves.

And follow the words of Jesus and always let forgiveness lead your heart. It won’t always be easy. In fact, a lot of times it will be very hard. As humans we are flawed, and we commit sins against each other. People will hurt you, will sin against you, and it is normal to be angry, to want to hold that grudge, to get revenge. That is part of being human. But let us always try and do our best to live like Jesus did and forgive one another. Amen.