The Good News!

Welcome! I am the Rev. Ken Saunders. I serve as the rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Greeneville, Tennessee (since May 2018). These sermons here were delivered in the context of worship at the various places I have served.

[NOTE: Sermons (or Homilies) are commentaries that follow the scripture lessons, and are specifically designed to be heard. They are "written for the ear" and may contain sentence fragments and be difficult to read. They are NOT intended to be academic papers.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

RCL Year A (Proper 19) - September 11, 2011

The Rev’d Kenneth H. Saunders III                                                                     
RCL Year A (Proper 19)                                                                                                   
September 11, 2011                                                                                 
Trinity Episcopal Church                     
Towson, MD

Exodus 14:19-31           
Romans 14:1-12  
Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever been so frustrated with someone that you just wanted to grab them by the throat and choke the life right out of them?  As gratifying as it may seem to any of us…  we know that it just doesn’t solve anything.  This kind of action solves nothing in our world, but only adds to the frustration and violence that caused the original situation in the first place.

We know that violence and a physical altercation like that wouldn’t solve a thing because we are intelligent people of reason and understanding, but most importantly, we know that we have a God that has forgiven us…

Last week, Jesus taught us what to do if we felt that someone in the Church wronged us…  We were to go to that person face to face and speak to them, reason with them, learn the circumstances, forgive them and pray with them…  If that didn’t work, we were to take a couple of more with us to meet with the person, letting those others help us digest the situation, reason together, learn from each other, and forgive them and pray with them…  But as we all know, these are all tough things to do when you are angry…  I mean really really angry… with an anger so deep that it becomes the acid of hate that starts eating right through the container of your soul…

We know that Peter understood anger, and we know that he understood forgiveness, but he comes to Jesus anyway and asks…  How many times do I forgive?  As many as seven?…  the amount according to Hebrew custom, that was considered extremely generous… and Jesus says no…  you should forgive them 77 times…  which was a colloquial way to say always.

So Jesus tells us a parable to explain his teaching…  The parable of the unforgiving servant…  about a King wishing to settle his accounts going to the folks that owed him money and collecting…   A servant was brought to him that owed him 10,000 talents…  and that makes us think…  how much is 10,000 talents?

Well, a denarii is a day's wage… and talent would be 15 years of wages…   so this guy owed 150,000 years of wages.  If we compare this to a person today that makes just minimum wage (a mere $13,625 a year) – He would owe about $2,043,750,000 an absolutely absurd amount in any standard of place and time… 

So the king calls him forward and demands that he liquidate everything that he has, all his possessions…  himself and even his wife and his children which were considered property back then…  to make payment…    The servant is devastated and pleads with the King for mercy and the king has pity and releases him, and then does the unheard of and forgives him his massive amount of dept… 

Wow…  this guy should be thankful, happy…  dancing on a cloud…  he owed over 2 billion dollars and his account was completely zeroed…  but what did this guy do?  Yeah…  he got real bold and full of himself,  and when he came upon someone that owed him money, in this case only 100 denarii, he grabs him by the throat and says “give me what you owe me!”  The man pleads with the servant, just as he did with the king…  but when the man couldn’t pay, the servant had him thrown in jail… 

Oooo…  This didn’t make the king happy one bit…  When the King found out, he had the servant brought before him again, to find out why the servant had not forgiven the other as he had been forgiven.  Then he handed him over to be tortured until he repaid all that he owed…

When someone else sins against me?  How many times must I forgive them?  As many as seven?  Jesus says, no -“You must forgive them always…”  Sometimes the pop-Christian perspective is to say – that’s pretty easy…  forgive and forget…  let go and let God…  this in part may be true, but the human memory can be far more durable than human will…  in being lassie-fair about it all, the act doesn’t become fully erased in our minds, despite our hearts determination to be rid of it completely.
Forgiveness is difficult and our patience runs out very quickly…  This causes our reactions to look like more of the servant, choking his fellow servant.   The root of the difficulty to me seems to be our hardness of heart… 
Jesus sets up a dichotomy of difference between the seven and seventy-seven years, the servant and the king, the 100 days and the 150,000 years…  all to show us that forgiveness is not easy, even when it seems outrageously simple on paper. 

As Christians, we should continuously work on accepting our forgiveness and start to let go of the things that aren’t worth holding onto in the first place…  As Christians, we should be bearers of the message of reconciliation…  We should work at being Christ to others…  But that forgiveness part, that’s difficult, and it doesn’t do us any good to pretend otherwise.  

I am here to tell you that forgiveness is only possible, by the Grace of God!  But it is hard work for us and in order to forgive…  We have to work at it…  To let the flakes and the layers fall off of our tough exterior shell that has become hardened and bitter by our powerful desire for vengeance.  Paul reminds us that we are not to pass judgment on others, nor or we to despise them…  because God judges rightly and with an accuracy that we cannot even claim to have.

God may judge, but God also redeems with great mercy and compassion and gives with great generosity.  We should show others this great generosity… especially the folks that we want to choke the life out of… We need to reconcile with them to show them true forgiveness…  And have them encounter in us the vision of God in Christ, the God that loves us and suffers with us to seemingly impossible degrees…  only then can the love and empathy in them spring up and grow in their hearts as it does ours.

I saw an incredible movie several years ago called “Pay it Forward.”  It is a story about the young Trevor McKinney, who got caught up by an intriguing Social Studies assignment.  The assignment was to think of something to change the world and then put it into action.

Trevor conjures the notion of paying a favor not back, but forward - repaying good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people.  Trevor's efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in his life but that of his family, but even in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.

In effect, he was changing the world…  by “paying it forward” – Even though this movie had no religious theme or undertone, for me it really summed up the just of our lesson this morning…  Pay it forward…  never letting the chain of love end with you!

Whether we are the offenders, in need of great divine mercy and forgiveness or the offended in need of divine grace and patience… we have no refuge than that of the goodness of God, made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  And if our hearts are open to such mercy and grace, -- out of that divine mercy and grace flows true generosity and true forgiveness…
We all have a God that has forgiven us…  all we need to do is accept it, act on it, and pay it forward…  thanks be to God!

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