Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-09-15 by CJ Teets

Jay Wallace:


"I am a second career pastor. In my first life I was a Respiratory Care Practitioner; 25 of those 28 years were served in the setting of the hospital night shift. When a nurse pointed me in the direction of pastoral ministry encouraging me to seek out training as a Hospital Chaplain, I considered her advice inspired, and spent a year earning 4 units of CPE at UC Davis, Sacramento, only to discover I was expected to go on to seminary to become a board certified chaplain. At 52 yrs old I enrolled Seminary at San Francisco Theological and began the slog through Greek and Hebrew, exegesis, preaching and pastoral counseling, etc etc…This is my second call. I currently serve two small churches in 'up-state' (a relative term) New York, and after 6 years in parish ministry I’m still trying to become 'a preacher.'"




Forgiveness, in light of Leviticus 25
2008-09-12 by Bill Carter

There’s an ancient ordinance in the Old Testament. It's the Jubilee Law, in Leviticus 25. It says, “In every 50th year, every debt in the entire country shall be cancelled: every loan, every mortgage, every financial obligation – cancelled! They shall not linger as a burden for the next generation.” And every time somebody discovers that law, somebody else says, “Come on, they never actually practiced that law in ancient Israel. There’s no proof that they ever actually did that…”

 

I don’t know. Just because they didn’t do it doesn’t mean that it’s not what God intends. In fact, do you remember that first sermon that Jesus preached when he showed up on the scene? He stood up in his hometown synagogue and announced, “The Day of Jubilee is here.” Cancel all debts, cancel all sins, announce that God has evened out the playing field, and everybody lives in the great balance of shalom.

 

The first move in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is affirming that forgiveness is God’s way. Forgiveness is always God’s way. We’ve learned that from Jesus. Can I choose to hold others accountable for their wrongs? Yes. Can I choose to say, you’ve hurt me once, you’re not going to hurt me ever again. Sure, you can say that. Can I even throw somebody into prison because they have done something wrong that they have not fixed? Yes, you can.

 

But as the king in our parable points out, if you throw somebody into prison, you just might discover that it is a cell for two.

 

That's why the New Testament repeatedly uses a particular Greek word for the practice of forgiveness. The word is "cancel." No matter what wrong has been done to us, no matter what wrong we have done to one another, the prayer asks, "Cancel our sin, as we cancel the sin done unto us."

 

The cross of Jesus is the sign that God has kept that side of the equation. Will we keep ours? Or will we prefer to throw ourselves into a prison of torture?





Reflections on Forgiveness
2008-09-12 by Bill Carter

The story seems to suggest an illustration for that familiar line from earlier in Matthew's gospel. You know the line, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

 

There seems to be some kind of contingency here. If you cannot forgive, you can’t expect to be forgiven. Or to put it another way, the measure to which you forgive is the measure by which you will be forgiven. Or maybe to say one other way, God is willing to forgive the whole world; but forgiveness works only if you pass it along. Otherwise, the whole thing falls apart, and Christ died for nothing.

 

Forgiveness is about relationships – it is the aim to cancel all broken relationships. And it is one of the dimensions of being disciples of Jesus. Matthew tells this story because he is following the commission of Jesus, to make disciples out of those who are baptized. When we are baptized, the church announces that we belong to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And after that, we have to be trained to know what this means. One of the first rungs in the ladder is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a Christian practice. It is something that Christians do.

 

The clear word from this story is that you don’t forgive because you want to, you don’t forgive because you have to, you don’t forgive because holding a grudge is eating you up inside – you forgive because you have been forgiven. That is the mysterious transaction that God accomplishes in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “We pushed Jesus out of the world and onto a cross.” And this is what God forgives.

 





A list of talking points
2008-09-12 by Bill Carter

Hi everybody - sorry that you haven't heard from me yet! I thought some previous posts went through, but they did not. So let me see if I can recontstruct them!

First: some "talking points" about the text, to draw an analogy from ugly politics: 

  • Is verse 35 necessary?  Sounds like a slip of paper from a fortune cookie.  Even worse, like a moral to the story.  How does the second story sound if we read it without verse 35?
  • It looks like we have two stories about forgiveness within the church. Peter wants to know about fellow church members ("brothers"), and Jesus warns those who will not forgive "brothers" (church members).  How is the church a new community of people who forgive fellow sinners?  What does this look like in practice?
  • If nothing else, these two texts deal with the arithmetic of forgiveness.  (a) Should I forgive seven times (ie. one more time than the rabbis suggested?)  Jesus said, in effect, "Think infinity."  If you're keeping score, you're not forgiving.  (b)  Speaking of infinity, that's about the exact debt that the king canceled.  According to the footnote, 10,000 talents = 150,000 years' wages.  Now, if someone lets you off the hook for that much money, wouldn't you let somebody else off the hook for 20 bucks?  Of course...unless the forgiven slave in this parable is keeping score, desperately wanting every possible asset returned to him.
  • Wait: could a first-century slave ever have owed anybody 150,000 years' wages?  That sounds preposterous.  Even sillier: could a first-century slave ever pay back such a debt, as this slave promises to do (v. 26) ?
  • Did you notice that the second slave uses the first slave's same speech?  (18:26, 29)  This time, however, it doesn't do any good.  Why?
  • What business do the fellow slaves have in a twenty dollar debt between Slave #1 and Slave #2? (18:31)  Isn't this their private business?  Why are the other slaves ratting on Slave #1?  Or to put it another way, why do they hold him accountable within the community?  This is a new kind of discipline, to be sure, a kind of community where somebody's sins are public business.  Apparently, in this community, one's unwillingness to forgive a "brother" is a corporate concern.
  • The problem with forgiveness is that it lets people get away with things. You know what I mean?
  • In the latter story, the king cancels a huge debt . . . then throws the debtor into jail when the debtor refuses to follow the king's example.  Did the king take back the forgiveness he offered?  Or was this the consequence of a forgiven slave who could not receive the forgiveness offered?
  • "Forgive us our debts," we pray with assurance, "as we forgive our debtors."  Can it be that God's forgiveness of us is related somehow to our forgiveness of others?  Are strings attached to divine mercy?  Or is such mercy a role model for how we're supposed to act?
  • When was the last time I let somebody off the hook?  When was the last time somebody let me off the hook?  Should forgiveness become easier and easier the more we do it?  Should it ever be easy?





God's Limited Forgiveness?
2008-09-10 by David von Schlichten

If the king represents God, then the parable could be suggesting that, eventually, we run out of second-chances with God when it comes to forgiveness.

Such may be the case, although God giving up on someone just does not fit God's overall behavior in Scripture. For instance, in the prophets, when God says, in substance, "I'm done with you people," God ends up changing his mind eventually.

So then, maybe there is no such thing as eternal damnation. Perhaps "eternal damnation" is a poetic concept not to be taken literally.

In any case, the point of the parable is that we are to be forgiving of each other just as God has been forgiving of us. God has forgiven our great trespasses against God, so we are to forgive the tiny trespasses against us. If we focus on eschatology, we are missing the point of the parable.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





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