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Pentecost 15A RCL September 17, 2017

Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

As usual, our readings for today give us inspiration and much food for thought. In our opening reading, the people of God, traveling light, go over the Sea of Reeds while the army of Egypt, with its chariots and horses, sinks. The people are on their way to the promised land, and there will be many challenges on the way.

In our reading from the Book of Romans, Paul is addressing a congregation which is welcoming people who have come from all kinds of faith traditions. Some are from the Jewish tradition; others have been worshipping the Greek or Roman gods. Some celebrate certain festivals; others celebrate different feasts. Some follow certain dietary rules; other do not. Paul encourages us to be tolerant of each others’ faith traditions and not to pass judgment on each other. He reminds us that each of us will be accountable to God.

In our gospel for today, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive. Peter generously proposes that we forgive seven times. He knows that the rabbinical tradition says to forgive three times, and he is adding to that number. But Jesus says no, we should forgive seventy-seven times. Other translations say seventy times seven, or 490 times.

And then Jesus tells us one of his most interesting and thought-provoking parables. There is a king who wants to settle accounts with his slaves. The first man owes the king a mind-boggling amount of money, more than one could ever imagine. Biblical scholar S. D. Giere calculates that Today the debt would be three billion dollars. The point is that the amount is so huge that it would be impossible to pay it off.

The man pleads with the king, and the king forgives the entire debt. The slave goes out and sees someone who owes him a far smaller debt and demands to be paid. When his fellow slave pleads with him, he throws the poor fellow into prison. His lord has had compassion on him, but he has no compassion for his fellow slave.

If we look honestly at our lives, God has showered us with gifts beyond our imagining. We may think that we have achieved these things on our own, but, in fact, that is not true. Without God’s gifts of life and energy and intelligence and diligence, none of it would have happened.

But that is only the beginning. If we look at our lives honestly, God’s mercy and forgiveness have been showered upon us in quantities beyond our ability to calculate. How often we have failed to offer true compassion and help to others who need it. If we are honest, we have judged others far too often. We try, but we fail. We become hardened. In short, we are sinners in need of forgiveness.

Time and time again, God looks upon us with love; God picks us up, sets us on our feet, gives us forgiveness and grace and hope to keep moving on. This is like the king who forgave a debt that no one could possibly repay.

God has forgiven us so much. God has given us so much. It is very difficult for us humans to do an honest examination and assessment of the countless times God has been out there at the end of the driveway to meet us and forgive us when we have made a mess of things. It is difficult because we hate to do the self-examination and tabulate the sin, and it hurts our human pride to think how many times we have made the same mistakes over and over again and God has lovingly set us on the path over and over again.

The unforgiving slave actually told the king that he would repay him, that he would repay a debt that no one could possibly repay.

And that is the point. God has forgiven us more than we could ever begin to repay, and we are called to do the same to others, over and over again, more times than we can count. Once again, I have to put in that disclaimer about abuse or domestic violence. When that happens, we are not talking about forgiveness. We are talking about getting any victims to safety. Then we can talk about restitution.

So, we are called to forgive each other countless times. How in the world can we ever even begin to do this? Well, we have to do what that unforgiving slave did not do. We have to realize that God has given us a gift that we did not earn, a gift we can never repay. Jesus has come among us, has given his life for us, has died, is risen and is alive among us now, and he is constantly giving us gifts of love and grace. When we begin to realize this, something changes in our hearts. Something changes in the core of our being. Remember that the heart is not just our feelings but our will and our intentions. Something changes in the core of our being and we know we are called to imitate that level of compassion and forgiveness. He is giving it to us; he calls us to share it with others, all others.

That is going to call for large measures of grace. Thanks be to God that that grace is constantly available to us. And God’s love is constantly pouring out so that our cup runneth over.

And we have one more gift from God today. We have our collect, which sums up these readings so well.

Let us pray this collect together one more time.

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

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