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Forgiveness is God's Gift: Our Response to God's Forgiveness

Ordinary Sunday 24: 15th September, 2002
Rev'd Canon Sam Ata, Associate Priest, St Peter's, Eastern Hill

Text: Ecclesiastics 28:1-14
Romans 14:1-14
Matthew: 18:21-35

Introduction

Jesus' responses to Peter's soul searching question, "Lord, how many times must I forgive the offences of my brother? Seven times?" Jesus answer challenges the old concept of dealing with offenders based on the law of "Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth." Jesus' response sets the standard in which Christians ought to respond to different situations based on the principle of forgiveness.

In the last century, wars between nations have taken a incredible toll in the human lives, even more people have died from violence at the hands of their own governments. Much of this suffering and death has been sparked by tensions and conflict arising out of ethnic differences. Since 1989, there have been approximately 110 armed conflicts, seven between states while the rest are intra-state in nature. Part of this scenario is the emergence of non-state actors such as local and international warlords, ethnically or religiously motivated terrorists groups and money oriented criminal groups involved in illegal drugs or diamond trade and laundering money through safe havens.

Situation

But how does one respond?

  • To mass murder in Rwanda?
  • To destruction of a civilisation in a developing nation such as in Solomon Islands?
  • To unthinkable tragedy, such as September 11th?

Today, we are used to overstatements, but such unthinkable tragedy, mass murder and destruction of a civilisation, (just to mention a few) are not overstatements.

In the event of the terrorist attack on America a year ago, we stretch our thoughts, hearts and intercession around the event. We all felt the anguish, as thousands of lives were extinguished into dust in a moment. We saw on TV the determination and courage of exhausted rescue workers and those who helped their fellow men and women escape danger, and the same time we felt the rage against those who would inflict such a terrible thing.

Similarly our prayers went out to victims of the genocide in Rwanda 1994, the conflict in Solomon Islands, Bougainville, East Timor, West Papua, Cosovo, Middle East and Afaganistan where countless lives were lost. On the other hand, we continue to feel uncertainty – for families, nation, our world and ourselves. No one person could possibly express the depth of grief felt for those who lost their lives, and for families; the profound gratitude due to those who continue to work for the common good, the terrible anger we all experienced at the murder of innocent thousands; or our desperate thirst for understanding, justice and peace. But it is possible with many voices, many perspectives, and a spiritual search that we can move forward together healing and hope for our world, nation and ourselves.

However, such horrific experiences whether be on our nation, community, or ourselves the fact remains that it was an assault on our sense of who we are and what we are and how we are to live our lives. In spite of this, the Christian Church continues to proclaim the gospel of forgiveness. That:

  • God who works wonders, His purpose will always prevail.
  • God's love enables a quality of forgiveness and mercy toward others that would otherwise be impossible.
  • That God's compassion makes believers considerate and patient with one another.
  • Those who know the power, love and compassion of God praise Him and joyfully tell others what the Lord has done in their lives.

Biblical Teaching on Forgiveness

What makes us connected to such events or makes us feel maybe not totally but partially attached to our neighbours? St Paul reminds us that "None of us lives to himself (or herself)." He lays down the basis of our existence that it is impossible in the nature of things to live an isolated life. There is no such thing in the world as a completely detached individual. And the same is true of our existence with God. We are connected to the ultimate. God is the centre of our existence.

Matthew's Gospel (18:21-35) reveals human weakness. Our human nature is such that we want our own sins forgiven, but are reluctant to extend that same grace to others. The offences we suffer from our neighbour are nothing compared to our sin against God. The parable illustrates that while God forgives all, often we do not give breathing space to our neighbours. God does not demand His rights but we, in demanding them, behave like wicked servants (Matt 5:43). The Gospel for this morning is to some extent the extension of Jesus' command to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

The parable reminds us of several things:
First: the parable goes beyond personal problems. The world needs, above everything else the forgiveness of God. For those who want a more just society will never achieve it through greed, accusations, hatred and violence. St Paul (Roman 14:19-31) reminds us that rather than passing judgment on others and comparing ourselves with others, we should live to please God. It pleases God when we are considerate of others and refrain from anything that would hinder or weaken their faith in God.

Second: the parable helps us understand much better another verse in the bible which says, "Revenge is mine says the Lord; I will pay each one according to his (her) own conduct." He who demands revenge will suffer the vengeance of the Lord who keeps a strict account of his sins. God will not demand an account regarding His own rights, that is, what we owe Him, but regarding the rights of our neighbours who, unable to pay, were deprived of them. God will also demand an accounting regarding those who were sorry for their sins but were not forgiven by others.

Third, the parable reminds us of our duty to forgive. The Church has not always been as holy as she should have been. And yet nobody could deny that at all times, in the Church the mercy of God has been preached and people have learned to forgive.

What is forgiveness? Jesus in his teachings and death on the cross demonstrates the forgiveness. On the cross, he reveals the central message of forgiveness that derives from the depth of the Father's existence "Father forgive them." Having done that Jesus, in the great commission mandated his followers, (you and me) the responsibility to teach everything and live forgiveness in the world. My reading of the gospel for this morning is that this is one of the potential standards Jesus values most, which I see as the key to our relationship with God, neighbour and the world around us.

The importance of forgiveness is realised in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us". Forgive the mistakes of your neighbour and you may ask that your sins be forgiven. If a person bears resentment against another, how can he ask God for forgiveness or healing? If he or she has no compassion for others; how can he/she pray for forgiveness for his/her sins?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book, "The Rainbow People of God" has accounts of Christians and Christian leaders who bravely prayed for their enemies even at the point of death. A young friend of Desmond Tutu, after serving 230 days in solitary confinement and nearly a year in preventive detention, said on his release, "Let us not be consumed by bitterness." Another former detainee – who is now a priest – told Desmond that as he was being tortured he prayed "God, these are your children and they are behaving like animals. They need us to help them recover the humanity they have lost."

In the consecration prayer, "Drink this all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant which is shared for you and for the forgiveness of sins." Forgiveness is God's gift that must be extended to others. God's forgiveness aims to liberate us from our debts, to enable us to move on in life. Having received God's forgiveness we, in turn, are supposed to apply it to those who fail us to live to our expectation, so that they too would become what God wants them to be.

By our baptism we become new beings created in Christ's incarnation and redemption to serve God and His people in the world. The sacrifice we make to God as our response to His saving grace is offering of ourselves to God's creation in need of restoration and healing.

As a Church let us keep awake and be aware of the circumstances around us. But also actively and joyously offer ourselves to loving God and communication of His love, compassion and forgiveness through the gifts of God in us for those in need and those we meet along the path of our earthly pilgrimage.

The Lord be with you.


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