Sunday, August 31, 2008

Forgive and Be Forgiven!

For someone who enjoys politics this is one of the most exciting times in history. The Democrats have just completed their national convention and the Republicans are about to begin theirs. No matter which party you are a member of, most agree that these two weeks are some of the most exciting politics to watch. It’s has almost become a spectator sport. Among all the differences we will hear between the two party conventions, it is clear to me at least that they share one thing in common. The airwaves are full of accusations of past agendas and claims that their opponents couldn’t possibly have changed their hearts. What they said in the past, even decades ago, still represents their beliefs – according to their opponents – and neither party believes in another person’s ability to change or as we would say in Christianity, to repent.

“Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3.2) are the words of John the Baptist we read on his icon in Orthodox Churches throughout the world. This past Friday we commemorated the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist with Divine Liturgy and a day of fasting. He was put to death because he accused Herod of breaking the law and marrying his brother’s wife. John the Baptist, whom Jesus declared, “The greatest man ever to be born of a woman,” (Matthew 11.11) gave his life preaching the importance of repentance.

Repentance, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is a real possibility even in the world today, and we are called to repent each and every day but that is only half today’s Gospel lesson. We heard in this morning’s Gospel a parable of a serant who owed a great debt to a king. The debt was so large (ten thousand talents) that there was no chance the man would ever be able to repay it. When the servant begged the king for patience in paying the debt back, “the master was moved to compassion and forgave the debt.” (Matthew 18.27)

This morning’s Gospel is about forgiveness – forgiveness given and forgiveness received. It is about the debt of sin - our sins and the sins of others. And it is about the power of forgiveness over sins. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” With these words we place ourselves in the very spot of the servant in this morning’s Gospel. We owe a great debt to God for our sins and we beg Him to forgive us, but the words of this prayer, just like the actions of the servant in this morning’s Gospel condemn us.

If we do not forgive others for the small things they do against us, or even the large things they may do against us, God will not forgive the sins we have committed. The servant in this morning’s Gospel was condemned by God because he refused to forgive the small debt of another person. He did this even though God had just forgiven his huge debt. He showed no compassion upon his fellow human being. If we put the words of the Lord’s Prayer another way, “And forgive us our trespasses IF we forgive those who trespass against us,” or “forgive us only when and if we forgive those who trespass against us,” or “don’t bother forgiving us Lord until we forgive them.” I think you get the point.

Listen to what the Gospel says: “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you? And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.” And Jesus said, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18.32-25)

So now we must think my dear brothers and sisters. We must think about our sins and repent from them. AND we must think about the sins others have committed against us, not so we can hold it over their heads, but so that we can forgive them from the bottom of our hearts. It isn’t enough to say, “That was in the past, but I’m not going to let him forget it.” We must go to those we have sinned against – our brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, cousins, our fellow parishioners – and we must ask them to forgive us even if it was a small thing we did. Remember the wicked servant was condemned because he wouldn’t forgive a small debt. Can we really risk not forgiving or not being forgiven for even the smallest of sins? I don’t think so.

Tomorrow begins the new Ecclesiastical Year. I suggested in the Monthly Newsletter that we each take time for a spiritual self-evaluation. Tomorrow is not only a new year; it is a NEW DAY – a new day in our journey toward salvation and being with God. We must take the time to repent and forgive others and be forgiven. Take the time this week as part of your self-evaluation to make a list of those whom you have sinned against, no matter how small. Then pick-up the phone and begin calling. The first few calls are the hardest, but when you hear the words, “I forgive you” on the other end of the phone a few times, it becomes much easier.

And then…when you answer the phone this week because someone has called you to ask for forgiveness, forgive them no matter what they did or how many times they did it. When the Apostle Peter asked, “’Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18.21-22) As the servant was forgiven an un-payable debt so we must forgive others as many times as necessary.

So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in politics candidates are rarely given the chance to repent as last week has shown and next surely will show. But we are called to be Saints. We are called to be in the world but not of it so when someone we know says they have repented, we should forgive them. We would want the same in return. Our life depends upon it.

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