Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 17 Sept. 2017, Proper 19
Year A RCL: Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
What tough words we hear from Jesus in the 1st part of our Gospel & the harsh last part about what God will do to each of us if we don't forgive our brother or sister from our hearts.
Jesus tells us in our Gospel to forgive not just 7 times but 77 times.
In the Bible, 7 is the perfect number, completeness like at Creation1 when God calls the world & us into being in 6 days & rests to enjoy this completeness on the 7th day.
We are to have a day to rest & worship to celebrate our completeness in God's love.
Jesus challenges Peter & us to live into our completeness. Forgiveness nourishes it. Jesus expects us to offer an infinite amount of forgiveness2.
How can we do this?!
We hear this also as Paul reminds the Romans & us not to judge anyone. Paul asks: Who are you to judge servants of another?
"We do not live to ourselves,
& we do not die to ourselves...
we are the Lord's.”
With the kind of outcome Jesus tells us to expect if we don't forgive, how can we not forgive?
Know this: Jesus doesn't mean just literal brothers & sisters. We are to forgive our sisters & brothers in the human family. Sometimes this may be hard if they don't “clean up their act.”
It may seem easier to have sea water's part so we can walk on dry land, as we hear in our 1st lesson, than to forgive multiple times.
How easy is it to get something
in nature to part?Here's one example with pepper sprinkled on top of water.3
A bit of soap on it & it changes the dynamics.
As the science website says, it breaks the tension.
Like soap, forgiveness helps us clean up our act & break the tension.
What about the offender's responsibility for the wrong & to say “I'm sorry” like the debtor does in our Gospel?
Notice: he quickly forgets the blessing he has just received. He doesn't make it out the building before he bullies his fellow debtor.4
Forgiveness frees us. We have to live into our freedom. You may recall what Nelson Mandela has said:
“Resentment is like drinking poison
& then hoping it will kill your enemies.”5
Resentment takes considerable energy & effort & keeps the person who hurt you near you.6
Although forgiving takes energy, forgiving is worth this energy. When we forgive, we let go of our hold on the past hurt & free ourselves from that hurt.
Forgiving differs from what we know in sports & other games: You get so many outs, so many misses, so many tries & then you're out7.
How long would a game take if there were no outs?!
Thank God that in the game of life,
Jesus shows us how to have no outs,
to offer continuous forgiveness.
Remember the difference between forgiveness & reconciliation. You can forgive a serial killer & keep that murderer locked up for life for the protection of other humans.
More important than asking “How could they do what they did to us?” is this question, which speaks to the heart of our faith in Jesus:
How can Jesus forgive us
– each of us –
as he hangs dying in agony,
nailed to that cross?
On that cross, Jesus provides for our atonement, which is our at-one-ment with God & each other.
Pronouncing it “at-one-ment”, gives us deeper understanding, as we are learning in our new weekly study on the legacy of St. Francis.8
Jesus cries out: Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing. If Jesus can forgive us for doing that, how can we not forgive each other an infinite number of times?
Notice: Jesus says we don't know what we are doing. In other words: We are clueless. Our bad behavior comes from ignorance. Really bad behavior comes from profound ignorance. Our resentment is arguing with ignorance.
You can't win an argument with ignorance.
You can turn to Jesus for strength & guidance on how to forgive. Jesus will walk with you through this.
When the clean waters of your life are peppered with debris, Jesus will work with you to break the tension.
Just hold out your hand & let Jesus drip some “soap” on your finger to break the tension.
Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. Boston: Grand Central Life & Style. Grand Central Publishing. 2011.
DaveHax.com. “Pepper and Water Science Trick”. Accessed” 16 Sept. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho0o7H6dXSU
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.
Hoffacker, The Rev. Charles. “Corpses in the Corridor, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 17, 2017”. Sermons That Work. Accessed: 14 Sept. 2017. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2017/08/13/corpses-in-the-corridor-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-september-17-2017/
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
“Keep On Forgiving”. https://www.sermons4kids.com/keep_on_forgiving.htm Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.
Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
“Over and Over”. https://www.sermons4kids.com/ Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.
“Parting the Red Sea”. https://www.sermons4kids.com/parting_the_red_sea.htm. Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.
Rohr, Richard. Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St. Francis. Denver: Morehouse Educational Resources division of Church Publishing Inc. 2014.
Voyle, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010.
Voyle, Robert J. “The Art of Resolving Resentment”. Forgiveness Forum: Teach Your Congrgation How to Forgive. www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
1 Harper's Bible Dictionary. P.711.
2 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1039.
3 DaveHax.com. “Pepper and Water Science Trick”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho0o7H6dXSU Idea for web search from “Parting the Red Sea”. https://www.sermons4kids.com/parting_the_red_sea.htm
4 Hoffacker, The Rev. Charles. “Corpses in the Corridor...” Sermons That Work. Accessed: 14 Sept. 2017. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2017/08/13/corpses-in-the-corridor-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-september-17-2017/
5Voyle, Robert J. “The Art of Resolving Resentment”. Forgiveness Forum. P. 54.
6 Ibid. Voyle. P. 57. Note: Paraphrase of his quoting Kare Anderson.
7 Idea from “Keep On Forgiving”. https://www.sermons4kids.com/keep_on_forgiving.htm Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.
8 Rohr, Richard. Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy. P.15.