Did I stutter, Peter?

 Proper 19 - September 13, 2020
Genesis 50:15-21    
Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13  
Romans 14:1-12    
Matthew 18:21-35    
Did I stutter, Peter?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    “It is no problem to keep track of the number seven, as if that were all the effort required to forgive a brother or sister who “sins against me.” Seven is a measurable number. Seven seas, seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of the week—even seven loaves to feed a crowd with seven baskets full of leftovers to gather at the end (Matthew 15:32-37)—each of these represents an amount that is easy to trace, even if its referent is something great. However, Jesus’ response to Peter’s question (including the parable) takes forgiveness out of the “countable” category and places it into the realm of the incalculable. The forgiveness to which Jesus points is beyond one’s capacity to keep tabs, beyond one’s capacity to offer on their own strength or ability. It is God’s compassion and abundant mercy that make forgiveness possible, whether transgressions are large or small.”

    God forgiveness can be compared someone owing 7.2 billion dollars to another individual and having that debt completely wiped away. 7.2 billion dollars is more than what some small countries have as their GDP. 7.2 billion dollars is unfathomable by most of us.  There are only 200 people in the world right now worth more than 7.2 billion dollars. In a world were so many people live paycheck to paycheck, it seems unfathomable that someone could have racked up that much debt.  But as someone who has been working intentionally for the past two years to get out of Student Loan Debt and other personal debt, I can tell you how much burden debt has had on my life.

    You know what Diane and I fight about the most?  Money.    It is the thing I tell all new couples to watch out for and be prepared to deal with once they get married.  Debt can cripple people.  You can’t buy a house, you can’t enjoy life, if one thing happens in your life and you miss a paycheck, everything can come crashing down.  Debt, for many Americans, has reach the point of strangulation—people owed the equivalent of 10,000 talents and have no idea how to work themselves out of the hole they have dug.  And here comes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Direct loans and Sallie Mae—they knock on your door and say, “You owe us 7.2 billion dollars, but don’t worry—your debt is forgiven.  Have a nice day.”

    None of us can imagine that.  I certainly can’t.  I have dealt with most of these lenders; they don’t care.  It is hard to imagine this kind of situation ever happening in the world, right?  Banks don’t forgive loans unless you declare bankruptcy, and even then, you still have to pay something.  Yet, this banker/this king says to one of his slaves who owes 7.2 billion dollars, “forget about.” The kingdom of God can be compared to a king, turning to one of his servants who owes the king more than any of us can even imagine, and says, “Forget about it. You debt is forgiven.”  That is what the kingdom of heaven, the coming dominion of God looks likes.  And what does the world look like?

    This same person who had 7.2 billion dollars forgiven going out, finding someone who owed him 12,000 dollars and says, “pay up.”  The man says, “I just need a few more days, Johnny.  You’ll get your money.  Just have some patience with me, and I will pay you.” But the man who was owed 12 grand doesn’t believe him.  He throws you in jail until he can pay him back everything that he owes.  That sounds a lot like the world I know.  That sounds a lot like the world of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Direct loans and Sallie Mae. Pay now or we throw you in jail—only now we don’t have to throw you jail because debt is so burdensome enough on its own—homes worth less than you owe, student loans which cannot be canceled or forgiven, credit cards with easy ways to just transfer the debt to another card—we have created a new debtor’s prison system; now you are just stuck in life with no way out. That is the world we all know and live with on a daily basis.

    Notice how Jesus presents this parable—which world do you want to live in?  A world were immeasurable debt is forgiven simply because the king took pity on you and your situation?  Or do you want to live in a world where you are thrown in jail because you owe the equivalent of a used car? 

    Peter wants to know specifics, “How often should you forgive someone in the church?” There are days I wish Jesus gave a different answer.  I would love to say to someone, “Ummm.  No.  You’re done.”  Although, If that was the case, I would have been kicked out of the church 20 years ago.  Peter is thinking in worldly terms and ideas.  He is thinking there has to be a limit before we crack the whip and kick someone out.  And Jesus’ reply?   God’s compassion and forgiveness knows no bounds, why should the church not act the same way?  Because if we are going to be the place where heaven is made real for the people here on earth, why would we think and act like the world?   No, instead we should emulate the reality that awaits us.

    We are called to be different.  We are called to think differently.  We are called to act differently.  The world doesn’t forgive your debts.  The world doesn’t treat you with kindness. The world doesn’t love you unless you have something to offer. Yet here, we are different. We are called to act differently and forgive one another.  

    Last week, Jesus told his disciples that they have the choice to forgive sins or continue to hold sins against each other.  And those sins they choose to hold and not forgive, would be remembered in heaven.  If you have the power to forgive, why would you not use it?  Why would we hold that sin against another individual if our debt, our 7.2 billion dollar debt, why would we keep the debt of our neighbor?  

    Confession and forgiveness is a place where we, as the church, live out the coming dominion of God—where we get to experience heaven. Back in June when I was tasked with creating a liturgy to be done in under 30 minutes, I debated long and hard about leaving in the brief order of confession and forgiveness in the liturgy.  On the one hand, if someone really needs forgiveness, they could call me on the phone or I could meet them on their front porch and absolve them of their sins.  But the more I thought about it, taking away this important function of the church meant I was taking away a little bit of heaven for folks.  Other things would have to be cut…heaven is what we do.  Heaven is what we proclaim and give each week; a respite from the world’s unrelenting weight of debt on our shoulders.

    But how often do we take advantage of this time in worship?  How many of us actually think about all that we have done during the week during that silent time.  I have to admit, not having Bennet reminding us, “silence for reflection” has made that time very difficult.  I sometimes forget to actually think about my sins.  Instead, I am thinking about cameras, microphones, lunch plans, dinner plans, work that needs to be done this week, where is Thomas, who is talking, what is that beeping noise… Or how many of us have ever been to private confession?

    Most Lutherans have not…it’s too Catholic.  I actually got into an argument once with a Lutheran who said, “We don’t do confession in the Lutheran church.” She was shocked when I handed her a small catechism and told her to open up to the section in-between baptism and communion. Even Luther’s lack-of-writing on this subject early on in the Reformation caused confusion within the church.  In Luther’s Babylonian Captivity, he claimed there were only two sacraments, yet in the Augsburg Confession Melanchthon says there are three sacraments—the third being the Sacrament of Penance.  Ultimately, Luther eventually tied Confession and absolution to the sacrament of Baptism.  As Christians, we are called to daily remember our baptism.  And there many ways to do this.  Yet in reality, the best way to remember one’s baptism, and the most Lutheran way, is to confess one’s sins and then have forgiveness proclaimed to you.  Luther said that Christians should be willing to run a 100 miles for confession and compel the church/clergy to offer it to them.  Yet, you don’t have to run a 100 miles.  You don’t have to do crazy acrobatic tricks, have super human powers, be worth 7.2 billion dollars, or even have a penny to your name.  You only need to be baptized and hear the words - You’re sins are forgiven.  

    If anyone ever asks you what heaven looks like, tell them that heaven is full of people who have made 7.2 billion dollars worth of stupid mistakes, broken promises, lousy choices.  And God will come to you, look you right in the eyes, and say, “Forget about it.” Go and do likewise to your neighbors.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.