Monday, November 29, 2010

Sermon for Advent Sunday
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 28, 2010

“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” Isaiah 28:16-17

Most of you know that I am a big fan of Ravi Zacharias. I think he is one of the clearest thinkers and best articulators of the Christian faith today. I remember hearing him relay the following story about his first encounter with postmodernism in a totally unexpected place.

Postmodernism tells us there’s no such thing as truth; no such thing as meaning; no such thing as certainty. I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts. He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.” I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?” He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.” I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?” He said, “That is correct.” I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?” All of a sudden there was silence. You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.

The quotation that I began with this morning was from the Prophet Isaiah, and is the alternate Old Testament lesson appointed for this morning. We hear in that passage the familiar imagery of our coming Messiah as a tried, precious, and perfect corner stone or foundation stone. Shouldn’t we expect the One who laid the foundations of the world to have nothing less than a perfect foundation upon which we are to ground and anchor our faith? The author and perfecter of that faith is indeed a most stable rock for us to seek sure footing.

We come again to the beginning of our new church year, and those lessons that bring to our minds thoughts of longing, expectation, and waiting. We know what we are longing and waiting for because we know the rest of the story, but how are preparing to welcome our Lord and Saviour once again? Also, do we remember that a Christian notion of Advent doesn’t simply stop at the Incarnation, but continues all the way through to the end of time and the last judgment?

If we take another look at our Collect and Epistle lesson for this morning, I think we will see that we have so much more to consider.

In our Prayer Book there are two seasons of the church year in which a collect is repeated for more than simply its octave. Advent and Lent are those two occasions. For the next four weeks we will hear the ancient words that framed the opening of our service this morning. We come again asking Almighty God to give to us that wonderful gift of himself, His grace, in order that we may cast away the works of darkness. As we know from the Prophet Isaiah, and as repeated again by St. Matthew, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” With the birth of the Messiah, all the people were living in a dark time, and now the light which was the light of men has come into the world. As St. John continues, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” This is what it means to build our lives upon that stone, that tried stone, that precious corner stone, that sure foundation.

Our Epistle to the Romans echoes that same thought of dark vs. light when St. Paul declares that we are to, “awake out of sleep.” When sleeping we are engulfed in darkness, and we are to rouse from our slumber so that we can keep vigil and watch for what is to come.

What is coming?

Well, for one, the source of our defense against powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The armour of light that we are to put on is Jesus himself. St. Paul exhorts us to put on the Lord Jesus, and that is the only way that we can repel the temptations that will inevitably be coming our way.

We are to expect an assault from outside of this world, and that power of darkness will use everything at his disposal to keep us slumbering and sleeping. Our Lord Jesus even bid his disciples on that first Maundy Thursday to stay awake, and pray that they might not fall prey. Our lessons, our hymns, our prayers all convey that notion that the Evil One will constantly bombard us with the temptation to let down our guard. He will attack us the most when are at our weakest, when we are tired and on the verge of sleep.

It seems to happen when we are under pressure in our job, in our marriage, with our children. We lose our patience at the drop of a hat. The least little thing seems to set us off, and we do the opposite of what we are asked to do. We are quick to speak, and slow to listen. We fire off at the handle, and then look back and can’t even remember why. We find ourselves in the midst of great darkness, and there seems to be no light at all. I know this is true because I know it all too well.

This is when we must be more fervent in prayer, and pull that armour back out of the closet from where we put it away the last time we said we didn’t need it any longer; or when we said to ourselves that it didn’t fit too good anymore; or worse, when we said that we didn’t look good in it anymore. For those times when wearing the armour of light was no longer a badge of honour, but a hindrance to our own wishes and desires.

Finally, we must remain awake because there is more that remains beyond this life. As our collect reminds us, the very reason that our Lord Jesus came to visit us in great humility was so that we might be redeemed, and after His judgment rise to the life immortal. Our destiny is not just this life, but eternity with our Triune God.

Unfortunately, the designer of the Wexner Center was dead wrong when he declared that life had no real design and no real meaning, and was simply random and capricious. We serve a God who laid the foundation of the world, and has given us a sure foundation upon which we might place our sure trust and hope. That foundation is tried and precious, and is ours to cling to with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength. Clinging to that precious cornerstone is the only way that we might have any hope to cast away the works of darkness, and don the armour of light that will protect us from anything the Prince of Darkness might hurl our way.
Sermon for the Sunday Next Before Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 21, 2010

Earlier this week I posed a question to some fellow priests who preach from the historic Lectionary of the church, and asked them if they knew any reason why we heard this particular Gospel on the final Sunday of the church’s year. I realize that the framers of the Lectionary had to pick something, but I was just curious, why this one? We’ve already heard the account from St. Mark of Jesus’ feeding of the 4,000 earlier in the year, why John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 as we approach a new year, and our Advent preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

One priest wrote me back and said that he remembered from somewhere back in the deep recesses of his memory someone telling him that this feeding story was quite pertinent as we were preparing to enter a time of fasting and prayer in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. While we limit the amount of food we partake through a prayerful time of fasting, we might concentrate on the notion that our Lord took a quite limited amount of food, and fed the crowds with more than they could imagine left over. With a very small amount at the beginning, the end result overflowed in abundance. When we approach the discipline of fasting and prayer, we too are able to receive overwhelming benefits from what seems to be a small beginning.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, two particular details strike me as puzzling. One occurs right at the outset when our Lord sees the great company of people following him, and turns to Philip and asks him, “Whence shall we buy bread, that they may eat?” Why Philip? It seems like Peter is usually the one who Jesus singles out for a teaching point, but here he selects Philip. In pondering that question, an interaction came to my mind, and might very well point us in the right direction.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel the following interaction takes place after Jesus calls Andrew and Simon. In the first chapter we hear these words recorded:

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

Philip was the one who went out and found Nathanael and told him that the One that they had been longing for and waiting for was here. At this point he had seen no miracles, no signs, and had most likely heard no teaching, and yet, he knew that the Messiah had arrived. Most importantly, he didn’t simply bask in that knowledge for he went out and shared that Good News with someone else. He did the very thing that we are called to do as his disciples.

This is my own speculation, but I think that Jesus wanted to see where Philip was now that he had been with Jesus for a while. Did he still exhibit that same sense of certainty about who Jesus was and what He was able to do? Of course, I know without hesitation I would have probably made the same mistake he did, and say the exact same thing if Jesus asked me that question. After all, I still do. We still do. Each and every day we second guess what Jesus wants for us, and it takes yet another miracle to bring us back to a place where we can again let God work in our lives.

The other peculiarity in this passage involves what I think is a curious phrase. For there are a number of instances when reading the Scriptures that a particular sentence, phrase, detail leaves you puzzled, and almost begs the question, “Why did the author include that?” In this morning’s Gospel lesson, I wondered about the phrase, “Now there was much grass in the place.” Most of the time I would probably glance right over something as seemingly insignificant as John’s detail about the terrain. A phrase that appears out of place like noting that it was sunny outside, the flowers smelled nice, or the birds were singing a lovely tune. However, I believe there is more here than meets the eye.

Certainly, I believe that the comment is a description of the area where the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 would take place. John is trying to paint a mental picture that there is in fact enough room for a mass of people to assemble and sit down as the story explains.

However, if we dig a little deeper I believe there is something else behind those brief words. One of the great I AM statements in John’s gospel speaks about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. One of the attributes of Jesus the Good Shepherd is that he leads his sheep out and goes before them leading them as the 23rd Psalm says, “beside the waters of comfort…[to] feed in green pasture[s].” The people who were following Jesus that day were being fed by the words that he spoke to them, and would then be filled physically as well. Of course the physical need for food was merely temporal, but the words that Jesus spoke were true bread and met their spiritual needs, which of course are the things eternal. They were in just the right place to receive this nourishment because the Good Shepherd had led them to a field with much grass. The environment was perfect, and I believe that John is conveying that detail when he mentions that there is much grass in the place.

As we sit here this morning, we too are in a place with much grass. A place where we were led by the Good Shepherd to receive nourishment in the form of Christ’s Body and Blood. Like the feeding of the 5,000, what seems like a woefully insignificant thing, the receiving of a small wafer of bread and a sip of wine is transformed into the most significant thing we can ever do. As St. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For as often as we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

With the most remarkable of twists, and through God’s divine Providence, the Good Shepherd who leads us into green pastures where there is much grass, becomes the true Lamb, which was slain so that we might taste death no more. It is not grass that we are to feed upon, but Christ Himself.

When we gather together to celebrate the Holy Communion, we come to another miraculous feeding. No, we are not seeking to multiply loaves and fishes on the altar. Rather, we pray that God, through the Holy Spirit, might transform the gifts of bread and wine into the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That He might so change that which seems so small, into something that surpasses everything we could ever imagine. That we through faith might worthily receive the greatest gift that has ever been given. And, that as we offer our selves, our souls, and bodies as a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice we seek God’s nourishment that we might be forever changed, and transformed.

Part of our life-long journey is the process of sanctification or being made holy. We bear God’s image and we were created in His likeness. Receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is a critical component of our sanctification as we strive to live out the last line of the Prayer of Humble Access in which we pray that we may evermore dwell in Christ as He does in us.

Jesus told his disciples as He ascended to the Father that He would be with them always. He made that promise to us as well. Behold there is much grass in this place and the Good Shepherd has led to a pasture where he has promised to be truly present.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 14, 2010

Several weeks ago we heard the story of the nobleman who came to Jesus seeking his help in the healing of his servant, and I spoke about the progression of his faith from birth, through growth, and into maturity as he came to Jesus in faith; he was not really sure what the outworking of that faith might look like in its infancy, but he took Jesus at his word and his faith began to grow, and it reached its culmination with his entire household believing.

This morning we come to a healing miracle found in all three Synoptics that has the wonderful 2nd miracle stuck right in the middle.

We find ourselves near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and a ruler approaches him who says that his daughter is dead. When we compare the accounts from Mark and Luke we find out that the ruler’s name is Jairus, and it is in Matthew’s Gospel that he actually says that his daughter was dead. In the other accounts he simply says that his daughter is near death.

In comparison with the nobleman’s faith from a few weeks ago, we see that Jairus comes with a maturity of faith that borders on remarkable. Even in the midst of his own despair at losing his daughter, he comes to Jesus in faith and in essence says that death is no obstacle to Jesus. He declares with certainty that if Jesus would simply come and lay his hands on his little girl she will live. If you remember the death of Lazarus, both Mary and Martha come to Jesus and say that if he had been there their brother would not have died. Jesus tells Martha that her brother will live again, and she says, yes, I know that he will live again at the resurrection of the dead. They had experienced Jesus’ entire ministry and didn’t exhibit the kind of faith that this ruler of the synagogue exhibits when he says to Jesus that he knows that his daughter will live again.

Jesus agrees to go with Jairus and follows him back to his home. If we thought that the ruler’s faith was incredible let’s take a look at second miracle that is seemingly sandwiched in the middle. We encounter a woman who has suffered with an issue of blood for the past twelve years of her life. It’s important to know here that in those days any issue pertaining to blood would make someone ritually unclean, and could of course jeopardize her ability to be a full member of society. Mark even goes so far as to mention that she had suffered much at the hands of the many physicians that she had seen over the past decade trying to figure out what was wrong. He records that she had spent all that she had and instead of getting any better, she had actually gotten worse.

What a remarkable statement by this woman when she says to herself, “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” She doesn’t need to have Jesus say anything to her; she doesn’t need to have Jesus touch her; all she needs is to reach out and touch him. She doesn’t even have to cling to much, but only the hem or fringe of his garment. There is more to that phrase “I shall be whole” than meets the eye. In looking at the word used here in the Greek there is so much depth to what this woman says. The word that she uses is the same word that deals with being saved and salvation. Instead of just being made whole she is in essence saying that she will be saved. Sure there will be wholeness of body when she is healed physically, but she is going to receive so much more. She is truly going to be saved, and her reaching out and touching Jesus is the only way that is going to happen.

Matthew doesn’t give all of the details as Mark and Luke give regarding Jesus’ recognition that virtue had gone out from him, and Peter’s statement that due to the crowds how could he even know that someone had touched him. However, all three make sure that Jesus’ words to the woman are recorded because how he addresses her is crucial. Jesus speaks to her with a word that is packed with meaning – he calls her daughter. She isn’t just a woman, but by calling her daughter she has been given permission to address her Father. As John says in his prologue, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons and daughters of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

She most certainly believed on the Lord’s name, and received him and simply reached out to touch him in faith. As someone once said, “She came trembling, she went back triumphing!”

The great Anglican J. C. Ryle says about this daughter’s faith and ours as well, “Let us store up in our minds this history. It may perhaps help us mightily in some hour of need. Our faith may be feeble. Our courage may be small. Our grasp of the Gospel, and its promises, may be weak and trembling. But, after all, the grand question is, do we really trust only in Christ? Do we look to Jesus, and only to Jesus, for pardon and peace? If this be so, it is well. if we may not touch His garment, we can touch His heart. Such faith saves the soul….He that only touches the hem of Christ’s garment shall never perish.”

The encounter with the woman ends almost as abruptly as it begins and Jesus enters the home of Jairus and makes what seems to be a most absurd statement to those mourning the death of the young girl. He tells them that she is not dead but only sleeping. Those who heard him say that laughed him to scorn.

Let’s think back to the Lazarus situation again. Jesus gets word that his good friend Lazarus is ill and he tells them, “The sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” He delays going back to Bethany, and after two more days he tells his disciples that they are heading to Bethany to waken Lazarus from sleep. Of course the disciples do not understand Jesus’ words, and they ask him why he needs to go and simply wake him from slumber. He then tells them plainly that Lazarus is dead.

As we heard in the Gospel this morning, Jesus tells a group of mourners who clearly know that the life has left a twelve year old girl that she isn’t dead but is simply sleeping. I don’t think we can even comprehend how that would have been received. Coming from my perspective, that is perhaps the most pastorally insensitive sounding comment imaginable. It’s no shock that they laughed him to scorn. Even so, our Lord is in complete control of the situation. The mourners are dismissed, Jesus walks into the young girls room, takes her by the hand and raises her back to life. She is given a new life. She was dead and is now alive again.

We too when we reach out and grab hold of the hem of Jesus’ garment are reaching out to the true source of life. Jesus reaches out his hand to each one of us, dead to our sins, and he lifts us up and breathes new life into us.

Bishop Ryle closes his thoughts on this passage with these words, “This is the kind of truth we never can know too well. The more clearly we see Christ’s power, the more likely we are to realize Gospel peace. Our position may be trying. Our hearts may be weak. The world may be difficult to journey through. Our faith may seem too small to carry us home. But let us take courage, when we think on Jesus, and not be cast down. Greater is He that is for us, than all they that are against us. Our Saviour can raise the dead. Our Saviour is almighty.”
Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity (All Saints’ Sunday)
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 7, 2010

There are a limited number of times when we would anticipate the celebration of a Feast Day of the church on the Sunday following its actual occurrence on the Kalendar. We usually commemorate or at least acknowledge the Feast of the Epiphany on the first or second Sunday in January even when its actual date on the calendar is January 6. We celebrate the Sunday following Ascension Day since its Feast Day always falls on a Thursday, and unless your church name is the Church of the Ascension, most don’t commemorate the Feast on its actual date. However, we at St. John’s do celebrate and properly recognize Ascension Day as the fortieth day following Easter. Finally, we come to this morning, the other Major Feast in which many churches fully celebrate what we did on Monday night – we come to the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.

We will sing again the great hymn For All the Saints as our recessional hymn this morning, and there are two other peculiarities about privileged feasts such as this one – one that has already happened, and one yet to come. The first came at the beginning of the service when we repeated the Collect for All Saints’ Day before praying the Collect of the Day. The second will come during the Communion service when we will hear again the words from St. Paul as they have been incorporated into the Proper Preface for All Saints’ Day and the seven days following. If you turn in your Prayer Books to page 79 you will see what I am talking about. All of the Proper Prefaces for the seasons as proscribed in the Prayer Book carry with them instructions as to when they are to be read. There are six that are to be read throughout the Octave – Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Whitsuntide, and All Saints’. If you look at the first five, they all pertain to Jesus or Holy Spirit personally – Jesus’ Nativity, His manifestation to the Gentiles, His Resurrection from the dead, His Ascension to the Father, the coming of the Holy Ghost to the Apostles. The final Feast celebrates those who loved, and served the Lord Jesus.
Of course our primary focus has to lie in the following of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the study of His holy Word, in the keeping of His law and commandments, in the taking of His message to the entire world. However, we do ourselves a huge mistake if we do not study the lives of His Saints, how they lived their lives, what they wrote and taught about the church and Holy Scripture. Why does the Prayer Book and Church Kalendar spend so much time writing collects and ascribing additional portions of Scripture to be read when we commemorate Saints’ Days if we weren’t supposed to learn something from them, live with the same fervor and passion for our Lord as they did, and bid them to pray for us? We should! It is meet and right for us to do this!

One of the great saints of the church was John Chrysostom. His name literally means “golden tongued” or “golden mouthed” and his voluminous writings are studied for their profundity and depth, his engagement of Holy Scripture, and the sermons that he left us. In addition to his writings on various topics of engagement and discussion, and a service of the Divine Liturgy attributed to him, Chrysostom has left some sixty-seven sermons on Genesis, fifty-nine on the Psalms, ninety on the Gospel of Matthew, eighty-eight on the Gospel of John, and fifty-five on the Acts of the Apostles. That’s 359 sermons on just five books of the Bible if anyone was counting. It’s certainly plausible that there hundreds more that did not survive since he was writing in the fourth century AD.

I wish to read an excerpt from one of his writings that is part of the lessons appointed for today in the Anglican Breviary. I believe he speaks so well as to why we are called upon to study the lives of the Saints so that we might walk the same path as they did in order to reach the same destination where they have now arrived.
“He that wondereth with reverential love at the mighty deeds of the holy, he that hath oftentimes on his tongue praises for the glory of the righteous, let such an one copy their holy lives and their righteousness; for if any take pleasure in the work of a Saint, he ought to take pleasure in serving God as that Saint served him. If he praiseth the Saint, he ought to imitate him, and if he is not ready to imitate him, he ought not to praise him. Let him that praiseth another make himself worthy of a like praise, and if he be in admiration of the Saints, let his own admirable life reflect the holiness of theirs. If we love the good and loyal because they are good and loyal, let us not forget that we can be what they are, by doing as they did.
“It ought not to be hard for us to copy others, when we see what they of old time did without any ensamples before them, so that in them who copied not others, but set ensample for others to copy, and in us who copy them, and in them which take ensample by us, Christ may be glorified in his holy Church. Thus from the very beginning of the world there have been the harmless Abel who was slain, Enoch who walked with God, and was seen no more, for God took him, Noah who was found righteous, Abraham who was tried and found faithful, Moses who was the meekest of men, Joshua who was chaste, David who was gentle, Elijah who was accepted, Daniel who was holy, and the three Children who were victorious.

The Apostles, the disciples of Christ, are held to be the teachers of believers. Confessors taught of them fight right manfully, the noble martyrs triumph, and the Christian army armed with the armour of God, ever prevaileth in warfare against the devil. All these have been men of like loyalty, divers warfarings, and glorious victories. And thou, O Christian, art but a carpet-knight, if thou thinkest to conquer without a fight, to triumph without a struggle. Nerve thyself, strive manfully, hit hard in the press. Consider thine engagement, look to thy state, know thine arm, even the engagement which thou hast taken, the state wherein thou art come, and the arm wherewith thou hast enrolled thyself a soldier.”

Each All Saints’ Day we hear again Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes. On page 257 of the Prayer Book you can find the passage from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew where it says that Jesus opened his mouth and taught at a minimum the apostles, but quite likely the multitude that had followed him and began with those familiar words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” He continues with the other seven “Blessed are” statements, but I only wish to touch on this first one because of its blessing and its reward.
The poor in spirit is not talking about the destitute, or the financially poor, but rather those who consider poverty of spirit to be something to be sought after and not shunned. Poverty of spirit is that emptying of self and total realization that we do not possess what it takes to be the person our Lord calls us to be. We do not have on our own what is required to live the way God wants us to live. We are incapable of loving our Heavenly Father, our neighbors, or ourselves the way we ought without the influence of something outside of ourselves. We need help and that help comes from the Spirit of the God. The Holy Ghost dwelling within us is what is required and the great saints of the church recognized that a posture of poverty of spirit was absolutely necessary in order for the Spirit to come into our hearts and lives and begin to do His work. Only through poverty of spirit can we clean our spiritual house so to speak.

Those who embrace a poverty of spirit are promised the kingdom of heaven. It’s important to note here that the verb is in the present tense. Theirs IS the kingdom of heaven. It’s not just something we have to await, but it’s something to embrace. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in Heaven for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s kingdom is to be experienced in the here and now even as we will enjoy those incredible joys in the life to come.
We are called to be those poor in spirit folk who embrace this particular form of poverty in order to be the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. The reason this is so critical is because we are called to share that kingdom with others. The only way we can share it is if we experience it, live in it, and know it intimately. If we are indeed ready to embrace a life of poverty, a poverty of spirit, ours is our Father’s kingdom to enjoy and then share with a world that desperately needs to embrace it as well.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 31, 2010

So why does Jesus do it this way?

We come to the familiar story of Peter’s question of our Lord regarding how many times he ought to forgive someone who has sinned against him. Peter tries to put limits out there to make sure that he doesn’t do too much. Peter has turned Pharisaical and wants to know exactly what he’s supposed to do in a measured, quantitative fashion. It would be awful if Peter actually went the extra mile and continued to forgive when it actually hurt, when it actually cost him something. Our Lord answers him, and says, no, you are not to forgive your neighbor some documented number of times, and then put up a shield and say no more. When your neighbor comes to you in humility and with a sincere, penitent heart seeking your forgiveness you are to give it. His answer to Peter doesn’t even imply to do the actual math and limit it to 490 times. Jesus is using metaphor and hyperbole to tell Peter, quit putting limits on something that you don’t have any right to comment on – you leave that to me.

He then goes on and in familiar fashion tells them a story. He tells the parable that we’ve come to know as the parable of the unforgiving servant. Jesus doesn’t want Peter to concentrate on specific amounts regarding the number of times he tells him to forgive his neighbor, but this parable does use some specific amounts that helps tell the story. Notice that he is quite specific in making sure we know what he’s emphasizing when he tells us how much each debtor owed, and to whom they are owed. It said the first man owed the king 10,000 talents. How much is that? Let’s try and put this in perspective, and hang with me for a second.

A Talent would have been equal to about 60 minas. One mina would be equal to 3 months wages. Therefore, one talent would have been equal to 180 months wages. 180 months is 15 years so 1 talent would be 15 years worth of income. Jesus said 10,000 talents is what the man owed. You do the math, that’s 150,000 years’ worth of wages!!! This is what the man owed! He was indebted to the king 1,500 lifetimes worth of wages. Do you begin to see the magnitude of what he’s talking about here? There’s no way even in Warren Buffet terms that anyone could ever pay off indebtedness like that.

Jesus says it this way because of something very peculiar in the Greek. Two different words are in play here when looking at this parable, and when the servant literally “prostrated himself” before the king, begging him for mercy, the king was moved to compassion or was moved to pity, same word that I highlighted in a sermon several weeks ago, and forgave him not a debt, but a LOAN! What sense does the word loan make here in this context?

Think of what we say at the offertory, “All things come of thee O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” Think of what God said to Adam at creation, have dominion and stewardship over all things, take care of them, they are of an infinite worth, and I have entrusted them into your care. They are on loan to you. If you don’t take care of it, you can never repay the cost to replace it. I believe that there is a distinct theological point being made here, and very few English translations ever render to word as loan instead of debt. Our lives are in fact on loan to us. We in fact belong to God; we are made in His image; we have His Spirit within us. The giving of our lives, our souls, our bodies, is our woefully small, but crucial return payment for what we’ve received.

So the man who was forgiven the impossible loan or debt goes out and finds a fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii. So how much did this man owe? A denarius would have been the normal payment for a day’s wage. In Jesus’ day if you went down to your local Labor Finders a denarius would have been the amount you would have paid someone to work for you for a day. Therefore, 100 denarii would have been about 100 day’s wages. Certainly, with time, this fellow slave could have repaid the debt that he owed to his neighbor. However, the slave who had himself been forgiven couldn’t do the same, and had the man thrown into prison.

Word of course reaches the king’s ears regarding what happened, and he is infuriated with the man. If you remember back to the beginning of the parable, he said that he was going to take him, his wife, and his children, and everything that pertained to him, sell them off until everything that he owed was repaid. The unrepentant servant went a step further with his fellow-servant, and threw him into prison because he could not pay his debt. The plight of the first man became much worse when he went back before the king because he didn’t simply sell him and his family off for repayment, he didn’t simply throw him into prison, he turned him over to the tormenters. This is the only occurrence of this word in the Bible, but the word does in fact mean tormenter or torturer.

So here we come again back to my original question, why does Jesus do it this way? I believe that he tells the story the way he does and when he does is because the disciples like us today, need to hear things repeated and in a different fashion. What do I mean here?

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he taught his disciples to pray, and told them that when they pray they should ask their heavenly Father to forgive them their debts, as they are called upon to forgive those indebted to them. In Matthew’s recording of our Lord’s words, the same word for debt is used here as in the Lord’s Prayer. The disciples and we too haven’t yet figured out that our ability to be forgiven depends on our ability to forgive. I’m not saying that God’s hands are being tied, but the only way for us to ever understand what it means to be truly forgiven is if we do the same to our fellow man. I don’t think that we can ever comprehend the magnitude of the debt that we owe to God, that has been paid though the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and that we have had the slate wiped clean by God’s Son. I don’t think we can ever comprehend that magnitude, but we can begin to approach it if we obey our Lord’s command and forgive as we ought. This is a lens through which we can understand God’s mercy is through our ability to forgive others who wrong us.

It’s a safe statement to make that we really don’t understand this magnitude. How about this for an example. We have just received our Lord’s pardon and forgiveness, and fed at his table. As we leave church our neighbor pulls in front of us, goes too slow, or in general irritates us on our way home. I’ve totally forgotten about God’s forgiveness of me as I am at best simply muttering something uncharitable under my breath, thankful I didn’t say what I was thinking out loud for others to hear. How do we expect God to forgive us, if we can first forgive others in the simplest of things? The writer of Ecclesiasticus conveys those exact same sentiments, “He that revengeth shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his sins in remembrance. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He sheweth no mercy to a man, which is like himself: and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins? If he that is but flesh nourish hatred, who will intreat for pardon of his sins?”

We have a divine command to seek pardon and forgiveness for the sins we commit against God and our neighbor. Our duty is to call our sins to remembrance so that we might lay them before Almighty God and ask him to so far remove them as the east is from the west. God’s promise is that He will do just that, however, he makes one request of us in the process – do the same to others. Show the same kind of charity to them that has been shown to each of us. For in so doing, we practice what we preach, and we receive the joy of being in love and charity with our neighbor, forgiving them as we have first been forgiven.