A sermon given at Highland Trail Senior Community on March 19, 2023
Last June, my family and I took a vacation to the beautiful Gulf Coast in Corpus Christi in Texas. We spent 3 days near the vibrant water and warm sand, soaking up the bright summer sun.
During our stay, we rented a car. This car was outfitted with a child’s seat for our youngest son. On our last evening there, my husband decided to take the car to the car wash to both rinse it and vacuum it out — so much sand covered the inside of the vehicle following our beach adventures!
Upon his return to our AirBnB rental house, I then had to go to the grocery store to get food for our final meal. It was then I noticed the car seat was….missing.
Hmm, I thought.
“Hey, babe,” I called to my husband, who was relaxing on the couch. “Where’s the car seat?”
“It’s not in the car?”
“Oh man, did I leave it at the car wash?”
At this point, his nonchalance was provoking me. I retorted back to him an unpleasant comment, then stormed to the car. I drove to the car wash, where I found, unsurprisingly, that the car seat was already gone.
I then proceeded to go to the grocery store, now not only for food, but also to replace the car seat. An extra expense that I didn’t want to have.
All the while, fuming at my husband and this mistake. What had he been thinking as he’d vacuumed out the car? How hard is it to remember your own kid’s seat? Surely I was justified in my anger at this mishap. How the mind will pile insult onto insult when anger has control!
Yet, when I returned to the AirBnB, still fuming and storming, my gentle husband looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, and am I not allowed to make a mistake?”
The wind came out of my sails. And an arrow from the Holy Spirit pierced my heart. I relented.
“Of course,” I said. “I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
I’m sure each of one us could tell a tales of conflicts with others, whether over silly things like a missing car seat, or more hurtful things, like harsh words spoken in anger, failed marriages, or broken dreams.
The Gospel of Matthew records Simon Peter coming to Jesus with an inquiry. “How many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Now, Peter may have thought that this number, the number 7, was indeed generous as 7 was the number of perfection in Jewish culture of his day. He may have also been looking for a cap on how often he was required to reconcile with someone else.
But, Jesus, being the One to ever push past human mindsets and limitations, responds with, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus wasn’t giving Simon Peter an actual number. He was telling him to look at his heart.
Jesus was pointing to the practice of forgiveness. He wants us to forgive and forgive and forgive again. Forgive repeatedly until it is simply your nature, conformed to the nature of God Himself.
After giving Peter this number, Jesus tells a story in the next few verses of Matthew 18.
Read Matthew 18:23-35
The current season for the Church is the season of Lent. In my little book of devotions for Lent, there is a section for the practice of “penance”. The suggested penances include.
- Saying I’m sorry to someone who is alienated from you.
- Helping the poor.
- Visiting someone who is sick.
- Do something kind for someone who does not like you.
Like the practice of penance—doing something to atone for our wrongdoing—the practice of forgiveness puts our hearts and minds in a humble posture before God and Christ. Jesus’ story gives a vivid picture of a servant who did NOT forgive. A servant who FORGOT the massive debt that had been forgiven him and chose instead to be cruel and merciless.
Because of Jesus’ death on the Cross, which atoned for our sins and provided forgiveness for us, we are called, as Jesus’ followers, to forgive others.
As Jesus was being nailed to the Cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We have been forgiven much. Our slates have been wiped clean. Our hearts made new.
Without forgiveness as a practice and part of our lives, the other elements of our faith remain bland. Forgiveness clears our hearts and enables us to live freely. It’s not merely a pleasant idea, but an essential element of our faith.
Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, that if we are offering a gift to God (whatever that gift might be), if we have something between ourselves and other human, we must hold off on giving that gift, and go and make things right with the other person. We must remember the great debt that has been cancelled against us, thereby giving us power to cancel others’ debts to us.
Jesus understands it is not easy, just as it was not easy for Him to die on the Cross and forgive his executors while doing it. He knows we will be hurt and hurt others. Jesus knows that we will offended and be offended. But He calls us to take action, to move beyond harboring bitterness and anger inside our hearts, and to fully embrace of His love and grace for us and for others.
The writer Paul, as we read earlier, sums up our task, like this:
“Lay aside bitter words, temper tantrums, revenge, profanity, and insults.
But instead, be kind and affectionate toward one another.
Have God graciously forgiven you?
Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.”
Fairly simple, right?
And yet, oh how complicated as we apply this practice into the details of our daily lives and the interactions we have with others!
How we need the grace of God to overflow in us, giving us the supernatural ability to forgive as we have been forgiven. This will be the power of Christ in us!
Before we move into a time of reflection and song, let us ponder two questions:
- What all has God forgiven for you? Ponder His great love and the outpouring of forgiveness by the work of Jesus on the Cross.
- Is there a rift between you and someone else? Consider how you might reconcile with them, how you might release them in Jesus’ name with forgiveness and grace.
As we go forth from this place in a few moments, having reflected upon the grace of God and the love of Jesus, may we have tender hearts, clear minds, and gentle spirits. May we not let minor things, like missing car seats, rob us of peace in our relationships with each other and with God.
And may we, like Jesus’ commanded, practice forgiveness over and over and over again.