Saturday, October 5, 2019

Year C, Pentecost 17, Luke 17:5-10, Faith & Forgiveness

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
In the verses that immediately precede this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says:
“Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.  And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."
 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
Increase our faith?
Why do the disciples make that plea to Jesus?
Because the forgiveness that Jesus commands his disciples to offer is one of the most difficult things a human can really do.
Harboring resentments, anger, and holding that person in disdain & contempt is a more typical response to those who have seriously wronged us, and certainly easy.
Forgiving, though, is harder.
Forgiving time after time the same offense is almost impossible.
Imagine, for example, a woman whose husband has been unfaithful.  When the affair comes to light, he is filled with guilt and remorse and says, “I am so sorry, please forgive me, and I promise, I’ll never do it again!”
She shows him great mercy and love, and forgives him.
But then, a short while later he has another affair.  Once again he comes to his wife.
“I am so sorry, please forgive me and I promise, I’ll never do it again!”
This scene repeats itself, time after time.
Can we really imagine that the wife, on the fifth, sixth, even seventh time that her husband confesses to having an affair can still find it within herself to continually forgive?
That task would be monumentally difficult.
Our response would more likely be something like:  “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Or we might say that yes, we are to forgive our spouse if he/she is unfaithful, but there comes a point where we should also protect ourselves from further harm and hurt by divorcing them for their unfaithfulness. 
Forgive them, yes.
Stay married to them, no.
But that’s not really what Jesus says.
Even if the same person sins against you seven times and repents, seven times, you must forgive.
“Increase our faith!” the disciples exclaimed, “Increase our faith.”
In response to them, Jesus has two things to say.
First, that faith is powerful and does what it does.
And second, that faith is not some extreme virtue so high that only the spiritual giants among us can attain it, but rather faith is simply what each of us is expected to do.
When we forgive, forgiveness happens.
And to do that is simply our ‘job’.
Bill Belichick, the legendary coach of the New England Patriots is famous for his coaching ‘mantra’.
“Just do your job!”
He doesn’t expect his players to go out and win games on their own.
He doesn’t expect his players to go out and win championships on their own.
He expects one thing, and one thing only:  “Just do YOUR job.”
Like the slaves in Jesus’ example, that were expected to serve their master, we are expected to do the same, do what is commanded.
And that means among other things to forgive.
One of the objections we raise, too often, is that people must truly repent in order to be forgiven.
Did the person in Jesus’ example truly repent?
If someone sins against you time and time again, each time repenting and asking forgiveness, only to do it all again—is that true repentance?
Most of us would say “No.”
Yet Jesus says that we are to forgive such a person.
Another issue is the question of repentance.  “What does it mean to repent?”
Literally, repentance means to ‘turn around’.
In our theology, it has at least three different meanings, depending how we understand the work of Christ.
We’ve been studying this in our class, Sunday mornings.
If we understand Jesus to be the victorious King who is fighting the powers of evil in this world, then repentance means to turn from our fears, and trust that Jesus will defeat the forces of evil and set us free.
Repentance.  Turning from fear to trust.

If we understand the Christian faith as being the conflict between a righteous God, and a sinful humanity, then repentance means something different.  Actually, in this regard it means two things:
First, that as sinners we stop doing what we were doing that was sinful.  Just stop it!  And go and sin no more.
And also, repentance means that we turn from our guilt to receive with gratitude the forgiveness offered to us for the sake of Jesus Christ.
The problem with this understanding of repentance is that the Bible makes clear that we cannot just stop sinning.  Paul makes that point in Romans.  And if we could stop sinning, we wouldn’t need forgiveness in the first place.
The third way we understand the work of Christ is as the reconciler between God and humanity.  Sin is understood as separation from God and the family of God, and reconciliation is what forgiveness means.
In this sense, repentance means turning back and coming home.
It’s the story of the prodigal Son.
Do you give up your fear, and trust that Christ will defeat evil?
Do you turn from your guilt and accept the forgiveness freely offered to you by Christ, who died for your?
Do you turn back from your wayward ways and return home to the God who loves you?
These are the questions of repentance. 
Faith then, in these three senses, means:
1.       That we trust that God will defeat all the forces of evil;
2.       That we accept the forgiveness offer by Jesus; and finally,
3.       That we love God and each other as we have been loved.
We haven’t always ‘done our job’ in this regard.
In fact, we’ve failed miserably. 
The fact that there are so many difference denominations is a result of our not really being able to forgive each other for our differences.
We have our conflicts.
And rather than forgive, we either start a new church or join another church, or perhaps even give up church altogether.
Actually this is something that has always struck me as being really troublesome and futile.
First of all, there is only one Church.  We believe in ONE holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  One.
That means that when we have our differences, leaving one Church and joining another doesn’t resolve those differences, it merely accentuates them.
“Just do your job”, Jesus says.
Yet, time after time, we fail to do this one job.
Thankfully, the God who told us to forgive someone even if they sin against us SEVEN TIMES A DAY, also forgives US when we sin against him, day after day.
Thanks, be to God.

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