“If You Have to Ask”

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“If You Have to Ask”
September 17, 2017

Sermon Text:   Matthew 18:21-35

Peace be unto you from our Triune God – Father, X Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

In the church, all that a person need do is mention that they are in the process of using “Matthew 18” and little more needs to be said. They are referring to what Christ our Lord says should be the loving course of action in regard to a brother or sister who has sinned against you. This is all recorded in the verses just prior to today’s Gospel text.

And it is interesting to note that just ignoring the sin, overlooking the sin or “sweeping it under the rug” is not one of the options given by our Lord. It never is. And yet it is the way of most people today… the way of many Christians and the way of many Christian congregations.

Nobody wants to confront the sin or the sinner and do you know what?  Satan is loving it. He is having a field day with many congregations, many individuals, many marriages and families where sin is simply overlooked Make no mistake about it. Satan is the one pushing the whole “Don’t get involved” movement. Just let it alone – the sin, that is. Just leave him or her alone – the sinner, in regard to their transgressions.

And this my friends, although expedient… although the simplest way out with no muss or fuss, with no confrontation, no angst, no energy or time expended… is nevertheless the cowardly way out, the most unloving and uncaring way out.  Most importantly, it goes right up against God’s Word, God’s will.

By the way, Satan is also behind the whole “It’s not my business” movement.  Yes it is! It is most certainly your “business”… your calling… your cross… your duty and obligation as a Christian… as a follower and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ… to address sin… and to address the sinner, be it yourself or your brother or sister in the faith.

We all need to practice far more honesty… being honest with ourselves and being honest with others.

Jesus explains in Matthew 18, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” It is the loving thing to do, my friends! “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17)

 In other words he or she is to be removed from the church… from being in communion with the church. Yes, there’s that terrible word – “excommunicated.” And this, all this, out of love for the congregation (so that this erring brother or sister does not lead others astray) and out of love for the person, that they will hopefully see the error of their ways… see the seriousness of the matter of being outside of Christ’s Body and the looming prospect of spending all eternity in hell… that this, all this would lead them to repent whereupon holy absolution may be joyfully pronounced.

Indeed, the steps taken to restore an erring brother or sister, doing that which is truly most loving, prescribed by Christ Himself… is considered by the world to be very unloving and mean spirited. And sadly, there is a growing number of people in the church who out of ignorance or indifference to God’s Word, side with the world on this and on many other points.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Employing Christian discipline is costly. Addressing the sinner and the sin is costly. Showing genuine love, true love by Christian men and women and especially by Christian parents, pastors, teachers and other church leaders is costly. It comes with a price. It is tough to do in this world and it is only going to get tougher.

In fact, it would be impossible to do without the aid of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible to do if we were not constantly fortified, refreshed and strengthened in Christ through Word and Sacrament. By these means and only by these, the very “Means of Grace” that is… are we able to properly carry out our Christian vocations.

So, following this discourse in Matthew 18 about “if your brother sins against you” we now launch into a connected issue which (and this is of no surprise) Peter brings up about how many times exactly are we to forgive our brother.

I do not know about you, but I am glad Peter brings things like this up because it is naturally on our minds.  The Old Adam in me wants to know if there is a limit… a cap… a ceiling to my forgiveness… to my forgiving someone.

Actually, that is only partially true. The Old Adam in me hopes there is a limit so that if so and so sins against me just one more time, once this limit is met… well… heaven help them. Actually, it is heaven help me!

Peter’s thought that the act of forgiving someone may be as much as seven times… a whole seven times… is actually a good guess in that the number seven often carried with it, in biblical times, the aspect of completion. And from a worldly point of view, seven times is a lot!

Someone sins against me, I forgive them… They sin against me again, I forgive them again… They sin against me yet again, I forgive them yet again… They sin against me again, I forgive them… They sin against me again, I forgive them… They sin against me again, I forgive them… They sin against me again, I forgive them. I got tired just saying that, let alone forgiving that many times.

Well… you know our Lord’s response to Peter and to all of us. Jesus said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22)

Four hundred and ninety times! THAT’S how many times I am to forgive a brother or sister who sins against me?  Well, that in itself would be great from a worldly point of view… living in a society where little or no forgiveness, true forgiveness is shown. And there are probably some church bodies that would consider you for sainthood if you reached that number.

But not among Christ’s saint’s, His people, His followers… the elect. For in Christ’s Church, forgiveness is perpetual and all encompassing. The ongoing forgiveness that we have in Jesus Christ for all of our sins and iniquities. And yes, the forgiveness that we show toward others… all others. It knows no end as represented in our Lord saying “seventy times seven.”

My friends, if you have to ask how many times you are to forgive others you are not getting it. Just as Peter, at this point, was not getting it. Divine forgiveness is limitless and complete. And this, all because of our dear Savior, Christ Jesus, and what He accomplished on the cross at Calvary.

Divine forgiveness is also a “two-way street” in regard to that which we mercifully and graciously receive from God and that which we then, in turn, mercifully and graciously show toward others. The parable our Lord shares in our text says it all.

Is it any wonder that we constantly pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?” It is because we want it to always be so… forgiveness received… forgiveness given. And this, only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

Is it difficult some times? To show forgiveness? Most certainly. Even once, let alone seventy times seven… let alone never ending. And this is one of a myriad of reasons we come here weekly, for the strength we need… the power we need… to forgive. This God imparts to us in His Holy Word and in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

Indeed, we return from this communion rail and leave this holy house today and everyday knowing the joy of being forgiven and the joy of forgiving… all this in Jesus Christ. Things that we can never ponder too much or too often. That which gives us true peace, true joy and comfort. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

If You Have to Ask”  9/17/17  Pastor Mark Hein, St. Paul’s Ev.