Summary: An important step to healing after tragedies like 9-11 is forgiveness. But how is it possible? (17th Sunday after Pentecost)
FORGIVING—WHEN YOUR WORLD FALLS APART
(Review the Gospel lesson, Matthew 18:21-35. Peter asks, “How many times should I forgive?” Jesus gives a number, but his point is that we should ask another question: “How many times does God forgive me?” Put yourselves in the shoes of the common man in Nazi Germany…)
Intro. Can you imagine what would it have been like to be going to church in Stuttgart, Germany, in the last days of WWII? Occupation was imminent. Destruction was everwhere. As if waking from a bad dream, people now struggled with the problem of immense guilt, which accompanied the already unbearable grief which was all too common. It was to such a congregation that a man named Helmut Thielicke preached these words: “Now of course there can be no doubt that there are war-mongers among us who are guilty in high degree. But at the same time we also divine that when we are dealing with a world event of such elemental proportions as this apocalyptic war, we cannot saddle the burden of guilt upon any individual or group of men, as if we had to put handcuffs on a few criminals and their cliques in order to restore the peace of paradise to humanity. For today we sense that something is wrong with our world itself and therefore this cannot happen. Somewhere in the background of this world there must be a terrible rift that is cracking its foundations and precipitating recurring catastrophes and breakdowns…”
I. Our natural tendency is to try to look for guilt in others… to blame. (Example: we are familiar with Adam and Eve trying to blame the serpent, each other. In today’s Old Testament lesson, Joseph’s brothers are afraid that he will finally get even with them now that their father is dead. One interpretation of this is that he was upset that his brothers would think such a thing of him. However, it is equally possible that somewhere deep in his heart, so deep that perhaps he hadn’t even realized it was still there, there was a smoldering ember of resentment. The tears then would have been tears of joy as finally he forgave his brothers completely!)
A. It’s a deadly cycle. One person is hurt and retaliates against the other. The other person, in turn, is hurt by the retaliation, and makes a retaliation of his own aganst the first person. “You hit me and I hit you, and the petty offense (perhaps only an unswept stair) swells and condenses into a poisonous atmosphere that can settle down upon a house, upon whole clans, and whole continents.” (Thielicke) It’s like a screw that turns and turns, only to go deeper with each ensuing rotation.
B. Our world will never find peace as long as the only cry is the cry of vengeance. But there is another cry, the cry Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are calls for divine retribution in some of the Psalms, but such language is not in the prayer that Jesus gave his disciples. Instead, He would have us begin by saying, “Forgive us our debts.” This is not just a prayer for personal forgiveness. It is a prayer that actually covers all the sins ever committed anywhere in the world!
II. In confronting sin, I must first confront myself.
A. My own heart is like a slide in a slide projector, or a transparency on an overhead projector. All the horrible world events that we see in the world today are a projection, though greatly magnified, of the very things that are going on inside of me! To look at it another way, I am an echo. If somebody is nice to me, I feel like smiling at everyone I meet. If someone mistreats me, I feel like kicking something! This is something we can see every day. Just think about a traffic! One rude driver suddenly becomes a highway of honking, irate motorists. But someone who lets someone else in ahead of him can produce a chain-reaction of kindness.
B. Therefore, any discussion of evil in the world must begin with me and my own sin, me and my own guilt. It is so easy to curse the darkness without tending to my own candle which, in the meantime, has grown pitifully dim—if lit at all!
1. The problem isn’t a lack of information. I could fax a copy of the Ten Commandments to every government on the face of the world, with rules and guidelines as to how they should be kept, and a reasonable explanation of how good and beneficial they are. They could agree and pass them as laws in their own countries, and distribute them to each and every citizen. Would that get rid of the problem of evil? No. If that could do it, then there would never have been a need for Christ to die for me.