Matthew 18: 15-35
Psalm 32: 1-2
It is hard to believe that this time last week I was in sunny Florida! The day after we got off the boat we had a day or so at the beach before flying back home.
I think most of you heard before I went that the topic of the course was “Conflict Transformation!”
Note: transformation; not resolution. Not about compromise but about living through conflict and allowing it to transform us and the situation we find ourselves in.
I arrived home Tuesday; and discovered that one or two things occurred in my absence!
When I finally got around to reading the set readings for today I was a little surprised! God’s ways are not our ways! God works to bring us into opportunities to examine where we are; who we are and what we can do to repair damage in our lives.
I want to share a story of an encounter that happened during our course. It was really interesting I should add; and was about preparing the ground so that when conflict does occur we are best equipped to deal with it. So that when conflict occurs, it doesn’t have to mean to end of everything for anyone.
One of the topics was about what happens when we “discount” another person or group. The premise is simple; by our actions or our words we can do or say something which makes another individual feel bad, or worthless, or unvalued.
As this was explained, one of our number stood up and told the whole group that twice during the last two days she had been discounted.
She then sat down again; with no further explanation.
The whole room was left feeling stunned. And just about everyone was left wondering if she has said or done something.... it was then lunch time; and we departed.
When the next session began, one of the group stood to ask a question of our presenter. What happens when a group is so distracted that they cannot continue? How do we deal with it?
You stop things and name it so you can move on, came the reply.
OK, so I stop things and meet it?
OK, I’m stopping things!
Heck!!! I, just wanted to sink into the floor! Americans have this infinite capacity to meet things head on; to deal and clear and move on.
She proceeded to say that the whole group had been discounted by things said; immediately the earlier speaker stood up to say “you mean me?”
It felt dreadful!
However – what happened next taught me something very valuable.
The gal who felt discounted came forward, explained what the two things had been – it was a group reaction to something she’d said. And the air was cleared.
The issue, suddenly became a non issue because it was out there
It was in the open and it was dealt with.
It had no more power.
Today’s reading is a long one; it deals with discipline; forgiveness; and reconciliation.
It is no accident this comes at the beginning of the Lenten season: Lent is all about repentance, about turning round; about new starts and clean slates. About naming the hurt and moving forward.
There are (for me) three key verses for us to consider: v17: in relation to dealing with a personal sin against us: if your friend will not listen eventually you should treat him like a tax collector.
v. 22 on forgiveness: “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” forgive more times than you can keep tally of.
v. 34b-35 on our own response to God’s forgiving grace: if we do not let it change us: if we cannot forgive others: God will cast us away.
Tax Collectors: the very epitome of unwanted, outcast: the least worthy member of the community. Yet. Who did Jesus choose to eat with? Who did Jesus welcome as one of his own? Whose gospel are we reading today? Yep! Matthew, the Tax Collector. So, when we find we cannot live with, or work alongside someone, what do we do? Hand them over to Jesus to do the loving and living for us!
Sometimes the hurt goes too deep; it is too new, too painful.
If we skip forward to the parable of the unforgiving servant: this servant has encountered the King; has been forgiven a huge debt; has received unconditional grace. Yet he doesn’t allow it to change him; to touch him. It doesn’t help him to see his own behaviour in the light of the King’s generosity. Remember, a few weeks back? Blessed (happy/ lucky) are the merciful? For they will be shown mercy.
Yet the servant in the parable cannot move forward; he is stuck in his old ways.
God’s grace is ours
God’s forgiveness is ours
Our capacity to forgive, to act with grace and love and generosity needs to be filled by God. Sometimes we are not ready to take the step
God takes our own hard hearts and will gently hold, soften, warm us, until we can move forward.
Go back to Peter’s question.
Peter, who needed to understand for himself what a truly godly disposition can be:
Peter, the silly, impetuous, hasty, loving, loyal buffoon.
Peter – who got it so wrong, so often, but was still considered worthy of trust
He thought he could quantify love and grace and forgiveness
Keep a tally
How many times?
Seven seems enough – yes?
No, Peter. No. Not seven, but seventy seven; seventy times seven – more times than you can keep count of; more often than you can ever imagine.
Because – God knows.
God will forgive you anything and everything Peter
So, you should try to do the same.
And so should we.
I know that words have been said in the heat of the moment.
I know that some of these words felt personal, hurtful, unforgiveable
Here’s the things
Not only seven times
But seven times seventy times
Jesus showed us the real capacity that grace gives for forgiveness
Hanging on the cross
Dying for sin
Dying for pain, and hurt, and hasty words and broken hearts
Jesus, bleeding so that all sin
Are washed away
Jesus’ words: Father, forgive them
Jesus managed it
Treat each other like tax collectors: like Jesus treated tax collectors
Love unconditionally and forgive without count
So will our Father in heaven treat us