Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve - Phil 4:6-20

 

Thanksgiving Eve

                                                                                       Phil 4:6-20

                                                                                      11/23/22

 

          When I hear the word “prison,” the word “thanksgiving” is not the first thing that comes mind. Nobody wants to be in prison. No one wants their freedom to be restricted.  It is not a setting in which we expect to find people giving thanks.

          And so, there is some irony in the fact that the epistle lesson for Thanksgiving is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians – a letter he wrote from prison.  In Bible class we are currently looking at the apostle’s letter to the Colossians – another letter that he wrote from prison. What we have said about Colossians is the same thing we can say about Philippians. We aren’t sure exactly where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this letter. 

          While the letters to the Colossians and Philippians are similar in this way, they are very different when we compare the people to whom Paul was writing.  Paul had not founded the church at Colossae, and did not know them personally.  On the other hand, he knew the Philippians very well.  He had been the one who first preached the Gospel to them as they became believers in Jesus Christ. Paul had developed a very close relationship with the Philippians. 

          We hear this in the first verses of the letter as Paul gives thanks to God for them.  He writes, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

          Paul refers to their partnership in the Gospel.  And this isn’t just rhetoric meant to ingratiate him to the congregation.  The Philippians had supported Paul with money on several occasions – in fact they had been the only congregation to do this.  Paul says in our text, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”

          Now, the Philippians had done it again. And so, Paul gives thanks to them. He writes, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”  Apparently, circumstances had not allowed the Philippians to send the support to Paul as they wanted.  However, now they had been able provide aid and so Paul says in our text:I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

          In this letter from prison, Paul gives thanks for the Philippians and their partnership in the work of the Gospel.  He gives thanks for the gift that they have sent to Paul in prison via Epaphroditus. And he also tells the Philippians that they should give thanks. He says in our text, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

          Paul tells the Philippians that they are not to be anxious and worried. Instead, they are to approach God in prayer and let their requests be made known. Yet he also says that this prayer is to include thanksgiving.  It is to include thanksgiving, because there is indeed much for which they should give thanks.

          Thanksgiving is the purpose of the holiday we are about to observe.  Yet if you pause to consider it, the manner in which we celebrate this time of thanksgiving raises some questions that are worth pondering.

          We all know what we can expect tomorrow to be like.  But what if, wherever you are going to have Thanksgiving dinner, you were told: “Well, this year we are going to have hot dogs and potato chips.”  What would your reaction be? I highly doubt that it would be one of thanksgiving.  We know what Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be: turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes and gravy, and pie.  It is one of the most sumptuous meals of the year in which we eat until we are full, and then many of us fall asleep watching football.

          If we are honest, the holiday of Thanksgiving and the traditions associated with it are almost the antithesis of what thanksgiving should be about. We “give thanks” by gorging ourselves on a meal about which we have very specific expectations. We “give thanks” by eating a meal that if it is not what we expect – how about spaghetti for Thanksgiving? – leaves us feeling disappointed and let down.

          Now I have to be honest with you.  I find Thanksgiving to be the most difficult occasion for preaching. And the reason is that every year you already know exactly what I am going to say.  I am going to tell you that we have much for which we should be thankful. This is, of course, absolutely true. We are blessed with a standard of that living that billions of people would love to have. We do not lack for food and clean drinking water. We live in a setting where we have peace and security. We have the freedom to gather to worship our Lord Jesus and receive his gifts in the Divine Service.

          Then, I am going to tell you that we are not thankful as we should be. You also know that this is true. We all take for granted these many blessings. We just assume that they are part of life, and very often we forget that God is the source of all of them. He is the One who gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, and all our possessions. He is the One who richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life.

          The world around us will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow as well. It will do all the same things we do with the big expected meal.  No doubt there will be people who reflect upon all the good things they have, and they will give thanks.

          However, there is a statement in our text that distinguishes Christian thanksgiving from what the world does.  Immediately after telling the Philippians to let their requests be made known God with thanksgiving, Paul adds, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

          Paul says that peace that comes from God surpasses all understanding – it goes beyond anything we can imagine.  This peace guards our heart and minds in Christ Jesus. When Paul says “in Christ Jesus” he means the saving work of Christ into which we have been incorporated through baptism and faith.

          It is true that we fail to acknowledge God as the giver of every good gift.  We certainly fail to give thanks as we should.  In chapter two Paul had written that although Christ is God, he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

          Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God submitted himself to the shameful death of the cross in order to receive the punishment for our sin of thanklessness. Yet then, on the third day, God raised him from the dead.  Because of this we are forgiven before God.

          In the prior chapter St. Paul had described all of the reasons he had for confidence and pride as a Jew before he became a Christian. Yet he told the Philippians that now, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

          Note that being found “in him” – being “in Christ” means having a righteous standing before God. It means that we look forward to sharing in the resurrection of the dead.  Here we find both forgiveness for thanklessness, and the ultimate reason to give thanks!  Our thanksgiving includes earthly blessings of this life, but it goes so far beyond that. Because of Jesus Christ it includes forgiveness, eternal life, and resurrection.

What is more, Paul says that when life is lived in Christ, we have the means by which we are content in all circumstances. And this contentment certainly includes thankfulness.  Paul writes in our text, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

Then Paul adds, “I am able with respect to all things through him who strengthens me.” Though this is commonly translated as “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” this translation misses the point that the “things” to which Paul refers are the things he has just mentioned: being brought low and abounding; facing plenty and hunger; facing abundance and need. Paul means that he is able handle these things – both the good and the bad – through God who strengthens him as he is in Christ.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, the apostle Paul teaches us that the most important truth of our life is that we are in Christ. Through baptism and faith we have been joined to the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.  For this we give thanks. When this is the focus of our life, we are enabled by the Spirit to recognize the blessings God has given us and to give thanks for them. And we are also able to be content in all circumstances – both the good and the bad.  As those in Christ we are able with respect to all things through him who strengthens us.

 

Funeral sermon for Chuck Cohoon 1 Jn 3:-12

 

Chuck Cohoon funeral

                                                                                      1 Jn 3:1-2

                                                                                      11/23/22

 

          Faith, family, and country.  If I had to choose three words to summarize Chuck Cohoon’s life, those are the obvious choices. We will, of course speak about the first of these at more length in this sermon.  But it must be noted that until Chuck’s health prevented him from attending the Divine Service, Chuck and Wanda were here at church every Sunday.  What’s more, this building itself – the nave in which his funeral service takes place – is a witness to his faith since he helped to build it, and stained the wood of the chancel area.

          Chuck and Wanda were married for forty one years.  This was a loving marriage in which they enjoyed sharing life together.  The loving nature of their marriage was exemplified by the faithful care that Wanda provided to Chuck during the last few years when he was at home.  And of course, there is the remarkable fact that Chuck lived to see six children, thirteen grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.  They were a source of joy and pride for him – just take a look at those pictures that were shown during the visitation.

          And finally, service to his country was a defining feature of Chuck’s life.  Chuck served in the U.S. Navy on a fleet oiler during World War II. Then, after entering civilian life in the drawdown after the war, he re-enlisted in the Navy in a second round of the service on the fleet oiler USS Allagash.  The U.S. Navy is able to maintain a constant worldwide presence because of a sophisticated logistical support system.  The USS Allagash was part of that support as it refueled ships at sea – a challenging task that requires great skill. 

Chuck was very proud of his service on the Allagash and had a picture of her prominently displayed at home. Then, in his post-Navy career Chuck continued to serve his country as he worked for the Veterans Administration, finishing as Foreman of Maintenance and Operations in Engineering Service here in Marion.

As we gather at his funeral service this morning, we give thanks for the second and third characteristics that I have described.  But in death, only the first one really matters.  Our text this morning makes that point as it begins by saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” 

The Greek phrase “what kind of love” conveys the meaning, “how great a love.”  John is emphasizing the incredible love God has shown by making Christians to be the children of God.  He has given us the status of living in a relationship with him – a relationship of belonging to him as those who have received salvation.   And then the apostle adds the affirmation that this is in fact true of each Christian as he says, “And so we are.”

Why is this fact a demonstration of God’s great love?  Well, if you want an explanation, take a look right in front of you at the casket lying there with Chuck’s body.  Sunday after Sunday Chuck heard these words from 1 John chapter one spoken at the beginning of the Divine Service: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Chuck was a sinner, and he confessed this every time he came to the Divine Service.  Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  The flesh – sinful fallen nature – produces more flesh, more sinful fallen nature. That is why Chuck confessed that he was by nature sinful and unclean.  And then he went on to confess that he had sinned in thought, word, and deed against God and against his neighbor.

We do not begin life as children of God, because we are conceived and born as sinners.  We are sinners who then start sinning from the moment we enter the world.  And sin brings death.  Chuck died, not because he was ninety five years old.  He died because he was a sinner. Unless Christ returns first, one day you will die because you are a sinner.

And Sunday after Sunday upon hearing the statement from First John that he was a sinner, Chuck responded by speaking the next verse of the letter: “But if we confess our sins, God is who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Just after our text, John goes on to say about Jesus Christ, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”

The Son of God entered into this world as he, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he came to bear our sins – to be the sacrifice that gives us forgiveness.  This is what great love the Father has shown to us.  He loved us so much that he sent his own Son to suffer and die for our sins.  John says in the next chapter, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

He did this for Chuck, and then he called him to faith in Jesus Christ.  Fallen, sinful humans cannot become children of God by their own powers.  John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” 

The Father drew Chuck to himself as he was born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.  He gave him new life through water and the Word. And so Chuck was indeed a child of God.  He was sustained as a child of God as he received the Means of Grace.  He heard God’s Word read and preached.  He received Holy Absolution.  He received the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.

In our text, John goes on to add, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  Jesus Christ died on the cross to win forgiveness.  But he did not remain dead. Instead, his death was just one part of God’s saving action to defeat sin and death.  Our Lord said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The risen Lord Jesus has defeated death.  And then, having fulfilled the Father’s will, he returned to the Father in the ascension.  He has sent forth the Spirit who takes what Jesus has done and makes it know to us; the Spirit who gives us new life; the Spirit through whom the Father draws us to the Son. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus says that all who believe in him shall never die. Chuck was a child of God during his life.  And he is still a child of God right now. Because of Christ, death has changed nothing.  He is with the Lord, and for that we give thanks.

Death is always the enemy – the intruder brought by sin into this world that will not finally be defeated until Christ returns.  But in Chuck’s case I was praying each day that the Lord would take him. His long, slow decline – “the withering away” he experienced – is something I have never seen before.  We are thankful that in his time, the Lord has brought this to an end and has taken Chuck to be with himself.  We are thankful that the vocation – the calling - that Wanda so faithfully and lovingly carried out as spouse for so long has come to end. It was an act of love she gladly did, but it was also a heavy burden for her.

Yet at the same time our text encourages us with the knowledge that the best is yet to come.  The Chuck we saw at the end is not what he will yet be. The Chuck on the best day during his life is not what he will yet be.  Instead, the risen Lord Jesus is the model and pattern for what we will be. Jesus promised, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus Christ will return in glory on the Last Day.  John says in our text “what we will be has not yet appeared.” We don’t know yet what the resurrection life will be like for Chuck and for those who believe in Christ. We don’t know because we can’t yet understand fully what the risen Lord Jesus is like.  But John tells us, “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  In Revelation Jesus is described as “the firstborn of the dead.”  Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection.  His resurrection is what we will be as our bodies – our flesh – are transformed so that they can never die again.  It is what we will be when there is no sin and no death – when all is very good once again as we live in the renewed creation.

Chuck Cohoon was a child of God because Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sins, and rose from the dead.  He was a child of God because the Spirit of God gave him new life as he was born again in Holy Baptism.  He was a child of God because the Spirit of Christ sustained him until the end through his Means of Grace.

Because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, even in death, Chuck is still a child of God.  We don’t know yet exactly what Chuck or any Christian is going to be like when Jesus Christ returns.  But we know that we will be like Christ the risen Lord, because we shall see him as he is.

 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Last Sunday of the Church Year - 1 Thess 5:1-11

 

Last Sunday

                                                                                      1 Thess 5:1-11

                                                                                      11/20/22

 

          On Sunday morning I am the first person up at the Surburg house as I get ready for the 8:00 a.m. service.  My normal routine is the same each Sunday.  I shower and get dressed, and of course the great thing is that I don’t have to think about what I am going to wear to church.  Then I go downstairs and let let the dogs out before eating breakfast.  After that I go down to the basement and practice my sermon before heading over to church. 

However, about a month ago I let the dogs out, and as I looked out the door I saw something that was not normal. The large tree in front of our house had been toilet papered.  And this had been a very thorough job.

Now I am probably starting to show my age, I because I find this venerable prank to be incredibly annoying.  It makes a huge mess that has to be cleaned up. And often, you can’t get all of it down.  There are still pieces of toilet paper hanging from our tree.

I learned later that this was not a random event, but rather part of recurring competition between a group of high school boys and girls. The girls had been toilet papered, and they were responding in turn.  Since then, they have moved on to more creative actions.  I laughed out loud recently when on Sunday morning I saw that Matthew’s car had been wrapped in plastic like a Christmas gift with accompanying writing on the windows.

None of these things were done during the day. Instead, they were done at night, in the very early hours of the morning after everyone had gone to bed.  Of course, that’s when people usually do things when they want an action to be unexpected. They do it under the cover of darkness when people are asleep.

In the epistle lesson today, St. Paul uses this theme to talk about the return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day.  He says that for those who are not prepared – those who are in the dark – it will be surprising and destructive event.  However, he encourages us with the knowledge that we are not in the dark. And so he reminds us to live in ways that are prepared for our Lord’s return.

Just before our text, the apostle has addressed a concern that had arisen among the Thessalonians.  Paul had preached the Gospel to them on his second missionary journey. They had been called to faith in Christ by the Spirit.  However, as time passed some of the believers had died before the return of Jesus. What did this mean for them? Would they miss out on God’s final salvation?

Paul had replied by saying, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”  He assured them: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Jesus Christ’s return will be a dramatic event in which the dead will be raised and the living believers will be transformed. Paul assured the Thessalonians about all believers: “so we will always be with the Lord.”

That’s what will happen. In our text St. Paul takes up the matter of when it will happen. He says, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” The Thessalonians knew that Christ’s return would be sudden.  Paul describes the event using language that goes back to Jesus himself.  The thief comes in the darkness at night when nobody is ready – nobody is looking for him. So also, Jesus’ return will occur abruptly and without prior notice.

However, Paul tells the Thessalonians and us that while Christ’s return will be sudden and without notice, for us it will not be unexpected. He says, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”

          The apostle says that you are not in darkness because you know Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord.  He writes at the end of our text, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

          Paul mentions two alternatives: wrath or salvation. He has made a similar statement at the beginning of the letter when he referred to “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

          The wrath of God is not something the world wants to talk about.  But Paul certainly does.  He does because God is the holy and just God.  Sin evokes his wrath and judgment against sinners.  This is true of every sinner – including you.  On your own, you are a person who does not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Instead, you have your own idols.  They are not gold or silver statues like in the ancient world, but gold and silver, in the form of money and possessions, the trips, and the sense of security wealth provides, are certainly among them. You love yourself more than your neighbor, and this shows through in selfish actions and hurtful words.

          The wrath of God is what we deserve. It is what we should receive. Yet Paul says in our text that Jesus Christ died for us. Elsewhere, in Second Corinthians, the apostle explains in more depth what this means. There he says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Though sinless and holy, Christ became sin by taking ours as if they were his own.  God poured out his wrath on Jesus, and justly punished sin.  Jesus died for us on the cross to rescue us from the wrath and punishment that we deserve.

          The wrath of God brings judgment and death. It did for Christ on Good Friday.  But death that simply ended in death could not be salvation for us.  Adam had brought sin and death. Jesus suffered death for our sin in order to bring us life.  Paul wrote in First Corinthians, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

          On the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead. He began the resurrection life that will be ours.  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus Christ was exalted as he ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father.  But his promise is that he will return. Our Lord said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”

          On the Last Sunday of the Church year we focus on this truth.  The risen and ascended Lord will return in glory.  In our text Paul tells us that this event will be sudden and surprising. However, as Christians it will not be unexpected.  In fact quite the opposite, Paul tells us how we are to live because we expect it.

          Paul writes in our text, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” Those around us who do not believe in Jesus Christ are in the dark. The devil is their lord, and they don’t even realize it. That’s exactly how he wants it to be.

But because the Holy Spirit has called us to faith in Christ, we have been born again.  We are children of the light, children of the day.  We know that the devil, sin, and death are darkness, and that we have been freed from them.  We know Jesus Christ the risen and ascended One is our Lord. We know God’s love and what he has done in Christ to save us. We live in this light because for us the day forgiveness and life has dawned.

This makes all the difference. Paul says that those who are in the dark – those who in the night of the devil’s power – sleep and get drunk. These are metaphors for the life of sin.  Those who say there is no truth – not even the truth that a man is man, and a woman is a woman; those who use sex outside of marriage; those who engage in homosexuality; those who kill the unborn are all sleep walking. They are in a drunken stupor.  Paul says that they will receive destruction when Christ returns if they do not repent

However, we who know Christ are different. Paul says in our text, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”  To keep awake and be sober is to be ready for Christ’s return.  The apostle explains this further when he adds, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Paul says that we are to be sober – a word that means well balanced or self-controlled. He describes how this is done by using the metaphor of armor. The apostle refers to the breastplate of faith.  To be ready for Christ’s return we need to place faith in Jesus Christ at the center of all that we are. Faith in Jesus as our Lord who died and rose from the dead to give us forgiveness and to defeat death must be the focus that runs throughout our life.

In order for this to be the case, this faith must continue to be nourished by receiving the Means of Grace.  We need to return to our baptism through which we have shared in Christ’s saving death and have the guarantee of sharing in his resurrection on the Last Day. We need to hear and read God’s Word. We need to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar since this is food for the new man.  We keep ourselves ready for the Last Day by receiving the gifts that deliver forgiveness and sustain faith.

          Not surprisingly, Paul places love right next to faith as he speaks of the “breastplate of faith and love.”  Faith acts in love, and this is life that is lived in the light; lived in the day.  Just after our text the apostles writes, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”  Because we have received God’s love in Christ, we seek to live lives that act in love towards others.

Finally, Paul mentions “for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  This hope of salvation is not a mere wish.  It is instead the confident assurance of what will be ours because of what Jesus Christ has already done. For Paul, salvation usually refers to the final outcome of the Last Day, but in his statement at the end of our text he leaves no doubt that it includes those who have died.  He says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

We are children of the day; we are children of the light because the Spirit has called us to faith in Jesus Christ.  We are therefore people who live each day by faith in Christ our Lord.  We are people who act in love, because of the love God has given to us in his Son Jesus. We live with the hope of salvation as we pray “Come Lord Jesus!” and wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.   

 

 

 

         

 

 

    

 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity - Mt 18:21-35

 

Trinity 22

                                                                                       Mt 18:21-35

                                                                                       11/13/22

 

          In August of this year, President Biden announced a student loan forgiveness program.  Under this plan, up to forty million borrowers can receive ten thousand or up to twenty thousand dollars of loan forgiveness.  Those who meet the criteria of income for an individual or a couple will not have to repay this money that was borrowed to pay for education.

          Now no doubt, the people for whom this opportunity is valid have been very excited to receive this news – though now we will have to see if it comes to fruition as a recent court ruling has put it on hold. Who wouldn’t want to learn that ten or twenty thousand dollars of debt was suddenly gone?  Not only does the money does not have to be repaid, but it also means that the interest that would have been owed over the years is gone as well.

          On the other hand, the reaction by many other people has been: “That’s not fair.” All of the people who took out student loans over the years and faithfully repaid them are asking why they didn’t receive this assistance. So for example, Amy took out a student loan when we were married and she was doing her Master’s degree to be a Nurse Practitioner.  This loan along with the interest accrued is something that we worked to pay off.  We are left asking: “Why don’t we get any help?  Why doesn’t the government give us ten or twenty thousand dollars to make up for the money we already paid back?”  With three kids in college next year, that money would sure be helpful.

          The other side of this issue is that while the term “student loan forgiveness” sounds great, this “forgiveness” isn’t free.  Money was given out.  Now it is not going to be repaid.  While our politicians like to pretend that debt doesn’t exist, those of us who live in the real world know that you can’t wave a magic wand and just make the money owed go away. Someone has to pay the price.  Politicians of both parties have gotten used to dealing with government debt by “kicking the can down the road” and ignoring the problem, but at some point a day of reckoning will arrive, and it is frightening to think about what that will look like.

          In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells a parable that is about debt being forgiven, and also not being forgiven.  Our Lord teaches us about the incomprehensible act of forgiveness that he has given us in his death and resurrection.  And in a powerful way, he leads us to understand what this means for how we are to treat one another.

          Just before our text, Jesus had been talking about how Christians are to deal with a fellow Christian who sins.  He has described a process in which first a Christian goes and speaks to that individual.  Next, the Christian takes two or three others to see the person.  Finally, if the Christian does not repent, our Lord describes how the individual is removed from the fellowship as he said, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Then he added, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

          Just before this our Lord has talked about how the shepherd leaves the ninety nine sheep and looks for the one sheep that has wandered off. Then he concluded by saying, “And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

In this section, the emphasis has been on repentance and forgiveness. So prompted by this Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Now on the one hand, Peter had certainly gotten the point.  Those who follow Jesus are to forgive.  And from a human perspective he was really putting this into practice.  Seven times! Seven is the number of completion, and Peter showed a willingness to go all the way.

Except “all the way” from the human perspective missed the point. And so Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” The point here, is of course, not a number.  Our Lord was saying that forgiveness is to be unlimited – it can’t be numbered.

To illustrate this, Jesus told a parable. He said, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.”  As he did so a servant was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents.  Now this amount owed is absurd.  To put it in perspective, it would have taken a man making the normal daily wage, 60,000,000 days of work to pay it off.

Naturally, there was no way that the servant could pay. So the master ordered that the man, his wife, children, and all that he had be sold in order get back what he could. We learn that the servant fell down on his knees before master and was imploring him as he said, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”

In desperation the servant begged the king. But what he said was laughable. No amount of patience would enable the servant to pay it back. Yet then, something incredible happened. Jesus said that the master had compassion for the man.  Instead of selling him and his family into slavery, he released the man and forgave the debt. He forgave what the man could never repay.

In the interaction between the master and the servant, Jesus describes what God has done for us in Christ.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  If you want fellowship with the holy God – the Creator of all things – “pretty good” doesn’t cut it. 

In that section of the Gospel Jesus reveals the depths of our sin before God.  To murder is not simply to kill a person – it is to be angry with that individual. To commit adultery is not merely the physical act, but to look with lust.  The holy life required to be with God takes in every single thought, word, and deed. We know that we sin again, and again, and again.  If fact, we are so sinful that we don’t even recognize all the ways we sin.  In ourselves, we are completely and utterly sinful. And because God is the holy and just God, if God did things in the way of the Law there could only be one outcome for us. We would receive God’s eternal judgment and damnation. Like the servant in the parable, we would have no chance.

Like the master in the parable, God had compassion on us. Yet because God is the just God there was no way to pretend that the sin had never happened. Every sin is a sin against the holy God.  It is sin that must be judged and punished. And so God the Father did just that.  He sent his Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Jesus Christ went to the Jordan River and submitted to a baptism of repentance, even though he was holy and had no sin.  He did so because there he took on role of the Servant of the Lord. He, the sinless one, took our place.

Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday.  There he drank the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. God punished sin in the person of Jesus, and he did it all the way.  Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words about the Servant: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” That is why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And then on Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead. Sin brings death. Christ received God’s judgment to win forgiveness for us, and then he emerged from the tomb in the resurrection as he defeated death. In the resurrection God vindicated Christ as the One who had carried out the Father’s saving will.  Because Jesus has risen from the dead we know that we have forgiveness and eternal life.  We know that Christ will raise up our bodies on the Last Day.

Yet the forgiveness Jesus has won is not only about me.  And our Lord teaches this powerfully in the second half of the parable.  We learn that the servant who had received this unfathomable forgiveness went out and found a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii. This was a hundred days wages.  It was not a small sum, but in time it could be repaid. 

However, we learn that servant seized this man and began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.”  Then the fellow servant did the exact same thing that the servant himself had just done before the master.  He fell down and pleaded with him saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” However, the servant refused to show compassion. Instead, he had the man thrown in prison until he paid the debt.

The fellow servants heard about what happened, and were understandably disturbed.  They reported it to the master. He summoned the servant and said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Then he delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  Jesus concluded by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

In the parable, we learn about the incredible act of mercy that God has shown us in the death and resurrection of Jesus  Christ.  We did not deserve forgiveness. We could never have a holy standing before God on our own.  But God had compassion on us and paid the most costly price.  He redeemed us through Christ’s holy precious blood, and innocent suffering and death.

We learn in our text that forgiveness is God’s gift, and so it is the strangest of commodities.  One can only receive and possess it, by giving it away.  If you refuse to share it with others, then finally it becomes something that is no longer yours.  Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Then, in the very first verse after the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus adds, For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

We can never lose sight of the essential fact that the Gospel is not fair.  It is the love and forgiveness that God has given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the gift that we did not deserve and could not earn.  And because that is the way God has dealt with us, it now becomes the way we deal with others.  The Holy Spirit who has called us to faith in the Gospel has made us a new creation in Christ.  He is the One who leads and enables us to share this forgiveness with others. Because we have received forgiveness in Christ, we now forgive those whom we meet in our life.