Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | September 27, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 6:12, 14-15

Continuing the series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, following Luther’s outline of the Small Catechism, this time, the Fifth Petition.

Loosen the Purse Strings

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors….For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

It’s fitting that in the Great Recession we find financial language in the Lord’s Prayer.  Forgive us our debts, we pray.  Not trespasses, not sins, but debts.  Though that we’re talking about sins is clear.  Look two verses later when Jesus offers comments on this petition and says that it’s sins we’re talking about.  Look at Luke’s record of Jesus teaching this model prayer on another occasion to the disciples and using a word for sin.

And yet the parallels are instructive.  So much so, that Jesus uses financial pictures throughout His ministry to teach about forgiveness.  We heard the most famous today.  A man owed an unpayable debt, in our terms, billions of dollars.  He pleaded with his master, who was calling in accounts, and the master canceled the debt.  Or, to use a common expression, he forgave it.

Later, Jesus uses a similar parable.  A “sinful” woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, perfume, and her hair in the house of a man named Simon.  Simon was appalled.  He can’t believe Jesus allows this.  So Jesus says, Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more? Simon replied, “The one with the greater debt.”

Jesus makes two points:  first, the heavenly Father does forgive unpayable debts; and second, the response to forgiveness.  We saw the forgiven man turn around and assault someone who owed him a tiny debt.  Jesus got to the point with Simon: Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

I’d like to think that the point has been made.  These two incidents from Jesus’ ministry, coupled with the strong words of the Fifth Petition and Jesus’ commentary say everything that needs to be said.  But I know myself.  And you know yourself.  And so we wade further.  Jesus says:  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors….For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. These words make it sound as if our being forgiven is based on our forgiving, in other words, that our works merit our forgiveness and eternal life.  We know that’s not the case, because Scripture says plainly It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works. So, what are we dealing with here?  Luther treats it in his Large Catechism:

… if anyone wants to boast of his godliness and despise others, that person is to think about himself and place this prayer before his eyes. He will find that he is no better than others and that in God’s presence all must tuck their tails and be glad that they can gain forgiveness. Let no one think that as long as he lives here he can reach such a position that he will not need such forgiveness. In short, if God does not forgive without stopping, we are lost….

But if you forgive, you have this comfort and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven. This is not because of your forgiving. For God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches. But God says this in order that He may establish forgiveness as our confirmation and assurance, as a sign alongside of the promise, which agrees with this prayer in Luke 6:37, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Or, in case that isn’t clear, we have the words of Scripture, from John’s first letter:  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

Remember that the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of already forgiven believers.  Which means it reflects who I am.  Who am I?  I’m a saint, declared so by God on account of Christ.  I’m a son of God, wrapped in Christ through my Baptism.  I’m Christ’s brother, because He became my brother, and my Brother came to destroy the devil’s work, and He did.  He killed it to death by being killed to death.  And yet, I’m not such a saint that I don’t sin anymore.  I cry with Paul, “I don’t do good that I want; I do evil that I don’t want!”  I have not reached a place where I don’t need forgiveness, where I don’t need assurance that what Jesus did for the world He did for me.  I have not come to the point where the waters of my Baptism don’t recleanse me, where the holy body and blood of Christ doesn’t refill me, and where the incredible Gospel of the Word of Christ doesn’t renew me when it pronounces that He was put to death because of my sins but raised to life so that I’m declared not guilty!  I have not, for I sin much.  Forgive my debts.

But I am a saint, and saints do saintly things.  No one who is born of God will continue to sin. Or, as Jesus puts it, we plead that our Father forgive us in the same manner we forgive our debtors.  Now, if I’m going to ask for forgiveness, ought it not be something that I do?  Indeed.  As one Lutheran commentator noted, this makes us and shows us to be children of the Father – forgiveness!  Paul says, Be imitators of Christ! John says, Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God. Jesus says, Forgive!

Think in financial terms again.  How many lending institutions forgive loans owed them willingly and graciously out of love for their customers?  I don’t hear many stories about that.  I hear about debts being written off.  I hear about people escaping creditors through bankruptcy laws.  I hear about companies negotiating with creditors to reduce debts.  I even hear about creditors restructuring loans and mortgages to reduce interest, to string out payments, or in some way help out their customers.  But always they’re desirous of collecting something.  Always they want their pound of flesh; even if they can only get a small share by selling off the property they foreclose upon.  And only when there is no other option are debts forgiven.

How bank-like are we?  It seems that we are ever so stingy with our forgiveness.  We act like the gods of the Old Testament.  Remember those priests of Baal?  They danced and sang and shouted and finally cut themselves with swords to gain the favor and approval of their god.  We mock those priests of Baal and their stingy god, we rightly recognize the lie.  And yet, we behave the same.  We demand a pound of flesh from those who owe us.  Like that unmerciful servant, we hear the Lord’s forgiveness of our debt, and then we turn around and we cling to anger, we cling to grudges, we cling to petty little faults, we cling even to legitimate grievances, because we can, or because we say, “They don’t deserve it!”  or “For a friend maybe, but you’re no friend!”  We, like that Antichrist in Rome, demand satisfaction before we will announce absolution.  And even when satisfaction is given, we reserve the right to refuse it, to cling to this grudge, to bring it up at a later date when our debtor displeases us once more.  We are no better than Baal, no better than that unmerciful servant, no better than Antichrist.  We are no better when we fail to absolve.  When we fail to release our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we fail to release any and all men and women from their debts.  When we fail to forgive.  What if God were so stingy?

He says He is if you are. If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. And it’s for this reason – failure to forgive is failure to evidence faith in Christ.  It is to be an unbeliever.  That unmerciful servant who refused to forgive, his debt was restored to him, and he got what he would have given to his paltry debtor – torture and prison.  For us who fail to forgive, it will be the declaration of the Son of Man in His glory, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

Loosen those purse strings.  Forgive debts.  Not because you will then gain God’s favor.  Not just because “This is what Christian’s do.”  No, do it because God has already done so for you.  While we were still enemies of Christ, He loved us and died for us.  Listen to Paul again: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Luther said that if God does not forgive without stopping, we are lost.  Praise Jesus He does forgive without stopping.  He announces it again and again to you as He has done today.  He reminds you of it again and again as you remember being brought to a font like Jake a couple weeks ago and our new child will be so soon.  He reminds you of it as He puts it in your hands and on your lips saying, “Take it, ingest it, it’s yours.”  Just as you forgive your friends and your enemies, so too, more so even, has God, in Christ, forgiven you.  Amen.

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