Lent #1: Abundance of Forgiveness
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Genesis 32:6-7a, 9, 11, 13-15, 20b and 33:1-11
It is so nice to be back after a wonderful trip to Toronto. Many of you have been asking what the trip was about. I want to take a few minutes to tell you about it. I was on the leadership team for the CyclicalPCC Assessment. I am a trained assessor. We were assessing whether or not the participants had the skills and the calling to start new churches, or new worshipping communities. We can also say, when we start a new worshipping community, we are planting a church.
Ten years ago, I served on the Pittsburgh Presbytery’s New Church Development Commission. This commission was given power by the Presbytery to decide who could plant new churches in the Presbytery. We would interview people, give grants, and come alongside them for the entire process of starting the new worshipping community all the way through their first five years.
Then, out of that, started the 1,001 New Worshipping Communities movement in the Presbyterian Church (USA). To date, they have started over 600 Presbyterian new worshipping communities in the United States. The 1,001 New Worshipping Communities leadership team started doing assessments with someone named Ann S. (who is actually a Canadian), and that’s when I was trained to be an assessor.
One of the people who planted a church through 1,001 is Nick W. He planted a church in LA, and then his church planted ten other churches. People obviously became curious about what he was doing. So he started a non-profit called Cyclical, Inc. so that he could be a consultant to the Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church (USA) about his strategy for starting new worshipping communities.
In the past, the focus on planting churches was on location, location, location. Today, that strategy isn’t working anymore. Cyclical focuses on leaders, leaders, leaders. And recognizes that God can call anyone to plant a new church; leaders are not necessarily charismatic.
CyclicalPCC is a new initiative in the Presbyterian Church in Canada to implement the Cyclical model of church planting here in Canada. The event that I went to was organized by Canadian Ministries, by Jen de Combe, who you all know. Ann S. was there, leading the assessment, along with Nick W.; there were 9 of us all together on the leadership team. At the assessment we assessed roughly 20 people on 11 qualities: faithfulness, motivational fit, emotional resilience, integrative (holistic) development, social base, innovative experience, missional praxis, communication, human gathering, vision implementation, and grit. We evaluate these qualities through presentations, interviews, activities, intuition, and judgement. In Canada, since this is new, people can be identified as Discerners, so they are discerning whether or not they are called to plant a church, or as Starters, meaning they are reading to start a new worshipping community right now. There were three people from Montreal at this event who were identified as Discerners, so exciting.
We did things like go out into the neighborhood in order to learn about the neighborhood and talk to people, because starting a new worshipping community today is about going out into the neighborhood and being with people. It’s much more relational. One of the key questions we ask is, “Tell us about a significant relationship you have with someone outside the church. What have you learned from them?” And we also heard presentations on being missional. In one of them we were asked the question, “How would you describe Jesus in non-church language?” This is a really challenging thing to think about, and I encourage you all to do it. We all contributed different ideas. I said, “Jesus is there when everyone else has abandoned us.” A few nights ago we were talking about this at home, and my son said, “Jesus is forgiveness.” I thought it was a great description and also a wonderful segway into our Scripture passages for this morning.
We are entering the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter. During Lent we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We often fast during Lent. On Ash Wednesday I explained that our fast should help us to turn to Jesus: we should cut something out of our life that is preventing us from turning to Jesus. Then, when we celebrate Easter, we also experience being a new creation because we have been practicing a spiritual discipline for 40 days. The goal is to draw us deeper into our relationship with Jesus so that whatever we do during Lent, we can continue doing in our lives after Easter.
Often when we think of giving up something, we think about loss. But, when we give something up for Lent, for spiritual reasons, we receive in return spiritual abundance. I have said in the past that we can think of fasting as sacrifice and blessing. We give up something, but in return we receive spiritual abundance.
Today our Scriptures focus on forgiveness. As we think about these Scriptures, I want us to be thinking about what we might have to sacrifice, or give up, or turn away from, in order to live lives of abundant forgiveness.
Now, I want to point out to you the passage that comes right before our Matthew passage this morning. We didn’t read it, it’s about confronting someone when they sin against us. It’s the instruction to go to them individually, and if they don’t listen, bring other people with you. That passage is about holding people accountable when they wrong us. It’s important to remember that the passages on forgiving that we read are set in context by one about holding people accountable. Just like on the passage about not judging, forgiving does not mean that we don’t recognize a wrong that’s been done. It doesn’t mean that we forget and pretend like nothing happened. It doesn’t mean that we stay in dangerous and abusive situations. Forgiveness is about not holding hatred in our hearts. In the passage about accountability, Jesus says that if the person who wronged you won’t listen, then you should kick them out of your life. And then he also tells us to forgive so that we don’t hold hatred in our hearts. So that we can heal and move on. Accountability is important. Reconciliation is possible, but it takes two. So if the other person won’t listen, Jesus says, move on. But always forgive so that you don’t carry hatred in your heart.
Let’s look at these passages on forgiveness. In the parable, in Matthew 18:24, there is a king who owns a slave that owes him 10,000 talents, which he couldn’t pay so the king orders that he, his family, and all his possessions be sold. What’s the math on the 10,000 talents? A talent was a unit of money, like a dollar. One talent was worth more than 15 years wages of a skilled worker. 10,000 talents was 150,000 years of salary. How does someone get in debt that much money? He’s just squandered 150,000 years of salary and he says to the king in verse 26, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything!”
(Working Preacher Podcast: https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=1114)
That’s a massive debt. It cannot be repaid. The king knows this. It says in verse 27, “Out of pity for him, the Lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” What did the king have to turn away from in order to forgive that debt? What did the king sacrifice? What did the king give up? He gave up the money. He gave up allowing his anger to control his decision-making. He gave up revenge. He gave up his right to punish. I’m sure you noticed others things as well.
We saw something very similar in the story with Jacob and Esau. For those of you who don’t know this story, Esau is the older brother and it was his birthright to receive a blessing from their father Isaac. But, earlier in Genesis, Jacob and his mother Rebekah conspired to steal the blessing. And they succeeded. Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, and then he had to flee because Esau wanted to kill him. In our passage, he is returning and he expects that Esau is going to kill him and everyone that he brings with him. But Esau doesn’t. In Genesis 33:4, he runs to meets Jacob and embraces him. He forgave Jacob. Jacob owed him a debt that could never be repaid. Jacob could not go back in time and fix it. What did Esau have to give up in order to forgive Jacob? He had to give up a desire for revenge. He had to give up his right to have had that blessing. He had to give up a feeling that he should have more. He had to give up hatred. I am sure there are other things he had to give up that you noticed.
When Jacob experiences how Eau receives him, he knows that he does not deserve it. And Jacob says in the middle of verse 10: “for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God - since you have received me with such favor.”
The king’s forgiveness and Esau’s forgiveness are like the forgiveness of God. God forgives us through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit for everything. We could never repay God, but God forgives us. We see that for Esau and for the king, the forgiveness releases them from hatred and from seeking revenge. Esau’s forgiveness was so great that he lived a life of abundant forgiveness. And because Jacob was also genuinely sorry, they could repair their relationship. Now, with the king and the slave, you would hope that the king’s abundant forgiveness would have inspired the slave to act with forgiveness as well. But the slave refuses to turn away from greed, and revenge. So, when he confronts someone in verse 28 who owed him 100 denari, the debtor begged for patience. Now a denarius was worth 1 day’s wage, so when that debtor begged for patience, that was actually a reasonable request. It was possible to pay 100 days wages back, but it was impossible to pay back 150,000 years of salary. This slave refused to turn away from greed, revenge, impatience...and did not forgive the debt.
This slave lives with an abundance of cruelty, and Jesus makes it clear that God is not ok with that. He tells us this parable to inspire us to turn away from greed, to turn away from hatred, to turn away from revenge. To turn away from whatever it is that prevents us from forgiving. God embodies forgiveness in Jesus. As people who are in Christ, as people who are the body of Christ, we are called to live lives of abundant forgiveness. Esau, when he forgave Jacob, was the face of God for him. When we go out into the world to feed the hungry, we are the hands and feet of Jesus. When we forgive, we are the face of Christ.
As we enter Lent, let us examine ourselves. As my son said, Jesus is forgiveness. When we turn towards Jesus we are turning towards forgiveness. When we do that, what are we we turning away from? What do we need to repent of? What do we need to cut out of our lives or give up in order to turn towards Jesus and forgiveness? During Lent, let us examine ourselves so that we, too, can live lives of abundant forgiveness. Amen.