Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no ploughing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
‘So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, “This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me – you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.”
And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterwards his brothers talked with him
Sermon, Pentecost 14A, Sunday September 10, 2017, St Petri
Matthew 18:15-35 15 ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be[e] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[f] loosed in heaven. 19 ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ 22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 ‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 ‘At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. 28 ‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. 29 ‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.” 30 ‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 ‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Jesus is on the move toward his stated destination of the cross and certain death. He has said this. But right here, before the church has even begun, we are left with absolutely no illusions about the church that will one day come to be. No matter how committed or how nice people try to be, people are still people, and stormy weather is always possible. Painful breaks can and do occur, sharp and cruel words can and will be spoken.
“If another member of the church sins against you…” (v15). Probably not “if” but “when”. We are “being forewarned to be are forearmed” for what life together will be like.
Jesus warns that it will not always be all peaceful easy feelings in his church. But he also forearms his people with the way through. The way through is the practice of forgiveness – and it is our future.
Many a church, including ours, takes this one to six-step process as the way to practice the art of forgiveness, or as St Paul names it in that text we heard from Romans, to pay each other the ongoing debt of love.
Speak directly to the person, not five others about the person or incident. Don’t say nothing and harbor a grudge or guilt or fear. Speak directly to the person – even before the sun goes down if you can (Ephesians 4:26)
If the person receives your honest words, then forgiveness can be given and reconciliation complete.
If the person does not receive your honest words, then take an advocate or two to vouch for how this conflict has hurt you and bear witness to what has actually occurred.
If the person receives that witness and apologizes “from the heart”, then you can too, and forgiveness can be shared.
If the person still will not receive your words, then tell those in authority in your community (church, school, work place……). If that creates a listening heart, then reconciliation can be done.
But, what if in as much as it has been up to you to work for peace, peace has not been able to come? If there is just no way, no matter who says what or comes with you, or what process is employed by who, that there is any acknowledgement of fault, ownership of responsibility and etc, then you need to let them go. You hope that the Lord will keep working on them through others and one day bring the person to an honesty and humility before God ad about what has happened.
Why the detail and the process? Surely because Jesus wants the joy of reconciliation and the life of love it creates to be ours. To drive home the gold that forgiveness is for his people, and the critical priority it needs to take in our lives, Jesus tells a ripper of a parable…
A King wants to settle all is accounts with his workers. One of his workers has a huge amount of debt owing. Ten thousand talents is a huge sum. A single talent was worth about fifteen years wage for a worker/slave.
The impossibility of the guy being able to pay would be like how impossible it would be for a woman working as a cleaner in the RAH paying 100 billion dollars to James Packer! Even Mr Packer might struggle to come up with this much money, let alone a local worker!
In any case, the King decides to cut his already substantial losses by selling the worker, all his goods and chattels, and whole family.
This heavily indebted slave falls to his knees and begs the King for a just as ridiculous decision. The worker begs for more time pay off unpayable the debt! Crazy request!
Maybe the king is amused by this. The King gives an even more ridiculous response. He will simply wipe off ALL the debt.
The guy is debt free, and now, a free citizen to boot! No threats, no tracking devices, no men in black suits with machine guns coming visiting later on! This is extravagant, uncalled-for forgiveness – illogical, not worldly wise, flying in the face of all human expectations.
What a relief. What a joy! But then it gets dark as we see this forgiven man’s dark heart.
The person who has been forgiven everything forgives nothing. He dumps the lot and goes it alone and wants what is his – and now! And when it does not go his way he opts for scathing punishment, tit-for tat, exacting payment from the other until personally satisfied……
That is what you are left with if you don’t receive Jesus’ forgiveness: scathing punishment, tit-for tat, exacting payment. That is what you are left with if you refuse to practice the forgiveness you have been gifted in this Jesus’ way of forgiveness process.
We are reduced to a harsh critic, never satisfied, always critical, judgmental, happy to condemn anyone different, “them and us”, “good people and bad people”, lines in the sand, lots of moral rules or no rules – just ‘self expression and personal choice…… We end up being “a noisy gong” (1 Corinthians 13) without a scrap of love, people with narrow vision and shallow love usually bent on getting what is ours…..
Just when we are about to get stuck into this horrible behavior by this forgiven but unforgiving person, Jesus stops us in our tracks and says WE can be and will be at some stage that horrible person!
35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Oh boy. It is me! I tend to ignore the need for forgiveness, avoid the work of forgiveness, default to getting my rights fulfilled at the expense of any patient process or thoughtful and prayerful peacemaking work. I tend to just go for a quick fix and just want to win it as I come out swinging.
It is now that we need to know this King. Like the worker in the parable, our debt was huge, unpayable, impossible to deal with. We were at the mercy of a holy and just God. And like the King, by sheer gift, and his decision alone, he wiped off the debt, not by pretending it did not exist or sweeping the damage under the carpet, but by exposing it, tallying it up and loading it up on his Loved Son on that cross.
Thank Jesus! He speaks this parable before he accomplishes my forgiveness and freedom for me and you.
Unlike this unforgiving man and this often unforgiving Christian, Jesus actually thought about me and you, and did something for us, he did not leave us alone as enemies of God forever, it was “while we were sinners that Christ dies for us” (Romans 5:8).
Our only “rights” as we stand before him are given by him in our baptism. It is there that the forgiveness pouring from his side on the cross pour over us in water and word. The King pronounces us debt free from sin and free to live love – being a person of forgiveness in his world.
Here’s what being a peace-maker looks like: We are called to enter be detailed and patient. This takes time and real intent. The forgiven person values the forgiveness and will go through these steps, sometimes in painstaking and even repetitive manner hoping that the last step is avoided.
We will be very person-focussed. In Jesus’ community, the primary focus is on the restoration of the person in the wrong more than the justification of the person in the right. Both sides are important, but we who are made right by Jesus, willingly at times give up our rights to serve and work for forgiveness.
And even if it does not go the way we want, no one is written off completely. Even the letting go a person by me or you, has the desire that one day restoration might still happen in God’s power and wisdom.
You are not written off today. The King delights in the decision he has made to forgive you and free you again.
He calls you to practice this gift in as much as it is up to you so that you can be a forgiven person who forgives from the heart and so lives in the never-ending debt of love we owe each other.
Read the Matthew text carefully, noting the different parts to Jesus’ words here. The process of Forgiveness outlines at the start. The extend of how we are to practice this process of forgiveness (70×7…), and then the parable at the end.
We said last week that we are now in a shift in Matthew’s gospel. Up until chapter 15, we have been hearing and seeing what the kingdom is like. Now we are hearing and seeing how the kingdom comes to bear in the world. here, it comes to bear in the practice of forgiveness. Jesus has already announced that the kingdom comes with a cross. he will suffer and die and rise again. That will be the beginning of a new forgiveness given by God to sinners who don’t deserve it and cannot earn it. This is just like the worker/slave in this parable.
The King wipes this person’s debt for no logical or economic reasons. But this man cannot practice the same. he withholds the same gift, demands his rights over the other, does not use one part of this process Jesus has just given. just when we want to get really angry at this hard-hearted man who should know better, Jesus says we are that man!
How do you feel when you hear that last sentence in the parable? In what ways are you like that forgiven but unforgiving man? What would change you from a person who withholds the gift of forgivness to a person who uses this process of forgiveness?
Have you ever tried to do this process of forgiveness? What helped it work well? What stopped it from getting a good outcome? Have there been times when you have just had to let someone go entrusting them to the Lord because no forgiveness could be given or received?
I think it is very important to not that Jesus does make mention of that last undesirable but sometimes taken option of letting the person go. Even then there is a hope that the Lord knows and loves the person and can create opportunities for forgiveness and restoration by various means and people in the future. We are called to work for forgiveness and pay the debt of love we always owe to each other “in as much as it is up to you”. Sometimes forgiveness is just not possible. but as long as we can say from the heart that we tried our best using Jesus process outlined here, even with some mistakes on our part, we can have a clear conscience and entrust the other person to a gracious and loving God who still knows who they are and promises to love the person way beyond our love.
have you a person or people in your life that you have had to entrust to the Lord because forgiveness could not be given or received? Pray for them and ask the Lord to give you freedom about his broken relationship. Where there is sin on your part, confess it. Where there is hurt from the other done to you, speak that too. Commend the person to Jesus again.
Is there a person with whom you would like to try this process of forgiveness with? Pray for that person and ask the Lord for the courage and the timing to start the conversation. If it is too hard alone, ask a trusted friend to help you begin.
No one is ever written off by Jesus, including you! you are still called to enter this ongoing lifestyle of the practice of forgiveness as much as it is up to you.
Lord, Jesus, thank you for your constant forgiveness that makes me whole and gives me purpose and usefulness in your kingdom. Help me practice the forgiveness you give with others in as mush as it is up to me. Amen.
55But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56Look, he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
In Year 8 my best friend’s dad was a junior football coach. My best friend and i did not play on the same team, and so, when my team played his team we came across his Dad.
His Dad’s name was Ian and Ian was a really good bloke. But because of how he coached his young chargers during the game, he got the name “Ian the Mouth”. The reason he got the name “The mouth” was because he used a megaphone from the sideline to constantly instruct his players!
It was really annoying! Not just for the opposition team and supporters, but for his own players and supporters. I know this because my best friend would tell me. After all, the cause of the annoyance for all was his Dad!
There is not too many more annoying people to be around than a loud mouth. Like when you go for a quiet meal at a fine establishment ready to taste good culinary delights, and there s a table next to you with one person loudly dominating the conversation so that the whole room can hear him (usually a him!). This happens more frequently and more intensely with each glass of beer or wine, I notice!
There is not too much more of a sense of shame one feels when you yourself may have been the loud mouth in a situation – trying to dominate other people ’s input, getting your own way and generally being dismissive of others and unaware of their needs and their dignity – a cause for self-reflection and repentance before the Lord so that forgiveness comes and shame is removed and we learn the way of Jesus again…
Can’t Hear You!
Well in this account of Stephen, the proto- martyr, being martyred there two moments of loud shouting and they are very different.
With such anger and stiff-necked resistance to the Word of Jesus being proclaimed by this man Stephen, the religious leaders covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him” and killed him. it feels like we are one of the Ukrainian cities at the moment. People rushing at each other with nothing but blood and death to get rid of this voice, this challenge this threat…. Won’t Listen!
Stephen knows what this loud mouth behaviour is all about. He told them that their refusal to hear the Good News about Jesus was not new. They were just like their ancestors’ refusal to listen to Moses out in that desert, or, worse, their refusal to keep God’s law – even in the very moment when the Lord was giving this precious gift to them on Mt Sinai. Sure, they possessed God’s law. But did they really hear it and did they know the heart of the God who gave them his way for living? Stephen says no. One after another before this angry loud mouth moment, Stephen pulls up one indisputable loud mouth resistant story after another.
As you read through Stephen’s sermon leading up to this intense end, you can feel the anger rising in the group as he goes on pressing his point home. Those resisting the gospel of God in Jesus are indeed a stiff-necked people, loud, proud and very unattractive.
And here they are now, after the God of the Old Testament has done something completely new and completely loving and gracious and almighty in the death and resurrection of Jesus, not being willing to listen to the Holy Spirit of Jesus. They are once again to be found in opposition to God.
No Spirit (Empty Lungs)
Ironically, they who are stoning Stephen are the ones out of whom the Wind of the Spirit has been knocked. They are breathless now. They are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, they are lifeless without God. They can only destroy life now, not assist it or bring it.
Friends, the Spirit calls us to ask ourselves, where am I stiff-necked and resistant to the Lord’s voice today? Where am I attempting to dominate, have control and gain power to overrule, over power and silence? What am I afraid of at the moment and how am I trying to distance myself from that person, that things, that challenging voice? Where I am talking so loud and why am I talking so loud as to drown out other voices or his voice?
A Louder Cry (from Empty Lungs!)
And after that self-reflection and that conversation between Christian firends or marriage partners or parent and children, or colleagues, we listen to a louder, longer listing, deeply compassionate and clear voice of God…
Stephen draws the deepest breath he can and announces the Gospel so loud that, even over the shouting and rock-throwing, they heard it: He calls upon God to forgive these stiff-necked loudmouth people. He is just like his Saviour, Jesus. His very presence and his loud cry for mercy on them brings Jesus right into the situation and shows everyone that Jesus gave his spirit into God’s hands and asked forgiveness for his executioners.
Stephen, the gospel person here in this moment shouts forgiveness so loud that it cancels out their opposition to God, inviting them even in that dire emergency to repent and trust in Jesus.
Isn’t that who we are and what we do? We are not loud for ourselves but for others. We have no need to protect ourselves for we are loved and we are free and we are his. We can get loud for others – get loud in the practice the words of forgiveness – God’s forgiveness for stiff-necked enemies and those following along the loud-mouth way. Hearing Jesus
Friends, Stephen could not have done such a generous thing except that he listened to Jesus. He noticed how Jesus went to his death. He noted how gracious it was of God, to offer his Son and give his Spirit to the very people who had disappointed him. Stephen believed, and it was counted unto him as righteousness. Stephen’s martyrdom didn’t save him, hearing Jesus did.
(Not Drowning) Kneeling
Stephen kneels as the rocks hit him and the end is near – living breathing demonstration of the love of Christians even for their enemies.
Stephen didn’t try to prove what a man he was by standing as long as he could. He was content, in that moment, to suffer while being conscious of God—to borrow from the Second Reading for Easter 4 (I know that was last Sunday! But listen):
19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
Stephen is us. We have noticed Jesus. He has given himself for us and to us and we are community kneeling before him with ears wide open for his voice.
In the face of anger and dislike and gossip and hurt Jesus is with us. As the rocks are thrown and the words hurt, we kneel and somehow in the holy Spirit’s indwelling power, we pray not fight. We seek the wellbeing of the other more than our own. We give up ourselves and place the outcome in Jesus’ hands and in that is wonderful freedom.
And now we are his people. Once were not but now we are. We exist to be Stephens for this community. We exist to declare the mighty acts of him who called you out of this loudmouth darkness to his listening light.
What a community to be part of – a mercy community that speaks the truth, prays for enemies, loves those accusing, gives up our own wellbeing and status and place for others in the spirit of the risen Jesus and the first martyr, Stephen, who offers to give us everything we need to move from being loudmouths to listeners of his.
Friends, once we were loudmouths, but now we are listeners—and that brings God’s peace. Because, just as Christ suffered for us, we follow in his steps.
Read through the Acts 7 in quite deliberately imagining the scene and placing your self in the moment. Take note of what you find yourself being most attentive to and what questions this event raises for you…
Then read the build up to this intense end – Acts chapter 7 – Stephen’s speech before the ruling authorities. How does this speech strike you and why do you think it eventually ends up with this violent reaction from the Sanhedrin?
I notes those two references to “Loud Voices” – one from the Sanhedrin in their rush to execute Stephen and silence his voice…and one from Stephen as he asks the Lord to receive him in his death and forgive those throwing the stones. We reflected on the Sanhedrin’s loud voice. They were “loudmouths because they stopped listening. Stephen called this lack of listening to the gospel of Jesus being “stiff-necked”.
Talk about how you might be a little stiff-necked in relation to another person, a present situation, a particular voice challenging you at the moment and how now or in the past you have plugged your ears to God and become stiff-necked on following his lead. be specific and share these stories as brothers and sisters in already forgiven in Christ.
We also asked the question about why we become a little more “loud-mouthed” sometimes – Is it because we are scared of change and challenge? Is is because we are just a little too prideful or self-orientated? Is it because we have other more easy voices to listen to – voices that tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear? Maybe all of these? Reflect on this together…
Then we turned to Stephen’s voice – that voice of humble prayer in the face of suffering and brought to mind the second reading from last week again –
19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-25)
Have you been “aware of God” as you have endured pain and suffering and have you been affirmed in this – that this awareness of and trust in the Lord in suffering gets his great stamp of approval? How have you been aware of the Lord in your suffering and how has this helped?
Stephen brings us straight back to Jesus on that cross as he prays the same prayers Jesus prayed in his suffering for us. We noted that Stephen was just like his Saviour in this suffering and dying. Reflect on the grace of Stephen in this situation and the grace of Jesus in his suffering for us and talk about how we might live out this grace in our suffering and in our relationships…
We noted that just our very presence in tough situations and the way we pray and speak and trust the Lord on the inside and the outside is what the Lord calls us to be and do. We are a community who prays with people and for people in suffering. Ho do you think we do this at St Petri and how do you think you can be ore of this among the people you live and relate?
If there is anyone with a particular struggle of following the call of Jesus in their life at the moment pray a prayer of thanks for the Lord’s forgiveness for all our sin and pray that he would give us all the things we need to follow.
If there are people suffering then pray for them by name in the group. Thanks the Lord for Stephen and all those who have paved the way of faith in Jesus before us and their great example to us and commit the group the Lord for his purposes.