Worship Service, September 13, 2020 “Forgiveness From the Heart”
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The message for September 13, 2020 by Pastor Erik, “Forgiveness From the Heart”
can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday.
“Forgiveness from the Heart” Matthew 18:23-35 Sept. 13, 2020
Sometimes the parables of Jesus can be kind of confusing. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what Jesus is trying to tell us exactly. That is not the case of the parable of the wicked servant we heard today. It seems fairly obvious that Jesus is saying that if we have been forgiven, we need to forgive others. It seems obvious that the servant who refuses to forgive his fellow servant is the villain in the story, and we are shocked when he does not extend the relief to his co-worker that the king extended to him. It almost seems mind-boggling to think that the servant would not have shown more mercy when he himself had been granted so much mercy.
From what Jesus, says, however, it appears to be a matter of the heart. He says that God will punish those who do not forgive others from their heart. So, what it sounds like is that the servant’s heart had not been truly changed, despite the fact that he had been forgiven so much by the king. He had come to beg for mercy from the king out of self-preservation and the need for self-survival. Yet after he is released from a debt he could never repay, his heart remains filled with selfishness. Instead of allowing the mercy he was shown to break his heart and change it by showing mercy towards others, his heart remains so hardened and inward looking, he cannot release his co-worker of the very small debt he is owed and demands to be paid back. Jesus seems to be saying then, that if we want to be able to have the strength and courage to forgive, we need to have a change of heart. He seems to be saying that forgiveness does not come easy, even when you realized that you have been forgiven.
Corrie Ten Boom discovered this as middle-aged woman who survived the horrors of World War II and a concentration camp. She and her family had hidden Jewish people fleeing the Nazi’s in their home in Holland. Towards the end of the war, they were caught and sent off to a prison camp. Corrie survived, but her sister did not. Even though the loss was great, Corrie did not allow her loss to make her bitter. Instead she turned more deeply towards her Christian faith which she felt called her to forgive even the Nazis who had occupied her country and destroyed her family.
This call to forgive was tested, however, on a trip to Germany after the war. She had gone back there in 1947 with the message that God forgives. It was a truth Corrie believed the people of that bitter, bombed-out land most needed to hear. In her talks, she would give people her favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, but she liked to think that that the sea is where forgiven sins were thrown. “When we confess our sins,” she would say, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces at her presentations would stare back at her, not quite daring to believe. There never seemed to be questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, and in silence left the room.
But something different happened after she spoke at a church in Munich. She saw a man, working his way forward against the others who were leaving. One moment Corrie saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking as a prisoner past this man. She could see her sister’s frail form ahead of her, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. How thin Betsie had been!
Corrie and her sister had been arrested for concealing Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland, and this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where they had been sent. Now he was in front of Corrie, his hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
Corrie had just spoken so easily of forgiveness, but now she says, she found herself fumbling in her pocketbook rather than take the man’s hand. He would not remember her, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But she remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since her release that she had been face to face with one of her captors and her blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” the man said. “I was a guard there.” It was apparent now. The guard did not remember Corrie. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
Corrie said she could not do it at first. Her sister had died in that place–how did he think he could erase her death just by asking? It could not have been many seconds that the man stood there, hand held out, but to Corrie it seemed like hours as she wrestled with the most difficult thing she had ever had to do. But she knew she had to do it. She believed the message that God’s forgiveness has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive those who have trespassed against you,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
Corrie knew the statement of Jesus not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war she had run a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. She had witnessed that those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
As Corrie stood there, she said there was a coldness clutching her heart. But she knew forgiveness was not simply an emotion. Forgiveness was an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” she prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
Slowly, mechanically, Corrie put out her hand into the one stretched out to her. As she did, she said an incredible thing took place. It was like an electrical current started in her shoulder, raced down her arm, and sprang into their joined hands, and then this healing warmth seemed to flood her whole being, bringing tears to her eyes. Corrie said it was one of the times her life when she felt closest to God. Then the words came into her mouth, “I forgive you, brother! With all of my heart!”
In her unexpected encounter with the guard, Corrie had learned what it meant to forgive from the heart as Jesus had told his followers so long ago. It was one thing for her to proclaim forgiveness in a general sense, it was another to face the man who had caused her and her sister personal trauma. Yet, when she let God’s commandment convict her, and the Spirit of Jesus to fill her, she found strength to forgive. She could have used her power in that moment to make the man feel more guilty or to express her anger, but instead she released him and in doing so released her own resentment.
In the parable we heard today the servant is released from an immeasurable debt. You would think he would have been empowered to release the selfishness and anger in his heart. Unfortunately, he uses his new freedom to get angry with his fellow servant and try to get whatever money he can get from him. The question that Jesus seems to be laying out before us today then is, “how will we use the power we have?”
We may not be able to control if we are a victim or not. We may not be able to control whether someone is indebted to us or not. But we can choose whether we will forgive or not. We can choose whether we will show mercy or not. We can allow the grace we have been shown in Jesus Christ to seep into our souls so that our hearts are actually changed which will then affect our actions from the inside out. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner
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