September 17 Sermon

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For September 17 2017, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Based on Matt 18:21-35

When I was 7 I read in a magic book about an illusion of a severed finger in a box – and it gave directions! You start with a small box – like a little jewelry box. You cut a hole in the bottom of the box, line it with cotton, and stick your finger through the hole.

I don’t where I got the idea to add some food color. You end up with something that looks like this…

I took my new trick to my mom and told her I found something in the yard. When I removed the lid, she gave a little gasp. “Look at the end, it’s got a little something stuck to it.” So my mom looked closer. That’s when I wiggled my finger.

Later I had to ask mom’s forgiveness. That was not the first or last time I had to ask her forgiveness. I’m glad now she didn’t keep count.

How many times do you think your parents have had to forgive you? How many times have your teachers forgiven you? pass out papers so everyone in the congregation has one – numbered 1-490. Imagine this is how many times you have been forgiven. What on the list?

Imagine you have forgiven others that many times. What’s on the list?

In 174 years, how many times do you think the people of Lyonsville have asked forgiveness from one another? What’s on that list?

In your time at Lyonsville, how many times have you asked to be forgiven? What’s on that list? I don’t mean that passive-aggressive “easy to ask forgiveness later than permission ahead of time” stuff. I mean admitting you were wrong and asking forgiveness. No conditions or clauses. Not the script of “This person has hurt me before or I’ve been hurt this way before I’ve been hurt before, so if this time I hurt someone they need to understand why.” I mean saying, “I was wrong, I won’t do this again, I am changing the way I do things, please forgive me.”

You say you want Lyonsville to be a place where people grow. That can only happen if there is trust. And trust only comes when others are certain you are not going to hurt them. That’s more important than being nice or even being polite: are you going to help people grow without hurting them?

Forgiveness begins with confession. Confession is dependent on repentance. Repentance is incomplete without changing – willful, deliberate, conscientious change. This Parable suggests when we rely on the forgiveness of others but are unwilling to be forgiving, then the mercies we have received will be withdrawn. This is partly why congregations need to practice good boundaries, to practice healthy relationships: when forgiveness is inconsistent, when forgiveness is a game, when “I’m sorry” are words said but not behaviors enacted, resentment builds up.

And it isn’t around millions of dollars of debt, or even thousands of dollars. The resentment builds around missed meetings, around committing to lead an activity which then gets set aside because of some other commitment, of bringing up a problem and not doggedly pursuing the solution but instead months or years later pointing out the problem was never resolved, of having a problem pointed out and obstructing changes that would address the situation. I don’t need to go on: you know what resentments you have nurtured over the years.

How will you break the cycles of hurt? How will you begin new cycles of forgiveness? How will you hold one another accountable – not as punishment for previous hurts but as encouragement to grow in faith? Can you trust one another in new ways that allow each of us to continue growing in faith?

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