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  • Writer's picturePastor Jimmy Cason

490 Times?

Please remain standing, as you're able, in honor of the reading of God's word coming to us today from Matthew's gospel. Matthew, chapter 18, verses 21 through 35. And what you see on the screen is what I turned in and I decided to read a few more verses. 

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven times.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him, 25 and, as he could not pay, the lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. As always Lord, I pray that you would deliver me from me, hide me behind the shadow of the cross, so that people see Jesus instead of me. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

490 Times. 

Peter is one of my favorite disciples because he's always putting his foot in his mouth, always asking questions. Sometimes he gets the right answer to a question Jesus asked, sometimes not, and he also makes promises that he cannot or will not keep. The question that Peter tackles in our chapter today is: if a member of the church, not talking about people outside the church, but if a fellow church member sins against me, how often am I to forgive him? 

The question that Peter tackles is Is a question that the rabbis would answer with three times. They felt like that if you forgave someone three times, that was sufficient. So Peter thought he was being overly generous by answering his own question with a suggestion that seven times might be enough. Imagine his surprise when Jesus responds with 490 times. 

Now, Jesus often exaggerates to make a point; we should forgive another person so many times that we lose count. It is about unlimited forgiveness. It is not about math it's about mercy. doing for others what God has done for us. 

Then Jesus tells a parable. A slave owned a king 10,000 talents. One talent would be worth a million dollars in today's economy. One would have to work 15 years to pay off this debt. So 10,000 talents would be worth a trillion dollars. Again, Jesus is exaggerating to make a point.

The slave falls to his knees and begs for forgiveness and the lord has pity on him and forgives his debt. But a fellow slave owes this slave that had been forgiven a much smaller amount and he withholds forgiveness. You and I cannot repay God one sin. One sin that we have committed is more than we can repay. Not about math, but about mercy, not really how many times we should forgive, but how many times does God forgive us?

I owed a debt that I could not pay. Jesus on the cross paid a debt for me and for you that he did not owe. 

Our forgiveness does not depend upon someone's apology. I'll forgive them if they apologize. Well, what about on the cross? Jesus looked at that crowd. They didn't know what they were doing. They didn't know that they were committing a grievous sin. They yelled for Jesus to be crucified. And Jesus looks at them. Not a single one of them has offered an apology. And he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they're doing.” (Luke 23:34) 

Now a popular saying is “I don't get mad, I get even”. But do you know vengeance is not a word that belongs to us. Vengeance is a word that belongs to God. vengeance is mine, god says. I will repay.”( Deuteronomy 32:35) So if there's gonna be any vengeance, it's God's doing, not ever something that should be a part of our life. 

Another popular saying is forgive and forget. I say forgive and remember. Think about Peter again. Remember, he promised Jesus that he would die with him. And Jesus looked at him after he was arrested and said before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know who I am. That happened. The rooster crowed and Peter went away. Peter was not at the cross on the day of crucifixion. Peter had turned into a coward, Peter was a denier. 

And yet Jesus, after the resurrection, came back and asked Peter the question three times, the same number that Peter had denied him, three times. 

Peter, do you love me? Peter, do you love me? Peter, do you love me? And that was Jesus' way of restoring Peter back into fellowship. Now, what do you think Peter felt from then on every time he heard a rooster crow? Don't you think that every time he heard a rooster crow, that he remembered that awful night when he denied that he even knew Jesus? And he could have allowed the remembrance of that night to just eat and gnaw at him. And yet we find him at Pentecost. He's so brave and courageous and it's because every time he remembered that event, he remembered how much he had been forgiven. 

We sang two songs already today that I want to highlight a verse from each one of them. We sang in the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, there's a line that says: “Prone to wonder, lord, I feel it prone to leave the God I love.” In other words, no matter how good we are, there are those times when we are prone to wander a little bit, to get sidetracked, to withhold forgiveness from others. And the songwriter says: “Take my heart, take my heart and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.” In other words, get me ready for heaven. 

And then we sang, oh for a thousand tongues to sing that great hymn written by Charles Wesley, sometimes called the anthem of Wesley, the anthem of Methodism. There's a line in there that says, “he breaks the power of cancelled sin.” What did he mean by cancelled sin?

It's sin that's already been confessed, sin that God has already forgiven, sin that has already been canceled, it's no more. And yet we say well, I know God forgives, but I just cannot forgive myself. And if we're not careful, that sin of yesterday that has been confessed, that we've repented, we've confessed we're truly sorry for, and we wallow in that, just like Peter could have wallowed in his three times denial. 

But God is able, with our willingness, to break the power of cancelled sin and set those of us who have been imprisoned by that sin free. 

Sometimes we find it hard to forgive someone else because we have not forgiven ourselves. 

I remember, it's been about 20 years ago now, I left a church. We had had a good ministry there, but there were five people in that church who made my life miserable and frankly, I was not sad to leave them. I went to the new church still holding on to that bitterness and hurt and anger. You know I would think about what they had done to me and I'd have imaginary conversations that if I could just tell them what I wanted to tell them, you know, there's no telling what kind of language I might have used and my blood pressure would go up. 

Do you know, when you hold on to bitterness and anger and hurt, and we've all been there, you are doing yourself more harm than they don't even know that you're still holding on to that hurt and bitterness and you are also allowing that person or persons to have more power over you than they deserve to have. It took me a year and a half to forgive those five people. 

It happened that a group from the Georgia Southern Wesley Foundation was coming to lead a youth revival and they met outside and you never get too old for youth to teach you something. I was sitting there and their talk was on forgiveness. They gave each of us a card and a pencil and asked us to write down the names of anyone that we needed to forgive. Oh, my goodness, it didn't take me 30 seconds to write down those five names. 

And then they talked about forgiveness and then, at the end, they gave us each a candle and asked us to come up and light it. And then we came back to where we were seated. They asked us to pray over these names and then, at some point, to put that card with those names over the flame of that candle. And do you know, as I watched that card burn, all the hurt and anger and bitterness left me.

Now you may think that's hokey, but it took me a year and a half. Forgiveness is hard work. Forgiveness is the hardest thing we are asked to do, and I've said this in a sermon before we preachers are guilty of making it too easy; Just come on down here at the end of the service, to this altar and lay it down, and then go about your way and it's over with. 

There's some hurts that are so deep and so painful that it takes time to reach a point to where you are willing and able and have a power that has not come from yourself. You cannot do it on your own. If you are counting on your own strength, you will never be able to forgive that person who has deeply hurt you. 

Now I wanna give two exceptions. Now, Jesus didn't give any exceptions, but I'm gonna give two.

For a person who is the victim of rape or incest or sexual abuse. If they come to talk to me, I'm not gonna tell them the first thing that you've gotta forgive that person who's harmed you. I cannot even begin to understand what a rapist or a sexual abuser has taken from that person their dignity, their sense of self-worth, their sense of self-worth. The hurt that they have is so deep and maybe they need to work with a therapist and, over a long period of time, reach the point to where they can forgive. But I'm not about to tell that person, you know you gotta forgive that person who raped you. 

And then there are what I call toxic people, people that you still have to forgive, because Jesus didn't put an asterisk by any- You know I keep using that word, asterisk, but he didn't put an asterisk besides this commandment, I mean, we're to love our enemies, we're to forgive our enemies. But I've got a few people in my life that I've forgiven. When I think about what they've done, my blood pressure doesn't rise. In fact, a summer ago I was put in the hospital for low blood pressure, so I must have been doing a really good job of forgiving. 

But there are people who bring me down, who I realize that I don't need to spend a lot of time with, but I've forgiven them. I don't wish them any harm and if they ever needed me for anything, I would be there for them. But I don't need to be their best friend or to hang around them. But I still have to forgive and for me, as I've said, I know that I've truly forgiven someone when I don't rehearse in my mind what I would like to say to them and get rid of all the ugliness that's in my spirit, or when my blood pressure goes up or something else. 

Do you know that forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself? There are so many health problems that exist because people are holding on to past hurts and disappointments. That person may never know that you've forgiven them, but you've let go of that hurt and anger and you are healthier, physically and emotionally. So the gift is a gift you give yourself, more sometimes than a gift that you give to somebody else. 

Now I'm going to make this sermon plain and simple. Some of you are visiting here today and you don't know about anything that's going on in this church, but there was a church vote back in September, a very close vote, a vote about disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church, and it lost by just a handful of votes. 

And I know that some of our friends who go to New Journey, the new church start I've been told that some of you listen to the rebroadcast on YouTube that the church offers, and I'm glad you do.

Because you see good people here at Starkville First United Methodist Church and good people at New Journey and perhaps good people who've gone elsewhere, have said and done hurtful things that in the heat of the moment they did, and if they were away from the situation and had time to think about it, they would have never said those things or done those things. 

Some of you, in both churches, are hurt. Some of you have done the hurting, in both churches, and it's time. It's time. it is time to start afresh and anew. It's time to let go of the past. 

Now. I'm not saying here today that today you can be fully healed, but it's time to start the process. It's time we don't need to wait any longer. I know this is just my fourth sermon, but it's time for us to forgive and it is time for us to bless both churches and it is time for us to believe that God can work in both churches. 

Oh good, that was three or four amens. I know some of you are not ready to agree with that statement, but God can and will bless both churches and two or three years from now, it might be amazing the number of people that our church has reached, that they won't be able to reach, and the number of people that New Journey has reached that we're not able to reach. But we've got to start letting go. 

You know I'm always working on forgiving, and one of the hardest things for me in a conflict is to reach the point, sometimes not all the time, where I realize I am wrong. I don't like that. I think God, are you sure about this? You mean I was in the wrong. You mean I should not have made that statement that hurt someone. 

So see, I'm with you. I'm talking about every single one of us, and if you're here and you don't know anything about what I'm talking about today, I can guarantee you that somewhere in your life you've had a friend hurt you, and so your forgiveness today may not have anything to do with this church or any other church, but you can relate if you're honest. You can relate to what I'm saying because every single one of us, at some point in our life, have been hurt by someone else, and sometimes we've been the ones who've done the hurting. 

I have a saying that logic doesn't remove what logic didn't put in. Now think about that statement for a minute. 

Have you ever felt like you had all the facts on your side? And sometimes I've been so busy because I know I'm right, I've got these facts and they're right, and sometimes I may use the Bible to defend myself, and what I find is that when I do that when somebody's emotions are very deep, I'm not really listening to a thing they're saying, and I realize that maybe I do have the facts on my side. 

I think when I get to heaven, I don't know what all God is gonna say to me, but I think that he's gonna say to me Jimmy, you were right about this and you were right about this, and you were right about this, but you were wrong because you were so interested in being right that you forgot to love and love and love. Sometimes I'm defensive when I need to listen. I know I'm the only one here that has ever had that problem. I've already confessed gluttony and so now I'm confessing other sins. I'm not gonna hang all my dirty laundry out for you to see it. 

There are sometimes that I do not want to admit I'm wrong and that I need to be the one to go to someone and say I'm sorry, please forgive me. I did not treat you the way Jesus would want me to treat you. Will you forgive me? 

They may not forgive me, but once you've apologized and meant it, then the onus is on them. The responsibility is on them. You see, who am I when I remember the suffering and the pain and the ridicule that Jesus went through on the cross for my salvation. Who am I to withhold forgiveness? Because, you see, it's not about math, it is about mercy. Amen. 

490 Times_ Discussion Q
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