Romans 14:7-12 (CEB)

We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. 11 Because it is written,

As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me,
and every tongue will give praise to God.[a]

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Matthew 18:21-35 (CEB)

Parable of the unforgiving servant

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.[a] 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold.[b] 25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.

28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins.[c] He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’

29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Healer

Is there anyone here who would like to experience –

Healthier relationships

Greater spiritual and psychological well-being

Less anxiety, stress and hostility

Lower blood pressure

Fewer symptoms of depression

Stronger immune system

Improved heart health

Higher self-esteem?

The Mayo Clinic staff writes that practicing forgiveness can lead to all these things – better relationships, less anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, less depression, a better immune system, a stronger heart, and we will just generally feel better about ourselves!

You see, I think God created us to live a certain way.  And when we aren’t living the way God wants us to, our bodies, souls and minds don’t function the way God intended them to.  When we fail to forgive– our bodies react!

Forgiving people can be healing!

But even though we probably suspected all this – even though we know that unforgiveness is dangerously unhealthy, we struggle with it.  We would really even like to skip right past this passage in Matthew because it is so difficult for us to forgive – especially when we have been deeply wounded.

We know we need to forgive and yet we don’t know how.  But lucky for us, Peter has it all figured out.  At least Peter thinks he has it all figured out.  Peter thinks Jesus is going to give him a gold star for his well-thought out question and answer.  Peter thinks forgiveness is a mathematical equation and that if he forgives a person 7 times, he has checked the appropriate box, and he will be in good standing with God.  And Peter thought he was being very generous because I learned that the Jewish faith believed in forgiving a person only 3 times.  One Rabbi said it this way: “If a man commits an offense once, they forgive him; if he commits an offense a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offense a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive.” (William Barclay quoting Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda in The Daily Bible Study Series.)  And so, Peter generously adds 4 extra forgivings!  And proposes to Jesus that he will forgive 7 times.

But we know Jesus called Peter and his disciples today to an even higher standard.  Jesus calls us to a harder road in life.  Imagine how much easier it would be to be allowed to hold a grudge after our third forgiveness!  But instead Jesus says, “not just seven times but seventy-seven times.”  And Jesus goes on to tell the story about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  One servant owes the king 10,000 bags of gold, some translations say 10,000 talents.  And when Jesus says this he is multiplying the largest unit of money of the day by the largest Greek number, and the result is huge!  It would be the equivalent of a working man’s wages for 60 million days or 200,000 years!  So Jesus is really using a number beyond measure – like our word zillions.  It’s an amount that no slave could ever hope to repay.

And yet, the king had mercy on the slave and cancelled the unimaginable debt.

However, the slave is apparently slow to remember the undeserved grace he had received from the king.  The slave turns right around and refuses to have mercy on one who owes him such a small amount in comparison – one hundred coins.  An amount totally within the servant’s ability to repay.

God forgives our trespasses in the same way we forgive others.  We are called to show mercy, just as God shows us a mercy in ways that we can never repay!  We are called to forgive a zillion times!  Both the miniscule insults and the horrendous wounds.  But in thinking about Jesus’s story, we are also forced to admit that we are not only the wounded but we are also the ones who wound.  And it is only when we recognize that we are imperfect and cause harm to others that we can ask and receive forgiveness ourselves.  And then… when we are forgiven by God, we can turn to forgiving others through the help of the Holy Spirit.

The article I read from the Mayo Clinic said that when we “practice” forgiveness we are healthier.  And I do think it is a practice.  It is something we have to work at and it is often a slow process.  It may help us in the process to know that forgiving someone is in no way accepting or approving of the act that caused the harm.  Forgiving doesn’t deny another’s responsibility for hurting you.  Forgiveness is recognizing that we aren’t the judge of others, but that God is.  We can forgive without minimizing or excusing the wrong.

But there is one thing that the Mayo Clinic didn’t talk about.  It’s the fact that followers of Jesus have the ability to tap into something supernatural to help us with forgiving one another.  We have a God who heals wounds.  And we have a God who walks with us as we practice forgiveness.  I am constantly amazed by the way this happens – I have witnessed God’s Spirit walking alongside people who have been grievously wounded to help them find the healing power of forgiving from the heart.  I have friends who are amazing witnesses to the power of God to heal wounds.

I have a friend whose son was murdered.  The man who killed her son was convicted and sent to prison.  And as you can imagine my friend carried hatred, anger and bitterness toward the man who murdered her son.  The unforgiveness was ruining her life.  And in her despair she had an experience where she heard God say, “Write to him.”  She knew that God was asking her to write to her son’s killer in prison.  But she ignored God thinking surely God wouldn’t ask her to do such an impossible thing.  And again she heard, “Write to him.”  And a third time, “Write to him.”  She finally chose to trust God, she prayed for strength and words, and she wrote to him.  Not only did my friend experience forgiveness toward her son’s murderer, but she developed a pen pal relationship with him.  She has gotten to know him as a person, and she has witnessed to him about her faith in Jesus.  It has been transformative for them both.

God heals wounded hearts through forgiveness.

I have a friend whose spouse was unfaithful, and they divorced.  She told me that being unable to forgive him was ruining her life — that she was bitter and angry, and she wanted to move forward.  And so she took the advice of a wise woman of faith who advised her to pray for her ex-husband.  At first my friend couldn’t imagine praying for the person who had wounded her so deeply, and who even continued to do things that wounded her.  But she decided she would try it.  At first, she couldn’t even say her ex’s name before God.  But God began to heal her wounds slowly – she was healed as she sought God’s presence in this area of her life – she was healed as she made the effort to speak his name before God.  And when she could speak his name, she began to pray for him until she could finally pray blessings and not curses upon his life.

God heals wounded hearts through forgiveness.

My parents divorced when I was about 20 and I have 3 brothers and 1 sister.  It was a bitter divorce, and it was traumatic for all of us.  We are all grown now, and our kids are grown, and some of us even have grandkids.  So, you can imagine that we don’t get together very often.  But not too long after my parents were divorced they established a tradition.  Every year at Christmas we all gather at my dad’s house – even my mom and my step-mom.  You see through the power of God and with practice my parents were able to work through their forgiveness enough to take this one step for the sake of us kids.

Although the Mayo Clinic will give you all kinds of tips to learn to forgive people, I believe the only way we can truly forgive is to do it with God’s help.  I don’t understand how the Holy Spirit works to bring about forgiveness but I can witness wounds that have been healed through the power of God.  It might start with writing a letter.  It might start with speaking the person’s name before God.  It might start with being able to be in the same room with the one who has caused all the pain.  Only God can show us the path.  And it is only the healing power of God that can explain how hearts are mended when they have been shredded by others, especially when the wounds come from the ones we love the most!

One day this week this rock was at the front door of the church.  There are a couple of groups who are painting rocks with encouraging words.  And the idea is that when you receive a rock, you are supposed to take a picture of it and post it on the group’s facebook page – this group is called River Valley Rocks.  After you post the picture, you are supposed to leave it at another location.  And this rock that we got says healer on it, and it has this line with marks across it.  And being a typical football fan, I thought – that’s a football – the rock is shaped like a football and they have painted the laces from the ball on there.  But then I noticed that on the back it says #therapistlife.  And it struck me that this isn’t a football.  Because a physical therapist had probably painted the rock and put it there.  Instead I think it is a scar – the symbol of a wound that has been stitched together.

Sometimes that is how it is when our hearts are wounded by the anger and bitterness and hatred that comes from unforgiveness.

God sees our wounded souls.

God grieves the hurt alongside us.

And then God slowly stitches up our wounds.

God is healer.

God is our healer.

God is your healer.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.