Archive | September 2014

Forgive As Forgiven

    Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times can my brother sin against me and I have to forgive him? Seven times?’ ” ‘No, not seven times,’ answered Jesus, ‘but seventy times seven’ (Matthew 18:21-22)

“Seventy time seven times”?! You have got to be kidding!

Now the reason why Peter was specific about seven times is because the acceptable times to grant forgiveness in that day was three times. The Jewish law stipulated that a wounded person was obligated to forgive someone three times. So Peter doubles the number of times the law demanded and then added one free pass as a bonus and he thought he was giving Jesus a real blue light special.

Peter wanted to say seven strikes then you are out. Jesus was not even saying four hundred and ninety strikes and you are out. Peter thought if someone sinned against you and he repented and you forgave him and then he did exactly the same thing and repented and you forgave him again, you could say “now that’s two!” But, here is what Jesus said, you can’t keep a scorecard. If somebody sins against you the first time and you forgive that brother then you promise not to ever hold it against him again. If he sins again, you cannot say “that’s two”, you’ve got to say “that is one!” So it is very obvious that Jesus has to teach not only Peter, but all of us exactly what God expects of us concerning this matter of forgiving those who hurt us.

Is there someone in your life who is difficult to forgive?

What do you do when someone continually hurts you? What do you do when someone has hurt you deeply? Through habit or mean intention, some people create an atmosphere where, as much as we try, forgiveness seems to slip away. Hatred and emotional distance take its place. At these times, we want to cry out, “Lord! I have really tried. And, I’ve had enough!”

But forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian message. As God forgives us, we are to forgive others.

One great psychologist said, “Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me”

I want to ask you a very important and penetrating question this morning. Please answer it in the quietness of your own heart but with utter honesty.

Do you have a forgiving spirit?

Do you practice what we say weekly in the Lord’s Prayer:

    Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Matthew 6:12)

Do you have a forgiving spirit?

Let us remember what Jesus said from the cross:

    Jesus said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34)

If Jesus can forgive those who arrested Him, tortured Him, and crucified Him on a cross, can’t we forgive those who have harmed us?

Nothing we can possible undergo can be worse than Jesus’ death on the cross. We have been forgiven much more than we could possibly ever repay.

Let us pray:

    Dear Lord, sometimes we forget to forgive those who hurt us; sometimes we hold grudges and seek vengeance for those wrongs. Please remind us that we are forgiven by you for all our sins before we even ask. Let us remember to forgive others as you have forgiven us. Amen.

    Oh God give me a heart of forgiveness so that I may commune with you in the fullness of fellowship and joy and not experience the chastening that comes when you don’t forgive me because I won’t forgive a brother or sister in Christ. May I remember that for everyone who sins against me, I have sinned multiplied times against you, and you have always forgiven me.

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH   14 September 2014

SAY What You’ll Do and DO What You Say You Will Do

    “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Matthew 21:28-31)

As the old saying goes, there are three kinds of people in this world: those who watch things happen, those who make things happen and those who say, “What just happened?” This scripture from Matthew offers lessons on belief backed by action, not by preaching about things or complaining, but by doing.

Jesus tells this parable of the two sons to illustrate how actions are significantly more important than intentions. He highlights the difference between those who pay lip service to God – and those who, having set out on the wrong track, change their minds and turn back to do as He asks.

Jesus describes a situation that we are all familiar with. We have all met people who say they will do something – and then find they didn’t do what they said they would; those who make promises, but don’t keep them. And we have probably also met people those who start out being against an idea or refuse a request but who then think better of it, and not only fulfill the request, but go beyond what was asked and do even more.

Jesus says if you are going to be a Christian, if you are going to follow him, then you are going to have to do something. Christianity is not about talking. Christianity is about action: the way we live and respond to people and life events; it is about growing, maturing, giving of ourselves to others and forgiving others, and loving others as ourselves.

Jesus tells a story which is rather common: one son is asked to go to the vineyard to complete a task. He says that he will do as his father asks; we assume he will do what he says. The second son refuses to do what his father asks. One son seems to be in the right and the other in the wrong.

However, appearances are often deceiving. The son who appears to be ‘right’, agrees to do his father’s work, but fails to go to the vineyard. He never shows up – all talk and no do. Yet the second son, who had first refused to obey and help his father, then changed his mind and went on to do his father’s work; this is, in the end, the son that did the ‘right’ thing. Because doing what is right means more than words and promises.

Like most of Jesus’ parables, this story isn’t really about the two boys. It’s about you and me. It’s about two kinds of people in this world: those that profess faith in God, but do not do His will and work, and those who do the will of God while, perhaps, saying ‘no’ to a lot of showy, church beliefs and preaching.

I don’t know about you, but, there have been times in my life when I’ve uttered nice, pious words about God but showed unbelief through my actions. And there was a time in my life when I wanted nothing to do with God, but tried to live my life with as much integrity and goodness as possible.

Are we the faithful or the unfaithful son? Both lied to the father. But one changed his mind and went to work while the other never followed through. We know the answer to Jesus’ question — the son who finally did what his father asked is the hero in this parable.

The meaning is so obvious.

Some religious people make all kinds of grandiose promises to God but their performance doesn’t live up to their promises. The Christians promise God, “O yes, God, I will be your faithful disciple. I will live a Christian life.” But they don’t do a darn thing. They are ‘do as I say, not as I do’ Christians. So God will find some less ‘churchy people’ who actually go and do His work in this world.

All of us would rather direct this parable to others. Lord knows we can point fingers. But this parable is addressed to you and me.

It is about integrity, about putting your money where your mouth is.

We must say what we will do and do what we say we will do.

Jesus teaches that having the intentions to obey God isn’t enough. It is only those who actually obey God, whether they originally say they will or not, who are doing the will of God.


Intentions alone aren’t worth anything, because obedience or disobedience are actually found in what we do, more than in what we do.

    We must say what we will do and do what we say we will do.

Let me leave you with an example of someone who truly lived what he believed:
We have passed the thirteenth-year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in September. Among the thousands of victims of that attack was Father Mychal F. Judge, the fire department chaplain who, while ministering to the fire fighters working at Ground Zero, was killed by falling debris from the Towers. In Father Mychal’s pocket was this prayer that he always carried with him:

    “Lord, take me where You want me to go;
    Let me meet who You want me to meet;
    Tell me what You want me to say, and
    Keep me out of Your way.”*

Father Mychal was a man of commitment. He understood that the vows he took before God were not a trivial matter. He is one who said, “I’ll go,” and he went.

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 28 September 2014

* “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade,” Parade magazine, Jan. 6, 2002, p. 2. September 29, 2002


Matthew 20:1-16

May the meditations of my heart and the words of my mouth be acceptable unto you, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

This difficult parable attributed to Jesus only appears in Matthew. . . and there is probably a really good reason for this.

It addresses the greed of people who feel they deserve more than anyone else. Not a topic that most people want to hear about.

And it also turns the world’s commonly-accepted idea of fairness upside down – also, not a popular idea!

We live in a time of almost total uncontrolled capitalism.

    “Greed is good,” says the cutthroat bond trader, Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street. Greed isn’t such a bad thing, so Gecko’s philosophy goes. Just let it work itself out; at the end of the day, those who are deserving will be rewarded, and as for the lazy — well, they’ll just have to be content with the crumbs that fall off the table” – something that many feel is fair: he who works longer and harder should receive more.

The farmer in Jesus’ parable, however, is not like Gordon Gecko. He’s no shrewd operator, no pincher of pennies. He describes himself as ‘generous.’ He gives the extra money away not because he has to, but because he wants to! He is a good man, a good citizen, a caring person.

Now, the Healthcare Reform Bill of 2010 is an example of this principle; while the Affordable Care Act did not please everyone, it does cover everybody. It’s premise was:

    ‘If I want good and affordable healthcare for myself and my loved ones, then I should want good and affordable healthcare for every American. Share and share alike.’

Just like the farmer who wanted to benefit the community, in this case, the ACA is to benefit the entire nation.

But back to our parable. . .

The workday in Palestine started at 6 a.m. A vineyard owner needed help to harvest his crop, and the job needed to be completed quickly, for if the rains came while the crop was still on the vine, the grapes would be ruined. So the farmer when into town where day laborers were waiting of employment and hired a number of them. Later on in the day, the farmer underestimated the amount of work required to harvest; so he returned to the town and hired additional workers at 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The farmer needed his grapes picked so he hired pickers; there was no discussion of the pay , just that he would

    pay whatever is right (Matthew 20:4)

Probably some of the later-hired workers had spent an anxious day, worrying about how they were going to feed their families. Those hired at 3 and 5 probably worried that they would earn so little for the short time they spent in the field that it would almost be a waste of time to go.
Yet the end of the day, the farmer instructs his manager to distribute the same amount of pay to each of the pickers, no matter whether they had worked twelve hours or three hours,

    beginning with the last and then going to the first. (Matthew 20:8)

What a joyful surprise for those hired late to discover that they would receive a full day’s pay and be able to meet their families’ needs, at least for that day.

But then the grumbling began. Those who had worked all day felt cheated; they had sweated in the heat for twelve hours! They believed their work was worth much more than those who had only worked for three hours. They grumbled and shouted:

    ‘It’s NOT FAIR!’

In fact, some of them left felt so cheated, they left without their pay!

And, according to our culture’s accepted ideas of fairness, they were right. But the farmer felt he had dealt fairly with each of the workers; he refused to take any steps to correct the inequality. . . in fact, he said:

    do you begrudge my generosity? (Matthew 20:15)

Now we all have heard about this parable in relation to money and greed; how some people feel they work harder and are smarter than others and deserve much more.

BUT, I suggest to you, the real message of the parable is about

    The kingdom of God. . .

    And God’s Grace.

The kingdom of God is, of course, different from our lives on earth in so many ways. We may pray daily,

    ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10)

but it is unlikely that can truly happen for so many reasons. Although it is ‘right’ that we work every day to try and build that kingdom, we cannot. Because the kingdom of heaven is characterized by the generosity of God. Those who have been asked first to join the kingdom (and that, my friends, are you and me) are to join God in asking the last and the least ones – the sick, the poor, the ignorant or unaware, the women, the latecomers, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the disabled. We are not to compare their own worthiness or complain about inequality.

Grace is defined as ‘unmerited favor, unearned gift or blessing given, regardless of our worthiness’. It is God’s unconditional love that we don’t deserve, that adds strength to our daily lives, the provides forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings and gives us assurance of eternal life.

Life is not fair and, thank God, grace isn’t fair either!

The workers hired first were hired under particular conditions to which they agreed. The workers hired last were given grace. God’s ways are not ours because he gives so much more than we ever could or would. God’s grace does not conform to our standards but to His love and authority.

God has no reason to be gracious to us other than He is love and loves us. But we have no reason to expect, much less demand, for Him to be gracious except that He promised he would be. If we were to receive what we deserved, if we lived by our idea of fairness, most of us would be left out and ignored, humiliated and condemned by normal expectations. We would work and receive little; if we arrived late, we would receive nothing. But God does not treat us as we deserve. He gives us His unconditional love. He extends to us the grace to do something worthwhile with our lives. He voluntarily promises us life with him. So how can we whine or quarrel when He has given us, all of us, much more than is fair?

If we got what was fair, none of us would get to heaven. God doesn’t give us what is fair, but gives us his love and grace, in spite of what we deserve!

The test for us is what kind of people will we be? Will we picture ourselves as those who ‘deserve’ grace and favor, or will we picture ourselves as those who are blessed undeservingly? If we end up resenting the grace God gives to others, we miss the point of God’s grace. Why would we want others to have to wait for grace?

Grace isn’t about our worthiness; it’s about God’s love. Grace isn’t about our character; it’s about God’s character. We often think that the our lives have to do with our conduct, our deeds and our moral integrity. Yes, these are all important, but grace from God has NOTHING to do with our worthiness.

God’s grace is a free gift that is available to all of us. It is a free gift that we receive even though we don’t deserve it. It is about mercy, not fairness. And, it is for the least and last, as well as the first.

Thankfully, what we can all say is,

It is about grace.

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH on 21 September 2014