Forgiveness….


Word of God

Word of God

The parable of the unforgiving servant.  This parable is pretty straight forward and applicable to today’s world.  Like the servant in today’s scripture we are to forgive as we have been forgiven.  All day, every day.

Forgiveness, the amazing power that forgiveness possesses, it frees both the offender and the offended.  It breaks the shackles and chains of resentment, grudges and bitterness.  With such tremendous power, forgiveness should be our number one option, our go to when needed, right?

It doesn’t seem to work that way does it?  When we are injured, our feelings get hurt or some event brings to light those things that we are insecure about – are we quick to forgive…..or are we quick to retaliate?

You’ve heard me tell you I’m a hypocrite before right?  When reading scripture or preparing a sermon I often times get exposed for my own behavior, for my own sin, for my unwillingness at times to forgive.

Sometimes we like to own those offenses, they become a badge of honor to tell others about and plot revenge.  Do you know what such and such did to me?  Can you believe that? 

I’ll tell you something I don’t get mad, I get even.  Ever had that phrase go through your mind and off your lips?  In our broken, human form revenge, retaliation, emotion and anger move us toward retribution.

But why would we want to hang onto such ugliness?  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  Those looking for scripture to support their case for revenge often cite that passage.

The message that Christ brought almost always turns human motive and cultural norms and expectations 180 degrees.  Completely reverses what was to be expected.

You must be last in order to be first, those that are humble will be exalted.  This passage is no different.  The disciple Peter approaches Christ and asks him this question, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?

Seven times seems like enough doesn’t it?  Seven slams, seven sarcastic remarks, seven times you make me mad, seven times you injure me verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually and I will forgive.  But the eighth time, you’re mine.

I don’t know where Peter got that number, but it caused me to think and reflect.  If you get beyond those that you live with, spouse, children, family and close friends.  If someone made you mad seven times how much time would you be spending with them?

Probably not a whole lot.  I would be avoiding them as much as possible.  I have a lot of work to do on this forgiveness thing.

Christ responds to Peter’s question of is seven times enough to forgive, “Not seven times, but 77 times.”  I read another translation that said 70 times 7.  Are you kidding, at least 77 and as many as 490 times?

As much as them seems to be I look at those married couples that have been together for decades, some for half a century or longer.  Do you think that forgiveness has been part of their story?

I think that it would have to be.  The inability to forgive leads to bitterness.  Is it enjoyable to be around someone that is bitter?  Our existence was not made to be heavy and burdensome with the weight of every slight one has ever encountered.

Our existence is meant to be light and joyful, full of compassion with hearts willing to forgive.  The granting of forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.  It can be done in person or in prayer.

After telling Peter how many times he would have to forgive he speaks the parable of the unforgiving servant.  “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  One that owed 10,000 talents was brought to him.” 

A talent is a measurement of weight, it is approximately 130 pounds of what was probably a precious metal or something of value.  10,000 talents is equal to 1.3 million pounds of gold, silver or some other valuable commodity.  1.3 million pounds.

It was more than a lifetime of debt, a debt that could not be repaid.  The servant that owed this amount was well aware that he couldn’t pay it and when the king ordered that he, his wife and children and all their possession be sold to pay it, he begged for patience, he begged for forgiveness.

And what did the king that was owed this extraordinary amount of money do?  He forgave it.  Just like that….You know the bible is rich with symbolism, who do you think that the king in this scripture is?

……It is the God we serve, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom of heaven is like a king that paid the ransom for those who could not pay it.  Who sent his son to die in their place.  A king that opened the treasure chest of grace and shared it with all and it pleased him to do so.

The servant fell in front of the king and begged not to be sold into slavery.  The kind of slavery that carrying grudges and resentments bring.  The king said that I forgive you of everything, all of it.

As the parable continues the servant that had been forgiven of a mountain of debt, whose family had been spared from being split up and sold into slavery, turns to another servant who owes him a fraction of the debt that he just had cancelled and seizes him by the throat and demands payment.

This servant got down on his hands and knees and pleads for more time, pleads for forgiveness.  The man that had been forgiven of so much refused to forgive a far smaller debt and had him thrown into prison until he could pay the debt he owed.

Very ironic that given the blessing, the good fortune that was extended that he couldn’t extend even a fraction to someone else.  Any guesses on who the unforgiving servant is in this parable…….

I’m afraid that it has been each one of us at some point in our life.  I know it has been me, I suspect it has been you.  It has been anyone that has withheld forgiveness in spite of how much they have been forgiven.

We have all been hurt, injured, slighted, talked about, gossiped about or made fun of at some point in our life.  We have to let those things go, we can’t control what other people do, we can only control our response to such things.

Word got back to the king of what had taken place.  The servant that had been forgiven of a lifetime of debt was summoned to appear before him.  “You wicked slave!” he says, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  Should you not have mercy on your fellow man, as I had mercy on you?”

In his anger the king handed over the unforgiving servant to be tortured until he could pay his entire debt.  Christ would end the parable with this word of warning, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

An unwillingness to forgive not only haunts us in this life, but in the one to come.  Hard hearts, hearts of those whose lives are painfully difficult have to be soften by coming to faith, by knowing the healing power of our God.

We are called to set the example, to live lives full of grace, mercy and compassion to be an example, to witness to those that are distant from God.  To show a willingness to forgive as our Father in heaven has forgiven us.

 

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC
Author of Incomplete

Advertisements

Who do people say that I am?


Does GOD Exist?

Does GOD Exist?

“Who do people say that I am?” asked Christ.  Who do you say that I am?  A sharp, pointed question that might leave some struggling to answer.  Have we, have you, have I, thought about the answer to that question?

After yet another exchange with the leaders of the church, Christ has some quiet time with his disciples away from the crowds, scribes and Pharisees.  It was time for discussion with his disciples.

It is not uncommon to wonder what others think of you, even if you are the Son of God.  “Who do you say that I am?”  Maybe this question was borne out of curiosity on the part of Christ or maybe it was something of a test for his disciples.

Who do you say the Son of Man is?  Christ often referred to himself as the Son of Man.  Christ referring to himself as the Son of Man confirms his divinity and his human nature. 

When I pose the question to you about who Christ is and who is he to you, what kind of response would I get?  Maybe an objective, textbook-like answer free of emotion or attachment.  Jesus is the Son of God, Savior, Lord, teacher, rabbi, to name a few.

Should our answer as Christians be far more personal and connected?  I think that it should be.  This man they call Christ that existed on the same plane and form as God took on flesh to live in this world of selfishness, violence and pain.

He came to this world not as a military leader or educated, learned part of the church hierarchy, but as a suffering servant.  He could have had everything, but he chose to possess nothing.

Christ could have chosen more educated, sophisticated men to lead, that might have been easier.  He could have stopped the beating, torture and crucifixion that he endured.  He chose to follow his father’s will, out of obedience, not out of weakness.  There is nothing weak about Christ or being a Christian.

When you speak about your family do you speak in stiff, unemotional tones or do you talk about my parents, my children, my spouse.  I have referred to my kids as my wife’s kids when they do something that I’m not pleased with.

When you speak of your father do you say, “My biological father conceived three children with my biological mother?”  I don’t know anyone that talks like that.  It is personal, my dad, my mother, my grandparents, my children.

The relationship that each of us has with our God should be deep and meaningful as well.  My God, My Savior, My Creator.

Christ asked his disciples this question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but other say Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

Some say John the Baptist, Christ’s cousin, the man with the strange appearance, the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Others say Elijah, the prophet who upstaged 450 pagan prophets at Mt Carmel.  Still others say you are Jeremiah.  A prophet who was given the task of preaching to people that didn’t listen to him.  History refers to Jeremiah as the weeping prophet.

 The disciples had answered the question of who and what others thought Christ was.  Now come this sharp, abrupt question, “But who do you say that I am?” 

The pointed words, questions and parables that came from the Son of God.  Had the time he had invested in them made an impact?  Had they seen enough to erase any doubt they may have had?

The brash, outspoken disciple, Peter, fires back, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”….and there it is .  You are the Son of the living God.  A God that is alive, who works in this world to bring life to his people.

Peter did not say you are the Son of the cold and distant God.  He did not say you are the son of the God that we’re not sure about anymore. 

Christ is the God that took on flesh.  He is the God that desires to have a relationship with those he created, to those that he loved enough to give them the freedom of how to live their lives. 

The God we serve is a God that heals, reveals, that brings life, eternal life to his people.  After Simon Peter had answered, Christ said to him, “Blessed are you son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, it is from my Father in heaven.”

It was not mere mortal that had told Peter of Christ’s true identity, it was a revelation, a truth spoken to Peter from God.  How blessed Peter must have felt.  Not only does he live during Christ’s lifetime, he is one of his very disciples.  Of that chosen few God has revealed this most precious of truths.

Whether he realized it or not, Peter had attested to the truth, that Christ is the son of the living God.  Truth is an interesting thing.  Many search for it, but not everyone finds it.  We are called to search for the truth in our own lives.

The truth is that Christ is the son of the living God.  That much is truth.  But we are called to continue to seek him, to seek our God, to seek the truth in our own lives.  As I mentioned earlier, the relationship each of us has with our God should be personal.

It is not as easy as leaving here today saying, the preacher said that Christ is the son of God.  That is truth and now I’ll be on my way.  We are called into a deeper relationship with Christ and with one another.

On this truth, on this revelation, Christ said that he will build his church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  On this truth that Peter attested to Christ built his church and in spite of all the violence, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, shootings, terrorist acts, darkness, selfishness and need for convenience in this world, nothing, including the gates of hell will prevail against it.  Nothing.

Who do you say that Christ is?  Is it a question that you have given much thought to?  The Son of the Living God.  Can you see his work in your life, in others and in your church? 

Christ would continue, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Then he sternly warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

We know that Christ’s ministry was a fairly short, it lasted about three years.  He will give the keys to his church, the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples to spread the good news.

It would be the acts of the disciples and apostles that would spread the gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection.  It is our responsibility to do the same today.  We have been granted the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

To be the church, to be on the front lines of our community.  Helping those in need, assisting the poor and engaging people of all ages.  My hope for each of you here today is that you would draw closer in your relationship to the Son of Gog.

That your search for truth would begin and would continue.  That the revelation of truth that was granted to Peter would be granted to you as well. I hope that if the question is posed to you, “Who is Christ to you?” 

That you would answer with conviction, with passion, with the knowledge of blessings too numerous to mention in your life that has come from the God we serve.  Will you join me in prayer?  Good and gracious God, this world needs people that know you, your son and the truth that was revealed in today’s scripture.  In spite of the pain in this world, there is much that is good.  We have seen examples of neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger.  Continue to reveal yourself and your Son to us.  Draw us into a deeper relationship.  Make this church a shelter, a safe place and a place where your spirit is always present and everyone is always welcome.  Amen.

Pastor Shawn LaRue

Author of Incomplete

Can you drink the cup?


hopeless

 

Can you drink the cup?  The mother of the sons of Zebedee makes a request of Christ, “Promise that these two sons of mine will sit on your right and left in your kingdom.”  Christ sets the overzealous mother and her sons straight, “You do not know what you are asking.”

They were asking for things along the lines of accomplishment without hard work, freedom without responsibility, all the gifts and grace that God has to offer without any of the suffering of the human condition.  Can you drink of the cup, of the cup of your own life?

The hectic pace of this life leaves little time for reflection.  It is an effort to put our phones away and pay attention.  Being fully present is in danger of being fully extinct.  Can you drink the cup?

It took me a long time to be willing to look at the cup of my own life.  Growing up in the presence of alcoholism left me anxious and unwilling to discuss what I had lived through.  Little did I know that others endured the same or worse.  I lived with that for far too long.

It took a lot of counseling in addition to God’s ability to heal for me to arrive where I am today.  Much healthier, but still reluctant to trust.  That is my cup.  No shame in the things that were beyond my control.  To be able to see that the events that take part in each of our lives is God’s way of molding and shaping us, even when those things are painful and don’t make any sense.

Christ’s cup was so painful that he asked if it could pass.  All the ugliness and sin the world has to offer.  Christ submitted to his Father’s will, we should do the same.

 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

Blessed are the poor in spirit…


Does GOD Exist?

Does GOD Exist?

Does GOD EXIST?

 

Christ brought with him a message of hope, a message of salvation and a message that turned how we see the world upside down.  He showed us how God sees this world through human eyes.  This God with us.

So, how is it that God sees this world?   And what is his message of hope……..Last week I talked about how Christ called his first disciples and they joined him with nothing more than the invitation of, “Follow me.”

Follow me.  Peter, Andrew, James and John did just that.  As Christ traveled throughout Galilee teaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, crowds of people gathered to listen to him preach and cure people of sickness and disease.

I’ve have talked before about the Roman occupation of the Holy Land.  Life was hard.  The taxes were oppressive, it was all some could do just to exist.  Many were forced to sell their children and themselves into slavery.

Here comes this guy they call Jesus, bringing a message unlike anything they’d ever heard.  Crowds gathered and as this particular group gathered, Christ went up on the side of the mountain and preaches about the kingdom of heaven.

Eight statements, eight blessings, eight beatitudes. Eight statements that turn the world as we know it on end.  The great paradox of Christian life – in order to be first, you have to be last.  The humble will be exalted and the exalted will be humbled.  Where one has to be born again.

In the book of Matthew, the beatitudes take place early in Christ’s ministry – it is his first recorded sermon.  His message of hope.  In the children’s time message I attempted show how things are when they are inverted.

Christ spoke about seeing the world as he sees it, how God sees it.  Not from the vantage point of standing on your head, but of leaving the accumulation of wealth, possessions and other obstacles that get placed between us and our God.

To meet and minister to people where they are and for who they are – children of God, as one who bears the image of the Creator, just as each of us do.  He blesses those afflicted, not based on anything they can do, but simply because they are.

Christ starts this message of hope with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”……I have read that each of these statements build on the previous one and none of them are possible without this one, the first one.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will see the kingdom of heaven.  Poverty of spirit is the beginning of discipleship.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t have spirituality.  It means that those poor in spirit are not full of themselves.

They understand their own brokenness, have been convicted of sin and put Christ, the cross and faith at the center of their lives….Those poor in spirit know how destructive sin is, they’ve seen it firsthand.  They know that sin causes them to stray from God, even if only for a short time. 

….Well Pastor, I’ve gone to church since I was a child, I haven’t strayed from God….I don’t know every intricate detail about everyone’s life.  But I would contend that we have all strayed at some point in our life, if only for a short time.

The power of sin is great.  God’s power, grace, mercy and love are greater….Coming before God with open minds, grateful hearts and empty hands.  Knowing that money, power, titles, land, riches and possessions won’t save us and they certainly should not define us.

This message of hope – blessed are they that know of their need for God.  Christ continued with these petitions.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 

Do you ever watch the new and some of the stories they report on almost make you sick?  So much suffering, too many evil acts and loss of life.  Blessed are those that mourn over the brokenness of this world. 

For lives that end prematurely, for children that go hungry, neglected or abused.  For people in countries torn apart by war and are displaced.  For those that dead the pain and emptiness in their own life with things like alcohol and drugs.

We mourn for things that we don’t fully understand because they seem so distant or foreign to us….Those that see with eyes and hearts of faith feel the pain of those that suffer.  It is only by the grace of God that we don’t suffer through the same circumstances.

This sermon, not mine – Christ’s beatitudes were taken to heart by many of the saints and they did their best to live out these petitions, as difficult as that may seem.  I’ve talked about Mother Teresa’s example before.

She had been called by God to work with the poor in India.  She sensed that God was calling her to work with the poorest of the poor.  She left behind the work she had done for years and off she went.  She to one of the poorest slums, gathered some children and began teaching them the alphabet….using a stick to draw in the dirt with.

A ministry that would be known around the world, she would become a household name and she started with nothing other than who she was and the message that burnt within her.  Her own message of hope.

That is essentially what ministry is.  Each of us has a message that burns within us, each of us has a story written on each of our hearts – it exists, it is there waiting for that fire to be lit and that song to be sung.

As with the parables that Christ spoke of this scripture, these blessings that Christ bestows call for more than a quick passing over, they have to be studied and wrestled with.  Christ continued, “Blessed are the meek, for they will be filled.” 

God blesses those who are humble and gentle, for the whole earth will belong to them.  Those that submit to God in patience and humility.  What is the opposite of humility………pride, arrogance.  Those things are dangerous.

Pride and arrogance blind us to our own weaknesses while amplifying those of others.  If you are like me, pride can come quickly, seemingly out of nowhere.  It can be easy to take credit for the talent and skills that we have that God granted us. 

Blessed are those who do not return evil for evil, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.  Who are slow to anger, abundantly patient and wise.

Christ continues this message of hope when he blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Thank God for those who seek justice that believe in the right to be treated fairly. 

The road to seek out fairness, equality and justice is not a short one and seems to be the road less traveled. 

We thank God for those that seek out righteousness, who strive for holiness and seek out their God.  Treating all of God’s creation and people with the respect and value they deserve.  There is holiness that lives within each of us.  It cries out to be joined with the one that placed it there.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  God has given us this treasure of grace, it is only right that we extend it to others.  We should not judge, label or put down others.  We are called to be merciful and love one another unconditionally.

Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Christ’s message of hope.

We should be reminded of God’s mercy and grace every day and extend it to others. 

This scripture, these eight statements, the Beatitudes, show us how our God sees the world.  It is a message of hope.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

 

 

The parable of the wheat and the weeds….


hopeless

 

In the 13th chapter of Matthew Christ gives the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.”

“Master did you sow good seed in your field?” his servants asked.  “An enemy has done this,” the Master replied.  “Should we gather the weeds?” the servants questioned.  “No, in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both grow until harvest, the reapers will collect the weeds and burn them, the wheat will be stored in my barn.”

The Master of the house in this parable is God, the seed sown is the word of God and the servants are us – his disciples.  The enemy if the devil who sows weeds in this parable and lies in our lives.  Under the cover of nightfall, when we aren’t watching, when we are at our most vulnerable is when Satan preys upon us.  Sowing the seeds of hate, discontent, anger jealousy, envy and greed.

He is the great sower of lies.  You’re not good enough, you don’t measure up and you won’t gain approval from those from whom you seek it the most.  Those are just a few examples, there are thousands more.  The grain in this parable has to compete with the weeds in order to survive.
Our spiritual’s lives and Christ’s church are the same.  Competing with vacations, ball games, camping, fishing, enjoying the summer weather and on and on.

The weeds, those things that don’t bear fruit, will be gathered up and thrown into the fire.  The good seed, that which produces a harvest of 30, 60 or a hundredfold will be stored up in the treasure of heaven.

Pastor Shawn – Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

incompletedevotional.com