I See Dead People

We spent our vacation hanging out with dead people.  Not literally, but with a 30-day free trial from Ancestry.ca, it sure seemed that way.  People have asked if I have discovered any surprises, and the entire story of my ancestry has been a surprise.  It wove its way from Edinburgh Castle, through the Salem Witch trials and the Revolutionary War.

The story of my family is the story of generals, traitors, hermits and single moms.  I discovered that my fourth great-grandfather, as a ten-year-old, was left as surety with the first nation people in Maine for 18 months in the 1700s while his father negotiated a treaty.  I can only imagine the conversation, “Seriously Mark, I will just leave you here if you say another word.”

It was fascinating.  And in many instances, it was the story of people who took a stand, for right or for wrong they stood for what they believed in and did what they thought was right.  And for the most part that was admirable, although I’m not sure how my Grandfather Mark felt about it.

And while the story of my family is fascinating, 39 years ago I became the adopted son of the King of the Universe, and that is even cooler.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Gem of a Story

I have a confession to make and I hope you don’t think less of me after I’m done; That’s right I love country music.  I love listening to the new artists like Zack Brown, Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney and I love listening to the outlaws from the seventies like Willie and Waylon and Merle Haggard and I even love listening to people like Mel Tillis and Buck Owens, George Jones and Dolly Parton.

And my parents are to blame, it’s the only thing I blame them for, and that’s because I grew up on Country music.  My folks listened to Country and Western and until I received a portable record player as a gift when I was eleven or twelve I listened to what they listened to, bizarre concept isn’t it?

There were no iPods, no mp3 players, no Discmans, no Walkmans, no boom boxes.  And if you wanted to hear music on your phone you had to have someone on the other end hold the receiver up to the radio.

And so, for my formative years, if there was a record on the hi-fi, we had hi-fi back then and they were furniture.  So, if there was a record on the hi-fi there was a pretty good chance that it was Johnny Cash or Farron Young, Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves

Now when I became a teenager my listening became a little more colourful, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple.  Did the Kiss thing and Alice Cooper, Trooper and BTO, but deep down hidden in the secret place of my heart was this love for country music.  When I was in high school the radio station in Saint John CHSJ played country for two hours in the afternoon between 2 and 4 and my best friend hated driving home with me because you know the rule, my car, my radio.

Now all that being said a few years ago I was watching a biography on Jim Reeves.  Reeves was a major player in the country music scene in the 1960s until he was killed in a plane crash in July of 1964.    My folks had a couple of his records so he is what I would call classic country.    And in the biography, I was watching the comment was made about the problems he had being accepted into the country music scene because he used horns and violins.  Violins not fiddles but violins in his music.  And that just wasn’t country.

The funny thing is that some of the country music celebrities who were remembering Reeves as such an innovator and saying what an impact he had had on the genre were some of the old guys that I have heard dumping all over new country.

And that isn’t unique in Country music, listen to the old rockers talk about the new music, listen to the old actors talk about the new breed of actors, or for that matter listen to older Christians talk about what they think of the church today, of the music, the way people don’t dress up today to come to church and after they get there they drink coffee in the sanctuary.

This is the seventh week of our Summer Preaching series, “Stories told by Jesus” and since the middle of July, our preaching has focused on some of the parables or stories that Jesus told.

And we’ve travelled the roads of Palestine together as Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven to those who followed him using everyday events to illustrate these eternal truths.   A farmer spreading seed in a field, men picking grapes in a vineyard, a man looking for a lost sheep, two brothers being asked to help their father.

 

And through it all we have watched as Jesus wove the story of a Kingdom as it was planted, was cared for and flourished and eventually having an impact locally and globally.

The parable we are looking at this morning doesn’t reveal more clues about the Kingdom of Heaven, instead, this tells us about the person who has embraced what Jesus has already taught about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 13 contains a total of eight parables, and after he tells the seventh story Jesus ties the entire package together with a bow when he says in Matthew 13:51 Do you understand all these things?” “Yes,” they said, “we do.”

And we have to assume they had caught what he had taught. Jesus’ intent was to make the things of God clear, Christianity was not one of the mystery cults shrouded in questions and hidden behind riddles.  And Jesus seemed to make that assumption that they did indeed understand because he moves ahead saying, Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

It is easy to dismiss this as simply referring to teachers and preachers.  The various translations say “Teachers of religious law” or “Teachers of the Law” or “Scribes”,  and that is always part of the issue, understanding the exact meaning of something written to a different culture in a different time.

For example, if I was telling you about a person who worked on a ship and I referred to him as a stoker, you might know what I meant, that they were part of the engine room crew.  But would you actually know what a stoker did?  The term is still used sometimes but it is totally irrelevant.  Because the term originally referred to the crew member who shovelled coal into the coal-fired steam engines of ships from a 150 years ago.

And so, if we go back to the original language, do I bore you when I do this?  If we go back to the original language, the word that Jesus actually used in the Greek is Grammateus,  gram-mat-yooce  and it meant either Scribe or Town Clerk, now we can probably safely assume that Jesus didn’t say Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every town clerk who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

 

So that leaves us with the definition of Scribe, but what was a scribe?  Well, originally the scribes were the people who copied the texts of the Old Testament.  When you stop and think of it that makes sense, there were no printing presses, so everything was written out by hand, it was very time consuming and very exacting, and it was checked and double checked to make sure that nothing was altered.

Eventually, when people had questions about the scriptures they went to the “Scribes” for their answers.  By the time of the New Testament, the word scribe had kind of morphed into meaning: learned teachers and authoritative leaders.  They were primarily drawn from the priests and Levites, but there were also common people who were called scribes.

Remember in the Christmas story when the wise men appeared before King Herod and he wanted to know where the Christ Child would be born we read this account in Matthew 2:4 NKJV And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So that being said, Jesus was simply preparing his followers for a role that they would assume, and each one of us as a Christ follower fills this role, people are learning about Jesus from our words and from our actions, that’s kind of scary, isn’t it?

And so, before you can instruct you have to be instructed before your lips can speak knowledge your head must contain knowledge.

I remember a conversation I had with a barber who led a church in his home, and I have no problem with people that do that.  However, in our discussion we happened upon the topic of the length of hair that was appropriate on a man, don’t know why the topic came up but it did.  And he told me, “Well Jesus had long hair”.

And I was intrigued because I tried to use that argument with my father when I was a teen to no avail.  The closest I got to success with that was when I reminded Dad, “Jesus had long hair” to which he responded, “Yes and he walked everywhere he went.”

So, I asked the barber, “How do you know Jesus had long hair?”  to which the man, who taught people the Bible in his home responded, “Because he was a Nazarite and they weren’t allowed to cut their hair.”

Now the man was half right, Nazarites weren’t allowed to cut their hair,  Numbers 6:2 & 5 “If any of the people, either men or women, take the special vow of a Nazirite, setting themselves apart to the LORD in a special way, “They must never cut their hair throughout the time of their vow, for they are holy and set apart to the LORD. Until the time of their vow has been fulfilled, they must let their hair grow long.

The problem is that as far as we know Jesus wasn’t a Nazarite, he was a Nazarene and the reason he was a Nazarene had nothing to do with a vow he took he was because he came from the town of Nazareth.  And this man was teaching people about Jesus.

So, let’s go back to our scripture, Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”   The message is a paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson, and I love the way Peterson writes this Matthew 13:52 (the Message) He said, “Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.”

So, what can we learn from this parable?

There is Junk and there are Gems Each one of us is a mixture of our past and our present.  We all come to where we are via different routes and through that process, we collect stuff.  Stuff that is a result of what we have done and what people have done to us, but inevitably it has been the result of the choices we made.

We’ve been through this before but before we can take control of our future we need to accept responsibility for our past.  Notice that I didn’t say take the blame simply the responsibility.  Every choice we make and have made in our life has shaped and will shape who we are.  The choice you made when you were a child to pay attention in school or slack off, to hang out with good kids or bad kids, the decision of which university to go to, what job you would accept, who you would date and who you would marry, whether you would be a spender or a saver.  We are who we are because of the choices we have made.

Teens this is one of the most important things you will hear me say so listen up, the choices you make in your life right now will dictate who you will be in the future, so choose carefully.

And as a result of our choices, our life is like the junk drawer in your kitchen.  How many of you have a junk drawer?  Sure it’s the place where you put stuff that you aren’t sure where to put it.  And once in while you go through the drawer and discover stuff that has value and stuff that is junk.

So, each of us today has junk in our lives and gems in our lives.

We Need to Ditch the Junk.  Jesus doesn’t say this but it is certainly implied.  If it is the gems that are brought out and used than implicitly what aren’t gems aren’t used.  Not everything in your past is gems.  Each one of us has in our life junk, hurts, habits and hang-ups.  The result of what others have done to us and what we have done to others.

If we have been hurt by someone we need to forgive them and get on with life.

I spoke about this three weeks ago, remember forgiveness is not an emotion it is an action, it is not something you feel it is something you do.  And there is nothing in the bible that would indicate that someone has to ask for your forgiveness in order for you to forgive them.  And in a lot of cases, they don’t even know they hurt you, and you grumble and stew about it.

Remember how Jesus taught us to pray Matthew 6:12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And at the end of the Lord’s prayer Jesus adds this warning, Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

And if you are the one to blame then you need to go to the other person and make it right.  Matthew 5:23-24 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

And maybe the junk in your life has nothing to do with other people, maybe it is habits that you have that you can’t seem to get control over or mistakes and choices from your past that you can’t seem to forgive yourself for.  Understand that as a Christ follower when you asked Christ to forgive you he forgave you.

King David had that figured out when he prayed in Psalm 51:7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.   And if God, the creator of the Universe, master of all things, holy and spotless and pure can forgive you, what makes you think you are so special you can’t forgive yourself?

And it’s not just the past you need to examine; if you are a Christ follower the one you are following has certain expectations about how you behave and how you speak today.  Jesus reminds us in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.”

That’s one of those verses that shouldn’t need a whole lot of explanation, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room there.  John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.”  If we take time to examine our lives today, are there behaviours that you know don’t belong in the life of a Christ follower?  Habits and attitudes that you need to ditch if you are truly going to be obedient to Christ?

And it is the same in the church, just because it worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will work today.  And some things that were gems yesterday are junk today.  The bus ministry that churches used incredibly well in the 1970’s would never work today.  Imagine if you will going door to door in Kingswood to let people know that on Sunday a used school bus driven by a stranger would be by to pick up their children to take them to a church they had never attended.  But it worked back then.   Churches used to hold special meetings twice a year and fill their churches every night for a week.  Of course, there was little or no tv, kids weren’t involved in a dozen different things through the week and the special meetings were the biggest show in town.

A number of years ago I heard a Baptist preacher by the name of Ed Stetzer say “We sacrifice our children for our traditions.”  Let’s be careful that the things that we value from the church of yesterday don’t become idols that we are worshipping today instead of Christ.

But that being said let’s go back to the original scripture again Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

So along with the junk that we need to ditch  We Need to Save the Gems Sometimes we are like the old time Country singers who thought Jim Reeves had no place in country music because he used horns and violins.  And those folks need to be reminded of the truth of Philippians 3:13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.  We can’t live in yesterday and we can’t saw sawdust, yesterday has been here and it is gone.

But there is another temptation and that is to think that only the new is worth anything and anything older than last week has no value.   While there are things that we need to move past when we become Christ followers that is not to say that there is a line that is drawn in the sand and everything on the new side is good and everything on the old side is bad.

The apostles were all Jews, raised and steeped in the Jewish faith and Jesus was telling them to remember the things they had been taught about God and his commandments and to incorporate them into their new lives.

Jesus never commanded us to forget all we knew before we met him, instead we are to see that knowledge and experience in a new light and use it to serve him.  Everyone one of us brings something to the table when we choose to follow Jesus.  Our gifts, our talents and our experiences, and they are incredibly valuable if they are used right.

Again, be wary of those who counsel people in their church to cut all ties with their past.  There are gems to be saved.

And there are Gems from the church’s past that need to be saved and used.  Just because it was used yesterday doesn’t mean it can’t be used today.  And the church has 2000 years of history and knowledge to draw on.  How many people either read the Da Vinci Code or saw the movie?  Sure, it was touted as being this new discovery that would threaten the church and why hadn’t we been told anything about these things before?

You ever watch or read legal thrillers when a lawyer objects to a line of questioning and says “That question has already been asked and answered.”  Well, all of the questions raised in the Da Vinci code have been asked and answered over the past two thousand years.

The one thing I remember from my grade ten history class was   the statement that my teacher made on our first day when he said: “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.”    I thought it was original with Mr Seeley but he was referring to what is sometimes known as “Santayana’s Law of Repeating Consequences.”  Which came from Spanish Poet George Santayana’s statement  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Later I came to understand the truth of Friedrich Hegel’s statement “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

So my challenge to you this week is to look for the gems in your life, the gems from yesterday and the gems from today and gather them together to be used for the Kingdom today and tomorrow, it was Hubert Humphrey who said “Our greatest songs are still unsung, our greatest days are ahead of us.”

 

A Denn by Any Other Name

Twenty-Four years ago I added an “n” to my name. It was a whim, but I’ve never regretted it.

Fifteen years before that I had removed the same “n” along with a “y” when I went from being Denny to being Den. And for fifteen years I had people correct my name, helpfully changing it from Den to Don or Dan and then I would have to explain that it was neither, that is was Den.  And when they looked at me quizzically I would say “you know, the place where a bear lives.”  (Which is what my Great Grandmother told me.)

And I finally figured out a solution, someone had asked me what Den was short for and I told them, Dennison. To which they asked “then why doesn’t it have two “n”s?  Good question.  So, I added an “n” to my name.

The first time I officially used the new spelling was for my new library card which arrived in the mail the next week, addressed to Dean Guptill.  And again, I discovered that people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.

But regardless of how I spell my name, I can always be assured that God knows who I am.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Tragedy

This is it, this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the most important cultural icons of my youth.  It was a life-changing discovery for me, one that defined my teens years.

It wasn’t the founding of “intel” or Pierre Trudeau becoming Prime Minister of Canada.  It was the introduction of “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”

That’s right, the Big Mac has just turned fifty and it hasn’t changed in the five decades since it joined the McDonald’s menu.

But the disturbing news is that in one recent study it was discovered that only one out of five millennials has tried the Big Mac.

Think about it, 80 % of those in our community under the age of 30 have never tasted a Big Mac.

Do you know there are people in our community who have never been inside a church and they have never tasted God’s grace? And that is a tragedy.

If by some bizarre choice you have never experienced McDonald’s fries your loss is temporal although you might get to try them in heaven. But if you’ve never experienced Christ’s forgiveness your loss will be forever. And forever is a long time, especially without a Big Mac and Fries.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

A Story of Forgiveness

Do you like scary stories?  I have never really been into scary movies, although I went to a couple as a teenager just to prove a point.  And if you have to ask what that point is then you’ve never been a teenaged boy.

And when Carrie’s hand came out of the grave at the end of the original movie, well let me tell you. . . I didn’t sleep for a week.

I used to enjoy horror novels, from authors like John Saul, Graham Masterton and Stephen King, but even they have lost their appeal over the years.  Although I will usually try to plug my way through one Stephen King epic on vacation.   I keep meaning to re-read “The Stand” and maybe this year I will.  Now if I want a good supernatural thrill I tend to drift to Dean Koontz, a good Catholic boy he knows how to keep it clean.

 

But Jesus tells one of the scariest stories that I’ve ever heard, and Ben read it for you earlier.

This is week five of our “Stories told by Jesus” series.  Through the summer we’ve been looking at some of the stories, or parables that Jesus told.   And so far, it seems that most of them have had a bit of an agricultural feel.  There was the man working in the field who found the treasure, the owner of the vineyard who hired the workers.  The story of the seed that was planted and flourished and last week we looked at the parable of the weeds that were sown in the wheat by the farmer’s enemy.

This week we are going in a very different direction.  This is one of those occasions where Jesus was asked a question and he responds by telling a story.   The parable of the Good Samaritan is another example of this.

 

It begins with a question that was asked by Peter, a question that could have been asked by any one of us.     Matthew 18:21  Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

And that is a valid question, as a matter of fact, it’s a question that if you haven’t asked out loud you have asked it in your heart.  “how many times must I be hurt?” “How can I ever let it go?” “How can I ever trust them again?”  “How often should I forgive someone who sins against me?”  And I think Peter was being generous with the offer of forgiving someone multiple times for the same offence.

Most people struggle with this concept.  This isn’t simply forgiving someone who has hurt you multiple times.   This is forgiving someone whom you have already forgiven and forgiven and forgiven.

And they keep doing “it”, whatever “it” is over and over again.

I don’t know if Peter had someone or something specific in mind, if he was asking for a “friend” or if it was just hypothetical.  But he was probably blown away by Jesus reply because I certainly would have been.  Because instead of commending Peter on the grace that he was willing to show, we read in the very next verse:  Matthew 18:22  “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

You can almost hear Peter’s mind at work, “Seventy times seven?  Why that’s almost five hundred times, that’s insane.”

And so Jesus does what Jesus does so well, he tells a story, a really scary story.

Matthew 18:23-25  “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

The story begins simply as A Story of Justice To us this seems a little excessive, but the servant was simply getting what he deserved, within the social context of the day.

Today we find it so easy to judge history based on what we know is right today. My Daddy called that “20-20 hindsight”

But the story wasn’t told in Halifax in 2018, it was told in Israel 2000 years ago and if you owed a debt that you couldn’t pay then you and yours belonged to your creditors.  It was just that simple.

And in this story, there was no way the man could pay the debt.  None at all.

Now remember this is a story, Jesus is prone to exaggerate in his stories, that’s fine.  He is trying to make a point.  So, while the NLT says the man owed millions of dollars that doesn’t even begin to do Jesus’ words justice.

The figure that Jesus used when he told the story was 10,000 talents.  A talent was a measure of silver.  And 10,000 talents was 375 tons of silver.

I checked the other day and silver was worth $21.68 Canadian an ounce, and there are 32,000 ounces in a ton, so, knot, knot carry the two, two is five and five is seven. That means that in today’s currency a ton of silver would be worth about $693,760.00.  And the man owed 375 tons of silver.  So, in round numbers, he owed a little over 260 million dollars.

And he could not pay.  And so, his master was going to have him and his family and everything he owned sold to pay the debt.  Which wouldn’t have covered even a tiny fraction of it.

 

Jesus was illustrating the divide between God and man.  This is the reality of Romans 3:23  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

We’ve done this before, let’s use my nifty iPulpit as an illustrative device.

If down here are the really nasty people, the Hitlers and the Stalins and people who spit their gum on the sidewalk and park in handicap spaces without a permit.

And up here at the top are the really good nice godly people.  People like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and you.  And the rest of us are somewhere in between then God and His holiness are where the sun is.  And there is no way we can bridge that gap.

We all know that, or at least I hope we all know that.  And the consequences of that sin is found in Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, . . .  Paul isn’t talking about a physical death, he’s talking about a spiritual death, the death that happens to our soul when we are separated from God and all that is good for ever.

In our theology, we call that separation Hell.  You might be thinking that you don’t believe in hell, that doesn’t change the reality of hell, it won’t make it one degree cooler or one day shorter.

So much like justice for the servant was to be sold into slavery, justice for us is to be separated from God for eternity.

 

But luckily for the servant and for us, the story doesn’t end there.

And so, the story continues: Matthew 18:26 But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’

So, the master was seeking justice and the servant wanted it to be A Story of Mercy

When the servant realized the consequences of his actions and all of our actions have consequences, he asked for the opportunity to try and repay what he owed.

And we already showed there was no way the servant was ever going to be able to pay even a portion of what he owed.   If he was able to repay his debt at $100,000.00 a year it would take him 2,600 years to pay it off.

What often happens at whatever point we become aware of God and aware of our sinful nature, we try and fix it.  We try to become better, we try to be more religious, we try and pray more, we go to church more, try to read out bibles more and we try to be nicer.

And it doesn’t seem to work.  The Old Testament prophet reminds us in Isaiah 64:6  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.

In our best of intentions, we want to be better, we want to bridge that gap.  But like the amount the servant owed it is impossible.

And so the story continues, Matthew 18:27  Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

Instead of justice or mercy, the master made it A Story of Grace 

 

We sing about grace and we talk about grace, but do we really understand the concept of Grace?  The Collins English Dictionary defines Grace as : “The free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man.”  Or simply put, Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

The servant in the story did not deserve to have his debt forgiven, but it was.

We do not deserve to have our sins forgiven, but they are.

And up to this point, this has been a salvation message.  But that wasn’t what it was intended to be.  Because most of us here today have experienced the grace of God.  And if you haven’t you can.

This is where the story takes a very unexpected twist.

Matthew 18:28-30  “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.  “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded.  But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

What seemed fairly straightforward now becomes A Story With a Twist

If this was a horror movie, it’s here the music would change to a minor key.

You see what happens right? The servant has been forgiven, he has experienced grace in his life, but instead of that shaping who he was, it made no difference at all.

When Jesus told the story, he said that the fellow servant owed his colleague 100 Denarius, and a Denarius was a day’s wage.  So, the servant who had been forgiven 260 million dollars was owed the equivalent of four months’ salary.

Not a paltry amount by any stretch of the imagination, until you compared it to what the first servant had been forgiven.  It was over 17,000 times smaller.  It was like I owed you $15,000.00 and Gary owed me a small coffee from Tim’s.

This isn’t one of those stories that leaves us scratching our heads, the meaning is very plain.  We might choose to muddy the water with our opinions and our theology but the story itself is very plain.

The first servant was forgiven an unimaginable debt, a debt that he could never possibly repay on his own.  He was shown grace.

And when he had the chance to show grace to someone else, he blew it.  Not once, not twice but continually.

Immediately after he experiences grace, he goes and finds the servant who owed him money and demanded Justice.  And it gets worse, he then physically accosts the man, we are told that he grabbed the man by the throat.  And when the man begs him for more mercy and more time to pay he has him thrown into debtors’ prison.   He not only refuses to show the man grace, he won’t even show him mercy.

And maybe we could understand if this had of happened before the servant himself had been forgiven.  Four months’ salary was a considerable personal debt, but not after having 260 million dollars wiped off the books.

The servant demanded of others what he was unwilling to give to others.

And what happens?  Let’s keep reading.

Matthew 18:31-34  When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.  Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

Now The Story Gets Scary

You understand that this is not a salvation message, the warning was not about the original debt that the man owed.  That had been forgiven.   This was about his attitude after his debt had been forgiven.

The first part of the message was an invitation to those here today who have never experienced God’s grace.  To know that regardless of the debt you owe to God, his grace is more than enough to cover it.  All you have to do is ask.

The last part of the message, the scary part, is for the rest of us.  This part of the story is for those of us who have been forgiven.

Jesus was very clear in his teaching, those who have experienced grace are expected to show grace.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, Matthew 5:7  God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.   Who is shown mercy?  The merciful.

Later when Jesus is teaching the apostles to pray we learn what we now call the “Lord’s Prayer”.  And most of us could probably recite it by heart.  But do you ever stop and reflect on the part that says in Matthew 6:12  and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. ?

The story is told that the author Robert Louise Stevenson led his family in their daily devotions each evening.  And a part of the routine was praying the Lord’s Prayer together.

Well, one night in the middle of the prayer he just stopped and left the room.  Stevenson suffered from a variety of illnesses and so his wife went after him and asked if he was feeling all right, to which he responded, “I’m not fit to pray the Lord’s prayer today.”

Are there days when we aren’t fit to pray the words, forgive me my sins, as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me?

In the parable, when the servant refused to forgive the man who indebted to him, and his master found out we are told Matthew 18:34  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

Now obviously the man couldn’t repay his entire debt, we’ve already established that. And the reality is, that that debt had already been forgiven.  Remember from the story, Matthew 18:27  Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.  The debt had been forgiven, it was gone.

The debt that he now owed was what resulted from his lack of forgiveness.  And it was here that he needed to show forgiveness in order to gain forgiveness.

Our outflow of mercy to others always has to equal God’s inflow of mercy to us.

But the story doesn’t stop here.

Matthew 18:35  Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

It’s at this point that The Story Gets Scarier

I had mentioned how much the ending of the movie Carrie scared me, a big part of that was I thought the scary part was done.  Nope.

Jesus could have finished the parable at verse 34, and most people would have got it, but Jesus didn’t want most people to get it, he wanted everybody to get it.

Again, this parable is addressed to the forgiven, the saved, those who had tasted the grace of God.

And Jesus says Matthew 18:35 Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” In order to find out what Jesus’ Heavenly Father will do to us if we don’t forgive, we need to go back to the previous verse:  Matthew 18:34 “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.”

Now, I don’t know where your theology is, but God isn’t going to unforgive you.  He’s not going to say, “Wow, you didn’t forgive that person, so remember all those things I said I forgave you for, I take it back, you are unforgiven.”

We have claimed the promise of Psalm 103:12  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. And in Micah 7:19  Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!

So, if God doesn’t unforgive us for our past sins what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that you are living in disobedience to God.  Every day that you let go by that you have not forgiven that grievance, whatever that grievance may have been, you are being disobedient to God.

How long can you as a Christian, live in disobedience to God without it affecting your spiritual life?  What is the debt that needs to be repaid?  The debt of unforgiveness.  I had a professor in Bible College who encouraged us to keep short accounts with God.  In other words, don’t continue to live in disobedience.

 

You understand that the prison of unforgiveness is built by those who refuse to forgive and the keys are held by the same person.

 

Catherine Ponder wrote, “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

 

And you understand that when you say, “I can never forgive them”, you are locking yourself into a cell of resentment and bitterness.  And the bizarre thing is that you hold the key, at any time you can unlock the door and free yourself.  If you choose to.

It was Lewis Smedes  who said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

I had a conversation with a senior citizen once who recalled an incident that happened in elementary school.  I forget what the actual offence was, it was a slight of some kind.  And they said, “I can never forgive them for what they did to me.”  For well over seventy years that slight had been colouring their life and shaping their personality.

You don’t forgive for the benefit of the person who hurt you, and you don’t forgive for God’s benefit, you forgive for your benefit.   You forgive to set yourself free from resentment and bitterness.  You forgive to free up room in your spirit for love and compassion and Jesus.

And you forgive so God will forgive your unforgiveness.

Let me close with these words that Paul wrote to those who followed Jesus in the city of Ephesus because they are also meant for those who follow Jesus in the city of Halifax today.

Ephesians 4:30-32  And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.