September 13, 2020

Esperanza Lutheran Church

Let us pray. Oh lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you that we may delight in doing your will through Jesus Christ our savior and lord. Amen.

Our first reading today is from Genesis chapter 50 verses 15 through 21.

Realizing that their father was dead Joseph’s brothers said what if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him. So they approached Joseph saying your father gave this instruction before he died say to Joseph I beg you forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you. Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father. Joseph wept when they spoke to him then his brothers also wept fell down before him and said we are here as your slaves. But Joseph said to them do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God even though you intended to do harm to me. God intended it for good in order to preserve a numerous people as he is doing today so have no fear. I myself will provide for you and your little ones. In this way he reassured them speaking kindly to them. Word of God, word of life.

Today’s psalm is Psalm 103 stanzas 1-13.

Bless the lord o my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the lord o my soul and do not forget all his benefits. Who forgives all your iniquity who heals all your diseases who redeems your life from the pit who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagles. The lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him as far as the east is from the west so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children so the lord has compassion for those who fear him.

The second reading for today is from Romans 14 chapters 1 through 12.

Welcome those who are weak in faith but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything while the weak only eat vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall and they will be upheld for the lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day observe it in honor of the lord. Also those who eat eat in honor of the lord since they give thanks to God while those who abstain abstain in honor of the lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves. If we live we live to the lord and if we die we die to the lord. So then whether we live or whether we die we are the lord’s for to this end Christ died and lived again so that he might be lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister or why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written as I live says the lord every knee shall bow down to me and every tongue shall give praise to God. So then each of us will be accountable to God. Word of God, word of life.

The holy gospel according to Saint Matthew, the 18th chapter.

Then Peter came and said to him Jesus lord if another member of the church sins against me how often should I forgive…as many as seven times? Jesus said to him not seven times but I tell you seventy times. So for this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him and as he could not pay his lord ordered him to be sold together with his wife and children and all their possessions. And payment to be made so the slave fell on his knees before him saying have patience with me and I will pay you everything. And out of pity for him the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave as he went out came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred daenery and seizing him by the throat he said pay what you owe. Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him have patience with me and I will pay you. But he refused. Then he went and threw him into prison until he could pay his debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him you wicked slave. I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave as I had mercy on you. And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. The gospel of the lord.

Grace and peace to you from him who is who was and who is to come, Jesus the Christ our lord. Amen.

All four of our texts this morning have a similar theme, which doesn’t always happen…especially between old testament and new testament. But they all talk about patience and they talk about judgment in one way or another so they are all connected. What we could do if we had a couple hours is that we could go through verse by verse and there’s tasty little morsels there that we can use for bible study or sermons or all that. But what I want to do this morning is to take that 30,000-foot view of all four of these texts together and see how they can help us understand better about patience and forgiveness and judgment. So i’m going to frame it in the context of moments and mission, asking the questions are our lives a series of isolated moments that just keep stacking up with each other or are they part of an overall mission that feed into who we are and what we do. So moments and mission.

Now the Matthew text sets the bar pretty high for hyperbole. It’s interesting that Peter is the one who comes to Jesus and asks him about how many times to forgive. And Jesus says 70 a big number and one that probably confounded Peter in terms of how how is he going to do that. And then Jesus launches into this parable about the unforgiving servant and it is such an important powerful, powerful story that we have to look at all the different pieces to that.

So the the slave owes his master a hundred or ten thousand talents. Now a talent back in the first century is a currency. It’s like a dollar bill…big dollar bill…and so that’s a talent. And this is an incredible amount of money and one that the slave could never pay back. And it begs the question of how the slave racked up that much debt to begin with, but that’s not part of the story.

Now back in the first century one talent equals 6,000 daenery. One daenerys could buy 10 donkeys. Now donkeys are an important part of transportation and in many ways for people. We know Mary, we know Jesus and everyone in between, and they also move freight and all that kind of thing. So it’s a very, very important thing. So if you do the math, the slave owed the master 6 million daenery which is 600 million donkeys. Now don’t get hung up in details…it’s a parable. But Jesus obviously is making a very strong point about forgiveness and judgment in that way too.

Now in the Romans text apostle Paul talks about judgment in a bit of a different way, saying you know we all have our problems so who are we to judge others when we have some of the same issues that come along. And then he winds up by pointing almost to the Psalm where it says our God is forgiving more than we can actually imagine. Then we have Joseph in Genesis, and a couple of weeks ago we had the beginning of this story where Joseph was the favored one of the sons. There he had 11 brothers and all 11 brothers were pretty uh ticked off about this because, in the Hebrew tradition, the older brother was the one who had all the privileges. And in this case Joseph had all the privileges. And so we know how this story laid out. They they took Joseph, threw him into a cistern with no water and sold him to slavery. The question is, for this story…and we’ll get back to this in a little bit…is this a moment in history for Joseph or is this just part of the mission. And that’s a very important perspective. So the moment and the mission part is coming through with this and it starts with Joseph.

Joseph’s vision, his dream…that we’ll get to in a little bit now…there are other other visionaries besides those in the bible of course. I think of Harvey McKay. He is a businessman, a lecturer, a columnist. Maybe you’ve read his column in the newspaper. He’s inspiring and he is a good mentor to for business people. But he also is able to take lessons from the business world and point out the life lessons. So, for example, when he was 27 years old he bought an envelope company in the twin cities when it was failing. And now that company makes more envelopes in the United States than any other company. So Harvey uses illustrations and stories much like the bible to try to get a point across.

And one of his stories that he talks about vision has to do with a railroad. So there’s a bunch of workers repairing a track. You know the rails and the ties and all that kind of stuff. And they’re working away and here comes another train, a smaller train, that pulls up alongside of them on a parallel track. And out come all these executives dressed in suits and all of that kind of stuff and very looking very official. And they’re watching the workers to see what the workers are doing. After a little bit, a man who is tall and distinguished in a blue suit walks over to the one of the workers and he says, Ted is that you? And Ted turns around he says, Dale hi how are you doing? And they chat for a while and then they say well it’s been too long since they, you know, touched base…but let’s get together and let’s keep in touch. And then Dale goes back with the executives. So one of Ted’s friends comes up to him and says, wasn’t that Dale Willis…the guy who runs the railroad? Yeah he is, said Ted, and well he and I got together 20 years ago and we joined the railroad at the exact same time. So his friend, sort of needling him a little bit, said, so you’re out here working with rails and ties and repairs and all that kind of stuff and Dale is running the company. What happened? And Ted said, well I had a vision. I had a vision to work on the railroad. Dale he had a vision to run the railroad. For Ted this moment was his moment, and great we need railroad workers. But this was what he wanted this was his mission. But for Dale there were many of these moments in place that led up to his being the chief executive of this railroad.

We read in Genesis that Joseph had this dream. Joseph had a dream that he was going to be the authority in the entire area. He was going to be part of the government. He was going to be the most important person around. And if he saw what his brothers did to him selling him into slavery, if he saw that as an isolated moment then he would be justified and having some revenge against them, we would think. You know he had that ability to do that once he got into the government. He would have been able to punish his brothers severely, but he saw what they did as a one moment in his mission. The whole story of god’s call to Joseph played out with many many many different moments and this was just one.

So McKay’s point in business and in life in general is that with a vision you can you can achieve much, but if your vision is too small you’re handicapped with that. My point is that we understand what we are called to do, we understand to whom we are called, and by whom. And we understand that and all of these things that come in play are part of that mission. This is our mission, so with that perspective we are able to manage disappointments. The pandemic, the nasty political scene, maybe life in general…all of those things are very important moments we need to deal with these moments but they are moments as part of a mission, in many ways. It’s about stewardship. It is about stewardship and how we how we conduct ourselves, how we spend our time, how we spend our talents and how we spend our money. And how do we fulfill this mission with all of these different moments. For example when we give money to Esperanza as part of our offering we are helping other people because some of that money flows into the ELCA where they combine all these congregations money and they can help people who are hungry. They can help people who are grieving, who are sick, who are dying. They can help people who are working for justice. It’s a stewardship thing. Our one dollar, our ten dollars, makes a huge difference in terms of the whole scheme of things.

It’s also stewardship of our energy and it’s also a stewardship of our perspective on life…perspective on ourselves in many ways. Forgiveness is just as important for the forgiver as it is for the forgiven because if we carry grudges, if we carry that negative energy around with us, we are trapped. We are enslaved. But once we release that through forgiveness, we are set free. We are set free to again help our neighbor with money and time and talent. When you think of the people who are making mass, people who are making food, all of that is part of stewardship and it’s a crucial part of our mission.

Joseph in the old testament has this sense of mission which allows him to put up with the deadly shenanigans of his brothers. Harvey McKay, his business advice focusing on vision in that context, we are Dale…we are the guy running the railroad…because we have this huge vision of who we are and what we are called to do. So when we come to these confusing emotional road signs that we have psychologically, sometimes tempting us to go in one way or another, let’s remember that we are part of God’s mission of love and compassion and forgiveness and that we can handle moments that may just derail us if we let them.

We are loved people in action. We know the way to go and we know what needs to be done and that my friends is the good news.