St. Matthew.jpg

Let It Go

Matthew 18:21-35

The Rev. Jon Roberts

17 September

2017

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The Unforgiving Servant by Domenico Fetti, 1620

Let it go,
Let it go,
Let it go;
For if you hold on to a grudge,
There is nothing but misery and woe.[1]

Once there was a man named Bob, who held a grudge towards his neighbor, Frank. He had been carrying it long enough and decided that once and for all he needed to lay it to rest by writing Frank a letter. It was short and this is what it said; “Dear Frank. We've been neighbors for seven tumultuous years. When you borrowed my tiller, you returned it in pieces. When I was sick, you blasted rap music. And when your dog went to the bathroom all over my lawn, you laughed. I could go on, but I'm certainly not one to hold grudges. So I am writing this letter to tell you that your house is on fire. Cordially, Bob.”
Grudges are often attached to other woeful things like, frustration, despair, anger and fear. These are things that God commands us to let go. It can be so hard when we feel victimized.

Recently, we experienced a tremendous and power storm named, “Irma.” As one person was picking up debris in the Florida Keys, what was left of their house, they said they didn’t know how long it would take to rebuild. Their face was distraught and said it all. This memory of loss will resonate, most likely for the rest of their life. How will they let it go? Will they hold a grudge if help doesn’t come? Will they believe they have been treated harshly? How will they be able to move on?

In much the same way, a powerful system effected the climate of Moses’ day, with how he stretched out his hand upon the Red Sea and it parted. A tremendous and powerful storm separated the army of Israel and the Egyptian army. It gave safety to one and destruction to the other.[2] How will the people of Israel let it go? Slaves for four hundred years; How will they move on?

In much the same way, a powerful system effected the climate of Jesus’ day, with how he stretched forth across the land, the Sea of Galilee, teaching and healing in ways that threatened the houses of tradition. Rabbis, greatly concerned about this younger teacher named Jesus wanted him to pass through quickly, lose strength and die out. They took action to protect themselves and guard their belongings. They made accusations towards him and his disciples. “How can you eat with those who are unclean?”[3] “Who is this who thinks he can offer forgiveness of our sins.” [4] They could not predict his path or the course he would take. Jesus took time to teach his disciples and prepare them for what was to come. He did so with Peter, then later with Paul. Peter came to him and said, “If another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”[5] Seven was an answer given by the more liberal rabbis. Three times was the answer given by the more conservative ones.

Peter, feeling that Jesus was going the extreme, intent on cultural liberation felt the need to put the “spaghetti curve” on Jesus’ path. If one is to forgive, what are we supposed to do? Are you going to tell us what the liberal, unorthodox rabbis may suggest with seven times? Jesus blows him away with his response. “No, not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Peter and the other disciples are shocked. They can’t imagine the devastation this will cause to their cultural sense of justice. How can they let it go? How can they imitate Jesus’ teaching on this subject? They will be the laughing stock of every town they visit and run out. But this answer was not detached from traditional teaching. In fact, it went all the way back to a small reference in Genesis, when Jesus related the importance of letting go, to forgive, with Lamech, one who carried the grudge of his great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Cain who killed brother Able. Here was a man who carried a grudge that was passed down through several generations; a curse rather. The Lord said he was to be forgiven seventy times seven.

The power of Jesus’ teaching continues to move across a larger land mass into the future day when a new believer, named Paul, surfaced. Paul was going to expand the reach of the Gospel by going to the Gentiles, those who were unclean to the Jews. The Gentiles were the Romans, the Egyptians, Syrians, barbarians. There was no room in their house to give those people shelter. But in the Mediterranean cities Paul visited, the strong ones were those who were liberal, who offered their homes and invited outsiders to dinner. They gave shelter and provided for the needs of others. The weak ones were the conservatives who held the tradition of isolation for the sake of purification. They believed charity began and ended at home. Was one part of the church holding a grudge against the other? Who was it that couldn’t let go under frustration, despair, anger and fear? But Paul says we will all stand before the judgement seat.

Whether we stayed at home during the storm or whether we left, is not a sign of our strength or weakness but rather who we manage to live in community when the storms ravage us. This type of storm was coming to the Israelites being delivered through the Red Sea, to the disciples who would travel far and wide and to us today. We were spared but other churches and people in the lower part of our state were not so fortunate. We are called to praise God whether we have won or lost and through that we are called to have mercy, to forgive and to move on; to rebuild. Things like this leave a lasting impression but it is our choice whether or not to let go of our grudges against God or man.

Let it go;
Let it go;
In God’s hand is justice.
In your hand is forgiveness.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Exodus 14:19-31
[3] Mark 7:14-23
[4] Luke 5:21
[5] Matthew 18:21-35

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