First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21

15Realizing 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?” 16So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17‘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. 18Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20Even 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. 21So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Psalm: Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13

  1Bless the Lord, O my soul,
  and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.
2Bless the Lord, O my soul,
  and forget not all God’s benefits—
3who forgives all your sins
  and heals all your diseases;
4who redeems your life from the grave
  and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy;
5who satisfies your desires with good things
  so that your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
6O Lord, you provide vindication
  and justice for all who are oppressed.
7You made known your ways to Moses
  and your works to the children of Israel.
]  8Lord, you are full of compassion and mercy,
  slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love;
9you will not always accuse us,
  nor will you keep your anger forever.
10You have not dealt with us according to our sins,
  nor repaid us according to our iniquities.
11For as the heavens are high above the earth,
  so great is your steadfast love for those who fear you.
12As far as the east is from the west,
  so far have you removed our transgressions from us.
13As a father has compassion for his children,
  so you have compassion for those who fear you, O Lord.

Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

1Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those 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. 4Who 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.
  5Some 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. 6Those 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.
  7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If 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. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
  10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written,
 “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
  and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

21Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
  23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  The Emperor’s New Clothes:    Two swindlers arrive at the capital city of an emperor who spends lavishly on clothing at the expense of state matters. Posing as weavers, they offer to supply him with magnificent clothes that are invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. The emperor hires them, and they set up looms and go to work. A succession of officials, and then the emperor himself, visit them to check their progress. Each sees that the looms are empty but pretends otherwise to avoid being thought a fool. Finally, the weavers report that the emperor’s suit is finished. They mime dressing him and he sets off in a procession before the whole city. The townsfolk uncomfortably go along with the pretense, not wanting to appear inept or stupid, until a child blurts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all. The people then realize that everyone has been fooled. Although startled, the emperor continues the procession, walking more proudly than ever.


         Is our God like that silly emperor, only wanting acclaim and applause?  Are we like the people, afraid to tell the truth for fear of being though foolish and disrespectful?  Does nobody see the charade?  Our parable today looks at some of this.      

         Last week we faced the reality of problems in the church, that is  within the body of Christ.  We are all “saints in the forming”.  None of us is perfect and our actions are for sure going to offend someone else in the congregation.   How do we handle that?  We go to the person and try to resolve our differences, humbling ourselves and asking forgiveness if necessary.  If that doesn’t work we bring in an arbitrator to bridge the breech of relationship.  If that doesn’t work then we resort to a public hearing before the congregation.  I doubt few issues get that far these days. We are not like the silly emperor, wanting to parade our “stuff” before an audience.

         Peter, the extrovert, asks Jesus if he has to forgive seven times ie a measureable amount of times.  Surely by the seventh time someone has offended you over the same issue, it is time to say “enough is enough.”  My guess is that few of us make it to that seventh mark.  Shockingly Jesus responds by saying we need to forgive seventy-seven times, ie an unmeasureable amount of times.  Few keep track that far.  By then we have turned our back on the other. 

         On the other hand, I am not going to ask you how many times you have had to pick up after your children in their messiness or close a door or draw for someone who just never seems to close anything.  We won’t mention squeezing or rolling the toothpaste or putting the toilet paper rolling forward or backward.  Yes, there are habits, “idiosyncrycies” that irritate and make us want to bop someone on the head and make us want to yell.

         Jesus tells a parable to make his point clear and to bring his point home.  A king, of course God, wants to settle his accounts with his servants, of course us.  Some person owes a huge debt, impossible to pay debt, and begs the king for mercy.  If the king throws him in jail or sells his children, the king will never raise the money of the debt.  I think we call it an estate sale or foreclosure.  The owner will only receive a portion of what is owed.  Besides which no amount of money can compensate for the memories and relationship.  Insurance only covers a certain amount of the value of an object but can never create new health, new smiles or new memories.  How much do we owe God for health, for family, for fellowship, for sunrises, for answers to prayer.  An impossible debt because God’s generosity is impossible to assign monetary value to and he does not charge!

         Perhaps a side question here is “Do we see God as our king?”  Perhaps we think God owes us a good life because we have worked so hard and tried so hard to be good.  After-all, he created us and that is his job. I have heard the argument presented that God is good and I have tried to be good and love my neighbor as myself and so I don’t need to worry about God and church.  My good deeds demands God’s generosity.  When hard times come, we are surprised because we have tried so hard.  Part of the lesson here is that settling debt, settling sin, is not about good works, maybe not even about relationship.  There is no indication that there is a strong relationship between the king and the servant.  Forgiveness comes from the heart of God who does not desire to destroy lives to get his due.  Let me say that again, forgiveness comes from the heart of God who does not desire to destroy our lives to get his due.  Forgiveness is an undeserved gift from the heart of God.  Mercy comes from above because God is a god of mercy.

         Jesus then shifts from the hierarchical aspect of mercy – God to man- to the vertical aspects of mercy.  We who have received forgiveness and mercy then meet our fellow person and demand that which we have been forgiven.  God forgives me for disrespect and yet I demand respect from others.  My love for God is imperfect and yet I demand perfect love from friends.  When I am unforgiving, I am demanding from others what I have already received from God.  The Old Testament reading is about the life of Joseph who because of his brothers’ jealousy is sold into slavery and a rough time in Egypt.  He is falsely accused of adultery by Potipher’s wife and thrown in jail.  In jail her interprets dreams but the lucky men who benefit forget Joseph.  Finally he rises to power only to run into his brothers.  He saves their lives from starvation but when father Jacob dies the brothers are convinced they will now get what they dished out and they are petrified.  Joseph responds:

         “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20Even 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. 21So have no fear;       I myself will provide for you and your little ones.”

When we refuse to forgive, we place ourselves above another and take the place that belongs to God.

         Jesus does not stop here, though.  He points out that others are watching our lives.  The other servants see the man refuse to forgive and see him abuse the other to get s small debt paid.  They report to the king.  Others are watching.  The New Testament reading reminds us that while we may feel right in our own eyes, others with weaker consciences are watching.  We know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” 

         We forgive because God first forgave us. We forgive because anger and hatred and bitterness destroy relationships and hurts us as well as the other.  We forgive because others are watching and we desire to give glory to God.  It is not easy to forgive.  It is not easy to be merciful.  Let us remember Christ on the cross for our sins as we face each other and those irritating things we do to each other and may be seek to honor God before others.

         Jesus’ parable does not have a foolish worldly emperor wanting to impress but a King who wants to settle accounts, perhaps to establish justice, or perhaps to remove the barriers between him and his people.  Like the men who sewed for the Emperor, and knowlngly deceive the king, they are not like us who work and deceive ourselves that our works deserve rewards.  The child observing the procession sees the truth.  Perhaps the outsider who observes us sees some truth.  In any case, forgiveness is not measureable because our debt is impossible to pay and God’s grace is impossible to comprehend.  May we face each other with attitudes of gratitude and when caught in a falsehood, humble ourselves and seek forgiveness.  And to God be the glory!  Amen.

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