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Right and Wrong: Who Gets to Decide? September 28, 2014

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Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Proper 21

September 28, 2014


Focus:  God so loved the world that He sent His Son for us.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their sins and live.

Structure:  Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.


Right and Wrong: Who Gets to Decide?


As I was going about my week, I had a conversation with someone that went a little different than I expected.  They wanted to talk theology…and I didn’t see that coming.  But, they were adamant about something, they just had to get it off their chest.  “Pastor Steve, I truly believe, with all my heart, that there’s no way God would let someone walk into Hell without having all the information, if they couldn’t make an informed decision for themselves.”

It didn’t matter what I countered with.  They were firmly rooted in that position.  There was no way I was making them budge.  They “knew” they were right.  They even went as far as to tell me that if God would let someone go to hell, that’s not a God they want to believe in.

That’s where we find ourselves in our Old Testament reading today.  That’s what the prophet Ezekiel was dealing with.  What’s just and what’s not?  What’s right and what’s wrong?  And who gets to decide?

The key issue, the main problem in that conversation that I had was that that person said they didn’t want to believe in a God who would behave in a certain way, who would do x, y, or z.  In a sense, what they were saying is, “I’m God.  I get to decide what’s right and wrong.”  That may sound like a leap, but if we think we know what God should be doing, if we think we know right from wrong better than He does, we’re trying to take His place.

Pastor Fritsch’s sermon last weekend looked at Isaiah, how God told us that His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts than our thoughts.  Sometimes we think we know the answer, we think we know what’s best for our lives.  And then God has another plan.  We’ll pray for one thing, but He does something else.  And everything works out and we’re blessed.  His sermon last week reminded me of Garth Brooks’ country song, “Sometimes I Thank God for Unanswered Prayers.”  I won’t sing it for you, you can Google it if you want.  But, the point is that we don’t always know what’s best, and that God’s plans for us are usually better than ours.

So the problem here really isn’t about whether God is just or not.  The problem here is our sin.  It’s our pride, our ego, our desire to think that we know better than God.  As I was teaching the 6th graders this week, that’s what sin is.  That’s what the whole problem was for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Here they were, living in Paradise, walking with God, had the chance to ask Him whatever they wanted, to learn whatever they wanted.  And instead, they chose to go a different direction.  They chose to find out for themselves.  And so they gave up their relationship with God.  That’s the Fall, that’s when man first fell into sin.  When we decided we could do it on our own, that we didn’t need God anymore.

All of us have done this.  Not only were you and I born sinners, but we’ve been sinning ever since.  Every one of us in here has broken God’s law, has ignored the Ten Commandments. We haven’t lived according to God’s design.  We could go on and on.  We could walk through the commandments this morning.  We could walk through God’s design for families this morning.

All of these, and many others, are ways that we say, “God, Your ways aren’t good enough.  My ways are better, so I’m going to do things my way.”  That’s what sin is, that’s what sin does.  It separates us from God and convinces us that we want to be our own God’s, that we want to be charge of everything.

But what would happen if we take God out of this?  What happens if we start trying to take charge?  Look around you in the world today and you’ll find your answer.  If we get to choose what’s just, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s the limit?   The majority or the ones in power, someone eventually wins, and then they decide.

I had heard a few years ago that there was only one thing that was illegal in every country of this world.  Anyone care to take a guess?  Incest.  You can imagine what that means about all the other atrocities that we commit!  But the answer’s incest, or at least, it was.  I was just reading this week that an advisory council to the German government has labeled incest as a fundamental right that should not be denied.  Who are we to get in the way of people’s exploration and expression of themselves?

That may sound absurd, but it just happened.  Really, honestly, it did.  That’s what happens when we decide.  You’ve probably heard someone say, “Just follow your heart.”  That’s what happens when we do.  We sin.

Unfortunately, there are groups of Christians out there who are picking and choosing.  Who are taking God’s Word and saying this part works for us, but we don’t like this.  What are they doing?  And then there are others who are saying that we can earn it.  We can do enough good to outweigh our sin.  Our wrongs aren’t really that bad.  We can get to heaven without God’s help.  These are dangerous.

I think the movie Courageous handled this issue of justice well.  A character in the film asked another to think of someone he really cared about.  I’ll ask you the same question.  Who do you care about the most?  Now, imagine that that person was brutally attacked and murdered.  And the cops caught the guy.  And his court date comes, and he stands up and tells the judge, “Look, your honor.  I messed up, I made a mistake.  But I’ve done a lot of good in my life.  My good outweighs my bad.”  And the judge lets him go.  Would that be fair?  Would that be just?

Of course not.  And that’s the result of our sin.  Our sin has made us guilty.  There’s no if’s, or’s, or but’s about it.  We’re guilty.  And if God were to be a just God, if He were to enact justice, He would have to say “Guilty.”  And we’d all be doomed to hell.

But out of His love for us, He’s provided another way.  He’s provided a way out.  Because He loved us so much, He sent His Son Jesus Christ.  Christ, being God Himself, came down to earth, took on flesh and followed the laws perfectly.  He did what we couldn’t.  He was innocent, perfect, righteous.

And then He died.  He died upon the cross to take our place in that courtroom.  He gave of Himself, sacrificed of Himself out of His love for us.  That’s why God says what He says.  That’s why He says “Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD God; so turn, and live.”  He says it similarly in Paul’s letter to Timothy, “for God desires all men to come to the knowledge of the truth and to be saved.”

And so now we do as God asked.  We repent.  We turn away from our sins and we turn to God.  And if we sin again, we repent again.  We continue to turn away from our sins, we continue to ask forgiveness, and in His love for us, we continue to receive that forgiveness.

We can’t say it’s not fair.  Because He’s given us a way out and He’s already done the work.  He’s paid the price in full with His own blood.  Our guilt is upon Christ.  That forgiveness is for you and for me.  It’s free to you and to me.  Freely given by our God who loves us.  Paid for by our God who loves us.  That’s why we gather together here.  That’s why we come together at the Lord’s Table.  We are loved, we are saved.



So We Forgive One Another September 14, 2014

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Matthew 18:21-35

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 14, 2014


Focus:  God forgives our sins.

Function:  That the hearers will forgive one another.

Structure:  Jewel.


So We Forgive One Another


Have you ever been there?  Have you ever been in the situation where you’re stuck trying to forgive someone again?  Maybe it’s your spouse, your child, your parent, your friend, your coworker, your pastor.  Here they go again.  Why should I forgive them this time?

You’ve heard it before, right?  “I promise mom, I’ll stop lying.”  “I’m sorry honey, I won’t touch the bottle again.”  “I’m sorry I was running late again.”  “I promise, it’ll never happen again.”

If you think about your life for just a few seconds, I’m sure you can all come up with an example.  An example of a relationship in your life that’s like a broken record, that’s like the dog who returns to his vomit.  Same ol’ mistake.  Here we go again.

Today’s texts are all about forgiveness.  And as we look at them, I want you to keep your broken relationships in mind.  I want you to think about the deep hurts you have felt.  The people who are hard to forgive.

We start with Joseph in the book of Genesis.  Joseph, the great grandson of Abraham.  One of twelve brothers, the sons of Jacob, of Israel.  This is one of the most well-known Old Testament accounts.  Movies have been made, musicals and plays have been produced.  But we revisit it again today.

Dad had four wives, and he had a favorite, Rachel.  And for years, she couldn’t have children.  So Jacob had sons with his other wives.  Ten of them in total.  And eventually, Rachel became pregnant, and she gave birth to Joseph.  Dad’s favorite wife, dad’s favorite son.  Joseph’s brothers noticed.  They were jealous, they were angry, and they despised and hated their brother for it.

And then they saw an opportunity.  One day, they were alone in a field some distance from home.  They saw a way to get rid of him for good.  But as they plotted to kill him, the eldest, Reuben, took a stand.  He proposed leaving him in a pit instead.  Now what would have happened to him in the pit, who would know?

But then a different opportunity arose.  The brothers saw a caravan and decided they could make some money off of Joseph and get rid of him at the same time.  What a plan!  And so they did, they sold him into slavery.  And so for a number of years, Joseph was a slave and a prisoner.  He endured many things because of his brothers’ treachery.

But through it all, God was with him.  God blessed him everywhere he went and in everything he did.  And after years, Joseph finds himself second in command over the nation of Egypt.

And then we come to their reunion.  Then we see Joseph and his brothers together again.  And now that dad is dead, the brothers fear for their lives.  They fear revenge.  They fear that the evil and wickedness they did to him will be repaid to them.

But what does Joseph do?  What does he do to the men who wanted to kill him, who caused him all kinds of grief?  He forgives them.  He loves them.  And he provides for them.  “’So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

Then we come to our gospel reading today.  Then we come to Peter and we see his feelings.  “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  You see, Peter knows about relationships.  He knows that when two sinners are together, bad things happen and we get hurt.  And so he thinks he’s taking the high road.  He thinks that by forgiving his brother multiple times, he’s doing great.  But there’s a limit to forgiveness, right?

Jesus’ answer is debated.  What’s His response?  Some have argued that He said 77 times.  Others say that He said 70 times 7, which would be 490.  Whatever number you want to go with, the point is the same.  The point is that you keep forgiving.  Whether it’s 77 or 490, what are the odds that you can count that high in a single relationship, let alone all of your relationships.  You’ll lose count, and so you’ll just have to keep forgiving.

And Jesus elaborates by telling a parable.  A king decides to settle all of his outstanding accounts.  So servants are brought to him one at a time.  Eventually, one is brought before him that owes him 10,000 talents.  He couldn’t pay it.  There was no way.  So the king ordered for him and his family to be sold to pay back some of the debt.  But he begged, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”

The king had mercy, he forgave the debt, all of it.  And the servant is thrilled and goes out and what’s he do next?  He finds one of his servants who owed him money, 100 denarii.  And he demanded payment.  And when the servant couldn’t pay, he threw him in prison.

When the king’s other servants saw this, they reported it to the king.  Outraged, he summoned the wicked servant and, after reprimanding him for not sharing the forgiveness, he threw him in prison as well.

There’s a few things I want to point out with this parable.  You already know what a denarius is.  The New Testament mentions it many times, and even defines it in a couple of places.  It’s a day’s wage.  A talent is equal to 6000 denarii.  Think about that for a second.

Now let’s translate it into numbers you’ll recognize.  According to research, the average American makes $40,000 a year.  That would make for $160/day.  Let’s call that the day’s wage, the denarius.  So someone owes you $16,000.  That’s a new car, that’s a year of tuition for college.  That’s a fairly normal debt, right?

But the servant owed the king 10000 talents.  1 talent is 6000 denarii, so 10000 talents is 60,000,000 denarii.  The servant owed the master 60 million days wages.  That’s 164,000 years of pay.  Or to use our average American from before, $9.6 billion.

The king forgave a massive debt, an impossible debt.  You’re not coming up with 164,000 years wages anytime soon.  It’s not going to happen.  You’ve dug a hole so deep there’s no getting back out.  And yet, the king, God our Father, has forgiven that debt.  He’s rescued you from the pit of sin and death.

And now you go out, debt free, sins forgiven.  And you find someone who owes you a debt.  And when they ask for your forgiveness, you withhold it.  You don’t forgive them, despite the overwhelming forgiveness you just received.

This is what we see in the Lord’s Prayer.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Have you ever stopped to think about those words?  Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re praying for, what you’re asking God for?  God, forgive me as I forgive others.

If you’re holding a grudge against your spouse or your neighbor or whoever, you might want to think twice before you pray the Lord’s Prayer.  You might want to think twice before asking God to forgive you the same way.

That’s the lesson in our texts today.  As God forgives us, so we forgive one another.  There’s nothing you can do to me, there’s nothing I can do to you that’s beyond forgiveness.  Christ set the bar, He made the example in His death on the cross.  He’s the reason the King forgives our 10000 talents of debt.  We can’t get out on our own, but we don’t have to, because the King had pity on us.  He forgave us our debt.

And so as we leave the King’s presence, we take that forgiveness, that rejoicing and thrilled feeling, and we share it with the world.  We forgive our sibling, we forgive our teacher or our boss.  And if they do it again, we forgive them again.

Jeremiah tells us what that looks like, why we can continue to forgive.  He says:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”


How incredible is that?  The all-powerful, all-knowing God is capable of forgetting our sins.  He not only forgives them, He forgets them.  That’s how far gone your sins are because of Christ.  They’re gone and they’re never coming back.  So rejoice in that.  Celebrate the forgiveness of God in your life.  So the next time you’re struggling to forgive someone, whether it’s a new sin against you or one they just keeping doing, look to your King, look to the debt that you’ve been forgiven.  And then go, forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.