9/14/14 Enough Grace

 Enough Grace
Matthew 18:21-35

 21Then Peter came and said to him, “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.”

9-11 – Grace.  Is there enough for me?

We wonder this, in the quiet of our minds.

We might wander into a church.  The door is open.  Is there a space for me, in this place?  Acceptance for what I think?  That I am not so sure about a lot about God and Jesus.  The ways I struggle…

Is there grace enough here for me?  Does it flow here, like water?

I taught at the Horizon program at London Correctional this week.  The Horizon budget has been cut in half.  The staff are all on part-time.  The men are still yearning to be changed to start a new life.

Is there grace enough for me to be able to do this at half salary? asked Jeff, the staff person.  Is there grace enough from God for me to complete this program, to be changed? asked the prisoners.

A woman faces a terminal illness, and ponders all that she did, and didn’t do.  Is there grace enough for me? she wonders.

A Navy pilot, veteran of many tours already, hears the news of another bombing campaign, and ponders the casualties, enemy and civilian that have weighed on him.  Is God’s grace sufficient for me?

We wonder in this world with each passing day that seem more grace-less and insecure.  Is there grace enough for me?

Jesus didn’t talk about grace; he taught about forgiveness, mercy, sacrifice, generosity, and love.  When Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he called the experience “grace”:  the forgiveness extended to him, the offer of a changed life, and if it was available to him.  It was meant for everyone.

We might think Jesus and Paul lived in an easier, simpler time.  But almost everyone but the very rich lived day-to-day.  If the crops failed or the taxes or prices went up, they were in crisis.  The prisons were full of debtors.  There were food shortages, infectious diseases and no doctors, violence and war.  Life expectancy was 30 to 40 years.

Into this time comes Jesus of Nazareth proclaiming that the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus was among the people.

A kingdom where there is always enough if food and wealth are shared.  There is healing, enough in ways seen and unseen.  There is room enough in God’s heart and eternal home for everyone.  And this kingdom lives within you.  All that is required is to believe it, to practice it.

But surely there is a limit to grace, to forgiveness, says Peter.  Let’s say one of your followers hurts me.  Should I forgive them as many as 7 times? 

No, says Jesus, not enough grace, rather 70 X 7.

So Jesus tells a story.  The kingdom of heaven is like a king who has a slave.  This slave owes him more than he could possibly pay.  The servant begs to be forgiven this debt, and the king does so and frees him.

Now from this grace, you would think would flow more grace, more forgiveness.  But here Jesus turns the story, the recipient of grace does not offer it, and that, according to Jesus, really gets to God, so much so that there is punishment.

It is uncomfortable for us, this punishing God.  One of the men at the prison this week commented on this text:  Maybe that means if you withhold forgiveness, then you are the one that ends up in prison. 

Like holding onto anger, denying grace is like drinking poison thinking that you are going to kill someone else.

The Kingdom of God is within you.  You have the capacity for amazing grace just as God has the capacity to continuously offer you a new life, new possibilities, forgiveness and blessing.

Jesus came that we might know that God is for us.  That God’s own nature is embedded in our hearts.  So the question is not whether God is a God of Grace — it is how much we are willing to offer it to each other.  Whether we are willing to live out the kingdom of God here and now, here in this congregation, for example.

Paul speaks of the church in Rome.  Why do you judge each other?  Why do you vegetable eaters think you are better than the meat eaters and vice-versa?  Why do you not allow my grace to flow one to the other?

Then to church in Corinth that was so anxious about its future:  “God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace.  Together, you will have everything you need and in everything to provide for more than enough for every kind of good work.”

Amen to that.

We can be so worried about the future.  Then we realize that from that small band of poor, frightened, believers, came the church of Jesus Christ.  What grace!

We can think this world is beyond the sort of grace that Jesus spoke about.  Then we hear this story from Rwanda, West Africa, where our Missioners Ben and Beth Weisbrod are currently in language study.

Rwanda was a former colony of Germany, then Belgium, the ethnic Tutsis were tall and had long, European like faces.  Hutus had round more traditional West African faces and the Europeans favored the Tutsis.

The rivalry lasted for decades, and when a bloodthirsty Hutu took power and called for this genocide in 1994, 1 million people — men, women, children —70% of the ethnic Tutsi population were killed.  70 percent!

Meet Francois and Epiphanie.  Epiphanie says:  Twenty years ago, he killed my child.  Then he came to me to ask me pardon.  I immediately granted it to him.  I was pleased that he testified to the crime instead of keeping it in hiding.  Because it hurts if they hide a crime they commit against you. 

Francois says:  I participated in the killing of the son of this woman.  Now we are members of the same group of reconciliation.  When she needs water, I fetch it for her.  When we are together, we are like brother and sister.

This is the work of God.  Evil is strong, but good makes evil bend at the knees.  Hatred is fierce, but Grace is fiercer, and how can we not get a bit of courage from that.

We forgive, says Jesus; we offer grace, says Paul, not because we condone what was done to us or to deny justice.  And we don’t allow ourselves to be continually broken down and beaten.

But to forgive, to believe in grace, is to refuse to let what happened destroy us, to destroy our capacity to live in the kingdom of heaven, here and now.

Because if grace is flowing to us, then why not through us?

We are given so much, we are forgiven so much, we are extended so much, we are offered this community — this wonderful space, this amazing life, the love in our life, the kindness we have known, the compassion we have known.

To believe there is grace enough for us is to live in the Kingdom of God.  Amazing….