A few years back
my wife and I attempted to introduce our then
6 year old daughter Michaela, to the Star Wars universe.
We could tell even before Luke met Obi Wan
that she needed a few more years
before she could handle that much awesomeness.
We decided to try it again during her spring break this year,
and I am proud to report
that she has made it through the original trilogy.
Personally I have some reservations
about showing her Episode 1,
because it will be just my luck
that she actually likes Jar Jar Binks.
Now I am sure a lot of you are scratching your heads
because you have never seen any of the movies
or care one bit about it.
And that is ok because this is not a Star Wars sermon.
All you need to know is that at its core,
the story of Star Wars
is the story of the struggle between good and evil,
darkness and light, hatred and love.
I will never forget snuggling with Michaela
when she discovered that the ultimate representation of evil
in the movie was actually the father
of the ultimate representation of good.
Now in the story,
the darkness and the light have equal access to power;
the difference comes in how they choose to use it.
The darkness backs up the power they use
with hatred and anger and it kind of supercharges things,
whereas the light uses peace, love, and balance
at the core of their power.
And, much like in real life, it appears that evil, the darkness,
is a whole lot more powerful than the light.
But as I sat there watching these movies
that I have loved since I was a kid, I had a realization.
See in the end, the dad,
the one consumed by the dark power, is redeemed.
He chooses his son over his master,
and he returns to the light to help destroy the even worse bad guy.
And he does this
not because he thought there was more power in the light.
And not because he was defeated in battle and had to concede. The father once locked in the darkness,
returns to the light, because his son forgave him.
Neither the power of good,
nor the power of evil,
can hold a candle to the power of forgiveness.
And believe me… it’s not just a Star Wars thing.
The gospels are full of stories about Jesus forgiving people,
or about Jesus telling stories
about the power of forgiveness
and our need to actively engage in forgiveness.
And Jesus even gets asked questions about forgiveness.
In Matthew’s Gospel,
Peter approaches Jesus and asks him,
how many times should he forgive someone?
Peter offers, should I forgive them seven times?
After all… seven is a nice, solid, biblical number.
But Jesus tells him, no, forgive them 70×7.
And in case you’re tempted to keep a running tally somewhere,
I am pretty sure that Jesus didn’t just literally mean 490 times –
as in, mess up number 491 and you’re toast.
In Luke’s gospel,
Jesus tells the disciples
that if a person sins against you seven times in a day
and returns to you repenting seven times,
you have to forgive them each time.
Forgiveness is a big deal in our faith.
On Good Friday, Christians around the world,
remembered Jesus’ death, the death of an innocent,
the death of God in human flesh,
so that we might know that our sins,
and the sin of the world, can be forgiven.
This is at the very heart of our faith:
the good news that, even though we don’t deserve it,
even though we fall short far more times
than we could possibly count,
God isn’t keeping score,
but God’s mercy and forgiveness are freely offered to us all,
over and over and over again.
Forgiveness is not an easy thing.
It means letting go.
It means giving up on our very human impulse for vengeance.
It means trusting in God’s ultimate justice.
It means putting aside fear of being hurt again
because fear leads to anger,
and anger leads to hate,
and hate leads to suffering
and a darkling path far away from the light.
The important thing to remember though,
is that in the equation of forgiveness,
when you forgive someone else, you win.
You come out on top.
Because you have let go of toxic emotions
that would only serve to make you miserable.
The reaction of the other person,
whether they accept the forgiveness and are grateful
or laugh it off
because they don’t think they did anything wrong in the first place, is secondary to you gaining release
from hanging on to that anger.
There is another story that Jesus tells
about a king who decided to call in all his loans.
All of the people who borrowed money from the king
had to come and make good on what they owe.
In this parable there is a servant
that owes the king ten thousand talents.
A talent being equivalent to what a worker
might expect to earn over 15 years.
Just for context,
for the laborer to earn enough money to pay off this debt,
they would have to work for about 150,000 years.
So right at the start of this story,
everyone listening to it, and now us,
knows that this servant is in trouble.
He owes the king a fortune
and ends up groveling before the king,
promising that if he is just given enough time,
he would pay back all of it.
While the servant may not have done the math
on just how long that would take,
the king certainly knew,
and took pity on the man and forgave him his entire debt.
The king knew he would never see that money again.
And that taking vengeance would not make him whole.
But forgiveness, forgiveness, could set his own soul at ease,
and give this servant a fresh start.
A far better fate than languishing in a debtors’ prison.
But, as some of you know that servant,
doesn’t bother to learn from the king.
No the servant goes out,
elated at being forgiven,
and comes across a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii.
And for context, a denarii is standard day’s wage.
So it was a debt that could eventually be paid.
The servant who had been forgiven by the king,
took his fellow servant by the throat,
and demanded that he repay everything he owes him immediately.
When the second servant begged for mercy and for time,
the unforgiving servant refused
and threw the man into debtors’ prison
until the debt was paid back.
The story goes on,
the king finds out
and calls the unforgiving servant before him
and is angered at what that servant had done.
And so the king had him thrown into prison
until all his own debt was paid,
which, if you are keeping count, was a very, very long time.
The moral of this story,
because you have been forgiven,
because you have been shown far more grace
than you could ever merit –
extend grace and forgiveness to those around you.
Pass it on, for your sake and for theirs;
as you have been forgiven, forgive.
This idea of forgiveness
is so central to Jesus message and mission
that he even worked it into the prayer he taught us:
forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Forgiveness is no little theme in the bible
and it is no small part of the life
of those who seek to follow Jesus Christ.
Our scripture for this morning
is primarily about Jesus appearing before the disciples,
and then coming back later to help allay Thomas’s doubts.
But there is one verse
sandwiched in the middle has caught my eye for this morning.
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Let that sink in for a minute.
One of the reasons the religious establishment
wanted Jesus put to death
was because when he healed people,
he didn’t just say “stand up and walk”,
no, Jesus looked at the blind, and the lame,
and the paralyzed, and leper,
and said “your sins are forgiven”.
And according to the establishment,
according to everything their scriptures told them,
only God had that power, the power to forgive so completely.
Only God could give people the peace and hope
of knowing that they have been forgiven,
they have been given a fresh start, that they have been set free.
And in this moment,
in this little verse
nestled in the story of a disciple
who doubted the resurrection,
is this bestowing of tremendous power.
The power to forgive.
Now hear me, this is not the,
“I forgive my dad for being distant when I was young”
or “I forgive my sister for taking my toy” kind of forgiveness.
That personal forgiveness is important,
but this forgiveness,
the power to release or retain someone from their sin,
is a whole different level all together.
Growing up Catholic one of the things we did
was take part in the sacrament of Holy Confession
The idea was simple enough.
You walk into a little room
and you either knelt in anonymity behind a screen
or sat in a chair face to face with a priest
and told him about all the sins you have committed
since you last confessed.
Now to us that sounds weird and scary,
and if I am being honest it was a bit terrifying,
but there was also something extremely freeing
about telling someone else,
someone I hadn’t wronged,
someone who didn’t really know me, my sins,
and at the end that person,
empowered by God to release or retain my sin,
would tell me that I was forgiven.
But here is the kicker folks,
that power was not given to a chosen and elite few,
it was given to those who have received the Holy Spirit of God.
And the last time I checked, that was us. You and me.
Sitting here in this place
with the power to forgive or not to forgive.
We have been entrusted with this incredible power
to set God’s people free.
Often you will find in our liturgies
spaces where we tell each other:
“In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven,” and this is why.
We have the power to forgive each other,
and not just of the sins that effect us individually.
I cannot count the number of times
I sat across from a distraught teenager
who thought their life was over
and they were worthless
because of something they had done.
And every time,
even though they had done nothing to me,
I told them,
“I forgive you, God forgives you; live in that forgiveness.”
if you could only see the burdens
that are lifted in that moment,
when the reality of grace sinks in…
So what does this mean, pastor;
am I supposed to walk around telling people they are forgiven?
Yes. Yes you are. That is exactly what you are supposed to do.
You are supposed to tell the story of Jesus,
the story of God’s forgiveness and our ability to give it to others.
The addict who is struggling to stay clean.
The woman racked with guilt over an abortion.
The man who’s soul is tormented
because of the family he walked away from.
The parent who blames themselves over the loss of a child.
The drunk driver who lives with the guilt of the lives she destroyed.
We bring them the forgiveness of God,
through the Spirit of God, who resides in us.
We bring them the release of the fear
that they are utterly irredeemable.
We bring them light, and love, and hope. We forgive.
But pastor, what if I don’t want to forgive,
what if I want to retain someone’s sins?
Well, I really like what Eugene Peterson
does with this verse in The Message.
It reads; ”If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good.
If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
“What are you going to do with them?”
Friends, Jesus never refused to forgive,
and I don’t think we should either.
When it comes to the sins
of someone who directly wronged us,
we know, WE KNOW,
that when we refuse to forgive,
we are only causing more suffering on ourselves.
When it comes to those whose sins are against others,
others who may have already forgiven them,
but they cannot figure out how to forgive themselves.
they are the blind and the lame and the leper who,
when their sins are forgiven by the most high God,
they are healed
and their lives are no longer hobbled by fear or guilt.
We have been given a great power.
A tremendous power.
A power that until after the resurrection
belonged to God alone.
A power we have an obligation to use.
Because we have been forgiven,
set free from guilt and shame and debt,
we must also forgive others in Jesus’ name.
Friends, we have been blessed to be a blessing,
we have been forgiven so that we can forgive.
In our ministry of reconciliation,
of forgiveness to the world,
let us seek to make Christ’s love visible
through the lives we set free
with the forgiveness we have received so abundantly.