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12 November 2010 @ 11:56 am
Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Trinity - 5th and 6th Petitions of the Lord's Prayer  
Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 24 + 5th and 6th Petitions

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

If the forgiveness we give to others is the measure of the forgiveness that God grants to us, then we are doomed. Measurement, dear Christian friends, is of the Law. The Law counts good works and sins. It puts them in the scales and finds that the lead of our iniquity entirely outweighs the feather of our righteousness. To God, all of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. They are worth less than nothing. They avail much before the world, but they are worthless to God.

Measurement is of the Law. If God is only going to forgive us to the degree that we forgive our neighbor, then our neighbor is definitely going to get the last laugh. You know it’s true, and so do I. We all bear grudges. We all have our limit. We all have the point when we think that we’ve forgiven enough. We all have a moment when we say, “If they were really sorry, they’d stop doing it.”

What, however, is God’s limit? When does He say, “Enough!” When does the Lord decide that He’s through with us sinners? As I ask this question, you might be trying to come up with an answer. How far is too far? But as you grope for that answer, another question might occur to you. Have I gone too far? Am I beyond the Lord’s forgiveness? Have I crossed the line and come to the point where all I have to look forward to is eternal condemnation?

Measurement is of the Law, but forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is without measure, especially where our Lord is concerned. There is no sin of yours that the Lord has not forgiven. There is no trespass that has not been taken to the cross. If you were to live a thousand years and every day of them was filled with the most wicked of iniquities, all of those sins would still have been forgiven by Christ on the cross.

The fact that our forgiveness does not measure up to the perfect standard that our Lord demonstrated when He died in our place shows us how much we need that forgiveness. Sinful humanity can never measure up to the perfect love shown by our Lord.

But the magnificence of our Lord’s forgiveness is not a license for us to sin. Sin still hurts us, and it certainly hurt Him. One of the sins that hurts most is bearing ill will toward our neighbor when they sin against us. If we listen to the Lord’s Word, we know that we are all sinners deserving of eternal wrath and punishment. When we try to convince ourselves that we are better than our neighbor, we are acting against nature. You don’t even need the Scriptures to know that every human being is subject to evil thoughts and desires. You don’t have to read the Bible to know that the world is messed up. Bearing a grudge is the sin of thinking that you’re less messed up than your neighbor. That, of course, is a ridiculous way to think.

Even Solomon with all of the wisdom that the Lord granted him could never have looked into the heart or mind of another. Instead, Solomon wrote that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. He feared God because he knew his sin. He feared God because he could see into his own heart and his own mind. He feared God because he knew that he was worthy of eternal punishment. The path of wisdom leads us to a far holier road than that of bearing a grudge. We forgive others because we know that we need the same forgiveness. We forgive others because we know how sorry our state would be if we were not forgiven. We show mercy because we have received mercy.

Our Lord’s call to forgive is a serious one. The Gospels are filled with warnings against having an unforgiving heart. The message is always the same. Don’t count forgiveness. Don’t pick an arbitrary number and limit yourself to it. God has not limited the amount of forgiveness that He wants to shower on you. He didn’t even limit it to those who would finally receive it. He won forgiveness for Judas, for Genghis Khan, for Adolf Hitler, for Stalin, and for Osama Bin Laden. He loved them all. He bore the punishment for them all. He suffered for each and every one of them. If Osama Bin Laden would repent of his idolatry and trust Christ for salvation, even he would receive it. His Father would welcome him into His heavenly mansion with great joy. All of the innumerable angels would rejoice before the throne of God when Osama repented.

God loves terrorists, rapists, child molesters, and even you and me. None of us are outside of His forgiveness. The reason that Jesus gives such stern warnings against having an unforgiving heart is that the unforgiving heart tends to also be the unforgiven heart. It is the heart that has not received the forgiveness that Christ won on the cross. A heart which refuses to forgive is a heart that is living in unbelief, and no one can receive eternal salvation without faith which holds onto Christ and receives all that He has promised.

When we receive the forgiveness that Christ has won for us, it will always overflow to others. Christ’s forgiveness is so far greater than our sin that it is impossible for the heart of a Christian to contain it. And so the gift goes on. It begins on the cross, it comes to us through Word and Sacrament, and it overflows to our neighbor. The only way that Christians can live together in peace is through the forgiveness of sins. We are sinners living together in a world that has been ruined by sin. But Christ has taken on our human flesh and He has personally suffered all that our sin has earned. Because He has taken the punishment there is absolutely no need for us to live in hatred toward our neighbor.

When we consider all of the joy that is ours through our Lord’s limitless forgiveness, our sinful flesh can also trouble us. If God’s forgiveness is so limitless and free, why shouldn’t we just sin without regret and without holding back? In Romans 6, Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” and the answer that our sinful flesh wants to give is, “Absolutely! I like to sin; God likes to forgive. What’s the problem?”

Paul’s answer is different. He says, “May it never be! How can you who died to sin live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death.” The Christian who is baptized into Christ and has had all of their sins forgiven on the cross is dead to sin. Their sinful flesh has died with Christ on the cross. Sin no longer has any mastery over us. Because of the forgiveness we have received we are able to serve God in holiness and purity. Are we able to do this because we can now act out of a perfect piety that is capable of acting without any sort of sinful motivation? No. But we are able to act in a way that is pleasing to God. God gives us the works to walk in and He forgives our failure to walk in them perfectly. We may rejoice with Augustine that “the Law is perfectly kept when all that is not kept is forgiven.”

But it’s hard. It’s hard to live the Christian life. It’s hard to resist temptation. It’s hard to do the right thing even when you know what the right thing is. The world, the devil, and our sinful flesh are always attacking us. They are always trying to tempt us into thinking sinful thoughts, speaking sinful words, and committing sinful deeds. They are always trying to convince us that we know better than God what the best way to live is.

They are, of course, wrong. Sin always hurts. It hurts us, and it hurts others. The Law of God shows us the way of perfect love and perfect peace. When we ask God to lead us not into temptation, we are asking Him to do something that He does even without our prayers. God never tempts us to sin. It is never His desire that we should fail to live in righteousness.

By asking God to “lead us not into temptation” we ask Him for strength to resist our sinful flesh. We ask Him to bring to mind His Word when the world speaks a different word. We ask Him to show to us the way out of sinful situations. We ask Him to preserve us in the Christian faith until we die.

God is answering all of our prayers today in this service. He is forgiving our sins by the Word that has been read and proclaimed to us. He is strengthening our faith by giving us His own word. He is delivering to us all the gifts of life and salvation that He has won for us on the cross.

The measure of our Lord’s forgiveness is without limit, and His desire to preserve us from temptation is too. You are free. You are free from the bondage of sin, and you are free from the fear of temptation.

Christ has forgiven all of our sin and he has overcome every temptation. He delivers all these gifts to you today. Rejoice, people loved by God. Your sins are forgiven and you are free!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.