Matthew 18: 21-35

9/11 and 7-77 Diplomacies

Last Wednesday, people all over the world and especially in the United States paused even only momentarily to reflect on the drama that unfolded on September 11th one year ago. My dad used to say, “You never know how a day is going to end.” He meant that the unexpected can happen any time to any one of us, and it does. On this particular day, 9/11 a number of hijackers flew two passenger airliners into the World Trade Centre in New York City. These twin towers came crashing down killing over three thousand people and affecting the lives of millions throughout the world.

Last Wednesday, people commemorated the lives lost, and also the many heroes that came to rescue life and comfort the survivors. There were many images of this tragedy that came to us via the electronic and print media. Always, there were the faces that came together to form a helping community. People came from everywhere to move steel and rubble, to search for survivors. They came to heal wounds, comfort, and give of themselves in anyway possible towards this massive rescue operation. They came leaving their inhibitions and differences behind, leaving their jobs, their families; they came with humility to form a community striving for the welfare of others. They came to bring order out of chaos, and hope to the desperate. It is reassuring to know that where tragedy happens, God raises up heroes for our sake.

The events of 9/11 also marked a further tragedy. This particular tragedy was not seen through images on TV in real time but occurred as a change in attitude. There was a distinctive change in American foreign policy. The move was away from a ‘round table’ negotiation approach to peace, to more of a ‘wild west,’ ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ approach to peace. As a result, America responded to the assault on them by attacking Afghanistan. I have dubbed this current foreign policy as the 9/11 diplomacy, hit and hit back diplomacy in and effort to secure peace.

Just imagine, if President George W. Bush went the other way. Imagine if he gave forgiveness to all those who where responsible for the tragedy of 9/11. Imagine if he had used the war kitty of billions of dollars to build better relationships with his enemy. Imagine the possibilities of a lasting peace built on better relationships. Perhaps President Bush would have been remembered as the greatest hero of 9/11.

Often our initial response to pain and suffering is to hit back in some way. It is the way of sin. And we are all burdened with sin. There are also many subtle ways people use, to hit-back as a response to pain and suffering caused by others, even to the ones closest to them. Defiance is one way, a sullen look, a hurtful word, vandalising property, breaking things, stealing, lying, sulking, withholding love, not speaking, running away, taking drugs, and the list can go on and on as possible responses to pain and suffering. It is one of the few times we can be very imaginative and skilful when it comes to revenge.

How do you respond to pain and suffering caused by others?

Only too often in a hit and hit-back entanglement each person or party feel they are unfairly treated, and feel that they are the victim. There seems to be no exit to such a cycle of revenge. This is clearly demonstrated on the world stage in the affairs between Israel and the Palestinians. Tensions and conflict are in the home as well, at the work place, on the street, and even amongst Christians.

Since now, there is a third party we have totally ignored in our concerns of self perceived justice. While we are hurting one another, killing each other, hating, and being at enmity with others we do it also to God. God is our creator. He made the heavens and earth. He made you and me. He made the Jew and Arab. He also made the Hippopotamus and the tick bird that sits on its back. In other words, we all belong to God. In a sense, we are his children whom he loves. When we hurt someone we are hurting someone that God loves, when we kill someone we are taking the life of someone God loves, and when we exterminate a plant or animal species we have taken away something that God had created and loved.

We all deserve God’s anger and punishment in what we are doing to him. To make things even worse we all had a part in killing Christ Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus became the victim of our sin, our common sin which we share with everyone throughout the ages. Surely, we can expect some sort of pay-back from God.

Not so! Through the death of Jesus, God has done something, and demonstrated a new way to life. God has forgiven us our debt. He has forgiven us all our sins. God who is the real victim to whom much is owed has embraced and shown us a diplomacy of forgiveness.
We need no longer to fear God. He has set us free so that we may have a renewed relationship with Him, the One who cares for you.

When people ask me, ‘Show me God’ or ‘Show me the Holy Spirit’ I point them to Jesus and say, ‘Look at Jesus, there is God.’ In him God is revealed. Through Jesus’ actions and deeds, God’s love for all of us is revealed. Amongst other miracles of Jesus, he comforts those who mourn, he heals the sick, feeds the hungry, calms the storms in our life, and forgives those who deny and betray him. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because what ever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” (John 5: 19) This is great news. We have heard that Jesus is one with God and has revealed his intentions towards us. He loves us and desires only to give us life, to preserve our life, to restore our life, to give us abundant life, and to give us eternal life with him now and forever in his kingdom. Get to know Jesus and experience the forgiveness that God graciously gives to you, to all of us. It will set you free from fear and give you a peace that only God can give.

It is a hard thing to do to forgive someone, especially when one feels that they are the victim of unfair treatment. Our Gospel text for this morning particularly speaks about forgiveness. In the text Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matt. 18: 21-22)

Surely, Peter was thinking that seven times was far more than necessary. But Jesus over turned his pious question and raised the requirement. Jesus selected a number that showed we ought to forgive again, and again, and again, to forgive continuously. Against the 9/11 diplomacy of hit and hit-back we have now a 7-77 diplomacy of forgiveness towards lasting peace. Continuous forgiveness is a requirement that Jesus asks especially all Christians to do, so that we may continue to reveal God’s love and forgiveness to the world. We can be thankful and grateful that God does exactly that for you and me, for all of us. Beg him to forgive you and have your life changed.
Within the prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to say, the Lord’s Prayer we say the petition, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ In this petition we pray and beg God for daily forgiveness. At the same time God call us to daily forgive others, to pass on his forgiveness through us to others. Forgiveness is the way to a new life, a life of peace with God, peace with one another, and even peace with our environment.

Out of an attitude of gratitude to God we are willing to forgive others.

How do you show your gratitude to God?

Gratitude is seen in regular church attendance.
Gratitude is seen in the collection plate.
Gratitude is seen in service to the community.
Gratitude is a prayerful life.
Gratitude is studying the Word of God.
Gratitude is loving one another.
Gratitude above all is forgiving each other.

As God has forgiven us all, he has through it united us together in a renewed fellowship with Himself. Forgiveness brings unity. Forgiveness brings unity into the family, unity in the church, and unity in the wider community. Where there is forgiveness, there is unity, love, and people giving of themselves for the welfare of others. The challenge that Jesus brings to us, to you is to be a forgiving, united, and loving Christian community. United together we would shine with the love of Jesus and be a community of hope for others.
Our gospel text is part of a whole unit that makes up chapter 18. At the beginning of the chapter the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus answers with various stories as examples and our text belongs to those examples. Therefore, the person who forgives again, and again, and again is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. You too could be a hero in your own family, in your congregation, and in the community when we forgive and begin to renew relationships. Ultimately, God is the greatest hero, the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, because he has forgiven all our sins from each one of us so that we may have peace.  Amen.


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