The Greatest Miracle of All
Psalm 103: 1-13
(Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions us. I those who fear him.)
Matthew 18:21-35 18:21 Then 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?"
18:22 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
18:23 "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 18:24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 18:25 and, 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. 18:26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' 18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
18:28 But 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.' 18:29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' 18:30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
18:31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' 18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
18:35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
When you read the Bible, many of us have the thought that the Old Testament God is a God of wrath. The Psalm this morning corrects this view. God’s wrath is limited, but God’s goodness has no boundaries. That may seem inconsistent. That, however, is good. God’s forgiveness has no limits, and because the heart of God is grace, not wrath.
I wanted to clarify that this morning because when I think of you coming to church week in and week out, I can only imagine what is in your hearts – the desire to bless, the desire for forgiveness, and the desire to forgive those who have hurt you. Some of you come to church with burdens, some almost too large to imagine.
I say this because today I want to talk briefly about what both our Scripture lessons address - what it means to bless the Lord, which the Psalm so beautifully calls us to do, and the story from Matthew, which talks about forgiveness.
First, let us speak about what the Psalm proclaims: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live…”
However, to bless you have to have a grateful heart; and to be grateful you have to be aware.
I do not know how it is with you, but some mornings I wake up and am delighted I got up early to see the sun shining through the morning dew. That is one of the great delights in life.
Other days, I can hardly wake up. Instead, of saying – “Thank God, it is morning,” I say – “Oh god, it is morning.”
I then reach into my refrigerator and pick one of the few luxuries I buy at the grocery story each month, and that is a four pack of “Starbucks Double-shot Expresso.” I drink it down, and begin to move – a little. Thank God, most mornings are not like that. Rather, I am thankful for another day of life, a day I did nothing to deserve, but God miraculously gives. I open my eyes and become aware of life.
A poet called Kabir once wrote: “Do you have a body? Do not sit on the porch. Go out and walk in the rain. If you are in love, then why are you asleep? Wake up. Wake up. You have slept millions of years. Why not wake up this morning?”
The human heart is made for surprise, to be awake, and to be joyful for the day given. Joy is indeed a neglected virtue. To bless the Lord we must first wake up.
Second, to have a grateful heart, to bless, you have to know the giver.
We bless the Lord because as the Psalmist declares, God “forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live…”
When we come to God, we are not only saying thank you to God, we are also saying that God and I belong together. We complete each other. God gives me the gift of life, and I give God myself.
God says to each of us, everyoe,every where: “There is no mirror in the world that shows how beautiful you are to me.” (W.S.Coffin)
When author Madeleine L’Engle was asked: “Do you believe in God without any doubts?” She replied – “I believe in God with all my doubts.”
Third, to have a grateful heart, you need a forgiving heart.
In Matthew and Jesus is asked the critical questions – “How often should I forgive, seven times?” Jesus replied – “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Let us face it, “Forgiveness fits faulty folks.” We all love poorly, which means we need to forgive more easily and freely.
Forgiveness is not something you use occasionally, it is like clothes you carry on your back. You do not generally walk around the house without your clothes; and you never leave the house without your clothes. Forgiveness is like that – it goes with you, you carry it with you wherever you go, and you need it wherever you go.
Forgiveness is like food and water – something you need everyday, several times a day. And, it is something you help others to get. You share it with others.
Like water, you have to immerse yourself in forgiveness until you are dripping wet. And, when you are wet others get wet when you come into contact with them.
Fourth, when we forgive and receive forgiveness, when we bless and belong to God, we find we belong to one another.
Everything we have is a gift from God, we, therefore, cannot waste this gift in resentment or anger.
I know many people feel resentment, anger, and hate because someone has been cruel to them, or because the world has been cruel to them.
The thing is, the world is cruel to everyone. No one gets through life without scars. We hurt others, and others hurt us. Since we do not give ourselves the gift of life, because all we have comes from God, God calls us to forgive because we have received forgiveness. As the 23rd Psalm says, “You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”
In all our lives, our cup overflows. “In the mud and scum of things, there is always something that sings.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson –“Fragments”)
We are all dependent on one another. We share the same air, the same planet, the same short span of life, why spend it throwing dirt at each other?
On the news, I read or hear so much about wars, violence, and murder occurring each day. I hear about Kim Sun Yun of North Korea proclaiming with pride about building nuclear weapons. When I hear all of this, I just want to tell everyone, “When you are in the same boat with your enemy, you don’t drill a hole in his side of the boat.” (W.S. Coffin)
How often should I forgive my enemies – the ones who have hurt me? “Seven times? No – I tell you seventy-seven times.”
When I think about the creeds we say or the miracles we debate, I am amazed at what the discussion turns to – the Virgin Birth, Jesus walking on the water, the parting of the Red Sea, Noah, and other. I, however, do not think those are the real miracles we need to think about in our lives or churches.
For example, there is the Virgin Birth. That is no requirement for loving God and loving others. The parting of the Red Sea is not a necessity to care about the world. It is the greatest miracle of all that gets me. The greatest miracle of all is forgiveness. That God is so loving, God forgives us, and so, we are able to forgive one another. Forgiveness is the daily, hourly, and real personal miracle of all. That is the true miracle for new life here and forever.
(Copyright by Jack Hughes Robinson 2017. Use only by permission.)