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“Forgive Us Our Trespasses”
Matthew 6:12


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Midweek Vespers—February 11, 2009

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

We continue our Midweek Vespers sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven.  Hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

Is there a limit to forgiveness?  Is there a boundary, beyond which you are off the hook, and no longer required to forgive someone who does you wrong  Peter seems to think so in this evening’s reading.  “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’”

To forgive three times seems generous, seven times, more than enough.  But, Jesus goes to the heart of Peter’s question—his, calculating, unforgiving, unbelieving heart. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

If you do the math, that would be 490 times, but actually forgiveness doesn’t stop there.  Because, 490 is a symbolic number.  In their culture many numbers had a deep symbolic significance.  Seven and ten were both numbers of completeness and wholeness, as in the seven days of the week, in which God completed creation, and the Ten Commandments, the whole Law of God.  It is no accident that “seventy times seven” is one number of completeness—seven—times another number of completeness—ten—and then times seven again. 

In modern math, we would represent the significance of “seventy times seven” this way, with the symbol of infinity.  With the symbolic number “seventy times seven,” Jesus is telling Peter, and us, that’s how many times you must forgive your brother who sins against you, an unlimited, infinite number of times.

Perfect forgiveness, with no exceptions, and no limits.  Isn’t that is what we want and need from God for ourselves?  For, we confess that we have “sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,” “by what we have done and by what we have left undone,” and so we “justly deserve your temporal and eternal punishment.” 

A few chapters before this evening’s reading, Matthew’s Gospel says, “From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . . and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Jesus told The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant to help Peter, and us, understand the significance of his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection.  By his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus earned for you full forgiveness.  On account of his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, your sins are all forgiven, with no exceptions, and no limits.   And because you have received unlimited forgiveness from God, you will also show unlimited forgiveness toward others.

There is an old saying that holding a grudge is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to get sick and die.  Unforgiveness really hurts only the one who refuses to forgive. You think you’re getting back at those who have hurt you.  But, you wind up only hurting yourself, poisoning your own heart and life with misery. 

The word “forgive” means to set free, to cut loose. When something is forgiven, it no longer has power.  Not only the other person, but you too are set free by your forgiveness, cut loose from the painful past.

Paul says in Ephesians, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger . . .  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.”

The forgiveness that flows to you from the cross knows no boundaries or limits. God doesn’t keep track of how many times you come to him for forgiveness.  In your Baptism, and over and over again in Absolution and Communion, God wipes clean the ledger of your life.  

“Therefore,” Paul says in Colossians, “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Amen.

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