Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:1-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

So the big thing in the news this past week was the announcement of Apple’s latest iPhones, the iPhone 8 and 8+ and ground breaking iPhone X (ooooooooh), which is the Roman numeral 10, but not an “ex” to make things just a little more confusing *shrug*. What happened to the iPhone 9 you ask? Wherever Microsoft’s Windows 9 went, as in it doesn’t exist for some strange reason. The X of course is to mark Apple’s 10 years in the phone business. 10 years. It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years already since Apple introduced its first iPhone, cleverly called just “iPhone”, like no numbers or letters or really confusing Roman numerals that look like letters after it, and with it started the smartphone war over who would get our hard earned dollars.

As anyone who is nerdy enough to read tech blogs and know a thing or two about phone history would tell you, Apple actually didn’t invent the smartphone, which is basically a cellular phone that is capable of much more than making calls and sending texts. Apple wasn’t the first to put email or web browsing onto a phone, or even a full touch screen, and Apple certainly wasn’t the first have games on a phone. But one cannot deny that Apple did revolutionize the whole phone industry, even when a lot of their ideas were “borrowed,” Apple was able to market themselves and appeal to the masses to be a great American success story. How? Well in my opinion, Apple has become so popular because they made the smartphone consumer-oriented.

What I mean by that is while the actual pioneers of smartphone technology like Palm, Nokia, and my personal favourite Blackberry made solid phones with functionality designed for productivity and efficiency in communication, the iPhone was designed mainly for consumers, things that would make your everyday lives better and easier and more fun, not just your work lives. And boom, right there, the smartphone suddenly wasn’t just for business suits and government officials, but now the smartphone was the new normal for anyone who has a phone. I mean go to any phone store, any carrier, and what would you see most? These phones are said to have more computing power than it took to send people to the moon. They can store more in your pocket than you could fill a room with 30 years ago. They might not have great actual talking on the phone capabilities, but they are awesome at connecting you with your friend over a variety of different ways and social media platforms.

And so gone are the days when you had to actually dial someone’s number to get a hold of them, or meet up with them in person to see them, or even sit down at a computer to email them. Instead, just pull out your smartphone from your pocket and text or video chat or email straight from there. It’s like magic.

And while this technology is still relatively new, we find that it is weird when people don’t have smartphones these days. When we see someone pull out a dumb phone or even say “I don’t have a cellphone” we’d almost be hard pressed not to raise an eyebrow and be like hrm? How do you get a hold of people? How do you get directions when you’re lost? How do you get answers to your questions right away? How do you take pictures of your food at a restaurant? The norm has become carrying a smartphone now, and it is getting increasingly weird when we don’t have one (no offence to you out there who don’t have a smartphone).

I’m just saying that it is no longer the norm. Just like it is no longer the norm for us to have to have a university degree, or a domestic vehicle, or own a detached home, or be white living in Canada. Things have changed over the years by multiple events, intersecting our lives and redefining us for who we are. We no longer need university degrees because there are other ways to get our education and the variety of jobs in the trades are vacated by retiring baby boomers means more people are needed to fill those positions. We no longer largely drive domestically made cars because global technology has advanced and the cost of importing cars has dropped. We no longer look to own detached homes because the housing market is just nuts and too expensive for most. And since Canada had widely opened its borders to immigration, and with the Lower Mainland being put on the map by Expo 86, we have become more ethnically and culturally diverse than any other country in the world.

All these events have shaped us, changed us, redefined us to be who we are today. And those who haven’t been changed by the tides of society are seen as different, weird, and somehow not in touch with reality.

And I think all this relates to our gospel story today. I know what you’re thinking, “Wait, it does? Isn’t this story about forgiveness? It pretty straight forward, forgive or else. I mean this sermon really should have been over like 5 minutes ago.” Am I right?

But bear with me for a minute or two or at least 10. We know this story of Peter asking a silly question and Jesus responding with a parable. How many times should I forgive someone who is being a jerk? Is 7 times enough to cut them out of my life? The funny thing is that Peter probably thought he was being generous with his 7 count, that is around 4 more than what he already thought was enough, according to Jesus’ teaching last week.

But Jesus says no, you forgive more than you can count. You forgive as much as God forgives you. You forgive until it isn’t even forgiving anymore, but it is just you genuinely loving the person.

Whoa, wait, loving the person? We can let things go once or twice, maybe even more than 7 times, but to love is a lot harder than that.

This is why Jesus told the parable, to illustrate what he meant by the seemingly arbitrary number of 77 or 7 times 7 or whatever your translation of choice tells you. But the parable itself seems straightforward, forgive each other or be thrown in jail for the rest of your life, right? That is what it looks like on the surface at least.

The problem I have with that interpretation is that if it was correct that would mean that Jesus goes back on what he is saying and teaching. Jesus just said that we should forgive more than we could count, but then it would seem that he’s saying that unless you have slave who doesn’t forgive, then in that case you only need to forgive him once and then throw his sorry butt in jail. Sure, some may say what he did was unforgiveable, but then that would mean only forgive more times you can count unless it’s too hard? Or only forgive if it is convenient for you?

Rather, I think this parable is about what happens to us when we are forgiven, or what happens when nothing happens. See the amount of money that first slave owed is huge, like insurmountable huge. It is roughly equivalent to 150 years of labour, so try paying that off while in jail. When the master forgave that debt, then that should have been to this guy like what the iPhone is to the phone industry, it should have changed his life, it should opened his eyes to endless possibility, it should have empowered him to love and forgive others as he was shown love and forgiveness.

But he didn’t, as we know. Instead, he remained the same. He was unchanged. He held fast to the ways of the world that told him an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a denarius for a denarius. Technically, he didn’t do anything wrong asking for what was owed to him. It isn’t illegal to collect a debt. It isn’t immoral to expect to be paid. But in not seeing the grace that has been given to him, in not being changed by the gracious gift of forgiveness, in not embracing the freedom that he received from his master, he essentially sentenced himself in jail. He put himself in shackles, binding himself to the ways of the world, confined in his own closed mind.

So what Jesus was teaching here isn’t a threat, forgive or else. Rather it is a warning, that if we live by the ways of the world without forgiveness we would be destined to be shackled to this dog-eat-dog mentality. And when we are confined to that mentality, it will be hard to get out, unless we see just how forgiven we are. Until we realise how vast and wide God’s love for us is, it would be difficult to change and learn to love others in the same way.

See, the love of God that reached out to us with is given to us freely. It enters our world, intersects our lives, redefines us as a people that live not by rules and nitpicky regulations, but by the freedom found in Jesus Christ. Freedom from holding grudges, freedom from moral debt, freedom from the guilt of never being able to pay enough, do enough, or be good enough.

As the iPhone changed the smartphone industry, so God’s love and forgiveness changes us. As we are defined and redefined by moments and events in our history, so God defines us by welcoming us into God’s kingdom. As the master was willing to give the servant a chance to embrace the freedom found in his grace, so we are given the opportunity to know and see just how free we are, trusting in the Spirit, bound to the love of Jesus Christ.

See, we aren’t ordered to forgive. We aren’t mandated to love. We aren’t even asked to commit to going to church every Sunday. Rather, we are invited to see how much we are forgiven, how much we are loved, and how much we are part of this community of God, open, welcoming, and revealing to all the wonders and goodness of God’s love, freeing us from the confines of a world that expects us to pay and pay and pay for the happiness and joy that God graciously gives us for free.

As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, may we reside in the love and forgiveness of God, knowing that we are always welcomed and freed by God’s gracious peace and joy. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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