Thought of the Week
A Japanese Student's Question
In 1909 Arthur James Balfour, the former Prime Minister of England, was speaking at the University of Edinburgh on "The Moral Values Which Unite Nations." In his address, he discussed different ties that bind together the peoples of the world-ties of common knowledge, commerce, diplomatic relationships and bonds of human friendship. When he was done, a Japanese student studying at the Scottish university got up and asked this question. "But, Mr. Balfour, what about Jesus Christ?" According to an American professor who was there, you could have heard a pin drop.
—Frank E. Geabelein
Quip: The Bible is criticized most by those who read it least.
Quote: “I have thought much about your words, and stored them in my heart so
that they would hold me back from sin” (Psalm 119:11).
Quest: It isn’t the style of the Bible that makes it unpopular with the moderns,
but the fact that it cramps their style.
SERMON OF THE DAY by Pastor Jim Nelson
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
Two small children have an older brother who is a bully, and he is always beating them up. One day they are coming home from Sunday school, and the lesson has been on when Peter comes to Christ and asks how often one should forgive his brother when he has sinned against him. And Christ replies not seven times, but seventy times seven.
And the two children as they walk along are talking over how they can apply that story to their big brother. And one says, “We’ll keep a book, and we'll write down in it every time we forgive him.” “Yeah,” says the smaller child, "And when it's 490 times he’d better watch out!”
In our Gospel Lesson today, Peter asked, “How many times do I have to forgive?” He was also counting. The rabbis said that one should forgive another person three times. But Peter wanted to do more. “Seven times?” he asked. Jesus answered, "not seven but seventy times seven.
This story of forgiveness is only found in Matthew: A king, setting the books straight, called in one who owed ten thousand talents. This is a big sum, maybe 12 million dollars. So, it was not just a personal debt; perhaps he was the king’s treasurer or other trusted aide. To get at least some of his money back, the king decided to sell him and his family and his house. The man cried out, “Lord have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” He asked for time! It would have taken a hundred and fifty thousand years of labor! He could never repay a debt that would last forever. Out of compassion, the king not only changed his mind about prison and let him go, but even forgave the debt. Just as he was leaving, he bumped into a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii. Now it takes six thousand denarii to equal one talent. So this debt was around seventeen dollars. Have patience said the other. But no. The one servant had the other thrown into jail until he could cough up the seventeen dollars.
The king was mad. “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" And he gave him to the jailers; perhaps they can find out where the money was. Jesus ends by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive from your heart.” “From the heart.” That’s the hard part. Sometimes we just don’t want to forgive; we like to have one or two private little grudges. We can carry a grudge around like a secret joy: “I was wounded; I was wronged; I have my pride, you know.” Sometimes we don’t want to forgive from the heart.
It's like the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys: The story goes that old man Hatfield was on his deathbed. He said to his son: "Now I'm dying and I have to forgive that no-good McCoy. But you’re still young and if you forgive him instead of getting even, I’ll come back and haunt you the rest of your life." Not exactly forgiveness from the heart.
So does it mean that if we don’t forgive from the heart, God doesn’t forgive us? Few people think that God is an old man with a white beard on a throne; but some think he acts that way. As if God is up in heaven, looking down for unforgiving attitudes. "Look Michael, I caught them red handed. Mark this down Michael, no forgiveness for Kay, Johnny, Tom, Elaine, or Rick.” That’s not the way it works. That’s not the way the universe runs. Think of the principle of gravity. If I step off a cliff, the fall which results does not happen because God notices what I have done, shakes his head and says, “What a dumb thing to do. I’m going to punish him with a nasty fall." That downward pull is simply the way things are; the law of gravity is simply part of the way the universe is made. On the human level, a selfish and self-centered life results in loneliness not so much by some special act of divine punishment as by the inner logic of the way we were made to be. The cause and effect are tied together by the very nature of the created order.
So also with the principle of forgiveness. If we were not use to having forgiveness and acceptance in our relationships, we will not give or ask for and plan and design on our level. And even though we gather together in Jesus’ name, we cannot truly acknowledge his presence in our midst unless “Not as we will, but as you will” is at the center of our every prayer to the Father. A New Jersey-based priest tells of a beautiful scene he once saw while driving along a busy thruway:
I was driving along on the Garden State Parkway on my way home...The woman in the car ahead of me was talking. Although I could not see anyone else in the car, she really seemed to be talking with someone since she kept turning her head in the direction of the passenger side of the car...I finally managed to drive up alongside her and could see that there was a person next to her, a small boy, who had Down's Syndrome. He was smiling as the woman, whom I imaged to be his mother, showered him with an affectionate amount of words.
I was struck by the contrast between the unfolding love in that car and the surrounding symptoms of cultural madness. The American highway, crammed with cars and people pushing their way to get ahead, to keep moving, all pushed beyond endurance and not seeing or feeling much of anything human.
I think back to that experience of mother and son every so often. She surely once harbored hopes for a “normal” infant and planned her future accordingly, as any parent would. In giving birth to her baby, it must not have been long before she had to rethink so much about love and care, and she had to respond accordingly.
In our culture, we dread the thought of death. We fear the loss of health. We panic over the loss of reputation. We panic over the loss of respect. We bemoan the loss of time and opportunity. And the thought of losing drives us through life with such a viciousness that we can easily miss the importance of that woman's dialogue with her little boy.
A mother touched her son with the loveliness of language---A language born of sacrificial love. She robbed loss of its sting by loving, as the cars around her pushed upon one another. I simply rejoiced as she captured her son into the only place that will ever matter to him, a place sustained through love...the only place that really matters to any of us, but so few of us seem to find.
What does that touching scene of mother and child have to do with our prayer-life? The Apostle Paul gives us the answer in these words: "Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of God in Jesus Christ for you" (1 Thes. 5:17-18). Which is to say, "It is the will of God that make our very life a prayer. And, in so doing, to spell “I God” with the right blocks: