September 10, 2023: 16th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we have come today to beg Your forgiveness for all our many sins against You, and now we have received it.  Now our hearts are cleansed and the weight of our guilt has been removed by You from our shoulders.  Our thanks seems small in view of so great a gift.  Therefore, enlarge our thanks by moving us to practice true forgiveness toward those who sin against us, have come to that realization, and desire to make amends.  Yes, move us to practice the very core of our faith: true forgiveness.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 18: 21-35

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

         Last week you heard an entire sermon, based on Christ’s words which directly precede this text, in which He lays out the process of how to resolve conflicts among Christians.  At the end of that lesson Jesus tells us that if all our efforts toward leading that person to repentance fail and they continue to hold unto their sin, we need to practice tough love.  We need to bind them in their sins and pronounce Godly judgment upon them.  To do so is to love their soul.  To do otherwise and forgive them anyway cheapens God’s grace.  To do otherwise makes a mockery of repentance.  To do otherwise only confirms in them the idea that their sin really wasn’t a sin at all and God is toothless and impotent and doesn’t really care about them.

         I bring all this up because today many believers have bought into the misconception that repentance isn’t necessary to receive and benefit from genuine forgiveness.  I’ve heard people on the news who have suffered at the hands of rapists, murderers, and thieves say: “Well, I forgive them, it’s the Christian thing to do.”  They say that even though those miscreants are totally unrepentant.  They say that because society seems to think that Christians are patsies who don’t ever want to make a judgment against another.  And I believe that attitude stems from a misreading of the lesson before us this morning.  So, let’s examine this text by considering:



         So, just what is forgiveness?  Is it just a pious sounding concept?  Is it a word we use to somehow let go of emotional hurts that others inflict upon us?  No.  Forgiveness means a sin has been committed against us and against God Almighty.  Forgiveness means that we announce to another that God’s not angry with them any longer and as His disciples, we’re not either!  Forgiveness therefore includes a profound acceptance by all that God has taken away all such human evil by putting it upon Christ Who died for it and because of it.  Thus, forgiveness is the most blessed gift you can give another human being.  It is the greatest work a Christian can do because it encompasses and includes the greatest work ever done: God’s Son dying on a cross and rising from a grave so that we will never have to face eternal destruction.  Yes, true, Christian forgiveness is a far different concept than what society passes off as forgiveness. 

         St. Peter was steeped in Jewish tradition and understanding.  He knew his bible.  Thus, when he asks Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”–When Peter asks that he was thinking about an obscure concept from the Old Testament.  In Amos chapter 1 vs. 3 we read: “This is what the Lord says: ‘For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.’”  Peter thought, as did most in his day, that if God gives unrepentant people a 2nd chance, so should they.  So, Peter expands on that idea and picks the number 7 as the necessary amount of patience to provide another.  It sounds quite magnanimous.  But,  Peter was wrong!  God certainly has limits on His patience when it comes to uncaring, unrepentant people.  But from what follows we see that God has unlimited patience when it comes to dealing with humans like us who recognize their sins and say they are sorry!  When dealing with repentant people we need to practice forgiveness “77 times” or as some texts convey it: 490 times!  Since no sane human keeps that detailed a scorecard, the point is: when sin is confessed, we forgive on an unlimited basis.  Think of how wonderful that is!  It means that every Sunday morning when you come and confess your sins to God, He will continue to take them away, literally forever!  Indeed, having that burden removed is the main reason we go to church.    


         The parable that follows is meant to teach this truth.  Note well that servant # 1 has a huge debt that is unpayable in modern dollar terms.  His whole family is to be sold into slavery by the King he owes it to and even then, the King will receive back only a fraction of that debt.—Talk about a bad loan!  It dwarfs the modern day mortgage mess.  But, the servant falls on his knees and begs forgiveness, he repents as it were.—“Be patient with me and I will pay back everything.”  Even though such a payback is impossible in this life, the King takes him at his word, is merciful, and forgives the debt.  That’s God when it comes to our confession of sins each week.  He takes us at our word and forgives us in Christ.

         Servant # 2 owes servant # 1 a small debt.  With a little time it is totally payable.  He also begs for forgiveness and tells servant # 1 to be patient with him.  He, too, confesses as to the mess he’s gotten himself into.  But, servant # 1 is anything but forgiving and merciful.  He grabs and chokes the man.  He sends him and his family off to debtors’ prison.  Obviously servant # 1 has learned nothing about genuine repentance and handing out genuine forgiveness.  Obviously he brings forth absolutely no fruits of faith.

         When the king hears of this he is incensed.  Servant # 1 has abused his trust and his kindness.  Servant # 1 is an ingrate.  So, being King, he has servant # 1 hauled before him where the King rescinds his previous words and metes out punishment instead.  And then comes the spiritual kicker: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

         The chief work of Christ was the forgiveness of sins.  The chief work of His followers on planet earth is the same.  As long as someone who has hurt us, sinned against us, asks for forgiveness we are to hand it out to them.  For that is how God treats us every day in Christ.  We may get frustrated when they slide back into the same sin again and again.  Obviously we cannot read their hearts when they say they are sorry and try for a while to make amends.  Nonetheless, since we often act the same way in our relationship with God, we must forgive unless and until such a person turns their back on God by becoming hardened in their sin.

         The one over-arching principal behind such forgiving behavior is: patience.  Recall that patience is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, patience is part of God’s core being.  And through faith in Christ, patience is given to us to use and employ on a daily basis.  When we do, forgiveness becomes the chief work of a Christian.  For in the end only Godly forgiveness can change a heart and make it humble and accepting of God’s ways.  And as Christ says elsewhere of such grateful people: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

September 3, 2023: 15th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, all of us face interpersonal conflicts with others that are always the result of sin.  Sin corrupts our judgment and the judgment of others so much that often silly things get blown out of proportion, positions harden, pride gets involved, and soon souls are imperiled.  Today we thank You for giving us Godly wisdom in how to handle such issues in life for the betterment of everyone involved.  And also, move us to act upon Your wise counsel and use it on a daily basis.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 18: 15-20

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

         Big companies host seminars on it.  Judges often send people to attend classes in it.  School counselors use it daily.  Psychologists devote a sizeable chunk of their practices to it.  What am I talking about?  Conflict resolution.  As our nation has become less neighborly, more and more conflicts seem to get out-of-hand.  Issues that were once settled over a friendly cup of coffee now seem to involve lawyers, judges, the police, and family mediators.  It’s a sad commentary on our nation, isn’t it? 

         Today, Christ steps into the void of personal disputes.  He provides God’s directives on how we Christians need to operate in addressing such disputes.  Note well that His words, although eternally wise, are not meant for society as a whole.  We see that fact illustrated by His injunction to: “tell it to the church” if your personal attempts at resolution fail.  Obviously telling it to the church is meaningless when dealing with non-believers and societal conflicts. 

         But, Christ demands better behavior from His followers than He does from the world at large.  He tells us to “walk as children of light” not of darkness.  He tells us that we are to be: “in the world, but of the world.”  He reminds us that we, above all other people, “walk by faith and not by sight.”  In short, believers are expected to put God’s Word first, whereas society as a whole just doesn’t get the connection.

         So, how are Christians to handle personal conflicts with other Christians?  Well, right here He tells us how.  And so today, let’s study:



         My sainted mother had a great memory.  She could recall an event that occurred in her home church when she was about 9 or 10 years old.  It seems that one long-time member got his back up over something silly and long forgotten.  Most members just shrugged off his complaints as coming from a cranky old man.  But after having his questions answered and rejecting sound advice, he got up at a church meeting and vowed to: “Split the church!”  Well, he didn’t succeed.  And later he left in shame, continuing to hold onto his pride instead of listening to others and swallowing it.

         Those are the types of things that Christ had in mind when He gave the disciples this blessed guidance.  He is the Lord of souls.  He is the One Who died for all people—cranky ones and more timid people alike.  He didn’t want sin and/or silliness to divide His followers then and He doesn’t want it to divide them today.  He wants everyone to embrace Divine truth, to shun sin, to listen to those who counsel repentance, and to thereby bring peace and harmony to His earthly kingdom.  He ultimately wants to save souls on the way to perdition via their pride because He died for those souls.  And He also wants to protect the sheep when one of their number turns into a wolf.  And so right here He says this:

         “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”  There’s the first step toward Christian conflict resolution.  Note that Christ says: “If he sins against you.”  Jesus doesn’t say: “If he disagrees with you about a the size of the parking lot, or the color of the carpet.”  Specific sins are the one and only basis for beginning this conflict resolution process.  And by God’s grace, since you’re both under it, such a calling to account by a loving brother or sister in Christ will be received for what it is: love in action.  And then the issue is done, never to be brought up again.

         However, Christ was not an idealist.  He well knew the reality of human pride far better than any of us who are afflicted by it.  And so, He knew that sometimes sin-tainted humans will get their back up at such admonition and reject the love of another.  If that occurs, the next step needs to follow.  “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”


         First and foremost, any conflict between fellow believers that includes open sin must be dealt with.  To do nothing is to violate the whole second table of the law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Unrepented sin can and will kill a soul eternally and ultimately lead that soul into hell.  To prevent that from happening, Jesus says to take a couple fellow believers with you.  This is to help insure that you’re not wrong in your understanding of God’s truth and how it applies in this situation.  So, talk the issue over again.  Address the sin involved.  Be specific.  Be kind, loving, yet honest.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”

         This means the Pastor and/or the church elders need to get involved.  For now the private matter has become public.  After all, the other witnesses can now attest to the sin and the reaction of the one involved toward repentance.  Again, out of love, the same old ground will be plowed.  Ample time and opportunity for repentance and understanding will be given.  We all love every single soul.  We don’t want to knee-jerk into merely an emotional reaction.  But, if recalcitrance is still this hard-headed sinner’s reaction, the final step needs to be followed as well.  “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

         That means formal excommunication proceedings need to follow.  But again, Christians will only do this when there is no other recourse, and they will do it only out of love for that now lost soul and the souls at church he, or she, is and will hurt by their presence in the fold.  And, and, the ultimate hope is that this final step will make them think seriously about their sin, repent of it, and then be welcomed back with open arms.  One final thought here.  True excommunication is not just “kicking a person out of a particular congregation.”  No, it is saying they have divorced themselves from God and His Church as a whole and will be lost to hell if they die in their unrepented sin.  It’s serious business.


         Christ concludes this section by reminding the disciples, and us, today, that when we use His Word honestly and truthfully to seek repentance from another, two things will occur.  Either they will say they are sorry to God, or they will harden themselves.  Thus, our pronouncement of: “You’re forgiven, or you’re not forgiven” is as valid as if Christ Himself uttered it.  For He does utter it, through His Word that we’re using.  And also, lest anyone think just two or three Christians  gathering together to help another recognize their sins is being presumptuous, He also reminds us that: “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” 

         Conflict resolution on any level is tough.  Conflict resolution for the Christian is tough love in action.  But always remember: love is involved.—Love for Christ.  Love for the sinning soul.  And love for those they have or are hurting.  The world may never understand these things, but you who have received Christ’s love do.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox