4th Sunday after the Epiphany
January 31, 2016
“Everybody Has a Story – Part 5”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is Matthew 18:21-22:
Then Peter came up and said to (Jesus), “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
This is the text. The person we consider today is Arnold Anderson.
My dear friends,
There are some folks who are “morning” people and other folks who are “evening” people or “night owls.” I am, most definitely, a “morning person.” I am awake around 6 AM each day, usually spend an hour or so reading, then I am up for the day and off and running. Others…not so much. By the same token, I am NOT an “evening” person. Some are just getting wound up and ready to go at 10 PM and I’m going to bed.
Arnold Anderson, no relation by the way and who teaches at the Roosevelt Elementary School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is not a morning person. How do I know? Easy … in the last two years, Mr. Anderson has been tardy for school 111 times. Now, the state of New Jersey mandates that every year there will be 180 days of school instruction. In 2 school years, that’s 360 days of school. Arnold Anderson has been tardy 111 times or 31% of the time he’s late getting to school to teach. He was tardy 65 times two years ago and last year he managed to trim that number down to only 46 times.
His reason for his tardiness?
Oh. Yeah, I guess that’s a reasonable question. Well, Mr. Anderson says, “I have a bad habit of eating breakfast in the morning and I lose track of time.” According to the NBEA’s salary guidelines, Mr. Anderson is probably making almost $90,000 a year. The district has every right to expect him to be on time. Indeed, they feel so strongly about Mr. Anderson’s lateness, they tried to terminate his contract.
The arbitrator who heard both sides stopped the firing because it was felt the school ought to try some less drastic punishments first. On the other hand, the arbitrator rejected Mr. Anderson’s explanation that since he was a really, really good teacher, he ought to be cut some slack in the area of punctuality.
We are so blessed to have a great school with a great staff and I really enjoy when I get to work and serve with and around them. That being said, I would have a tough time forgiving any teacher who was so persistently unpunctual. Parents are still going to bring their children at the same time and someone needs to watch that classroom. If that room was empty 30% of each morning, even I know that’s not good. It puts a strain on administration and others teachers/staff who have to “take up the slack” because another teacher “just can’t get there on time.”
Sure, I am a fair guy. I would want to sit down with the teacher and probably the Administrator and we would try and get this thing resolved. I may even do it twice. Maybe a third time…maybe. But 111 times in 2 years! I don’t think I could manage that and I doubt few school staffs could or would. Then again, we’re not Jesus.
Jesus says we are to forgive seventy times seven. And by that He doesn’t mean 490. It means we are to forgive again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and ….
Tiring, isn’t it? And that was only nine times. In the Old Testament, forgiveness came from God through the sacrificial system. Forgiveness came because the atonement price – blood – had been paid be it a lamb, dove, sheep, ram, etc. Judaism recognized that “repeat offenders” might not be all that repentant and so they drew the line: “if a man commits a transgression, the first, second, and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma, 86b, 87a). Peter suggests to Jesus that maybe they should “go the extra mile;” 3 is good, but maybe we should up the ante and make it 7. What do you think, Jesus?
Jesus says we are to forgive seventy times seven. And by that He doesn’t mean 490. It means we are to forgive again and again and again. Even those people who push your buttons the most…especially them! Even those people who cause those situations that drive you nuts or keep you awake at night! Even when your kids, your spouse, your grandkids, those you love and cherish the most just keep messing up! 70 times 7. Every time. Not just twice or three times or four times or 111 times. Every time. Perfectly.
“Pastor, why would I do that? Don’t you know what they did? Don’t you know what they said?” Let me stop you there. Why should we forgive others with such great regularity and generosity? Simple. We forgive others that way because that’s the way the Lord forgives us. Colossians 3:13-14 says “(bear) with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all…put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” I sometimes think how much better our world would be if people knew and lived those words. If we could just leave our hurts and those who’ve hurt us in the past where it belongs. Close that door and close it good. As a forgiven sinner you don’t live there anymore. Forgive. Let it go and know there’s no need to go back!
To win our forgiveness – to pay the ultimate blood price ultimately for our sins – is why Jesus was born, lived, suffered, died and rose. Now the Holy Spirit calls us who have been forgiven to set our grateful hearts to share that pardon we have so graciously received. It is our calling, an obligation, and a privilege that glorifies the Christ – a reflection of Him if you will – who perfectly loves and forgives us each and every time. Even 111 times. Even 490 times. Even 490 million times.
Just don’t give Him a reason to do it that many times, okay? Cool. Amen.