Over and Over and Over Again

Over and Over and Over Again

Earlier this week, I was tired and worn out, and I kept being lazy and forgetting all kinds of things. I didn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher and left them on the counter. I forgot the previous day’s laundry in the washing machine and when we opened it, everything smelled a little musty. I left a light on in the family room all night long.

Each time, my husband reminded me of what I had left undone.

Each time, I found myself saying, “I’m sorry.”

Each time, it felt like a bigger deal, like straws being added, slowly and surely to the camel’s back.

I don’t know if Brandon was counting, but I was. I kept making note of all the times I messed up and did something wrong.

The little things just kept piling up.

And I felt so rotten about the whole thing that when I noticed something that he had left undone, I jumped on it.

In my head, I thought – HA! Here is something that will cancel out one of those mistakes I made.

In reality, I was not my most grace-filled self.

 

In our relationships, we spend far too much time keeping track of the wrongs we and others have done. Adam Hamilton, in his book Forgiveness, describes these sins and injuries as rocks that we carry around with us.

Some are small like pebbles. You know, like leaving a dish on the counter. [drop a few pebbles into your bag]

Others are medium sized stones, like forgetting a birthday or anniversary. [drop a medium sized stone or two into your bag]And then there are the boulders. Major hurts like cheating on your spouse or getting someone fired. [drop a brick into your bag]

 

When we spend our days keeping track of the mistakes and sins of others, what we are doing is metaphorically carrying around the weight of those wrongs with us. It doesn’t matter if it is one big boulder or a thousand little pebbles… it’s heavy! It’s a burden.

 

In my relationship with my husband, I was counting up my faults. And it wasn’t that he was unkind or not forgiving… I just took it personally every time he pointed out where I had made a mistake.

I found myself mentally adding a stone to our relationship each and every time.

I foolishly thought that pointing out one of his faults would take a stone away.

It didn’t.

It made everything worse.

Because now I wasn’t just thinking about my own faults. I was actively seeking out his so that I could even the score.

In doing so, I only piled a bunch more weight in our bag.

 

The only way to truly let go of the stones is to forgive.

The weight of sin and debt and grievances will overwhelm us if we try to carry them on our shoulders.

Jesus knew this.

And so when Peter asked how many times he should forgive his brother or sister in Christ, there was only one answer.

We aren’t to forgive once or twice or seven times… we are to forgive over and over and over again.

We are to forgive always.

We are to never stop forgiving.

 

To help Peter, and us, understand more fully this imperative to forgive, Jesus tells a little story. A story about someone with unimaginable financial debts who was forgiven by the ruler of the kingdom. Only, when that debtor turned around and was asked to forgive a small debt from a neighbor he refused. The king heard about how the debtor would not forgive another, and took back the pardon that was offered.

A long time ago, a monk named Anselm used this analogy to teach about how we could never make amends to God for our sin. Our sin is like a debt that we will never be able to repay.

If we think about our sins as little mistakes, the cost or weight of that sin is the price we have to pay. In the past, we might have tried to pay for our debts by counting up each one and offering the sacrifice that would counteract each grievance.

But in Anselm’s view, our sin can pile up into one gigantic, big, rocky mountain. It is overwhelming trying to even imagine, much less quantify, the ways we have let God down and have strayed from God’s will in our lives. We simply can’t keep up with the payments and they compound with interest and before we are even aware of it, we owe God an infinite debt. We simply could never repay God for the price of our sins.

Like the debtor on his knees before the king, there is nothing left for us to do, but fall on our knees before our Lord and beg for mercy.

There is nothing we can offer that can make it right.

Even if we gave our very lives, Anselm wrote, it wouldn’t be enough. The weight of our sin is overwhelming.

Our God is a loving God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast mercy.

Our God created us and loves us, even when we don’t deserve it.

Our God comes to us and lifts us up out of our despair and sin and mistakes.

I forgive you, God says.

I have already covered the price of your sin. It is wiped clean. It is no more.

And so, like the debtor before the king, we have experienced incredible compassion and forgiveness and mercy.

This morning, we baptized little Adelyn Rohde. In that act of baptism, God’s forgiveness pours into our lives.

The point is not that baptism covers all of our sins before we find this water. It’s that God’s love and grace and mercy overwhelms us with forgiveness before we even know we need it.

That’s how abundant and powerful the love of God is.

The question is… what will we do with that unimagineable gift of grace?

 

What we shouldn’t do is live like the debtor. He took advantage of the mercy of the king and hoarded forgiveness for himself. As soon as he was given the opportunity to pass grace on, he refused. He counted every penny of his neighbor’s debt and forced them to pay it all.

That is not what God desires for us. Our Lord and Savior wants the gift of grace to fill in every aspect of our lives.

God wants forgiveness to transform every relationship we have… not just with Jesus Christ, but with our spouses and children, with neighbors and strangers.

God wants forgiveness to transform how we see ourselves.

The debtor in the parable this morning… he went right back to counting sins. He went right back to piling pebbles and stones and rocks up and forcing others (and himself) to carry them around.

God wants us to stop counting.

In the book many of us are reading right now, Forgiveness, a woman talks about her relationship with her husband. Like my husband and I, she had been looking for the mistakes and keeping a mental count of the wrongs in their relationship. But one day, she stopped counting.

“I find that when I make up my mind to stop being bitter or annoyed at my husband that our love is the best. It’s all in what I make up my mind to do.”

God wants us to stop counting.

We aren’t supposed to forgive once, or twice, or seven times.

We are to forgive over and over and over again.

The point of such an extravagant number like 70×7 is that you can’t keep track. You are just supposed to keep forgiving.

Even before Jesus answered Peter’s question, he had been trying to help the disciples learn this life lesson.

We forgive because we have been forgiven.

It is what he taught us in the Lord’s Prayer.

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who have debts against us.

 

Friends, we don’t have time to count the sins of others, and we don’t have time to keep track of all the mistakes we have made in our lives either.

A life of love and grace and mercy means that we have the freedom to simply live.

We will make mistakes.

We will forget to put the dishes away.

We are going to not always be our best.

Adam Hamilton writes that “We are bound to hurt others , and others are bound to hurt us.” (page 1)

But we can let the love and grace of God transform our hearts. We can clothe ourselves, as Colossians invites us to with kindness, compassion, humility, and patience.

And we can choose to forgive over and over and over again.

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