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Pentecost 15, 09/17/2017

Sermon on Exodus (2. Buch Mose) 14:19-31, by Evan McClanahan

Those of us who defend Western Civilization as an example of society “getting it right,” will regularly point to the role of Christianity in shaping this society. Western Civilization, generally defined as Europe and the Americas, is lauded by its defenders as inventing capitalism and defending religious liberty, as establishing educational institutions and promoting human rights. And some go so far as to say that these gifts to the human race are the direct fruit of Christian thought, notably the belief that human beings are imbued with dignity and freedom is the right goal for valuable people.


Not all defend Western Civilization, of course. In the last 50 years or so there has been an effort to document a competing narrative, one that sees the West as perpetrating hegemonic imperialism on the rest of the world. “The West isn’t all its cracked up to be,” they say. In fact, far from being a force for good, it has been a force for evil in the world. Its Christian influence wasn’t a benefit, but a curse as brainwashed generations did evil in God’s name. The West that gave us liberty also promoted slavery of others. And there were those two world wars.


Both of these approaches have merit, and both have shortcomings. Because human beings are sinful, no society that is ever created will be without sin. So to say any society is “all good” or “all bad” has been a lie since Genesis 3. Whatever blessed fruit a society may produce will be countered by evils as well. And who is to say that the West’s way of life is the best way of life? There are many who live in remote villages or in completely different contexts that seem perfectly happy.


Still, I tend to side with those who feel that the Christian influence on Western culture generally has produced an awful lot of good fruit, and when the West has produced horrors - and it has - it is because the society turned against its Christian foundation. Or as is happening in America right now, we are refusing to acknowledge our Christian foundation or even the possibility that societies ought to have Christian foundations. So while Christianity can’t claim all that is good about the West - advanced healthcare, education, charitable giving, a commitment to virtue, etc. - there are distinctive Christian teachings that give rise t a peculiar way of life.


The most important belief for this way of life is that man is made in God’s image. That makes him more than a product of nature; he is as close to the creator as anything can be. Every human being has value. That is a distinctly Judeo-Christian view of man. But today we hear of a distinctly Christian behavior that grows out of that belief and also can change a society: the act of forgiveness.


Because we are fallen creatures, the norm for us is to cause pain and to want to retaliate when others hurt us. How many of us have been wronged and we want vengeance? Now, there is a proper role for justice, of course. I’m not advocating that crime go unpunished. But if we were to equally retaliate every wrong committed against us with an equal wrong, well, revenge would be a full-time job. Repaying sorrow for sorrow, anger for anger, disappointment for disappointment will get us nowhere. The only possible way a family can flourish, a community can flourish, or a society to flourish is to forgive one another. The cycle of repayment must be broken.


And I believe this is what should mark a Christian people. This is what ought to cause the world to take notice of our Lord. This is what ought to stand out to others. Not that we are forgiven; but that we actually think enough of our forgiveness that we forgive others! Christians ought not to be a people marked by anger or jealousy or bitterness or resentment; when we are wronged, we are called to forgive.


Now, I have heard many people, including Christians, say, “well, I just cannot forgive.” Perhaps they were the victim of a truly terrible act, abuse or a crime. Perhaps their child was murdered or they were defrauded. Jesus never said it was easy to forgive. But he said we ought to do it. Indeed, listen again to these words: “And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


No, forgiving others is often the last thing we will be able to do. What must happen first is that our hearts need to be broken. A proud heart cannot forgive. A defensive heart cannot forgive. So we will need the Holy Spirit to break our hearts so the love of Christ can be poured into them. And when that love is given to us, we will find, almost miraculously, that we will be able to forgive others. Because it does not come from us. It comes from God.


And when we can forgive, we can leave the past behind and live as people of hope. You see, until you forgive, you really are not a person of hope. You are not looking to what God has in store. You are still focused on the past. But if you can forgive, empowered by the Spirit of God, you can see what God has given you, and you can reclaim reasons to hope. So long as you refuse to forgive, not only do you place yourself in a position to be judged by God, you also limit your own joy.


And if there is one hallmark of the Christian stamp on a society, it is ultimately that such a society is full of hope. And that is what gives rise to a spirit of discovery and adventure and evangelism and education. Christians seek knowledge because they believe they will learn more about God with more knowledge. They seek more charity because they love life and service to others. We do not believe in the Star Wars “balance in the Force” or the Yin and Yang or the Nirvana of Nothingness or a passive, all-powerful God that doesn’t care about human flourishing. No, God cares about our future and has given us talents to employ to build a better future.


But it is hope that pushes us to build a better world. Hope that such a world is possible. I assure you that those who live in places where the Gospel is absent rarely possess that hope. Because the natural state of man takes over: tit for tat; an eye for an eye. Forgiveness is the only way to bring hope to a people; for it is the only way to reverse the course of man’s inhumanity to man.


Perhaps if we can simply dare to imagine that we are the man who owes 10,000 talents to the king, and God has dared to forgive us, we can dare to forgive others. For that is what Jesus accomplished for you on the cross: he took your ten thousand talents worth of sin on his shoulders and he bore it so that God’s mercy could be yours. Because we cannot comprehend God’s holiness, we are unaware of how often we offend him. Jesus is telling us that we are the man who owed 10,000 talents. If that is the case, and we have been forgiven, might we find it in our hearts to forgive those who have wronged us, so we can live as people of hope. Amen.

Pastor Evan McClanahan
Houston, Texas 77004
E-Mail: emc2@felchouston.org