Forgive us as we forgive them.

Homily 513 – 11 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 28, 2022
Epistle:  (141) 1 Corinthians 9:2-12 and (213) Galatians 5:22-6:2
Gospel:  (77) Matthew 18:23-35 and (24) Luke 6:17-23

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Always remember the debt you were forgiven.

That seems to be what Christ tells us in the parable of the forgiven debtor.

In the context of the news of the day, it would be too easy I think for us to tie this to student loan forgiveness.  And I’m not going to do that – each of us can have our own views, and that is fine.

But I would be derelict in my responsibility as a priest and homilist if I didn’t address the spiritual dimensions of this parable.  After all, that’s why it is here for us.

The lesson to be learned is not to forgive debts.  The lesson is to remember, always remember, what you have been forgiven.

We say it in the prayer our Lord taught to us – depending on the translation.  The best scholars tell us the Lord’s prayer is that we have our debts forgiven as we forgive our debtors.

In other words, treat us by the same standard that we treat others.  That is what we pray for in the Lord’s prayer.

So, each of us has to consider how much we have been forgiven.  How much has our ego, our self-will, gotten in the way of our relationship with God?

Most of us are like toddlers.  We want to do everything ourselves.  We don’t want our parents to do it for us – we don’t want God to do it for us.

We want to do it!

We want to be grown up, mature, capable of handling it on our own.

If you have ever worked with a toddler, and allowed them to take on tasks, their focus is perhaps different than ours.

I built a bird feeder with my grandson a while back.  He wanted to do it – and that was perfectly fine, actually the intent of the activity.  But one thing I noted.

His focus was on the outcome.  My focus was on him.

I was focused on the relationship, the knowledge transfer, the skills transfer.  His focus was on the completed object.

His reward came when I said words of encouragement – things like “good job!” or “nice!” or “that’s beautiful!”.

Probably the same that we look forward to hearing from our Lord – “well done, good and faithful servant.”

And the interesting thing to me is that the image of me with my grandson is very much the image of God with us.  I think God derives so much joy from our attempts to please him that it doesn’t really matter what the end product, what the outcome, may be.

We’re getting of an age where it doesn’t happen anymore, but my age group remembers making ash trays out of clay, that our parents kept around for ages.

Not because they were beautiful, nor because they were well-made.  But because they were ours, and we were proud, and they were proud of us.

The focus of God isn’t on the outcome.  The place where God derives joy from us is from our focus on pleasing Him.  The focus on the things that the world may never see.

That birdhouse, that ash tray, that artwork on the refrigerator – they remind us of how much our children want to please us.

There is a prayer I love that Thomas Merton wrote:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  The desire to please God, like the desire of a child to please a parent – that is the desire that leads us to salvation.

God can complete that desire, whatever the outcome we offer to Him.  That is our good defense at the great and last judgement.

And so, if God judges us by our intentions, should we not judge others the same way?  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors?

Surely the meaning of the parable is not about forgiving monetary debt.  It is about forgiving transgressions, forgiving sin.

And sin is when our ego gets between us and our desire to please God.  Sin is when our ego says, “I will decide for me.”

That is what we need to contemplate, remember, and confess.  The places where we pleased ourselves and not God.  Where God was not the desire of our thoughts and actions.

And if we are like most of humanity, God is not often the focus of our desire.  One might say we encapsulate that desire and only break it out a few moments a day, maybe an hour or two on the weekends when we come to Church.

And that is what God forgives us for.

So, if God forgives us that much – for basically ignoring Him constantly, never learning to pray without ceasing.

Surely, we can forgive everyone around us for the same things.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.