The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 6:14-21
I want you to think of your worst enemy. The person who has hurt you more than any other. Perhaps they hurt you unknowingly, and perhaps they did it knowingly. Perhaps it was something that they did to you once, perhaps it was a repeated injury. I think each one of us knows people who have hurt us very much.
It is this person that is your worst enemy that the Lord commands you to forgive. Forgiveness is not worth much when we forgive those who don’t require much forgiving. Forgiveness in that context is not all that special. We are looking for Christ-like forgiveness and for that type of forgiveness to happen requires that we forgive those who have hurt us the most. Forgiving the little things is something that anyone can do. Forgiving the big things, the big hurts, the unforgivable enemies….that is something that is only possible through God’s work in our hearts.
True forgiveness looks like Jesus Christ crucified and looking up to His Father in prayer when He cried out “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These are the words that the Lord Jesus spoke about His persecutors and those who conspired to have Him put to death. But the Lord’s words are for each and every human that has ever lived. They are for all of us because we are all sinners. Sin makes us rebels against God and His Kingdom and as we rebel against God we find ourselves united to sin which is selfish, fleshly and material. St. Paul writes “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Hebrews 8:7).
So in fact we were all enemies of God. God offers His love freely to us by bringing us into existence and by offering up creation for us. God offers more love by sending various prophets to us to teach us the ways of life so that we would not walk in darkness and stumble and be held captive by the darkness of sin. God pours out even more of His gracious love when He sends His only Son to visit us and teach us. But what did the Son of God encounter upon coming to His people? He encountered many who were living sinful, fleshly lives in complete rebellion to God. And when He challenged them and corrected them they did not repent and change their ways. They proved that they were against God and His Son by trying to eliminate the Son of God from the equation. Yes, true forgiveness looks like Jesus Christ crucified and looking up to His Father when He cried out “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
That is the forgiveness that is required of a Christian. That is the forgiveness that is required of each of us as we get ready to start this holy marathon. Forgiveness is the final building block for our foundation. And upon this foundation, God can build your heart into a temple, into a proper dwelling place for the Lord. There is no more time to delay. If you have done wrong, contact those you have wronged, or go to them and beg forgiveness. And if others have done wrong to you, you must forgive them yes. But you must do better than that. You must lift them up to God and ask Him to also forgive them. This is how you must become a son of God or a daughter of God.
Brothers and sisters should apologize to one another. Husbands and wives should apologize to one another. Parents should apologize to their children and children to their parents. Open the door of forgiveness by asking others to forgive you and by forgiving others whether they ask you to forgive them or don’t. This is what it is to be a Christian who lives in the light and hope of Christ and not in the shadow of death.
On top of forgiveness we then add fasting and prayer as we seek to put brick upon brick and raise the walls of this inner temple that is dedicated to God. Now this fasting can’t simply be fasting from food. We better fast with our eyes because our eyes are the lamp of the body. Save yourself by refraining from the news and the politics, by refraining from the Netflix and the Facebook. Don’t undo the hard work that you are doing during Lent by leaving your eyes open to things that will shatter all your progress. No builder can put up a house by stacking bricks one day and then coming the next day and removing them again.
Let us also fast with our mouths and the kinds of conversations we engage in. There will be many opportunities to compare yourself with others or speak about others. It is better for you to eat meat than to speak about or judge others during Lent.
God has forgiven all things through His Son Jesus Christ. God’s forgiveness is open to you. It is time to enter into this forgiveness and leave all your sins, your guilt and your negativity behind. God has forgiven you. And He shares His life and His presence with you right now. Behold, today is the day of salvation! And glory be to God forever AMEN.