If I had been one of those on hand hearing our Lord’s words in the Gospel reading for this Sunday about speaking the truth in love and offering forgiveness (“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” [you can read the entire passage here]), I think I know what I would have thought, even if I hadn’t said it out loud. I mean, granted, the person to be forgiven at least admits to being repentant. But seven times in one day? I think my first thought would have been, “You want me to do WHAAA—T?” Surely, even Jesus expects the offender to be making some sort of visible progress in the area of behavior modification before mercy is granted! And yet, there they are, words of our Lord recorded here in St. Luke’s gospel and backed up by similar words in St. Matthew’s. All that appears in the one to be forgiven is a repentant and broken spirit. Thankfully, the apostles didn’t respond as I would have! But their reply betrays a similar befuddlement. “Increase our faith!”
Today we give thanks that the healing power of forgiveness, forgiveness that we are often reluctant to grant...forgiveness we dole out in piecemeal fashion…forgiveness that we make conditional on changes in another person…has been lavished upon us by our Creator and Redeemer. It came deeply embedded from the beginning in the heart of the God of Holy Scripture and is at the heart of God’s signature act of mercy in giving God's Son for the life of the world (John 3:16). No wonder then, that forgiving others is more than a self-help means to an end. The people of God are called to forgive one another, because they have received such abundant mercy themselves. God has removed our sins from us "as far as the East is from the West" (Psalm 103:12). And mercy received by ornery sinners like us becomes the starting place for mercy we extend to others. Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed underlines the miracles that even inadequate faith can accomplish. The mustard seed was one of the tiniest seeds known by the people of his day, yet grew up into an enormous plant. Forgiving others may entail words spoken over pain we continue to feel...over scars that never go away. And forgiving is a separate matter entirely from restoring trust in a relationship. But God makes every miraculous gift of forgiveness a surprise with the power to transform. In Christ Jesus, He has made our own forgiveness not only possible but counter-cultural, through the free remission of our own sins.
This Sunday we observe our first October Sunday tradition at Trinity of giving thanks for God’s work through organizations like Lutheran Women in Mission (LWML). Trinity’s LWML ladies will turn our attention to the opportunity we have to use what is little and of no account (like a mustard seed) to accomplish miraculous things. Even something as vital and important today as a Christian school that teaches the love of Jesus in a place where less than 1% of the population identifies as Christian (Urawa Lutheran School near Tokyo Japan) started from the tiny offerings—”mite boxes”—of LWML women over 50 years ago. Urawa Lutheran School is today a feeder school for one of the leading private universities in Japan: Aoyama Gakuin. The focus is not on our gifts, but the sufficiency of God, the Giver.
Lord Jesus, increase our inadequate faith. And as You do, use us…just as we are…for your surprising and eternal purposes.