21 October 2007

Remember Your Sins in order to Forgive

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Following the lectionary for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for Pentecost XXI.

Let us not take advantage of Our Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. Let us not treat it as some cheap gift. Let us not disrespect the Lord’s sacrifice. For the Father sacrificed His Son, and the Son willingly became our sin and endured our suffering and entered our death—all so that we might be reconciled to God the Father. Let us not take for granted Our Lord’s mercy by returning to our sin—by letting pride or our passions continue to control us. Above all, let us not make light of Our Lord’s forgiveness by refusing to forgive all men. For when we refuse to forgive, we show that our pride is greater than our faith; and we show that we have forgotten both our repentant fear, and the Lord’s abundant mercy.

That is precisely what happened with the servant after he had been forgiven. He forgot both the enormity of his debt, and the magnitude of the master’s kindness. He forgot his fear, and the master’s compassion. And so his pride not only returned, but also metastasized into greed and selfishness. His fellow servant spoke the words that he had first spoken—words that should have reminded him of the forgiveness that he had received from the master. “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all”—that is both what he had said and what he now heard. Yet in his pride, in his desire for fairness and justice, he forgot mercy—the mercy he had received. So he threatened and throttled his fellow servant.

Because he refuses to forgive, Our Lord judges the man to be ungrateful. Because the unforgiving servant did not forgive as he had been forgiven; and was not merciful as His Father is merciful. For with the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.

For this reason, each of us should be mindful of his sins. Had this man remembered the debt that had been forgiven, he would not have been so cruel and inhuman. Therefore, we should keep before our mind’s eye our own past deeds, as well as the Lord’s forgiveness. Yet let us not remember them so that we doubt the Lord’s mercy. Instead, let us remember our sins so that we do not fall into sin again; and so that we deal kindly with those who struggle with sin. “For there is nothing that makes the soul truly wise, so truly gentle and compassionate, as the continual remembrance of our sins.” (St John Chrysostom)

In the same way, there is no greater deed than imitating the mercy of God by forgiving those who sin against us. So let us remember both the Lord’s mercy and our own sins so that we practice humility and deal kindly with all men, even our enemies. And in forgiving others, we will grow in our remembrance and knowledge of Our Father’s ineffable compassion toward us which the Spirit has so generously showered upon us through the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with His Father in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

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