A reflection on Trinity Fourteen
Offered for Sunday 13th September 2020
September 13th 2020
Whether you appreciate my preaching style or not!
And you may have even noted at times a few inconsistencies but,
outside the centrality of the cross I have always been clear and consistent
on proclaiming the one Christian virtue above everything else is 'to forgive'.
However, it is perhaps easier to express forgiveness than to accept it
and taking in mind the way God works we should never be surprised
at how we experience forgiveness, given and received!
As an example from my experience, many years ago,
I heard from a third party, a very hurtful and cutting remark
which was confirmed by a direct question from me to another person in the loop
about its authenticity which was greeted with 'where did you hear that from?',
said in a way confirming the authenticity rather than dismissing the remark!
I cannot say the remark did not hurt,
in fact it went to the very core of my being but,
as I was probably never going to see the person again
I consigned the experience to life's rich tapestry!
Fast forward over twenty years and living in a Vicarage the phone rang.
Chris my late wife answered the phone and the look on her face
was one of surprise to say the least.
As the conversation progressed my mind was in overdrive,
'Who was the caller?' Chris tried to mouth the answer
but I could not make out what she was saying!
Eventually placing her hand over the mouthpiece said its 'Reginald Jurisdiction'
not the real name, to which I mimed back 'The real Reginald Jurisdiction',
the reply was an exaggerated nod of the head as the phone was passed to me!
After a few hesitant comments and catching up on what had happened to both of us
in the intervening years, all my anger, resentment, hurt
and well manicured grudge evaporated and without formal words
being used forgiveness was given and received!
Let us Pray
Lord our God, in our sin we have avoided your call.
and not forgiven or received forgiveness
Our love for you is like the mist,
disappearing in the heat of the sun.
Have mercy on us.
Bind our wounds and bring us back to the foot of your cross,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Some numbers have become part of our language
We refer to perfect vision as 20/20.
Something available non-stop is described as 24/7.
Usually we're not talking about eye tests or a shop open twenty-four hours a day,
seven days a week. In all sorts of contexts,
the numbers 20/20 and 24/7 have become instantly recognizable.
In September 2001, another number entered into our conciseness.
The number 9/11 has become as unforgettable as the harrowing pictures
of passenger planes flying into the Twin Towers in New York.
Using the American order of dates, month followed by date
September 11th gave us 9/11,
all the more poignant since it's also the telephone number
for the emergency services in the United States 911.
Even after all these years, for many the pain is still raw.
The loss of nearly three thousand loved ones,
the perceived attack on "western civilisation", on individual lives,
in fact the whole world changed for ever,
but do we pursue retribution or forgiveness,
the reading from Matthew Chapter 18 v 21 to 35 speaks directly to this!
To illustrate how far our forgiveness of others should extend,
Jesus uses another number.
Whether we translate this as seventy-seven or seventy times seven,
the message is clear. It trumps Peter's grudging "seven" many times over,
just as in the parable from the reading,
the massive debt forgiven by the king far outweighs
the tiny amount the ungrateful slave refuses to cancel.
Ten thousand talents equates to modern millions!
The huge debt we owe to God, for creating, loving and saving us,
can't be measured in money,
nor God's forgiveness reckoned in how often we confess our sins.
Who, though, should we forgive?
Just fellow Christians?
This reading from Matthew follows a passage traditionally understood
to be about church discipline, Despite our Bible translations, however,
there's no mention of "church" here.
The Gospel was written in Greek, and Peter's question uses the same word
Jesus uses when summing up the message of his parable.
Not "If a member of the church" but "If my brother or sister sins against me,
how often should I forgive?"
On the cross, Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who crucified him,
Romans, Jews and Gentiles in this reading;
Jesus refers to any of God's children, all our brothers and sisters,
regardless of race, creed or faith or no faith.
There was no "church" while Jesus was preaching and healing,
only his male and female disciples, and the crowds who gathered.
Referring to "Church" in Gospel translations is like
a badly researched historical novel,
where Crusaders travelling to the Holy Land by aeroplane!
If we restrict our forgiveness only to fellow Christians,
we use the same reasoning that fuelled some of the un-Christian acts
perpetrated by Christians in the last 2000 years:
like holding all Jews responsible for the death of Jesus
so that they could be persecuted with impunity;
like the atrocities of those Crusaders,
carried out against Muslim women and children,
or the fact that law abiding Muslims today are attacked and insulted,
blamed for the terrorist activities of a few.
Yet Muslims, too, died in the Twin Towers.
How easy it is to condemn others for sins they didn't actually commit,
while conveniently ignoring the ones we did!
Forgiveness isn't passive, it's active.
Forgiving isn't forgetting.
It's letting go of resentment and seeking to understand
and learn from what happened, so we can move on.
Whether it's a family feud or a world war, the act of forgiveness itself,
from the heart,
rescues us from the torture alluded to at the end of the parable,
the inner torment that continues to blight lives long after the crime was committed.
Forgiveness isn't weakness, it takes strength, courage and faith,
as Jesus showed on the cross.
And if we want to follow Jesus,
we don't have the luxury of choosing who to forgive.
Beginning with those around us and reaching out into the wider world,
we are called to forgive others,
however many times it takes.
Numbers are often symbolic.
Whether "seventy times seven" or 24/7, whether 20/20 or 9/11,
it isn't so much the numbers themselves as what they signify.
Christians should know the power of symbols:
the cross with its outstretched arms, a "tree" of life;
the bread and wine as the body and blood of a Saviour
who both preached and practiced forgiveness.
If we practice forgiveness,
and seek to understand our brothers and sisters regardless of race,
creed, faith or no faith,
the emergency and tragedy of 9/11 might lead not to further divisions
but to a growing awareness of our shared humanity.
Let 20/20 mean the perfect vision of world peace,
promised by a God whose love is available 24/7.
After the Twin Towers atrocity,
9/11 became a symbolic number.
Jesus uses numbers to illustrate both the magnitude
of God's forgiveness and the need for us to forgive others.
Jesus urges us to forgive all our fellow human beings,
just as God has forgiven us.
Sometimes we condemn others while forgetting our own sins.
Active forgiveness is a sign of strength,
a foundation for progress,
and cleanses us from the mental torture of festering resentment.
Unrestricted practical forgiveness,
seeking to understand all God's children,
is the route to peace
May the Lord Jesus, the Son of God,
whose forgiveness is greater than we can imagine,
grant us also the ability to forgive from the heart
those who have sinned against us.
And the blessing of God almighty....