Adding up Eternity
Words for 14th Sunday after Trinity – 13th September 2020 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18v33)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Why is forgiving others so tough?
I mean surely the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant which Jesus tells to Peter, (who, by the way, is already stretching his faith to comprehend forgiving someone As many as seven times), should clinch it?
It simple isn’t it?
We forgive because we have been forgiven.
How many times have we prayed ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’? If you are a priest in the Church of England you are duty bound to pray (and hopefully live out) those words at least twice a day as you keep the Daily Office. I’ve lost count of how many times I have prayed those words. Sadly I have also lost count of how many times I have been unforgiving, and have remained unforgiving….
Woe is me!
Woe is us! For I am certain that I am not alone in this sorry state of affairs.
It seems as if I have spent the whole of my Christian journey stuck in an endless cycle of being forgiven and then, perversely, being unforgiving!
The words of the apostle Paul at his most wretched have too often been the soundtrack to my life;
I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 718b-19)
This, of course, applies to all my wrongdoings not just having an unforgiving spirit. Having received grace upon undeserved grace, and favour upon undeserved favour from the Beloved surely I, surely we, can show a smidgeon of thankfulness by imitating Christ by becoming a forgiving people?
How do we break this cycle? How do we become people who love how Christ loved, live how Christ lived, and give as Christ gave? We need to find an answer; for being of an unforgiven spirit is torture in this life regardless of what may occur in the life after life.
The modern aphorism rings true.
not because they deserve forgiveness,
but because you deserve peace.’
This is not the motive behind Christian forgiving, we are called to forgive because God in Christ forgave us, but it illustrates the well the problem of being unforgiving.
Friends, I have yet to meet an unforgiving person who is happy and at peace. Instead sadly, they tend to be bitter, angry and have a monomania about whatever it is they are ‘owed’ by the person or situation that has offended them.
When we hold on to a debt owed to us by another we are the ones who carry the pain! The theme song from Frozen is a clarion call to all those struggling with what they are owed by others. Please friends, Let it Go! But this is not the only answer either. After all, who wants to spend life as an Ice Queen, cold, alone, friendless and mourned by those who love you whilst you are yet alive?
No! We do not forgive so that we might be ‘done and dusted’ with those who have wronged us. We forgive because, though wronged by us, our Beloved instead of walking away became even more involved with us and with his penultimate breath breathed out the words ‘Father forgive, for they know not what they are doing.
If we are to garner any sort of life at all we start with demonstrating the forgiveness we have received by being forgiving. It is one of Jesus’s most used words (over 40 times in the Gospels) and is the foundation of our prayer life and any action we do in God’s name.
Many times I have tried to work out why I do not always forgive others.
I know it damages me. I know it ruins any hope of restoring relationship with the one who has ‘wronged’ me. I know it saddens the heart of my Saviour. But I seem unable to readily pass on that which I have received from Christ.
I suspect the root of my unforgiving spirit, perhaps it is the same for others, is that I have not yet grasped the greatness of the forgiveness won for us on the cross.
For the ultimate proof that we are forgiven is that we live forgiving lives.
Every time Christians refuse to be forgiving we reject our own forgiveness and, as Paul says in another context, ‘empty the Cross of its power’.
It hurts, this forgiving business.
It means we have to let go of a little bit of our power over another.
It means we may be taken for granted by those around us.
It means people may think we are a ‘soft touch’ and take us for mugs more than once or twice.
But much rather that than be mistaken as someone who does not try with all their heart to imitate in word and deed the One who poured out His life on the cross to hold out eternal life to the unworthy.
Ultimately this is the business we are in, imitating Christ; and in forgiving the undeserving we make a far better fist of proclaiming the Gospel than any number of sermons, prayers, or good deeds. Because if the Gospel we proclaim does not have forgiveness at its heart then it should not have the cross of Christ as its emblem.
If we want two words to make into a mantra of our walk with God we will find them etched into the wall of the sanctuary of the bombed-out Cathedral at Coventry ‘Father Forgive’. For it is only as we learn to forgive that we will finally begin to live, and we can rise from the ashes of hatred into the dawn of new life.
‘Seventy times seven?’ Yes! And more! For it is only as we learn to forgive others that we are able to fully to accept the loving forgiveness of God and then be set free to enjoy the ‘Glorious liberty of the Children of God’
[This blog ‘Adding up to Eternity’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]