All Saints Sunday – Why We Need to Remember

This is my Sermon for All Saints Sunday and was preached this morning at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Cochrane. My home church in my home town! This was a great privilege but also a bit of a risk with not knowing many of the new people (lovely to see this amazing church growing). There are also a number of people with cancer diagnosis and other health issues as well as some newly bereaved people. Could only pray that it would land in the right place!

St Peter’s Lutheran – All Saints                                                                         November 5, 2017 

Revelation 7:2-17                                                                                                 1 John 3:1-3                                                                                                         Matthew 5:1-12

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the festival of All Saints; and I am delighted that Pastor Bart invited me to deliver the sermon this morning. I was supposed to give the All Saints’ sermon at my church in England this evening. The Church of England – by my observation makes a bigger event of All Saints than the Lutherans do.

My church is holding a special service tonight where we invite church members and the friends and families of the people whose funerals we have officiated in the last 2-3 years to come to church. There is special music, readings, a sermon, we leave time for silent reflection, the names of those who have died are read, prayers of thanksgiving are offered and candles are lit.

This might seem weird or unnatural – or even un-Lutheran! Pastor Bart & Pastor Paul have been educating us these last few weeks about the Reformation and Luther’s issues with the Catholic church of his day. Praying to the Saints is definitely out! However, the festival of All Saints was retained by Luther after the Reformation and assumed the role of general commemoration to the dead in the Lutheran church. This has been extended to include living saints as well.

I want to be clear from the outset – we are not praying to the dead. To pray to the dead goes along the lines of ‘Dear Aunt Betty – thank you for this snowy day. Please do x, y or z. Could you ask Jesus to do… Amen.

Praying for the dead – again – might be troublesome for some. I like how Methodist theology puts it ‘All Saints Day resolves around giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints, including those who are famous or obscure.’

A Saint is a person of great holiness, or likeness or closeness to God who remains this way through life and into death. The lives of the Saints are set to be examples to the rest of us on the graciousness of God and what virtuous living can look like. Not all saints are famous. Most are everyday people.

My attempt this morning is to talk about why it is important to mark All Saints Day.

Firstly – The dead sit at the dinner table long after their gone.

All Saints stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church triumphant) and the living (the Church militant).

We don’t tend to forget people once they have died – whether we loved or liked them – or not. The impact of our relationship with them, their life, the love, the moments that were shared do not cease to be important once they have bodily departed. This is true regardless if the relationship was positive or negative.

Does God shut his ears to prayers for them? If I am concerned about the soul of a person who has died – will God not hear that prayer? He knows far more than I do about them and their situation. Can I not seek his peace and reassurance? We have biblical evidence that indicates God cares about the dead. He created them, he loves them more than we do.

1 Thessalonians tells us that the dead in Christ will rise first and we will all meet together. The Apostles’ Creed – which we will say in a few minutes – ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead.’

The Revelation reading tells us of the great gathering. This is a tricky chapter for some – the numbers of who is in or out can be a real hang-up. A total of 144,000 is for the 12 tribes of Israel (the Jewish people). This doesn’t have anything to do with us non-Jewish people. It makes the point that a faithful remnant of Israel will be saved; the number 144,000 should be regarded as symbolic.

Alongside the faithful remnant is the countless multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language – these are the Christians – whose sins have been purged by the saving death of Christ. This countless multitude will be taken care of – no more hunger, thirst, scorching heat – the Lamb (that being Jesus) will be their shepherd who guides them to the springs of the water of life, tears will be wiped away. Jesus will do for them in death what he did for them and does for us in life now.

Saints are with us and around us. We don’t forget the ones who have died, neither does God.

Secondly – we have limited experience of death in contemporary society.

It has been said that a 100 years ago people talked about death and avoided talking about sex. But today we talk way more about sex than death.

There are many reasons why we don’t talk about death. In the 20th & 21st centuries the advancement of medicine and hospitals took sickness and death out of the home. People now live much longer than they use to which means that some people don’t experience the death of a loved one until much later in life. Infant mortality and childhood deaths in the western world are lower too.

I would also argue that the rise of the professionalized funeral industry has taken death out of the church and community. Gone are the days of dying at home where the minister was more likely to be called than a doctor, being laid out in the parlour, taken to the church for a funeral and then buried in the cemetery. Usually in a very short period of time.

Today death is handled by paid professional (usually very nice) strangers (for the most part) to take us from the institution where death occurred to the funeral home for preparation. It is clean, no muss, no fuss. The advent of embalming and refrigeration has meant that body disposal isn’t as urgent as it once was.

Death still comes to us all but largely out of sight. As a result, we have lost some of the vocabulary to talk or write about death. Think of the language we use – we don’t even like to say that someone has died. They passed away. Hmmm– no I think they stopped. You pass an exam or a driving test. You prove your competency and carry on at a higher level.

Or how about ‘they slipped away’ – you slip out of a meeting or maybe out of this sermon – in a way that does not interrupt or interfere.

But the nature of death is just that – it interferes, it upsets, it destroys. Death is not subtle or considerate! Our person may have been unconscious or unaware when they died. But we weren’t. Many of the deaths I’ve experienced have struck like lightening. Even the ones that ‘were expected’ still have an element of shock to them.

Consider to how we write about death – a person ‘succumbed to…’ or ‘lost the battle’. This phrasing implies that maybe if they had just put a bit more effort in they wouldn’t have died. Battle is the language of war – battles are lost because of bad strategy, lack of preparedness, an enemy that overpowers. If someone ‘loses their battle to cancer’ – was it down to bad planning? What do we do with those who are diagnosed late and never get a chance to fight? Or those who choose not to?

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the National Funeral Directors Exhibition for England as part of a conference I attended. What a fascinating event that was! It had everything you would expect – hearses and body removal vans with all the latest in comfort & technology, urns and caskets, headstones, embalming fluids, make-up, flowers and lots of digital options too – all on show.

What surprised me most was the company who – for a fee (of course) – would text your family and friends to notify them of your death! Yup – you provided the phone numbers, then your next of kin would contact them when you died and then they sent the mass group text! This company would also text the obituary and details of your service. And they would text reminders!

Really?! Have we become so removed from death that our thumbs now do the talking for us? What a shocking thought that I could become so busy that a death of someone I loved would require text reminders!

Have we lost that much vocabulary?

Jesus talked about death a lot. He spoke openly about his own death and what was to come for the disciples. John 14 – ‘In my Father’s House there are many dwelling-places’. God’s House has places prepared for us – this is clearly a God who loves his people! He was waiting for them. For us. We are not to be afraid.

Jesus also responds to the death. Jesus wept at the mouth of Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus was not afraid to confront death. In Jewish culture touching a dead body made one ritually unclean and it was quite a process to made clean again. But time and again we see Jesus cut through the rules to reach out to people.

Jesus cares for the dying, the dead and their families – Lazarus, the Widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus. Jesus was firmly in control in these situations – he was the only one that did.

As we have been distanced from death and have lost some of the vocabulary and experience – we have also lost control (if we ever really had any) over death. Western culture would like to tell us we can control our lives and do what we like, when we want to. All we have to do is figure out how to get what we want. Death is the most uncomfortable reminder that we have so little control over what happens.

Back to the Funeral Exhibition – I reflected after that a lot of the products and services went some way to trying to restore some form of control – but not to the dead – this control is for the living. The distance that death brings could be reduced through the distraction of arranging the personalization of stuff.

Caskets could be personalised – Harley-Davidson logos, majestic mountain scapes, clouds, kittens, The Last Supper, wood, stainless steel, willow baskets – whatever you want! For a few thousand dollars you can be buried or burned in a customized box – made just for you.

Urns came in every shape and size to ‘reflect ones’ personality and design taste. I particularly liked the 6 or 8 pack mini urns that could be purchased! No kidding – handy if you hadn’t quite decided or told anyone where you would like you final resting place to be. Or maybe you have a family prone to fighting – now everyone can have a piece!

What is a Christian response to this? The Beatitudes are a good place to start as we are reminded that the world is not always going to be as it is. They speak of the past, the present and the future all at once.

The Beatitudes are the opening lines of Jesus’ The Sermon on the Mount – probably the most famous words that Jesus ever spoke. Jesus is setting out the main themes of his Good News.

Jesus is not simply telling people to behave properly and then all will be right with the world. This isn’t about trying harder to be better. Neither is Jesus suggesting the Beatitudes are some kind of timeless truths – because they are not. Mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don’t inherit the earth, and those who long for justice don’t often see it in their lifetimes.

In our world, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life and victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, poor in spirit and the peacemakers.

The world the Jesus is offering is upside down! Jesus is saying that with his work it’s starting to come true. Those who mourn will be comforted, the meek will inherit and the persecuted will get the kingdom.

So when do these promises come true? The great Christian temptation is to say in heaven, after death. And it can seem like that with the references to the ‘kingdom of heaven.’

Heaven is God’s space – where full reality exists, close by our ordinary ‘earthly’ reality and interlocking with it. It is not a place of fat babies playing harps on clouds. One-day heaven and earth will be unified forever and the true state of affairs, which are at present out of sight, will be unveiled. The life of heaven, the life of the realm where God is already king – is to become the life of the world. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now.

It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring and imagination, that it is in fact the right way up.

Thirdly – All Saints is ultimately a celebration of Christ’s victory over death.

I used the words festival and celebration at the beginning – the festival of All Saints. We do well to remember that the Christian faith is built on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Let’s not forget that death came first – Good Friday before Easter Sunday. For those who die in Christ their physical death is not the end of the story. This is Good News!

I also appreciate that this can be cold comfort to those who live with grief. Christian or not. Grief can overwhelm and when allowed to can rob life from the living. The only solace I can offer is that those who mourn will be comforted. Jesus is the great comforter and friend to those who mourn. Go to Him with it. People, friends, family can be helpful but they can’t fix it.

One of my favourite saints is John. He lived a life and death closer to Jesus than anyone. John stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die; his brother James and most of his closest friends were crucified. He was an old man when he wrote Revelation and the letters of John.

John – I believe – has distilled down a lifetime of experience to ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’ As he is coming to the end of his life, John writes about the love of God – because that is all there is at the end of the day. It is the only thing that will sustain us. The love of God is the only thing that stands up to the heart-breaking, interrupting, destruction of death.

God’s love will carry through the experience of death and give us our vocabulary back. It is through God’s love that we are even able to love and be loved. He first loved us!

I would encourage you this morning and in the coming days or weeks to remember and give thanks for the Saints in your life – both the living and the dead. They are around. Have a conversation about them. See what comes up – compare memories. They still sit at the dinner table!  If it’s hard or brings up any feelings of grief or love or guilt or joy – pray about them. Ask God for his peace and input. He is in this with you. He loves and cares for all his Saints. That means you to.


Travelling Heavy/Travelling Light

Friday was a travelling day. I had been waiting for this day for a while. I needed to travel ‘home’ to apply for new UK visa so that I can travel ‘home’ again. I hadn’t been able to travel until that day – at least to leave the country as my passport has been with the Home Office since the end of March albeit for one day this summer. This is unsettling! Anyone who has lived in a different country knows this feeling. A passport is the one document – the only document that can get you ‘home’. I always know exactly where it is, it is the one thing I would grab if my house were on fire. There is a degree of certainty, security in that little navy-blue book.

It was brought to me airside at Gatwick by a very nice lady from the Home Office. She sat with me for a bit as she handed it back.

The return has not made me feel better. I don’t have any more certainty or settled-ness. It wasn’t the magic moment I was hoping it would be. I am travelling heavy.

This thought burns up almost immediately. Am I really? I ask myself. My visa issues are of my own making. I didn’t read the instructions properly, I overlooked some key information. Innocent – okay. Costly – hugely. I am not ready to begin to count the cost of this innocent, yet dumb and preventable mistake.

I travel on.

I travel lightly.

I travel lightly because I am not travelling in mud and shit and horror of the Rohingya Muslims amassing along the Myanmar/Bangladesh border. I travelled lightly in the moderate comfort of West Jet flight 23 to Vancouver and then on to Calgary. I am not in a boat or being trafficked. I did wish the girl in front of me would have put her seat up a bit. Jesu Mercy. I did not get shot on the tarmac in Vancouver. My family was not going to be driven from their homes for associating with me.

I travel lightly because my biggest agro on Friday was deciding which shoes to bring, which warm coat would be best. I am not walking for days on end, I am not going to give birth in a puddle on the side of the road, I am not starving.

I forgot my earphones at home. A house that will be there when I get back. I went to Curry’s and bought a new pair with my credit card. Without blinking.  Apparently, I need small pieces of plastic jammed into my ears to block out the noise of the other people around me. Block out the noise in my head. Distract myself with inane ‘entertainment’.  Christe Mercy.

I travel lightly because I travel in peace. My dear Peggy gave me a pin this on Thursday…

It is a dove of peace according to her. She has had it for a long time but thought I could use it right now. I am to wear it while in Canada.

I travel peacefully if not lightly.

Philippians Message to Today’s Church

I decided to go off-Gospel today. St John the Baptist is a small church in North Slough with a wonderfully diverse congregation, 2 decrepit buildings, a Vicar off on long-term sick leave and a massive building project coming up that doesn’t have quite the money that it needs. I wanted to use Philippians to remind and encourage this congregation of God’s promise to complete the good works He starts and stand firm in their faith. It starts with a history lesson on the beginnings of the Philippians church in Acts 16 before moving into the actual letter.

St John the Baptist – 10:00 


Isaiah 5:1-7

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

I have decided to go in a slightly different direction this morning. You may have noticed over the last few weeks that the NT readings have all been from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We haven’t given them much attention other than in their reading. I thought it might be a good idea to have a closer look at the Letter to the Philippians and what it might be saying to St John the Baptist and its fine people this morning.

Philippi was a city in North Eastern Greece – (it was then part of  Macedonia and now a ruin) that was a Roman colony and a leading city because it was rich in gold and silver mines and had good soil. It was named after the father of Alexander the Great – Philip II of Macedon around 356 BC.

Paul along with Silas founded the church in Philippi around 52 AD and it was the very first European church plant. Paul felt called there after he dreamed of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to come and help them. The story of Paul’s first journey to Philippi is in Acts 16.

Philippi had a small Jewish population – we know it was small because there wasn’t a synagogue – but Paul found women praying by the river. One of the woman that he met was Lydia – the dealer in purple cloth who listened to what Paul had to say and believed. She had her entire family baptism and Paul stayed with them.

Paul then gets into trouble when he cast out the demon from the slave-girl that was following him and Silas around. They wind up getting severely flogged and sent to prison. Then the great story of them singing and praying when an earthquake struck which opened the prison doors and their shackles fell off. I wonder how many prisoners know this story and have tried to escape from jail using this tactic?!

The poor prison guard is about to kill himself as he thought all his charges had escaped. But they hadn’t! Paul tells the man not to hurt himself. The man asks what he needs to do to be saved – so Paul shares the Good News with him and he is saved and his family is baptized without delay we are told.

This in a nutshell is the beginnings of the church of Philippi. We see a diverse church!

St John the Baptist – you are in a strategic location in Manor Park, you have a vision for your new building and you have people. Like Philippi – you have resources. It may not feel like you have much but you do. The building project ahead of you may seem daunting – but there is help around you!

There are people out there who need you – maybe some Lydia’s that need something more in their lives beyond the material. Maybe some like the slave-girl that are possessed by the wrong things and needs to be set free. Maybe some like the prison guard who are overwhelmed by their jobs with families to support. People who need a church family that you are in the right location to provide.

Paul writes the letter to the Philippians about 10-11 years after his first visit. He likely made 2 or 3 more visits to Philippi during his travels. But now Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison – probably in Rome as he writes that his death may be imminent. Think about that for a moment – he could be writing some of the last words his church would ever receive from him.

I’m not sure if you have ever received a last word or letter from someone who is dying. My Dad wrote to my Mom and sisters and I before his death. We have hung on to those words and those pages! They are so precious.

These words would have been so precious to the Philippians. Paul clearly loves them – no other church gave Paul as much joy as Philippi did; he held them in a special place. This is a letter of thanksgiving and confident love. No other letter of Paul’s reads like this one does.

This is the letter that gave us:

‘I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’ (1:6)

‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (1:21)

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility values others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:4)

‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purposes.’ (2:12-13)

‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him’. (3:7-8)

‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (3:12)

‘I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus’. (3:14)

**Read 4:4-9

These are some last words! But they are words to live and die by as Paul shows. Paul wants them to live a life worth living – a life that reflects the Gospel of Jesus.

The church at Philippi were facing three issues at the time Paul wrote to them.

Attacks on the Church – it appears that there was some pressure from the outside – maybe persecution or harassment from the neighbours. The Philippians will have to suffer for the Gospel Paul tells them. He also encourages them to stand firm and not be afraid of those who oppose them.

St John the Baptist – stand firm! Your pressure may come from planning permission, the neighbours who don’t want the construction noise/hassle, things running behind, money. But stand firm! God is with you in this!

Secondly – Paul was aware of tensions within the church. At the beginning of Ch 4 he names two women (Euodia & Syntyche) directly and pleads with them to get along. Something has happened between these two.

Paul does not take sides – which suggests it was not a theological dispute – rather he urges them both to take the initiative to reach an agreement and encourages those around them to help as well. He does not criticize but concentrates on their good points – they had helped him and their names were written in the Book of Life. Personality clashes happen – but they can cause damage and we need to be careful. I don’t know you well enough to know the different personalities here – so this is not directed at anyone. Just a friendly reminder!

Thirdly – Paul warns them about rival versions of the Gospel – ch 3. These ‘dog and evil workers’ are thought to be Jewish Christians who believed in Jesus as Messiah but insisted that proper Christians were circumcised and followed Jewish law.

This is what Paul had to loss to follow Jesus. All the old stuff that he had prided himself on doing and being was now the rubbish. Paul’s very self – he was the most Jewish of Jews! He had to lose it all to find Christ and gain the prize.

Keep your eyes on Jesus! He is the author and perfecter of our faith. The good work will be completed in you and in this church.

Stand firm on the word of God. Stand firm next to one another – bearing with each other, forgiving, loving each other. Stand firm in the knowledge and love of God. Finish the race well.




The Irreverent Reverend

I am not sure if I am ‘irreverent’ or not. I did not come up with this title for myself – as appropriate as it may seem at times. I am not sure if I am a ‘blogger’ or not either. I feel late to the game on that front. I don’t read other people’s blogs as a general rule. If I do it is because someone I respect or trust has suggested it via a social media platform – usually Facebook or Twitter (am a bit old school).

Irreverent means to have or show a lack of respect or seriousness for someone or something that is usually shown respect. I do not think that I show a lack of respect (at least I hope that I don’t!) very often to people or things or myself – so disagree with the title on that front.

Seriousness is another matter – I know that I am not always as serious as I could, should or need to be. Both outwardly and inwardly. I hold a lot of things loosely. This is not the same as to hold something or someone casually, carelessly or lightly. By loosely I mean to give space to, room to grow, change, morph. I appreciate a loose grip because I know that I am held tightly to God. Not a breath, cell or hair is unnoticed! I think I hold things loosely because I have been disappointed in people and things – some of these disappointments have cut deeply and left wounds (things left open) and scars (things that are now closed).

A loose hold allows these things to be taken away if needed. They may be returned or they might not be. A loose hold allows God to work. My tight holding has often suffocated and crushed that which I wanted (or thought I wanted). I also tend to take the wrong things far too seriously. Much to my shame and embarrassment a lot of the time.

Maybe I am irreverent then. But respectfully so. Less seriously but not unserious.

Seven Times Seventy

St John the Baptist Manor Park – 10:00

Genesis 50:15-21
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

I feel like I am going out on a limb this morning – preaching to a congregation I only met last week about the big F! That being forgiveness – of course.

I trust that this won’t be the first or last sermon you hear preached on forgiveness. I also hope that I have something new to offer. It is a tough subject. I am sure we all have stories – that we could share about times when we have needed to forgive or be forgiven. I would also venture to guess that we have stories that we don’t share about times and situations of forgiveness and unforgiveness.

It seems that the untold stories are that ones that often go unresolved. These are the stories that often come out around the deathbed and by then – let’s be honest – it is often too late to do anything about it.

Why do we let it get like that? Pride, needing to be right, needing to get one up on another? Not wanting to let whatever happened go – keeping the offending party on our hook for a little longer? Sadly – none of these apparent rewards live up to what we want them to be. They don’t satisfy!

Firstly, we need to think about what we think forgiveness is and is not. How do we define it? Secondly, what will be extending forgiveness to another – or – accepting forgiveness look like for us? What will change? What will life be like?

Forgiveness is an act of the will – that acknowledges that something negative, awful, traumatic and damaging happened but that it will not rule our lives. We take the power out of the event.

It is not in any way saying that what happened was okay or acceptable. Forgiveness does not mean that we have to continue a relationship with the person/people who caused the event. We don’t have to trust them again.

In the Genesis and Matthew readings this morning we see something of the power of forgiveness and unforgiveness. I am starting this morning with Joseph’s story which begins in Genesis 37 when his family settles in the land of Canaan.

The story of Joseph is a remarkable one. Joseph was the first-born son of Jacob and Rachel but was not the first born of all Jacob’s sons. Joseph was however, the favourite son of Jacob – he was 17 years old and rather arrogant.

Joseph was a tattle-tale and generally disliked by his brothers. That is a lot of dislike as there were 11 of them! Jacob gave Joseph a special robe which indicated his special place.

Joseph had arrogant dreams – he told his brothers his dream about them all being sheaves of wheat – his sheaf rose above all the others while the other sheaves (representing the brothers) bowed down to his sheaf. Wheat becomes important in the story of Joseph and his brothers later on of course.

Anyway – the brothers decide that they want to kill Joseph but they end up selling him to some traders instead. They told their father that Joseph has been killed by wild animals. Joseph was sold on and ended up in the household of Potiphar – one of Pharaoh’s officials.

Joseph becomes a successful man – the Lord was with him. He rose through the ranks of Pharaoh’s household – runs into some trouble with the bosses’ wife, goes to jail but then gets released when Pharaoh needs his troubling dreams interpreted. This leads to him getting a big promotion – all buy the age of 30!

Time goes on – a famine comes to Canaan but Egypt has grain to sell. Jacob sends Joseph’s brothers to buy grain. They run into Joseph but don’t recognise him. But Joseph knows them! He doesn’t tell them at first but makes them wait! But Joseph finally introduces himself to them and reassures the brothers that he will look after them. He gives them food and livestock so that none of them will starve. Joseph gets to see his father Jacob again – big reunion.

We pick up the final story of Joseph in the last chapter of Genesis. Jacob has died and the brothers are nervous about what might happen next. They are not sure what Joseph will do to them. All through the story of Joseph is the tension between him and his brothers. The fighting, jealousy, the arrogance and finally the brothers do something that frankly seems unforgiveable.

There is still tension because the brothers had not yet asked for forgiveness from Joseph; they are anxious. The brothers admit they have wronged Joseph and go to him.

Joseph’s response is amazing – Do not be afraid! Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good. I will provide for you and your little ones. He spoke kindly to them, he reassured them.

Can you picture how those brothers must have felt at those words? Oh the relief that comes when we are let off the hook! It is physical sometimes!

Now I know – and you probably do to – that this seemingly ideal model of asking for and receiving forgiveness might not happen in real life! But we will still have to do it. We have to ask for forgiveness if/when we have wronged someone else. We also have to extended forgiveness to those who need it from us. This can be a slow process! We may have to remind ourselves over and over again.

This is what Peter wants clarified in the Matthew reading. Jesus has taught the disciples about forgiveness when he taught them how to pray.

What Peter wants to know is how this works out practically – what is the limit? The Jewish rabbis were teaching that forgiving someone 3 times for the same sin was good enough. Peter thinks that by offering 7 he is doing better. 7 being the number of fulfilment or perfection.

Jesus’ reply is much greater than that – Jesus tells Peter and us that there is no limit to forgiveness. It is something that we are always going to have to do! As long as human beings exist together in community, in families – forgiveness is a cornerstone to good relationships.

The parable that Jesus goes on to tell about the king and his servants is to underline what Jesus has just said about unrestricted, unlimited forgiveness.

The first servant who sees the king has massive debt – in today’s money it would be billions of pounds. It is also totally beyond what he could ever pay back. The king was within his rights to order the man, his family and possessions to be sold to pay it off – even though it wouldn’t cover it.
The man falls on his face – asks for mercy even though he knows he can never pay it off.

The king is moved by this – and decides to forgive him the debt. The king was moved with compassion – the only other times this word is used in Matthew is in relation to Jesus. This king showed the compassion of Jesus. This is a show of the unlimited grace of God.

Unfortunately for the newly forgiven servant the story doesn’t end here! He very quickly forgets what he has been released from as he encounters his fellow slave who owes him much less. About 600,000 times less!

The fellow servant pleads in the very same way that the servant had pled with the king but for a much smaller debt. But the responses were entirely different. This gets back to the king and he reverses his decision and the servant is thrown into prison. He will be there forever.

God’s forgiveness is of a person must be reflected in that person’s forgiveness of others. As we will pray in the Lord’s Prayer shortly – forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Disciples are to act in mercy, forgiveness and love – act towards others as God has acted towards them.

There are consequences if we don’t – our forgiveness can be revoked! This is scary stuff. We will be treated as we treat others. This is why we have to love our neighbours, forgive our neighbours as ourselves. I need God’s forgiveness – a lot. I need to forgive and be forgiven.

This is not easy – I am not trying to make light of that or suggest that it can happen in the blink of an eye. It can take a long time – but if we can hold to and remember the unlimited grace of God – we can do it.

Let him help you! The prison of unforgiveness is not a place you want to be in. Joseph freed his brothers from the prison of their anxiety and worry. Not only that – he looked after them, cared for them and their families. The king and the servants shows us what happens if we don’t free others.

Jesus has all the love, grace and mercy we will ever need – we can use his when we don’t have enough of our own. Forgiveness comes at a high price – but ultimately a price paid for by Jesus.