Easter 2: Hope on the Road

Qe Hi – Road to Emmaus

23/4/23
Easter 2
Acts 2:14a,36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35


As I continue to grow in my faith and ministry, I find myself coming to love the season of Easter more each year. Each new season brings greater appreciation of the early church and the struggles it faced, the decisions that had to be made, and the stories of Peter, Paul and the disciples (now apostles) as they grew and spread the Good News of the Risen Jesus.

This new church faced great conflict, it had to wrestle with the issues of doctrine that we take for granted and it also had to contend with deadly persecution. Christianity could well have died in infancy if not for the bold and brave convictions of the early apostles. Fortunately there is not too much conflict in the Hambleden Valley! Although we do have our challenges and decisions to be made about the future Rector, the building works, how best to spend our time and money.

Over the next few weeks, we will be reading various parts of Acts and all of 1st Peter (hint- hint…if you have got some time and a Bible!).

These readings speak to new beginnings, fresh starts for Peter and Paul and the gatherings of the first church; all underpinned with a sense of hope and purpose. My hope is that we can see links between then and now.

Where is our Hope?

The Road to Emmaus is a familiar story; Luke includes it in his account of that first Easter Day. Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple are walking away from Jerusalem. Walking away from the disciples, away from their faith, their beliefs, potentially their families and jobs. They are without hope and they are sad.
To be a fly on the shoulder of Cleopas for that conversation! There was such overwhelming grief that when Jesus came near to them their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

As I read this passage, the same five words from verse 21 kept leaping off the page at me: ‘But we had hoped that…´ Notice the past tense of hope – they had hoped. Their hope, whatever it was in, was gone. When Jesus died, so did their hope. Many people right now are without hope, ‘but we had hoped that…’ What about you? Have you hoped for something, someone that will not now come through? Where is your hope today?

As Easter people, we are to be beacons of hope even in the most trying of times. As impossible as that might seem. If you find that you have lost or are losing hope; we can take comfort and take heart. Jesus understands. He wants nothing more than to restore our hope.

Before he died, Jesus had expressly told the disciples that He would send the counsellor, the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. All they had to do was wait. It could be assumed that the disciples were meant to wait together. These two have seemingly forgotten about this promise; so instead of waiting are walking away.

Jesus could have washed his hands of them, let them go. But he doesn’t. He meets them where they are at; going the wrong way, down the wrong road. As the disciples talk to Jesus, listen to him, they begin to see beyond themselves, they re-centre from their own issues and problems.


In that meeting with Jesus, Cleopas and the other disciple turn around and head back the right way, back on the right road, back to life. Hope is restored, hearts are burning in the breaking of the bread. Many people need to have their hope restored. Some of us might need to be turned around in our thinking, some might need to ask for strength in the waiting, and many likely need to find their hope again.


How can we find our Hope again?

One of the things I love about Eastertide is the renewal of baptismal vows. There is something in the renewal of promises and the sprinkling of water that makes all things new again and restores hope. For those of us baptised as babies, we didn’t have the opportunity to make those promises for ourselves, although maybe in confirmation we did. Either way it is a restorative thing to do.

Peter, in Acts 2, is calling for people to repent and be baptised. Our sins have been forgiven and the gift of the Holy Spirit has been given. This is the great Christian hope. Wonderful news and a wonderful starting point for reclaiming any lost hope. The first step, according to Peter, is to repent and be baptised.

Remember the promises made:


Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour? I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour? I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord? I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life? I come to Christ.

Peter is imploring these Christians to love each other deeply from the heart. They have been born anew and nothing can take away the hope of the final redemption and resurrection. Peter knew this first-hand. Peter the one who denied Jesus three times and was restored three times. If anyone thought they were beyond hope, Peter is a prime example. Yet Jesus meets Peter on that first Easter, on the shores of Galilee as Peter too is attempting to go back to his previous life as a fisher of fish. In a conversation with Jesus, Peter is restored.

Remembering our baptismal vows, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the great love and long reach of God for each of us seems to me a place where we can recover our hope. It was in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and the other disciple had their eyes opened and recognized Jesus. As we shortly break bread together this morning, my prayer is that hope will be restored and the promises of God will be renewed for each one of us.

Proper 16: Standing Firm

From Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Utrecht

22/8/21
Proper 16/Trinity 13

Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69


We have finally reached the end of John 6 as today is Sunday five of five! I have mentioned the various threads and themes that run through this rather dense chapter over the last few weeks. At each turn, Jesus is ratcheting up what is at stake for both that early crowd and for us now.

One golden thread running through this chapter are the words very truly and believe. They are used a lot! Jesus is telling us very truly to believe in Him. I spoke last week about how the way we trust in things and people can influence how we trust God.

We all have our own ways of coming to trust things and people. Maybe some of us trust the wrong things or don’t consider the things we trust until they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Maybe some of us set the bar so high that we trust almost nothing and no one. Jesus wants us to trust him; for anything and everything, all the time and forever. He died for us; his death and resurrection is a very clear indicator of his willingness!

Those first listeners did not yet fully appreciate what Jesus meant about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The response from many was, ‘this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ Jesus has challenged his listeners on everything from their extensive rules on food preparation and eating to what happens (or doesn’t happen) when they die. Jesus has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet. It is time to make a decision and make it now!

Jesus was giving them and still gives us a choice. He asks, ‘do you also wish to go away?’ To follow Jesus or not is a choice; the ultimate one. Christianity is based on making that choice; being a Christian is not an automatic event, it does not just happen.

At some point in this life we all have to make a choice to follow Jesus or not. The people Jesus puts this question to in John’s Gospel are not newbie followers.
These are people who have heard the teaching, seen the miracles, followed him around, maybe some were healed, they were certainly all loved by Jesus.

I have had some interesting conversations recently about the saving work of God and ‘what about those people who never hear about Jesus’ or people of other faiths. I do not worry about them as much as I do about those people who hear the teaching, have been to church, know something about God and choose not to believe.

I think of some of my cousins, my friends, people I have worked with in the past. The only people who cannot or will not be saved are the ones who put themselves beyond the reach of God. God does not put people beyond his reach – people put themselves there.

It is sometimes an hourly, daily, moment by moment decision to choose God and live fully as the people we were made to be. It is hard work. You might notice that Jesus does not make it easier! He doesn’t make excuses or argue back when his followers take offense and claim it is too hard. He is not offering a lighter version.

Debie Thomas, ‘What does it mean to choose God? According to Jesus, it means eating his very essence, taking the incarnation so deeply into our own bodies and souls that we exude the favour of Christ to the world. It means doing what Jesus did and living as Jesus lived. It means turning the other cheek. It means loving our enemies. It means walking the extra mile. It means losing our lives in order to gain them. It means trusting that the first will be last and the last first. It means seeking God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. It means denying ourselves. It means the cross.’

I think that what is amazing is that Jesus had any followers left! Maybe the real miracle of the bread and fish story is not that the multitudes were fed but a handful of those stuck around when he finished teaching. By asking them, ‘do you also wish to go away?’, those who are left are free to walk away.

It is an uncomfortable question. I imagine Jesus asking it with sadness and compassion. He knows that some will walk away. He knows what is asking them. He wants them to know that his love is a freeing love. I find this an uncomfortable question because sometimes I want to say yes.

Yes I do want to go away. I want to quit, I want to be more comfortable, pick an easier, less demanding, less costly version of the Gospel. However, I know that there is no lighter version. It just does not exist.

In the final verses of Ephesians 6, Paul is telling his readers to get ready for the battle. War was a frequent reality then so this language would not have been strange or off-putting. Paul is putting the struggles of small Christian communities as a cosmic battle against supernatural evil. The people are to stand firm and not run away. They have been given the equipment they need.

We too need to stand firm, ready and rooted, if we are to choose Jesus, choose Christianity. Not only stand firm, but use the equipment we have been given properly.

It is sort of like PPE, great to have but only gives protection if used correctly. It means understanding the truth of the Gospel, being ready to proclaim it, being faithful when the arrows come, and knowing the word of God.

We also need to know, like Peter, that Jesus has the words of eternal life. Who else is there to go to? Nothing and no one will ever satisfy us like Jesus does.
We are called to make that choice over and over again. When we come together to celebrate Communion, this is what we are doing. Coming back, choosing again the one with the words of eternal life. Feeding on Jesus is our only hope. Amen.

Pentecost: The Old Made New

Acts 2:1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Well, it’s 9:30-ish in the morning/6:00-ish in the evening, and we’re all gathered together in one place. Perhaps we should watch out for tongues of fire and listen for the sudden rush of a violent wind from heaven.

But I think we should pray first…

Creator God, as your spirit moved over the face of the waters bringing light and life to your creation, pour out your Spirit on us today that we may walk as children of light and by your grace reveal your presence. Amen.

It doesn’t matter how many times I read Acts 2, it always sounds crazy, chaotic and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I am sure a few people here this morning/evening who would love a little fire and wind to liven things up! I am equally sure that there are others who would prefer things a little more ordered.

I don’t think that being made to feel uncomfortable about this passage, or any other, is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t intend to leave you comfortable today either. Sometimes a sense of discomfort is needed to remind us of the areas in our faith that we may be ignoring or falling short in.

The Holy Spirit was sent to change people, including us; to send us away differently, refined, plucked or pruned. The process of change can be uncomfortable to downright miserable while in it.

Unfortunately being a Christian was never meant to be convenient or wholly comfortable. But it was meant to be lived together in both the joys and the sufferings. We are not alone either. Jesus explained to the disciples that ‘the Advocate, whom I will send, will testify on my behalf; will guide you in all truth.’

Jesus points to the Holy Spirit to teach and remind the disciples everything that he (Jesus) had said to them. This is not a one-off, show me, show us event. The work, the presence of the Holy Spirit is an on-going, lifelong affair. It is only the Holy Spirit that can make the connection between God the Father, Jesus the Son and us.

In John 14, Jesus explains that the Advocate, the Counsellor or the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said. The first thing we are taught about Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is inextricably linked to the life of Jesus and his teaching. It is not some woo-woo spirit floating about like changing clouds.

‘IF you love me’ says Jesus, ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.’ IF implies a choice!

The love of the disciples for Jesus leads to Acts 2.

We do know that something astonishing is happening in Acts 2, barriers of culture and language are being broken down as the Spirit falls on those gathered that day. Luke in his writing is struggling to find the language to describe what is going on; things ‘seem like’ and ‘sound like’ which indicates he has never seen anything like what he is seeing before. God is drawing new people from every nation at the time towards him. The people, mostly Jews, are encountering the Holy Spirit and being changed. Jesus changes people. We are seeing an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

When trying to understand the Holy Spirit it is helpful to remember that the Holy Spirit has been around from Genesis. It was the spirit hovering over the waters at creation. It is not/was not a new thing but that first Pentecost saw the most powerful outpouring that had been experienced.

The other thing to keep in mind was the timing of this event. God was using a long-standing appointment on the kingdom calendar of the Jewish people. The Feast of Pentecost was meant to pour out the ‘old’ spirit in a ‘new and powerful way’.

For centuries 50 days after the Passover, the Jews have celebrated with a feast, traditionally called ‘The Feast of Weeks. The number 50 points to fullness, ripeness, to a time that is ready for something to happen.

This was already a time of celebration. Pentecost happens 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

In the Feast of Weeks and at Pentecost, God was creating for himself a new people. When the disciples received the Spirit, they became witnesses for Christ. Here to Jesus is forming a people for himself; His church and we are that church.

Pentecost is not a random event! The feast was on the calendar and we see God take something old and familiar to the Jews to produce something new and fresh.

I now want to look at the 3 purposes of the Feasts of Weeks and Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit works and moves in the church today.

Firstly, the Feast of Pentecost is a time to remember and give thanks for what has been done for us. The Jewish people were to remember and celebrate their release from slavery by being generous to each other, feeding the widows, the orphans, the poor and other unfortunates.

Looking back to the past to help explain a current situation is a very common Jewish method of interpretation or way of coming to a new understanding called ‘midrash’.

Peter is doing exactly that in Acts 2 when he refers to the prophecy of Joel to explain to the mostly Jewish crowd what is happening beyond ‘we are not drunk at 9 am’!! Joel announced that God was going to do something very special on Mount Zion which is in Jerusalem and Peter is confirming that.

I think that it is important to remember where we have come from. But there is a caution when looking to the past; I am not suggesting we constantly rehash the past or not move on from it. Nor am I suggesting a rewriting or romanticising of the past either. We can remember again where we have come from, but we don’t live in that past anymore.

Secondly, the Feast of Pentecost was a time for great generosity; it was about generous grace and generous giving. The Jews of the day had a slightly different take on it. For the Feast, the Jews were not allowed to come to the Lord empty-handed. Deuteronomy 16:17 – ‘each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.’ (Read twice).

This actually makes me more uncomfortable than the wind and fire. I am not suggesting that we can out-give God, but we are to give him thanks and offer ourselves to Him and his service. We are called to be generous with our time, talents and possessions to meet the needs of others and the church.

Imagine for a second if our churches and we as people gave to God in proportion to the way He has blessed us? We would live and love in a completely different world and probably wouldn’t have budget shortfalls.

Rev Bill Albinger was an Episcopal priest in Hawaii whose small parish has a generous heart for the local people who face many social problems. I had a look at what Rev Bill had to say about Pentecost and giving. This is what he writes:

‘This is where the power of the church is – the Spirit is not a power to boost us up and make us feel good, but it is power and presence of God to bring a wholly new perspective in the way we live and love. It doesn’t matter so much if we are ‘slain in the spirit’ and knocked to the ground – what matters is the kind of changed person you are when you are on your feet.

What matters are the gifts you bring to the building up of community and the gifts you bring to the healing and repair of the world. This is where the power of the church is.’



At Pentecost we need to remember where we have come from and give thanks. By way of thanks we are to be generous with our time, talents and possessions for the benefit of the church and others.


Thirdly, The Feast of Pentecost is a corporate harvest, the first fruits of church. The specific time of this event on Pentecost offers little doubt that God intended a highly significant feast of harvest.

The harvest of people in the streets of Jerusalem who met Jesus and went away changed. They went back to their towns and villages and they began to sow what they had learned and seen in Jerusalem, a call to a life in Jesus. We know they did as the church still exists today.

If the Jews are simply said, ‘well that was interesting, Peter spoke well, etc…’ and went on their way without being changed, who knows what would have happened. But they went and sowed.

But sometimes we don’t sow and therefore don’t see a harvest. Instead we tend to eat the seed. The American writer and bible teacher Beth Moore explained the principle of eating the seed after visiting villages in Kenya. Beth writes:

’One of the most frustrating things is that in the villages where they receive seed, they often eat the seed rather than planting and bringing forth the harvest. I couldn’t get that statement out of my mind and suddenly had an answer to the questions I most often ask God: Why do some people see the results of the Word and others don’t? Why do some study the Word of God yet remain in captivity?

Some just eat the seed and never sow it for a harvest. You want examples? Why have many of us read books on forgiving people, known the teachings were true and right, cried over them, marked them up with our highlighters, yet remain in our bitterness?

Because we ate the seed instead of sowing it.

We think we accepted the teachings because we were so moved by it. But you see, the seed of God’s Word can fill our stomachs and give us immediate satisfaction and still not produce a harvest – that is when we eat it but don’t sow it.

Many times we apply biblical truth to our theologies without applying it to the actual practicalities of life.’ God repeatedly says that a harvest is to be sown and not eaten as seed. We were meant to eat from the sheaves and not the seeds. God wants to sow into our lives so we can sow into the lives of others.


On this Feast of Pentecost as we pray Come, Holy Spirit, let us remember what God has already done for us, show our thanks for what He has done by being generous to others and to the church. Let’s also think about what it is to harvest. If we can’t seem to find anything to harvest, have we sown anything, or have we eaten the seed ourselves?

To ask for the Holy Spirit is a choice as is to do any of the above: to be thankful, to be generous and to be changed. Jesus sent the Advocate, the Spirit to help us, to guide us; we never have to do this alone.

Pentecost was a very public event and meant to be shared. Live beyond your convenience and comfort! The Holy Spirit came to change us, the church and the world – apologetically, wholly and completely. And uncomfortably when necessary. We are part of a greater story that involves the past, the present and the future; giving and receiving; sowing and harvesting.

All a bit chaotic.

All true to the life and ministry of Jesus.

All true to the life and faith of Christians.


Few short minutes of asking ‘Come Holy Spirit’

Lent 2: Holy Living in the Leafy Hambleden Valley

28/2/21

Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
Mark 8:31-38

At Friday prayers in Fawley churchyard this week, we were reminded of the Lent watchwords: discipline, repentance and growth. These are some of the keys to holy living. Underpinning these three activities is practice. The season of Lent echoes the 40 days of Christ in the wilderness, preparing for this ministry.
Jesus had been practicing – directly after his baptism, Jesus is flung into the wilderness to face the temptations of Satan. Jesus rebuffs and refuses Satan’s offerings by using the teachings of scripture. In doing this, Jesus demonstrates for us what it is to live a life of discipline that has come through practice.

In this passage of Mark, we get a number of Jesus’ more quotable lines, ‘Get behind me Satan!’; ‘Take up your cross and follow me’; ‘What is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?’. There is often great temptation to take these verses out of context and apply them to just about any situation. Much like taking Churchill quotes or lines of Shakespeare and reducing them to coffee mugs and tea towels.

Similarly, we can lose the meaning of what Jesus is saying if we lift these verses out of their context too. The context that Jesus is teaching into was his death; this is the first time that Jesus predicts his death. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering,” Jesus tells his disciples quite plainly. He must “be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Standing on this side of resurrection history, we easily miss the bombshell effect these words must have had on Jesus’s disciples. Their great hope, cultivated over the three years they had followed Jesus, was that he would lead them in a military revolution and overthrow their Roman oppressors.
What then could be more disorienting, more ludicrous, than the news that their would-be champion was determined to walk straight into a death trap? To surrender without a fight to a common criminal’s death.

Peter, in a moment of confusion and shock, scolds Jesus for his dire prediction. And Jesus, in what might be the sharpest and most surprising rebuke in all of Scripture, puts Peter in his place with one swift stroke: “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
You can hardly blame Peter, how often are our minds on human things rather than the divine? Holy living requires higher thoughts, and this takes some practice. It is easier to think holy thoughts when all is well. Much more difficult to do when faced with death, threats to security and uncertainty.

Then Jesus turns to the crowds and captures the essence of his message in two sentences: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Even now, centuries removed from the context in which Jesus lived and taught, what exactly is Jesus saying? That he wants us to pursue suffering and death? That a holy life is not about living at all, but about dying? About martyrdom?
What does a holy life look like in 21st century England?


Where does our discipline come from? How repentant are we? Are there any signs of growth? What does it mean to deny myself? Living, as we do, in a culture that does not imprison, torture, or kill Christians for our faith, how shall I deny myself so that the gospel might thrive, here and now? How shall I save my life by losing it for Jesus’s sake in the leafy Hambleden Valley? How shall I die?

‘If any want to become my followers’ – would imply there is a choice to be made. Jesus is speaking to a crowd, lots of people watching and listening. I would suggest that not all of them decided then and there to deny themselves and pick up their cross. There are always lots of people to stand and watch others do the heavy lifting. These are the ones who think they are saving their lives by not getting involved, or staying quiet or think that all religions, God, etc. are the same and get you there in the end, just be good or a nice person. The reality is though that lives will be lost.

Let them deny themselves’ – This is not the body and I am not living the life of a person who denies herself very much! I am not always good at living beyond my own convenience. What would it look like to deny ourselves those things that prevent us from living a life that follows totally after Jesus?

And take up their cross and follow me.’ We use it as a throw-away sometimes. ‘We all have our crosses to bear’ to explain or give meaning to the circumstances of another. We all have situations, issues, stuff going on that needs bearing up; we can’t ignore, dismiss or wish it away. Pick it up!
If we pick our crosses up to follow Jesus we are not going to have to carry it by ourselves. In Matthew 11 Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Who can we look to for a holy life? We see an example in Abraham. All that Abraham was promised came through his righteousness and God’s faithfulness. Abraham’s great age is not to be overlooked! It took a lifetime of practice, of discipline, repentance and growth. It was certainly not an easy life, but it was worth it in the end.

I think that one of the best examples in recent history is Billy Graham. Billy Graham died in February 2018, at the grand age of 99 and in his own home. He is a shining example of what it is to live a holy life of faithful service Jesus until the end. Carrying your cross daily and faithfully. Giving up your life, your convenience for others. We probably will not influence millions of people around the world – that’s okay. How about we influence those around us – in our homes, families, villages, our workplaces, schools, the stranger on the train or in the coffee shop.

Billy Graham lived a scandal free life – both financially and sexually. Is that not refreshing given what is being reported in the news almost daily? Money, sex, pride and power have a death grip on so many people. Mark is presenting us with Jesus’ idea of what real life looks like; a ‘real life’, a holy life that does not have space for the misuse and abuse of money, sex, pride and power. This real life includes death – death to these things and to ourselves.

Mark ends this passage by making it clear that following Jesus seems the only way to go. There is some good news: the crosses that we must bear are so much lighter than the cross that Jesus had to bear

What is the reward? From Billy Graham: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

In the presence of God who loves us deeply, gave up everything so we can be with him, who repays us with a life spent in eternity. By losing and denying – we gain much more.

Blessed are those who carry
for they shall be lifted.

Forgive and Don’t Be Afraid!

Sermon for Sunday 13th September 2020 Proper 19/Trinity 14
Genesis 50:15-21 Romans 4:1-12 Matthew 18:21-35

As the children have gone back to school, we find ourselves being educated at the Jesus School of Hard Teaching over these few weeks in our lectionary readings. It is not that we haven’t heard it all before, but we can be slow to learn sometimes. In Robin’s sermon and in the kid’s story last week, the focus was on how we should behave when people do wrong to us. This is continued today as we look at that old chestnut – forgiveness!

I trust that this won’t be the first or last sermon you hear preached on forgiveness, but I do hope you find something new in it. It is a tough subject. I am sure we all have stories 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 do not share about times and situations of forgiveness and unforgiveness. It seems that the untold stories are that ones that often go unresolved; they often come out around the deathbed and by then – let’s be honest – it is usually 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!

Forgiveness is an act of the will. It 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 must 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 both forgiveness and unforgiveness. The story of Joseph is a remarkable one. Joseph was the first-born son of Jacob and Rachel but not the first born of all Jacob’s sons. Joseph was a tattletale and generally disliked by his brothers. The abridged version is that the brothers disliked him so much they decided to kill him, make it look like a cover-up but changed their minds and sold him to some traders. Joseph ended up in Egypt and working for Potiphar and becomes hugely successful. Time goes by and famine hits the rest of the family and the brothers are sent to Egypt and meet Joseph, whom they no longer recognize. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, big family reunion ensues and Joseph gets to see his father before he dies.

Jacob has now died, and the brothers are nervous about what might happen next. 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 unforgivable. Finally, 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, 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 must ask for forgiveness if/when we have wronged someone else. We also must extend forgiveness to those who need it from us. This can be a slow process! We may have to remind ourselves repeatedly.

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 seven; he is doing better. Seven 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, in church, school or at work, forgiveness will need to be 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 debt of the first servant is 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. The man falls on his face and asks for mercy. 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. The servant has a rather short memory. When he encounters a fellow slave, who owes him much less, the scene is repeated but the response to the plea for forgiveness is different and wrong. The consequence for the first servant’s lack of forgiveness is a life sentence in prison.

There are consequences if we don’t – our own forgiveness can be revoked! This is scary stuff. We will be treated as we treat others. Therefore, we must 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, and 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 show 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.