What’s Your Story: Forgiveness (A Sermon)


[A sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent at Prestbury Methodist Church, 2 April 2017]

SCRIPTURE:    Zechariah 7:8–14; Matthew 9:9–13; Colossians 3:8–17

This is the fifth and last in the Heartlines’ series ‘What’s Your Story?’ which we have been following during Lent.

The first week was called ‘The Power of Storytelling’, and Collin introduced us to the Heartlines’ framework for sharing stories: Ask. Listen. Tell. Then he explained the Heartlines’ method for telling our story called ‘The River of Life’. I wonder if you have written your ‘river of life’ story, yet.

On the next three Sundays, we looked at Love and the new commandment of Jesus to love one another, Understanding and how understanding comes from experiencing the world as others experience it and Acceptance and Respect, where Delme reminded us that we were all outside of God’s family, until the love of Christ brought us near.

Today, the subject is Forgiveness.

There are two aspects of forgiveness we are going to look at today. The first is being forgiven and the second is forgiving others.

Being forgiven
I am not talking here about being forgiven by God.

We are forgiven. We know that.

The cross is God’s forgiveness splashed onto the big screen. God, in his loving kindness, taking all the sin in our lives that destroys relationships – our relationships with God, with each other and with ourselves – Jesus taking all of that and dealing with it through his own death. Jesus opening the door into the Kingdom of God for each one of us.

We are forgiven.

That famous verse in John 3:16: ‘For God loved the world (you and me) so much, that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not die but shall have eternal life.’
Paul says in Romans 6:23, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
And in chapter 5:8 ‘But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! ‘
And in verse 10, ‘We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son.’

We are forgiven by God. That forgiveness is the foundation for everything else. We are forgiven, therefore we reach out to others.

So, today it’s not about being forgiven by God. What we are talking about is how we need to be forgiven by others, by those we have hurt and are still hurting. Now that’s much more difficult. It is difficult not just because of the humiliation of having to say you’re sorry and to ask for forgiveness. That is hard. But it is difficult because we don’t always recognise just how we have hurt others and do hurt them.

I’d like to focus on just one way we hurt others without thinking and, sometimes, without even knowing. I want us to think about our language – what we say and how we say it.

You know, the biggest problem with communication (and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a formal presentation or a quick word as we pass in the street), the biggest problem is in the ‘decoding’ process. When we have something to say and, whether it’s a presentation to the board or a word to the children, our brains work out what we want to say. We take our thoughts and translate them into words or pictures, which we then convey to the person. And we might do that through a PowerPoint presentation, a WhatsApp message or by talking to them.

Now comes the tricky part. The message has reached the other person or group. And that person has to understand it, has to decode it, interpret it and make sense of what you are saying. And it is tricky, because that person, or that group, uses their entire history to interpret your words. Everything they have ever heard, seen or experienced goes into the interpretation process – including your relationship with that person. Or rheir relationship with people they think are like you.

Let me be controversial for a moment to make it more real. There has been a lot of talk recently about the use of the word ‘monkey’ in talking about people. And I know that a lot of white people have grown up using ‘monkey’ as a term of endearment. ‘Hey, you little monkey.’ But it is a term that, in this country, comes with a whole lot of painful and hurtful baggage.

Now we can say, as I have heard a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, please. They are so oversensitive.’ But until we have experienced the pain of that word (or any other) being used against us to oppress and to hurt, we dare not call other people oversensitive. We have to hear their pain.

‘But, I didn’t mean anything by it,’ we often say. What we mean by something is not important. We are trying to get a message across that we want others to receive, understand and respond to. If they don’t get the right message, we have a problem. It’s like advertising. If people are getting the wrong message, you have to change your advert. It’s no good wringing your hands and telling everyone, ‘That’s not what I meant.’

Jen grew up with the term ‘silly sausage’ being just about the worst thing her father would say about (for example) a taxi driver who swerved in front of him. I grew up with ‘silly sausage’ being a term of endearment my mother would use. Can you imagine the first time I called my wife a silly sausage!

So, when we talk about being forgiven, it is not enough to confess to God and ask for his forgiveness. We, as Christians, need to be humble enough to recognise that we contribute to the pain that others experience. And while that includes people of different race or gender, of religion or culture, it also includes our children and parents, our spouses and our friends our domestic workers or work colleagues.

We need to find ways to listen more, to listen to the stories of others that will help us understand what our words and actions might mean to others.

Forgiveness is not just about being forgiven by God; it is about recognising that we need to be forgiven by others day by day and about seeking out their forgiveness.

Forgiving others
The second aspect of forgiveness I want us to consider today is forgiving others.

Of course, we know that we have to forgive others. We are reminded every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

Jesus said, ‘If you do not forgive the sins of others, neither will you be forgiven.’ We can’t horde forgiveness. If we are not passing it on, we can’t receive it.

So, we know we have to forgive others. But how do we get that right?

One of the ways I have approached it is to remind myself by repeating that word throughout the day: ‘Forgive.’ A kind of mantra for every situation:

  • When something goes wrong – forgive.
  • The neighbour revs his motorbike – forgive!
  • The kids are annoying – forgive!
  • My wife is late – forgive!
  • Yes, even when the taxi swerves in front of you – forgive.’

But as I thought about it this week, I realised that there is a comforting little message that is perhaps getting through to us. Well, to me, anyway. You are probably much more loving than I am. You see, if I’m really angry, and I say ‘Forgive!’ I am not letting go of my negative thoughts; I’m not changing my attitude towards the person.

What I am often saying is, ‘He’s an idiot, but I forgive him.’
‘She’s irresponsible, but I forgive her.’
‘They are disgraceful, but I forgive!’

You see what we are doing here. Well, not you, of course. It’s probably just me.

I am saying, ‘They are terrible, but I am a good Christian.’ The focus is on how bad others are and how good I am.

I mean, why do I have to forgive people? It’s because they are bad; they have done something wrong. So, when I focus on forgiving others, there is a danger that I may be encouraging myself to think how wonderful I am compared with them.

But Jen read an article to me last week (Witness, Sat, 25 March 2017) about three-year-old Prince George of Great Britain going to school. And what struck us is that the school’s website says that its most important rule is ‘be kind’.

Be kind.

Now, think about that for a moment. What if ‘be kind’ became our most important rule. What if, instead of talking about love, we started to act out our love by being kind. So, ‘be kind’ becomes our mantra, something we say to ourselves throughout the day. Think how that would begin to transform our relationships. And isn’t transforming relationships what our faith is all about?

Now don’t try to second guess this being kind. Don’t start saying to yourself, ‘Well, the kind thing to do here would be to discipline him, to make her face the consequences, to….’ Just be kind.

‘Well, if they are going to benefit from this kindness thing, then I need to explain to them….’ Just be kind; be kind.

Picture the scene. There I am behind some scary taxi driver or some idiot driving erratically – probably on their cell phone! – and I grip the wheel and say to myself, ‘Forgive! Forgive!!’

I haven’t learned anything; I haven’t changed anything.

But, what if I relax my grip a little and start saying, ‘Be kind; be kind.’ What if I look for ways to be kind. What if I start saying ‘be kind’ before I respond to my child, my parents, my spouse, the teller, my employees?

What will happen is that we will begin to let go of the failures of others and focus on what we can do to make a difference in the world, to listen to stories, to create relationships, to encourage rather than tear down.

Just for today, let go of the negative, and speak words of encouragement.

Be kind.

Prayer: click here

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State Capture and the Christian Hope


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend has handed us a much scarier South Africa than we had last week. President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle has taken state capture to a whole new level. However, he did not reckon with the timely and graceful death of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada and the horror, determination and drive that platform unleashed.

We should not be fooled, however. This is not the worst government or the worst crisis the country has experienced. It cannot be compared with the horrors of the apartheid government and the despair felt by the majority of South Africans in the 80s. Which is why many black people are sceptical about the sudden white outrage.

The Church, and Christians generally, should certainly be asking what we should do. However, we should never lose sight of the truth that our salvation does not lie in the downfall of a president. Our salvation does not depend on the overthrow of a government. We may pray for both of those, as Desmond Tutu has suggested, and join with civil society to rally towards those goals, but that is not where our salvation and the salvation of this great land lie.

As we near the end of Lent and move towards Holy Week, we are reminded that our salvation lies with One who chose to give his life a ransom for many.

Nothing will change that. Whatever the government, whatever our physical, social and economic prospects for the future, our salvation is secure. And it finds expression as we pray and reach out to each other in love and compassion, listening to each other’s stories and sharing each other’s pain.

Let’s not rally together because our taxes are being wasted and our comfort is at stake. Let us rally together because we have cared enough to listen, and we understand the pain and hurt of those who are most affected, those whose pensions and childcare grants are at stake.

[Some thoughts shared at Prestbury Methodist Church on Sunday 2 April 2017]

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Easter Sunday Meditation 2016


Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Reading: Luke 24:1-10

Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. (2) They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, (3) so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (4) They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. (5) Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? (6) He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: (7) ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”

(8) Then the women remembered his words, (9) returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest. (10) The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

The women had a plan. They knew where Jesus had been buried, and they knew what they wanted to do and when they were going to do it.

But instead of their plan, there was puzzlement and fear, wonder and excitement. Instead of action, there was a story to tell. And they ran to the disciples and shared the news:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

We, too have a story to tell:
We are forgiven.
We are loved.
We have a new family.
God has blessed us; God is with us.
Indeed we have a story to tell.

Burst out of our churches, break free from restraints. Let the earth ring with the praise of God’s people:

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Prayer

Lord, remind us today of your story. Give us the words, put a new song in our hearts. Let your story be on our lips, in our relationships, in our interventions, today and every day. Amen.

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. See HERE for Easter Saturday and past years’ contributions.

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Easter Saturday Meditation 2016


Darkness

Reading: Luke 23:50-56

There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honourable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action.  (52) He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  (53) Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used.  (54) It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin. (55) The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it.  (56) Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body. On the Sabbath they rested, as the Law commanded. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

Jesus is dead.

Joseph declared himself and took charge.
The women watched and prepared.
All of creation held its breath.

And Jesus waited.

We usually think we are the ones waiting: waiting in uncertainty; waiting for the resurrection; waiting for God to act. But Jesus waits too.

He waits for you and for me.
He waits for us to declare ourselves.
He waits for us to prepare ourselves.
He waits for our worship, our actions, our preparation.
He waits for our love.

He waits because tomorrow’s resurrection is not planned for a hidden tomb in a faraway garden in a foreign land. It is planned for you and for me and for our community.

Jesus waited for the Sabbath to pass – because worship would never be the same again.

He waits for us.

Are you ready to celebrate his life? Are you ready to give him room in your heart? Are you ready for your worship, your life and your community to be transformed?

It doesn’t matter how dark the tomb of your life might be, his light will shine, his love will conquer. All you need to say is, ‘Yes.’

Prayer:
Yes, Jesus. Come into our lives, our families and our communities. Transform our worship. Bring us to life; bring our community to life; bring our world to life today. Amen

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. A collaborative project with various members of the church writing meditations for each day of Lent around a given theme. I Seem to end up with the Easter weekend. Perhaps it’s because my mother runs the project?? See HERE for Easter Sunday and past years’ contributions. 

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Discipleship and vulnerability: A prayer for Maundy Thursday


This prayer was one I wrote for Epiphany Sunday 2013 (see here).  Christine Jerrett very kindly suggested I reblog it on Maundy Thursday – a night of shadows. Christine writes (among other things) her own beautiful prayers that are challenging, life affirming and encouraging. You can find her blog here.

I pray that this prayer will help your meditation on this night of brokenness, denial and betrayal. Thanks Christine.

Lord we love to offer you our successes,
our strengths and our achievements.
But what are they compared with your glory,
your majesty, your power?

Yet you come to us tonight, not in victory but in vulnerability.
You come in weakness, as the baby revealed to the wise men,
as the saviour on the cross who could not save himself.
You come with broken body and tormented soul.

In awe and in wonder, we gather round your table tonight.
We receive your brokenness,
and we offer to you, and to each other, our brokenness in return.
As we touch your wounds tonight, and you touch ours,
open our hearts to the wonder of your love,
and the saving power of your brokenness.

For we acknowledge that, while we may never pull a trigger in anger,
we are made of the same stuff as every other sinner:
the same fears drive us, the same selfishness, pride and greed;
We are as full of insecurities and mistrust as every sinner.

Help us to embrace our own vulnerability, our own brokenness,
so that the fruit of your love may become the fruit of our lives:
a feast for our family, our community and our world.

Amen

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Holy Week Service – Matthew 24


Our theme at Prestbury Methodist Church this year is the teaching of Jesus during Holy Week as recorded by Matthew. I was privileged to preach on Tuesday evening on Matthew 24.

SCRIPTURE:    Matthew 24:1-14; 42-44

We sang Stuart Townend’s song just now, ‘I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom’.

Well, the disciples wanted to boast. They boasted in the glorious architecture of the Temple: ‘Isn’t it magnificent!’ they cried. The Romans might be in charge, but this is the real centre of power. This is what really matters.

And it was important. Whatever the world might throw at them, however difficult it might be to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the rent, if the Temple was there, if Jerusalem was secure, there would always be hope.

And we are no different. We worry about the Guptas, we worry about Nkandla, we worry about inflation and interest rates, we worry about unemployment and how it will affect our children and grandchildren. But while we are complaining that this is bad, that’s bad and the whole world is corrupt, we are constantly looking for something to hold on to, something that will give us a sense of security, just as the disciples found in the Temple building. If we could just fix this; if we could just settle that; if there was less corruption, more tolerance, there would be hope.

Jesus said to his disciples, and to us, ‘You may think that these stones, this wish list, this fix will keep you safe, but none of these things will last; not a single stone will be left in its place.’

None of the things we put our faith in, none of the things that give us hope, none of them really matter, none of them is permanent. And what happens to our faith and to our hope when they are gone?

If our relationship with God depends on the Temple, what happens when it is pulled down? If our confidence and trust in God depends on our health or our security or our comfort, what happens when our health deteriorates, our security is threatened, our comfort is taken away?

The disciples were horrified at the idea that the Temple might not be as permanent or as important as they thought. So they cried out, ‘When, Lord? When?’

We need to know, so that we can plan, we can prepare, we can get ready. If we know when it will happen, we will live our lives differently; we will plan differently, we will be ready.

Every now and again, of course, someone comes along bragging that they have worked it out. They know when it’s going to happen, and they give us the date. The end is not simply near, it is set for the 17th of April, just after tea.

Now we know. We can stop working, stop shopping, stop planning. We can go up onto a mountain, down by a stream, into the wilderness or into the Temple. We can worship without distraction, meditate without worry, pray without fear.

So, tell us, Lord; when will it be?

But Jesus is emphatic: no one knows, and no one is going to know.

He does warn us, however, that the end will not come easily. The process will be like the pains of childbirth: the reward is magnificent, but you are not going to enjoy the journey. There will be war and famine and earthquakes. Our own comfort and wellbeing will be threatened. We will be arrested, punished and put to death because of our faith. People will hate us, simply because we trust in Jesus.

Jesus warns us about these things not so that we can work out which war, which famine, which earthquake is the final one. He even tells us that these things ‘do not mean that the end has come.’ No, he warns us so that we know what to expect and are not taken by surprise.

No matter what happens, Jesus is saying, hold on to your trust and faith in God, not in fine buildings, good health, security systems or healthy pensions. Many will give up their faith. But if we hold onto our faith, we will continue to live in the security of God’s presence, no matter how bad it gets. Don’t give up.

But ever since Jesus said these words we have been trying to work out which earthquake he was talking about, which famine, which war would announce the end. (I can just see the angels rolling their eyes and saying, ‘Which part of “no one knows, and no one is going to know” don’t you understand?)

But Jesus does tell one thing that will happen just before the end. We tend to ignore it. It has nothing to do with earthquakes and war and stars falling from the sky. Jesus says: ‘(The) Good News about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world for a witness to all people; and then the end will come.’

The end is not heralded by wars or famine or pain and suffering. Those things are going to happen. They will always be around us. Whether they will be any worse towards the end, Jesus doesn’t say. But instead of counting wars and famine and earthquakes, we should be looking for ways to share the Good News with people around us.

So when Jesus says, ‘You must always be ready because the Son of Man will come … when you are not expecting him’, he isn’t saying have your bags packed ready for heaven. He’s telling us always to be ready to share our faith, always to live as if the Kingdom of God is already among us. It’s not crime and corruption that matter or even our health and security. Persecution and death may be our lot. What really matters is that the Gospel is proclaimed, God’s way is demonstrated.

What has eternal significance is when our lives, what we say and what we do, begin to proclaim God’s love and faithfulness to a hurting world; when our choices and our reactions demonstrate that ‘normal’ responses, our ‘normal’ way of life, are not the only way to live – there is a better way.

In the chaos and the struggle of our lives, we are challenged to rise above the normal, to find ways to be better than normal; to stop taking offence at what we see around us, at what others are doing or saying.

That’s a phrase that challenged Jen and me in our quiet time recently: ‘Don’t take offence.’ Because we do. We take offence at what others do or fail to do; we take offence at what others say; we take offence at other drivers. It’s a normal reaction. But Christ calls us to be better than normal, to offer an alternative response, to demonstrate what the Good News looks like and what life in the Kingdom of God is like.

How about we start this Holy Week.
They are planning to put Jesus to death. There are signs it’s going to happen this week. But Jesus doesn’t want us to take offence – to scream and shout and draw our swords. He wants the love that drives him to the cross to drive our every interaction, our every relationship, our every decision; that his love should drive us this Holy week and every week, come earthquakes, war, famine or persecution, until he comes again.

‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Or as Graham Kendrick writes:

‘So let us learn how to serve, And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs to prefer, For it is Christ we’re serving.’

[We closed with Christine Jerrett’s beautiful prayer found here: Faithful, promise-keeping God]

 

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