Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Prayer of Welcoming


Prayer following the sermon, What’s Your Story: Forgiveness (2 April 2017)

Father God, Jesus told us about a Father who welcomed his prodigal son back home.
He wouldn’t listen to his son’s confession.
He didn’t lecture him on the need to turn his life around.
He wrapped him in his arms and received him with love and anticipation.

Thank you, Lord, for welcoming us like that.
Thank you for creating space for us to grow.
Thank you for welcoming us, unfinished and unpolished, into your family.
Thank you for the work still to be done in us.
Thank you for your kindness.

Thank you for those in our lives who have simply loved us,
For those who have allowed us the space to discover our own paths,
to walk at our own pace.

Forgive us, Lord.
We so seldom get it.
We prefer to explain what people have to do,
tell them how to change,
push them to do better.

Help us to listen to the stories of others,
to hear their pain,
to carry their burdens.
Help us to love more
and to leave transformation to you and your Holy Spirit.

Lord, teach us to be kind.

In Jesus name,

Amen

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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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A prayer for Madiba


Almighty God,
We thank you for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela,
our beloved Madiba.
We come to celebrate his life:
A hard life, but a life well lived;
A life committed to the freedom of others;
Unselfishly seeking freedom and justice for all.

Thank you for keeping and moulding his spirit
Through those 27 years of imprisonment.
Thank you for keeping his spirit
from the seduction of power.
We know how easily we become grumpy
When we do not get our own way,
Angry in the face of perceived injustice,
Ready to use power for revenge.
Yet you moulded Madiba’s soul in the furnace
of intolerance, violence, injustice and imprisonment
And helped him find true freedom.

Lord God, we celebrate Madiba’s life.
Not a perfect life, but a life well lived.
Thank you that, whatever he may have gotten wrong,
He got the big things right:
He learned how to forgive, and showed us how;
He learned reconciliation,
And ‘he made reconciliation happen in South Africa.’¹

Lord God, we celebrate a life well lived.
A life that allows us to live in freedom and peace,
That demands that we, too, strive for the freedom of others.
‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’²
We pray for this freedom for ourselves, our children and our communities.

We ask it in the name of the one whose birth we celebrate
And whose coming as a baby sets the tone
of vulnerability and peace our world so desperately needs.
Amen

A prayer shared at a brief interfaith memorial service for Madiba held at Shuter & Shooter Publishers (where I am privileged to be a consultant) on Friday 13 December 2013

1  FW de Klerk
2  Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995

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Nelson Mandela: friend of the world


We have lost an icon, a friend of the world, a statesman; Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has died.

We knew this day would come but it is hard to express our feelings. I am relieved that his suffering is over and he can rest in peace. No one would want him to linger on. But he was, as President Jacob Zuma said, ‘Africa’s greatest son.’ And President Barak Obama said, ‘He was one of the most courageous, influential and profoundly good individuals.’ It has been a huge privilege to live under his shadow and under his influence.

Read more of this post on my website, Simply Communicate

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A prayer of confession: our failure to witness


Lord, we have so much so say.
When a helicopter crashed in our suburb
We kept talking about it for weeks.

When we get bad service,
And sometimes when we get excellent service,
We want everyone to know.

When we fall in love
Or a butterfly lands on our nose,
We can’t wait to tell someone.

But, Lord, we’re strangely silent about you.
The Lord of creation has fallen in love with us,
And we keep it to ourselves.

Perhaps we’ve gotten used to having you around;
You don’t make spectacular entrances like the helicopter;
You are just there — everywhere.

We have forgotten, or we take for granted,
The extraordinary extravagance of your grace.
We have forgotten that Jesus died for us.

We have forgotten what it was like to be forgiven,
To be loved when we deserved denial,
To be welcomed when we had nowhere to go.

We have forgotten what it was like to be without you,
To be guilty, alone and without hope.
We have forgotten the glory of the light shining in our darkness,
Love drenched in mercy finding us and bringing us home.

O Lord, there is a world of people around us
Who need to know your love,
Who need light to shine in their darkness,
Love and mercy to bring them home.

We have a word to give them;
A sure and certain hope to share with them.
More spectacular than a crash,
More beautiful than a butterfly.

Lord, forgive our silence in the face of injustice,
Forgive our silence in the face of our neighbours’ suffering,
Forgive us for clinging to hope instead of sharing it,
For our hesitant, selective, conditional love.

Forgive us Lord, not because we deserve it,
But because you promised it.
Not because we have arrived, but because we journey with you.

Shine your light again in the darkness, Lord.
Flood us afresh with your Spirit of joy and delight,
Of mercy and of love.

Write your love on our hearts again,
Let our eyes reflect it, our mouths proclaim it,
And our lives declare it.

In the name of Jesus,
Our Lord, our Friend and our Life.

Amen.

 

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Electrical failure and a failure of faith


We were plunged into darkness the other evening.

To be brutally honest, I received a call from my ever-loving wife to say that we had no electricity, and that there was a blue slip in the post box from the municipality stating that, since we had not paid our account, they had cut us off.

Not only were a hot bath and hot dinner in jeopardy but, far more serious, we were busy watching Doc Martin, Series 5, with the final episode to go.  While we could have watched an episode on the laptop, the DVD was sitting inside the DVD player, which cannot be opened without electricity.  Well, it can be opened with a screwdriver or hammer, of course, but I managed to dissuade my lovely wife from such drastic action.  I had to tread carefully, mind you, since there was the danger that either implement (or both) could have been used on me, it being my responsibility to pay such accounts.

Candles are very romantic but the romance wears very thin when their use is forced on one.  Or, put more correctly, when they are forced on one because of the forgetfulness of another.  A friend of mine who is single asked, “Is that really how far love is supposed to go?” Fortunately the question was put to me, rather than to my wife, and I was able to respond with a confident, “Yes, of course.”

We’ve been reading about Sarah and Abraham in our quiet times over the past couple of weeks.  Today we read about Sarah’s death and burial at the age of 127.  I suspect that her death was more peaceful than her life.  Sarah suffered greatly as a result of Abraham’s uncertainty about God’s faithfulness over the years.  He put Sarah into grave danger all too easily whenever he felt his own life might be threatened. 

“Yes, very beautiful; she’s my sister.”
“Yes, take her by all means.”

Fortunately Sarah wasn’t able to have children during those years, otherwise how many might there have been?  But that led to frustration because they were not able to produce the child God had promised them.  Did Abraham also nag Sarah about it?  We don’t know, but she eventually gave him her servant girl, Hagar, to produce the child of promise. That didn’t exactly lead to a happy family either.

For 25 years God worked with this couple until they finally understood and believed God, and finally trusted him.  They even trusted him enough to sacrifice their child of promise.

Don’t think for a moment that I am pointing fingers at Abraham. His faith and his faithfulness, and his willingness to follow wherever God led, were, at their very weakest, on a different planet from mine.  But I am greatly encouraged by God’s willingness to work with us, growing our faith, and encouraging our trust; his endless patience with his slow-to-learn children.  That is, for me, an essential element of the story of Abraham and Sarah.

Of course, it’s also useful to hint to my beloved how gracious Sarah was, and that she had a lot more to forgive than Abraham forgetting to pay his electricity bill.

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