The disciples approach Jesus and say,
Lord, teach us to pray.
So Jesus teaches them the prayer from which we get the Lord’s Prayer, which Catholics call the Our Father. But you know, the Lord’s Prayer is not just a prayer; it is a brief outline of a whole relationship with God our Father. To reflect on the Lord’s Prayer is to learn what it means to be a daughter or son of God, so let’s reflect on just one of those things: God’s children forgive those who sin against them.
A minister of a church tells the story of an elderly lady, over ninety years of age, who hadn’t been to church for seventy-odd years. She was returning, you might say, after an extended absence. The minister was both welcoming and understandably curious. Continue reading
A sermon from Avril Hannah-Jones on this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Some good words on forgiveness:
The debt of love
Almost 25 years ago, a young couple joined a vibrant, enthusiastic church elsewhere in this city. Sadly, the husband died in his 30s and his widow became a very lonely woman looking after her children all by herself.
In time, she found love again with another man. He moved into her home and they started living together. Her church’s response was to discipline her; she was told that it was impossible to be a member of the church while living with this man. They said she had to choose. She chose to leave the church.
Was this church within its rights to act like this? Well yes, it was. It can order its life as it pleases. Was this church following the way of Jesus? That’s quite another question.
On the face of it, they may well have been following the instructions in Matthew 18. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and accept they probably went to this woman and spoke to her as laid out there, with the two or three witnesses and all.
But did they follow the way of Jesus in telling her to leave? It sounds like they did. After all, Jesus says,
if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.
Treat them as a Gentile or as a tax collector! On the surface, that sounds like turf them out, ostracise them, keep the church community pure. But hang on—how does Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? Continue reading
The risen life: the Spirit of unforgetting
1 Peter 3.13-22
The proud parents bring their new baby boy home from hospital. His older sister, all of four, asks if she may have time alone to speak with her new brother. Mum and dad agree, but they decide to listen in from behind the door. They hear big sister leaning over the cot and saying, ‘Quick, tell me who made you. Tell me where you came from. I’m beginning to forget!’
We are frail, forgetful creatures. Jesus knows that, so he says:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
The Spirit ‘abides’ with us, stays with us as our Advocate, our Friend in high places. Jesus calls the Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth’; and ‘truth’ is a very interesting word in the Greek language in which John’s Gospel was originally written. The Greek word for ‘truth’ is aletheia.
A-letheia means ‘not forgetting’, ‘not hidden’, ‘unforgetting’, ‘unhiding’. In the Greek language of the New Testament, we find ‘truth’ as we recall things we have forgotten. And the Spirit stays with us partly so that we may not forget.
As far as the people of the ancient world were concerned, it was the dead who forgot.
Your sins are forgiven
Last week, I began by talking about a phone call I received while I was in placement in Biloela. That wasn’t the only phone call I had while I was there. One Monday, an elder rang me to ask if she and another elder could arrange a time to speak with me. They didn’t say why. Did I do something wrong in the service yesterday? I wondered.
The next day, they came to see me, two ladies in their sixties, me then in my thirties. Two ladies who had been active in the church all their lives. I was a little daunted by them back then. (I wouldn’t be daunted now!)
This is why they wanted to see me: they wanted to tell me in person of a wonderful discovery they had made. It was this: for the first time ever, they had realised their sins were forgiven.
Remember, they had been part of the life of the church as long as they could remember. But the message of forgiveness had never sunk in. Why had they grasped it now?
It was simple, really. Every week now they were hearing these four words:
Your sins are forgiven.
And they were responding with these four words:
Thanks be to God.
And the penny had dropped. They were among the forgiven. Has the penny dropped for you? Have you realised that you are forgiven?
Singing forgiveness songs
The Bible pronounces ‘blessedness’, or happiness, upon a number of people. The Bible says,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…
Blessed are the meek…
Such wonderful and lofty thoughts! But the Bible also says:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
Blessed are the meek…Blessed are they who dash your little ones against the rock.
That the Scriptures call ‘happy’ those who kill babies in such a barbaric way is a horrifying thought. And today we said, ‘The word of the Lord—Thanks be to God’. So we need to look at it carefully. What was happening there? How is it the word of the Lord to us?