Petra’s sermon on forgiveness – Matthew 18

From the moment Adams teeth crunched into the forbidden fruit humankind has sought out and discovered every conceivable way of turning away from God; of wounding his love and marring his image in us, of causing pain and sorrow,  inflicting harm and death on fellow human beings. The whole of scripture is really the story of our continual straying and struggling and of God’s infinite care and concern, his patience and forgiveness, his constant seeking us out and calling us back into relationship with him.

If this particular parable in Matthew’s gospel and the passage immediately preceding it were paintings in an art gallery they would, or should be hung as a pair; the first as an illustration of forgiveness and reconciliation within a community and the second about personal forgiveness and reconciliation.

In the first, which was set as last week’s gospel reading, Jesus gives the disciples a three-step outline to reconciliation with a brother, or member of the community who has fallen short, let’s say. First, you should have a quiet word, get him or her to acknowledge the fault, one-to one. If this doesn’t work then bring two or three more to reason with them. If this still doesn’t sort things out then tell the church and if the member still refuses to listen, then you treat them as you would a tax collector or a Gentile.

Of course, while the Jews had nothing to do with the Gentiles or tax collectors, Jesus had everything to do with them, so Jesus, through Matthew, is, as much as anything, issuing his largely Jewish audience with a challenge about how they interpret the law.

And it’s an interpretation of the law that is at the root of Peter’s question to Jesus at the beginning of today’s passage. How many times should I forgive someone if they keep on sinning against me?

As many as seven times?

Peter may be showing off his Jewish roots here and may well think he is being particularly generous. The Jewish Law in Leviticus and Numbers has reams of formulaic instructions about dealing with forgiveness and atonement.

But, as many as seven times?

No, says Jesus. I tell you, seventy times seven.

The intention here is not about setting limits – even at 490. This is about banishing all limits – it’s about limitless forgiveness. And Jesus uses a parable to help the disciples to understand.

It’s important here we remember the Jewishness of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew was writing for a principally Jewish audience and his Gospel is littered with Old Testament references.

Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who wants to settle accounts with his servants; to pay them what he owes them and to receive payment for what he is owed.

A man is brought before him who owes him ten thousand talents. Now, one of the things that may be entirely lost on us today is the sheer scale of this debt; the ridiculousness of it. One talent was worth between six and ten thousand denarii, and one single denarii was the usual days wages for a man such as this slave who stood before the king.

So the sum owed might well be the equivalent to a billion pounds in today’s terms; a debt the servant couldn’t possibly have built up or hope to repay – certainly not on a denarius a day!

The king orders the debtor’s wife and children and all he owns to be sold to offset the debt. Now remember, this is firstly for a Jewish audience, who would have known that according to Jewish Law, under no circumstances could the wife be taken and sold. So we are to assume that this is a Gentile king. Even so, the price realised would have been a drop in the ocean compared to the debt.

The man gets down on his knees and pleads with the king. Have patience with me and I’ll pay back all I owe. Have patience with me. Something in the king gives. He is moved to pity. He not only lets the man off his debt, but he releases him. It’s easy to be so focussed on the money that we miss the fact that the slave is released. He is unbound in every sense. He no longer owes anything. He is no longer owned. What unexpected grace to find yourself entirely freed from all bondage. He no longer has any obligations to the king. He is free.

And this is the nature of forgiveness.

It releases us; gives us a clean slate, an opportunity to start afresh. But, of course, the parable doesn’t end there. Fresh from his release, the newly free man comes across a fellow slave who happens to owe him a hundred denarii. Not inconsiderable, but compared with his own debt, a pittance. You’d think, under the circumstances, he’d say, No problem mate, just forget it. And yet when the fellow slave appeals to him using almost exactly the same words as he had used to the king, he has him thrown in prison.

Word gets back to the king, who condemns him to torture until the debt  – the impossible debt is repaid. There can’t be a single one of us here who, despite our best efforts, has held onto some deep set unforgiveness for past hurts. We think it’s gone and then some brief reminder touches a scar, a sensitive spot and the pain comes flooding back and we realise there is still work to do.

Jesus recognises this when he answers Peter’s original question, do we let someone hurt us even seven times before we call a halt. No says Jesus, seventy times seven. Jesus is not suggesting we keep a count – even 490 times sets a limit. But what he’s saying is that we should go on and on forgiving – endlessly. He understands that in our human frailty, we don’t often have the capacity to forgive all in one go.

Jesus knows that forgiveness is a process and it can take a lifetime. The important thing is that we keep trying; that we do the head stuff; that we want to forgive, or at least we go on wanting to want to forgive; that we never give up making reconciliation our goal; that even as we come face-to-face with those who have hurt us we should long for reconciliation rather than revenge. Unforgiveness binds us, shackles us, prevents us moving on and wounds us as much as the person who has offended us. Perhaps this is the kind of torture Jesus meant.

When we forgive another, we unbind them, set them free and set ourselves free; released and relieved from anger and resentment. Like the slave who was both freed of the debt and freed from slavery, we are free to be ourselves again. The image of God is restored in us and we are remade as the people God intended us to be.

And as we come together as Christians, Sunday by Sunday, we come as frail imperfect, sometimes broken human beings in need of forgiveness and healing. This is the place into which we are called; a place where we are not condemned, but a place where we are healed, restored, forgiven, reunited, reconciled with one another and with God.

Amen

Sermon by Judith Sutcliff on Luke 14

I found drawing up the wedding guest list quite a challenge. It was very difficult to know how and where to cut off. Limited by numbers but not wanting to upset anybody and leave them out. We are both blessed with many wonderful friends. I had a reserve list and filled in places made vacant. Simon rumbled me and I got told off for not sticking to the list. It worked though!! The seating plan was even more fun to deal with as who was going to sit with who, where did we place our families and friends who are of equal value to us, to try and fathom out who wasn’t talking to who. In fact we nearly weren’t talking to each other afterwards!

Our readings today are about humility, especially for those in high places. There’s a key phrase which ties in with the gospel reading ‘everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus criticises who push themselves forward and try to engineer their way to the top table as that’s not the way to gain honour in God’s kingdom as God confers honour on the humble. It is also about the most amazing invitation from God.

Those first invited referred to the Jewish leaders. They deemed themselves to be privileged, superior to other Jews. They knew the scriptures and the words of the prophets predicting the coming of the messiah. But, when he came, they did not see him; they were too busy caught up in their own laws. God then sent his messenger, John the Baptist to call them to the banquet, but they were too busy to answer the invitation. They didn’t hear or see. Luke lists the excuses issued, bought new oxen, just married. They were too tied up in their own worlds and in them selves

The invitation was widened; there was more room at the masters table. The servant was told to invite all, outcast prostitute’s tax collectors the blind lame the poor and marginalised. They all came and accepted the invitation, though many could have offered feeble excuses too.

The imagery of the parable is amazing. Jesus has been going around Galilee summoning people to God’s great supper. The messiah had come but they knew him not and would not taste the banquet with Christ, but the disadvantage the humble and meek would celebrate the banquet with Christ. The expected guests are Jews, waiting and waiting for the Kingdom, only to find that when it arrived, more pressing matters occupy them. And instead, the Master sent for all kinds of unexpected people to join the party – not just Gentiles, but people with every kind of moral and immoral background, different in culture, social status, race and ethics.  Jesus’ invitation is to all and sundry. It transcends the social, economic, ethnic and ethical barriers that the world considers acceptable and comfortable. As Gentiles who have been invited to the Great Banquet, we are expected to become party hosts in return.

How ready are we to accept this invitation from Christ? We are called in humble service to Christ and to each other. God wants his house filled; there is food for everyone who will accept. Jesus told this story to show God’s desire to have a right relationship with all people. The supper means a place in God’s kingdom. He sent the prophets to invite his people to come in. But very many of them would not accept that invitation. Now in Jesus, there is the invitation for all to come in. He sends Christians to bring in people from all nations. They must bring all types of people. No person is beyond the reach of God. The good news of Jesus is for all people. God will receive all who come to him. But when people refuse God’s invitation, that invitation may not remain open to them.

May we be part of the Christian feast, and may we continually invite others to join in this feast with us. Amen

Sermon on Matthew 17: 1-25 by Judith Sutcliffe

Last weekend we did a mad dash down to Falmouth. We got lost taking James, my son, to the university Campus on the Saturday. Basically somebody ignored the Sat Nav and went across the King Harry Ferry to cross to the wrong side of the river. This meant a divert via Truro on windy country road. Apart from getting Simon in the dog house, as we travelled these country roads we got a glimpse of what is to come, Spring. Being something of a micro climate the Daffodils were out, primroses in the Hedge rows. A real lifting insight of something to come to us so as we are on the cusp of spring.

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Sermon on 22 January 2017 by Judith Sutcliffe: 1 Peter 1:3–12 and Eccles 3:1–11

We live in a world that is constantly changing and constantly challenging us. The evidence of change is all around us, even the movement between the seasons. We hold fears and concerns and we only have to turn on the TV or radio to hear news to fuel those concerns. We hear of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, ISIS demonstrations and issue over Brexit. From day to day life changes on personal level as well. Sometimes we can be so worried that we ask where God is in all this change.

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Sermon from Sunday 4th December 2016 by Judith Sutcliffe

Lectionary references: John 1: 19 – 28; Psalm 11; 1 Kings 18:19-28

May I speak in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.

Our identity is very important to us, especially in these days where email accounts and sites such as face book can get hacked. There are people who steal our identity to gain money, access on line banking accounts etc. It can all be a bit scary. Knowing who we are, how we relate to the world around us to the people around us in central to our well being. Knowing our Lord as the true God relating to him in a close relationship to him is central to our spiritual well being.

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Sermon for Advent Sunday | Judith Sutcliffe

May I speak in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen

Advent Sunday heralds a season of great richness; it’s a time of preparation, anticipation, and expectation as we reflect on the first and second comings of Christ. Its moods embrace longing and hope. Somewhere beyond the frenetic activity which surrounds us at this time of year, creation holds its breath.

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Sermon for Remembrance Sunday | Judith Sutcliffe

Remembrance Sunday draws human beings together in a way that’s unique. Both young and old gather together across the nation, some with memories of wars in the past, some who are affected by current conflicts. But we can gather to reflect and remember allowing some aspect of the reality of war to touch us. Whatever the memories or knowledge of war is, in the silence of armistice day we can quietly, in our hearts and minds do justice to the cost of war its sacrifice and its shame.

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