God’s Grace helps us to forgive

Last Sunday’s focus was on forgiveness and I was also going to have prayers for healing at one of my services. The readings were: Genesis 50:15-21 and Matthew 18:21-35. The Psalm 103: 1 – 13 was also used as the words are so good. This is the sermon preached at the first service, which my picture illustrated.

Infinite Forgiveness

What a wonderful world we live in

The colours of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
“I love you”

Yes, human love is wonderful: friends and family are important.  BUT! love doesn’t always run smoothly.  You can choose your friends, but not your family.  The church is a family – not just those who attend the same congregation as you – every baptised person is a member of Christ’s church – we are brothers and sisters – we didn’t choose each other.  And sometimes we find loving each other difficult.

Of course, by loving, I mean loving actions – not the emotion of love.

Our OT reading is part of the well known saga of Joseph (he of amazing Technicolor dream coat fame) and his brothers.  Now there’s a tale of sibling rivalry, jealousy and pride.  All the things that dwell within each one of us that we would rather not acknowledge, if we are honest.

Their father’s instruction is simple but difficult.  Forgive the crime of your brothers.  He doesn’t say that what they did doesn’t matter.  But he sees the importance of forgiveness. 

And, fortunately, so does Joseph.  God must have been working in his heart and mind.  And the end of the story is one of reconciliation and healing of relationships.

Reconciliation is powerful.  It heals relationships, family, community and the individuals concerned.  There’s nothing like un-forgiveness and a desire for revenge, to be in the right and bitterness to damage your heart.   It can also result in physical illness.  Receiving and giving forgiveness can be deeply healing.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we knew we would be forgiven if we said sorry?  And if we were able to forgive those who crossed us: if our pride and our fear didn’t get in the way?

But it IS so very difficult.  It’s not natural; it goes against our natural sense of right and wrong.  And of saving face. 

But friends shaking hands, going beyond the polite “how do you do” and saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are really saying “I love you.”

And love is at the heart of the Christian faith.  We are called to Love God and to Love our neighbour as ourselves.  Jesus made it clear several times.  In the Lord’s prayer: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.   Some versions of the Lord’s prayer (eg the Methodist church) go with Luke’s version of speaking in terms of debt, which of course is the illustration that Jesus uses in the parable we have today.

How many times do we forgive a member of the church – a brother or sister?   In Peter’s day forgiving someone three times was thought by the rabbis a reasonable limit to generosity and grace.  So, then Peter extends that to a nice ‘whole’ number of completeness, seven.  Seven is the number of perfection.

But Jesus takes this further and says 77 times (or it could be 70 x 7 =490).  It’s a Greek translation of a Hebrew figure of speech. The implication of such a large number is that it isn’t worth counting.  You just keep on forgiving, infinitely.  Impossible!  Yes, with human strength but with God nothing is impossible. 

Jesus said elsewhere, ask, seek knock and it will be given to you.  If you find it difficult to forgive someone ask for the Grace to be able to do it.  You aren’t expected to summon up the will power on your own.  Simply decide you want to forgive then ask Jesus to help you do it – and to do it from your heart.  I think Jesus means to do it and really mean it.  He said at the end of his parable there will be terrible consequences for those who do not forgive their brother or sister from their heart.

The temptation or testing of forgiving is common to us all including the temptation to not forgive.   When our patience is tested and we think, No I cannot forgive yet again… remember:

1 Corinthians 10:13  (NRSVA)

13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

The way out is Grace.  I recently experienced the Grace to forgive someone who had offended me, repeatedly.  I hadn’t spoken to them about it as I thought that would cause more problems.  I don’t think they know their actions are offending me.  However I knew that it was eating away at me inside.  It came up whilst I was on retreat and I asked God for the Grace I needed to forgive.  I forgave in my head – forgiveness is an act of the will.  Yes I forgive.  But it hadn’t got down to the heart. 

I found that God gave me the grace to forgive and to feel his sorrow and love for that person.  Thanks to God I was able to forgive from my heart and not just with my head.  And I feel so much better for it.

I wanted to do a painting this week to reflect the readings and to accompany my sermon thinking and preparation.  I gave a small copy of it to people in church to take home, hoping they would find it helpful.  However I did hesitate about sharing my picture. It isn’t symetrical, the lines are wobbly and the writing could definitely be better. But then….. I am not perfect, and neither are you…. we all have our ‘wobbly bits’ and God loves us just as much. So here is my imperfect picture offered to you.

I had ‘What a wonderful world’ song going through my mind with the rainbow image.  The rainbow is such a powerful symbol of hope and of God’s faithfulness.

I wanted to do a cross (obviously a symbol of forgiveness) using the symbol for infinity (a No.8 on its side) and a heart, the symbol of love and also in the bible the heart is not the seat of emotions but of our will, or our guts – that place deep down inside of us that motivates us and is where our deeply held attitudes live.

As I painted the various colours of the rainbow I prayed. And this is what came to mind as I painted each colour and I invite you now to pray along with me (if you wish).

RED:  The colour of blood.  O God your love just keeps on going – it reaches to the heavens – displayed in the blood of Christ who gave his life that we might live.  Such love, poured out for me. Thank you.

ORANGE:  The colour of a fruit.  Come Holy Spirit and let your fruit grow in me.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit is very similar to love as described in 1 Cor 13:   Help me Lord to be patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude, to not insist on my own way, not be irritable or resentful, to not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth. 

YELLOW: The colour of sunshine.   Shine, Jesus, shine, Fill this land with the Father’s glory.  Set our hearts on fire.  Flood the nations with grace and mercy.  Set us free by the truth you now bring us.  Mirrored here may our lives tell your story.  Shine on me, and shine through us.

GREEN:  for growth.  I pray lord that I grow in maturity and for our church congregations to grow – not just numerically but in maturity as disciples.  Help us to put down strong good roots that will enable the fruit to grow.

BLUE:  The colour of low mood reminded me of a song.  When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand and nothing is going right.  Close your eyes and think of Jesus and soon he will be there to brighten up even your darkest nights.   You just call out his name, and you know wherever you are He’ll be there.  Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and Jesus will be there.  You’ve got a friend, who will never let you down and will help you when you ask.

INDIGO:  I wasn’t sure about this colour so I looked it up. One site said it was a bit like ultra-marine, which made me think of the sea. However it is created using a mix of blue with red.  I bring my sadness and sin to the blood of Jesus on the cross for healing.  I also thought of How Deep the Father’s Love – a modern hymn.  God’s love is deeper and wider than the ocean.  And as our psalm today says, His mercy is great upon those who fear him – who are in awe of him.  And as far the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.

VIOLET:  Purple is the colour of royalty.  Jesus be king of my heart, let your love reign in me.  Amen.

A final prayer is my adaptation of today’s collect.

Almighty God, whose only Son Jesus opened for us the way to your presence by his death on the cross, bringing us forgiveness and making us whole; give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to forgive others that we may love our neighbour as ourselves and worship you in spirit and in truth.  Amen.

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