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Sermon about Forgiveness

Sermon on Forgiveness by The Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

Doing the basics right

The theme which runs through all of our readings this morning is one of forgiveness, not passing judgement and generosity of spirit.

In the Old Testament reading we see Joseph’s brothers come to him, now afraid for their lives now that their father, Jacob, has died.  They are fearing the worst, as they might, given what they did to their brother.  Siblings can be pretty hard on each other but selling your brother into slavery would seem to rank quite high for sibling squabbles!

They make up a story about what Jacob has said to them before he died and asked to be taken as slaves, probably the best outcome they thought they could hope for.

Joseph knows this is probably untrue.  We read in Genesis 49 that just before he died Jacob gathered his sons, including Joseph, around him and spoke his last words to them.  When he died we read that Joseph threw himself on his father’s face and then ordered the embalming of his father Jacob.

Rather than see things from a worldly perspective, however, tempting this may have seemed, ‘…this is now payback time, remember the slavery episode…’, Joseph seems to understand the bigger picture and what God has in mind.  ‘The evil you had planned to me has been turned to good by God’s design’.

Rather than passing judgement Joseph provides for his brothers and all their dependants, a generous and seemingly unlimited gift of love and provision.

His role is not to play God, but to allow God to play His own.  Joseph understood what was happening was not just about his immediate family, but the family of the nations, about God’s family that is to come.

Paul too, seem to be keen that the early believers coming from many different and varies traditions should not fall out over non important things.   Quite a message for today’s church perhaps.

They are to show generosity in their interactions with fellow believers, even when they do things differently or see things from a slightly different perspective.  What we have in common in Christ far exceeds the minor differences we have in our behaviours and personal ways

There were a number of articles in the papers this week following the publication of the latest Social Attitudes figures and the reported decline/collapse of people calling themselves Anglican.  One also had a cartoon where one character was speaking to another as they looked at survey questionnaires and saying, ’Perhaps before we expect people to tick our box we should be ticking more of theirs’

Not that we should be conformed to the world, but a challenge to be connected and relevant to it.  To be open and generous in our spirit as we interact with our society.

In the gospel reading Jesus picks up the theme of forgiveness and generosity of spirit. 

Like Paul, Jesus is speaking about community living and how best the believers can live together as a community of believers in what would become and embryonic church.  Chapter 18 is sometimes known as the ‘Community Discourse’.

Jesus is in the region of Galilee, a region that knew all too well about taxes and debt.

It’s around the time that Herod Antipas is rebuilding a town called Sepphoris which is about 4 miles north of Nazareth and renaming it Autocratoris. 

But in order to rebuild the town, which took several years, he needed to raise the money to do so.  He did this by heavily taxing the native Galileans.  (He also went on to build Tiberias, named after his sponsor Tiberius)

When Galileean peasants and minor land owners could not pay their taxes their lands were taken and they were allowed to work them in order to support their families, and importantly, to be able to contribute to their taxes, which could amount to half of the income they were able to generate.

So whilst Herod Antipas was never given the title ‘king’, which must have irked him, concept of powerful overlords coming to collect takes and what they believed to be theirs was a well-known paradigm to the hearers.  They also know from bitter experience that things did not go well when this happened.

So when Jesus uses the example of the king letting the servant off his debt, probably equivalent to 15 – 20 years income, it would have been a very strange indeed.  They would also know that selling his family and possessions would not come close to settling the debt it was so huge.

Letting the servant off was a big thing and demonstrated huge, and unexpected generosity by the king.  The servant was ‘let off’, forgiven his debt which he had no way of repaying.

The servant himself then finds someone who owes him not 20 years of income but probably the equivalent to a day’s wages.

The tables are turned and this man is thrown in jail at which is own servants go and tell the king what’s happened.

Not surprisingly the king changes his mind and has the servant turned over to the torturers in jail, common in Roman occupation times, for what would be essentially eternity.

But in the initial generosity of the king and the lack of generosity by his servant we see the generosity and justice of God starkly contrasted with the generosity and justice of people

A God who forgives His people even when they have no hope of being able to make reparation themselves. 

And just as we’re forgiven by God, he expects us to forgive others.

We all like being forgiven.  If we’ve done something which we regret, or spoken an inappropriate word we like to think that we might be forgiven by the ‘injured’ party.

But we do find it harder to forgive others when we feel something wrong has been done or said to us.

Perhaps it’s because one aspect of forgiveness is giving over control to someone else.  It’s a letting go, not keeping old scores.  When someone is in our debt for some reason, or feels that they are in our debt for something they or we have done, we have power over them.

To forgive is to give up that power.  It’s a letting go so that we and others can be free.

Forgiveness is a matter of the heart and an act of will.  When we forgive ourselves and others our attitude and words change.  We don’t hold onto petty grudges or things that have been said to us in the past.

Jesus know that if the church was to flourish and grow it needed to be rid of the things that broke down the community it was becoming.  He often spoke about the importance of unity and being rid of the things that created divides and disharmony.

Sometimes sports teams speak about the need to ‘do the basics well’ if they are to develop and flourish.

Being forgiving, generous and open hearted would seem to be at least part of the basics we should do well as Christians, as they lie at the very heart of our faith and its outworking

Living in a forgiving, generous and open hearted community with those around us is also a critical part of how the world sees us as Christians.  See what they can become through a God who forgives them, modelled by His people on earth.

Perhaps one way we get more people ticking our box is not by slick campaigns, appeals and plans, but by being the people God calls us to be.  Doing the basics well.

Forgiving, open hearted and generous in spirit to those inside the church and outside the church, those who know Christ and those who do not yet know Him.

Joseph chose not to obstruct the purpose of God.  He build on a flawed, fragmented and fractured family so that the will of God would be seen, not just in his family but in the world at large, so that the people of Israel, as they would become, could be the people that God intended.

Love and forgiveness it would seem, is at the very heart of the Kingdom of God / Heaven.  Without it, we too will struggle to be the people that God intends us to be.