This morning our minister, Rev. Christine Gillespie led worship at Wesley Chapel. We have recently got screens set up for worship so we could have the hymns on the screen. Today was the second time to try out the screening of hymns and all went well apart from one of the hymns having the wrong number, but the lady controlling the screen soon put the correct hymn up so then the service continued without a further hitch. Although the lady was very nervous, she did it very well and it was good to be able to sing from the screen, instead of scrabbling in the books to find the hymn. Some of our congregation were pleased to use the screen others preferred to have a hymn book in their hands.
Worship began as we sang ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty,’ before Christine led the opening prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession and the Lord’s Prayer. We then sang a new hymn from ‘Singing the Faith’ which was particularly appropriate for Christine’s theme of Forgiveness; ‘Almighty God we have come to make confession for we have sinned in thought, word and deed.’
We then heard the reading from Genesis 50v15-21 when Joseph assured his brothers after the death of their father that he had forgiven them for their actions; as God had used their actions to protect his people. We then sang another new and appropriate hymn, ‘God how can we forgive when bonds of love are torn,’ before I read the gospel reading from Matthew 18v21-35, which was on the theme of forgiveness and the lack of forgiveness of the slave to his fellow slave who owed him a little, after the King had forgiven the former slave all his debt.
Christine then began to preach on forgiveness. She was apparently a teacher before she became a minister and on one occasion after she had left the profession, she observed a group of pupils having spent time on a trip waiting to be allowed to board the waiting bus. It made her feel glad to be just a member of the public when she saw one pupil suddenly for no reason push another pupil over; the injured pupil with a grazed knee reported the incident to a parent supervisor and was told he should keep away from the child who had pushed him and the child who had pushed him was not even reprimanded! Are we like that? Recently in the media there have been many stories of people who had been abused and badly treated and not been believed or helped and even told to be quiet. Victims are beginning to demand that someone does listen about the abuse they suffered as children, on occasions from famous celebrities or been hurt and intimidated at home and forced to honour their marriage vows despite abuse. They rightfully demand that we should listen. However can we demand that they forgive perpetrators and allow their abusers to get off scot free?
Peter if he had to forgive someone who hurt him seven times, but Jesus replied he should forgive 77 times; in other words there should be no limit to forgiveness. It is not a comfortable story of nice forgiving but it is a radical message. Jesus told his disciples to love each other as he had loved them at the last supper; it was not an easy demand but costly and radical. Jesus also called us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. Jesus is not gentle Jesus meek and mild and the gospel message is demanding and difficult. We are called to keep on forgiving again and again. How can we preach such a message when we hear of these stories of abuse? How can we begin to say anything?
In the parable of the unforgiving servant the King had the right to judge him and place him into prison, but he wrote off the huge debt he could never have repaid and the King allowed him to retain his position. However the forgiveness he had received from the King did not change him and he did not forgive his fellow servant; he refused to show him mercy and sent him to prison until he had repaid his debt in full. We can see how outrageous his action was but is forgiveness any easier for us? When we are hurt do we remember how often we have been forgiven when we have failed to say something and do something? When we are hurt we must try and remember the many times we have hurt others and they have forgiven us. God has forgiven us for so many ways we have fallen short. Jesus even pronounced the words of forgiveness, ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they do’ from the cross.
Each week we ask for and receive forgiveness in confession at church or daily in our own prayers have opportunities to be set free through receiving forgiveness. When we remember how some people have reacted to us and forgiven us though we don’t deserve it. When we forgive we are changed. Sometimes the results of actions are irreversible, and we have to live with the consequences, but we still have a choice about how we react. If we choose to forgive we give a gift to the person who hurt us and it changes our attitudes. When we hear of terrible actions or accidents in the News some react with bitterness and want revenge; in fact we are surprised when someone says he forgives, and is free from bitterness and feels at peace. Many react to accidents by seeking justice with new safety laws to protect others from the tragedy, so others don’t have to suffer as they did. We feel inspired by local stories of what happened, the sad or uplifting stories, small things in families and communities. Small things can upset us accidentally or on purpose but we need to respond and forgive. Christine wondered what had upset Peter to make him ask the question of how many times he had to forgive. We are stop counting the number of times we are hurt and just keep on forgiving. Whether we are being upset by something in the media or something relatively trivial, we have a choice on how we respond. Deeply hurtful stories are not helped if we insist that the victims forgive the perpetrators. However we must not deprive those people of the gospel message and forgive each other so we are free from resentment. God forgives us for all our failings and helps us to forgive others as he has forgiven us, which frees us and them from guilt.
Following the sermon we sang the hymn ‘Man of sorrows’. Christine led the prayers of intercession and worship concluded as we sang my favourite hymn, ‘And can it be’. It was a challenging and uplifting act of worship.