On September 17th I led worship at Kirk Hammerton. Our opening hymn was ‘O God our help in ages past,’ before I led the opening prayers. The first reading was from Exodus 14.19-31. For the children’s address I told the story of a boy stealing Lord Shaftesbury’s treasured watch. Through his contacts the boy with the watch was found and left in a sack on his doorstep. The boy had been given no choice but to return the watch and was expecting to be sent to prison, but instead he was given the opportunity to go to school. Lord Shaftesbury was merciful to the thief and gave him a second chance. God was merciful to the Hebrew slaves, even when they were so ready to grumble when they saw the Egyptians pursuing them. God just made sure the cloud moved behind them so that the Egyptians could not see them; the cloud brought light to their side and dark to the Egyptian side. God was still protecting them even though they were blaming the Lord and Moses for putting them in greater danger by leading them out of Egypt. God could easily have got so exasperated with them, and allowed the Egyptians to catch up and destroy them, but He kept telling them to calm down as He was fighting for them. When they realised God had given them passage through the Red Sea that he was protecting them they did then put their trust in Him. However they would keep letting the Lord down but God would keep giving them a fresh start. We sang ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ before we heard the reading from Romans 14.1-12 and the dramatised reading from Matthew 18.21-35. We sang ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ before I preached.
We all remember the example of Gordon Wilson, who hours after the Enniskillen bombing said that he forgave the perpetrators who had killed his daughter; it was known worldwide as an exceptional act. Forgiveness is at the heart of our faith, but it is not easy. Peter thought he was being generous when he offered to forgive his brother up to seven times. Rabbis taught that you could be forgiven up to three times, but Jesus took that far further, when he said that a Christian must forgive seventy times seven; in fact there is no limit to forgiveness. The Hebrew slaves wished they had not left Egypt when they saw the Egyptians in pursuit. Moses had to reassure them that God would deliver them that very day. God must have been so frustrated when the Hebrews kept grumbling and failed to trust in Him. We know that God’s patience and longsuffering was endless, when the freed slaves let him down again and again. Many of us battle with feelings of inadequacy, maybe from childhood failures and find it almost impossible to forgive our
selves. How do we accept such an overwhelming loved and forgiveness, especially when as I do, we keep making mistakes?
Jesus told the story of the servant who was forgiven a great debt; and then went out and dealt unmercifully with a fellow servant who owed a tiny fraction of that amount and he was utterly condemned for his lack of mercy on his fellow servant. Jesus explained that unless we are prepared to be merciful and forgive those who hurt us we will not be forgiven. Divine and human forgiveness must go hand in hand. That is especially true as there is such a contrast between the two debts; the first servant owed his master 10,000 talents, a talent was about £240 so £2,400,000, which was an incredible debt, a king’s ransom, impossible to pay and yet he was forgiven it all. However the second servant owed about 100 denarii; a denarius was about 4p, so the total debt was about £5. There is nothing that people can do to us, which in any way compares to what we have done to God. If God has forgiven our debt then we must forgive others who have wronged us. Nothing we have to forgive can even begin to compare with what we have been forgiven.
Paul reminded his readers not to look down on or judge others, as each of them is answerable to God not our fellow Christians. He did not mean that they should ignore others failings or sins but not to expect them all to come to the same conclusion. My husband and I are not teetotal but share a couple of bottles of wine a week with one or two glasses at a time and alcohol free days in between. When our friend Graham comes we have only non alcoholic drinks to respect the fact that he no longer drinks as he was an alcoholic. I know many people choose not to drink alcohol and I support them in that choice, even though I drink, as I think, responsibly.
We teach our children to say they are sorry and we too need to repent of our wrong attitudes. We forgive our children as we love them and they in turn forgive us. We need to repent of our mistakes and restore our relationship with God our Father. When our patience runs out with our children we need to say we are sorry as we know God never gives up on us, no matter how many mistakes we have made.
We sang ‘Just as I am without one plea,’ before I led the prayers of intercession. Worship concluded when we sang my favourite hymn; ‘And can it be’.