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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Sally Sanderson's sermon


5th February 2006

Sally Sanderson

4th Sunday Before Advent

From the readings we have heard today we can pick up three things. First from the Old Testament reading that God is good and mighty, that he rules over all things and knows all things – he is all-powerful. Secondly we hear from the New Testament reading we learn that all of us should proclaim the gospel of Christ. And thirdly, more importantly, we learn from Jesus’ example that we should all regularly spend time in prayer.

I guess I learned these from an early age, but they were couched in such language that I often didn’t quite know what they meant. A lot of theology is put into such complicated language that it puts people off rather than leading them to Jesus. A couple of years ago at our little church in Bedmond I mentioned the incarnation, saying, for the children’s sake, this is God becoming flesh in the form of Jesus. But a lady afterwards came up to me and said ‘thank you for that’ I have heard the word every Christmas and not known what it really means and I have been too frightened or embarrassed to ask.

As a child there were many things spoken in church that I didn’t understand. I often wondered where Orian and Tar were; the places where we sang that the three kings came from. My sister insisted that I said the Lord’s Prayer every evening before going to bed and I found that to be particularly perplexing. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name – that was OK, because the bible – the Old Testament, as our reading from Isaiah – tells us that God is all mighty and that we should worship him, and reverence him, and place him in a special place in our lives.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Well yes, I could understand that, we all had to work hard to make things better, and as Paul reading tells us it was our duty to proclaim the gospel so that everybody worked towards making the world here a better place. If everybody in the world did that I expected that life here on earth would be as God desired and that would be heaven. So I knew that even in my childish ways I had to be good and that I had to encourage other people to be good. Otherwise we wouldn’t get any supper! Give us this day our daily bread. Notice God doesn’t give us too much plenty. Only enough bread for our daily needs. But I was brought up like many of you with war rations, and I think we can all see that to have more than our basic needs is not making people anymore happy than when we had to make a game of juggling both the money and the ration book and work out what we could buy with them.

So I could more or less understand the Lord’s Prayer up to this point and then it became tricky! Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses. What on earth were they? I really couldn’t work it out. What’s more I then had to forgive those who trespassed against me. It worried me that there was something that I was praying about, that I just didn’t understand. Until one day I thought I might have the answer. I was walking in the countryside with my sister and I saw a notice on the other side of some barbed wire fence. “Trespassers will be prosecuted.” I asked for an explanation. So now I knew. It says in the Lord’s Prayer you cannot jump over a barbed wire fence if there is a notice saying you are not allowed.

Maybe not! But it is clear that God does not want you to deviate from the path; so he gave us a set of rules to guide us. First of all he gave the Jews the Ten Commandments. But they either didn’t give a toss for them, or interpreted them in a way that was so rigid and strict that it strangled the love of God for all of humanity. Jesus was criticised for doing good, healing, on a Sabbath day, he was also criticised for eating with sinners. And that was another of my childish questions, what had THEY done to be called ‘sinners’?

Then Jesus gives us two rules which sum up those other ten, and brings love and compassion into our decision as to whether a rule is to be obeyed or not. So we are to love our God, and love our neighbour as ourselves. And Jesus tells us that our neighbour, like the man from Samaria can be our archrival, not our usual companion from up the road. Unfortunately, the more we look into the matter, the more we realise that we do not love our neighbour, we criticise and we argue with one another and we do not treat one another as Jesus would if he was beside us. And so, yes, we need to constantly ask God to forgive us our trespasses, our wondering from the path of love and goodness.

But the prayer says ‘Forgive us our trespasses as WE FORGIVE THOSE who trespass against us.’ Do we really do that? Do we as adults completely understand the depth and meaning of that statement. ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Just stop awhile and contemplate that sentence. Do we really want God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others? We often expect God to forgive us totally, and of course he is capable of that. But do we do the same when we forgive others.

In the long conflict in Northern Ireland, people refused to forgive the sins of long ago. The potato famine and the injustices of political rule do not go away, still affect people’s lives, because they are too bitter to forgive. Bitterness, however justified will just consume our souls and achieve nothing. We must, therefore, learn to forgive even if we don’t forget. Nelson Mandela is perhaps the best example in the twentieth century of a man who has taught us how to forgive. After twenty-seven years of political incarceration – the longest-serving political prisoner in the world – he emerged unscathed and told his people to forgive their former white oppressors and instead fix their attention on the future: on building a new united nation. In spite of the devastating trauma of apartheid, Mandela chose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation rather than the policy of revenge and vindictiveness.

It is very easy to point the finger at other people, seeing strife between people of different faiths, different cultures and different coloured skin. We see these differences translated into hate and violence and fear. If we are true to Jesus’ teaching we will bring love and forgiveness into our dealings. Can we show the world that by not trespassing to seek and demand revenge, or harbouring bitterness, there is a true path of forgiveness to walk down that does not mean we lose face or allow ourselves to be powerless?

You may be thinking that the hate and anger that we read in the papers is far, far away from our own lives. Is it? Where does loving my neighbour begin? It begins with you and it begins with me; and it needs a lot of prayer. We heard that Jesus got up while it was still dark to go and pray. He had the capacity to totally forgive, because he was in total communion with God. A refusal to forgive means that God slips away and lets us cope in our own strength. And that is not a good policy. And if we are only asking God to forgive us as we forgive others, then we are in a sorry position.

This Lent make yourself a promise to pray about and truly forgive someone, or some situation in your life that you have been holding onto. Enjoy the relief when the burden of grudge has melted away. I believe that the whole world needs forgiveness, and doesn’t understand those words in the Lord’s Prayer. We must teach the world of Jesus’ love so that people truly comprehend the depths of love that can be achieved by total forgiveness.

Love and forgiveness in this world begin with the likes of you and me. Thankfully God is unceasing with his forgiveness, so let us forgive others and he has forgiven us.

Amen

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