Thursday, 30 April 2009

Sunday 3 May 2009 Easter 3 - Acts 4: 5-12 and John 10:11-18 - Kim The Risen Christ: known by the responses we give to others

If you risked arrest by coming here this morning I wonder whether you would have still come. I wonder whether I would have. There have been times when Christianity has been dangerous. There have been times when it has been subversive. There have been times, even in this country, when preaching a sermon could land you in jail

The Apostle Peter lived and ministered in a time like that. Last week we read how Peter and John performed an amazing healing miracle in the sight of all the people. The crippled man who had been carried everywhere for forty years was now walking and leaping and praising God. People come running to hear the apostles speak…. and then the authorities panicked. Why? Because Peter’s message was spiritual dynamite in the highly charged conditions of time. Luke tells us: They (the authorities) were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (Acts 4.2)

It was bad enough that they were proclaiming the resurrection of the dead – a doctrine utterly offensive to the Saduccees, but the resurrection of the dead in Jesus - that was the last straw, with its implication that Jesus himself had been resurrected and that all those who believe in him could be resurrected to eternal life, too. The authorities decided to silence the apostles by throwing them into jail. The next day a public inquiry took place. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?"That was the question. Not ‘have you done it’ or even ‘why did you do it?’ but By what power or what name did you do this?"

Such issues of permission and authority continue to fascinate ecclesiastical officialdom to this day.

What does Peter say: Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit starts to speak. We did it by the name of Jesus. If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Peter says: you want to know how we did it? We did it by the name of Jesus - and then to make it just a bit more pointed Peter adds: you know, the Jesus you crucified but God raised from the grave. That’s how this man stands before you - he’s been healed by Jesus. That wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They thought they had dealt with the Jesus problem once and for all. Now Peter tells them Jesus is alive and well. The walking, leaping, praising beggar is the living testimony to that. And there’s more: He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' It’s a bit like putting together one of those self-assembly packages from IKEA, and finding that the little lump of wood you threw away thinking it was part of the packaging, has a crucial role in holding your new wardrobe together.

Peter says that the devastating truth about the people Israel is they have rejected the very person who turns out to be the most important figure in the universe. They have turned away from the man they most need to know in all the world. The devastating truth to this day is that it so easy to reject Jesus. You can do it without crucifying Him, you can do it by ignoring, patronising him, by keeping him at a safe distance, even by being a bit religious but not allowing him to really come into your life. All you need to do to reject him is not to accept him. The stone the builders rejected has turned out to be the most important of all. He is the Son of God, He is the ruler of the universe. He is the saviour of the world. He has the keys of heaven and hell. Peter’s testimony to the inquiry is clear. There is no other way we can be saved except by the name of Jesus Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

It’s not just that only Jesus could have healed that crippled man. The Bible says only Jesus can make our lives whole. Only Jesus can open the gate to heaven. Only by believing in Jesus, can any of us be saved. Let us make sure that we have not rejected Jesus.

SPEAKING FOR JESUS… WHAT ABOUT US? Peter is famous for being the man who three times failed to speak for Jesus. He failed even to admit to knowing Jesus. You and I can identify only too well with his weakness, his lack of boldness, and his fear, yet ultimately he did speak for Jesus with great power and vitality and in the most intimidating circumstances

There’s a challenge in this passage for us all. If Peter can speak for Jesus in a world where to do that was to risk imprisonment (as it does in many countries today), then how much more ought we be prepared to speak for Jesus, to reach out to others, to get involved with the modern day lepers, the drunks, homeless (the tramps), drug addicts, the people we would not want to associate with here in comfortable Britain, where perhaps outright persecution is unlikely and the worst that’s going to happen to us is that we may risk being thought a bit un-cool, a bit naff, or lost the plot.

Let’s not give into the intimidation of an apathetic anti-religious culture. Let’s be prepared to speak and act for Jesus. Let’s be like Peter. Let’s be like Cameron Stout, the winner of 2003 Big Brother contest
The Ship of Fools website reported ‘Cameron's victory in Big Brother came despite a campaign against him by Channel 4's breakfast show which described him as a "wet, Bible-bashing wimp".
He played out the contest seemingly with no pretence, no false impressions. His secret weapon was his faith and his Bible. He wasn't afraid to stand up for what he believed in. Among his defining moments were...
· Big Brother asked him how he felt about being nominated for eviction and he read the opening verses from Psalm 37. "Dinna fret" he began, just as naturally as if he was reading a letter from home.
· When he had difficulty dealing with Lisa, he introduced Big Brother to the concept of WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do?").
· When asked by Big Brother how many dates should elapse before a boy has sex with his girlfriend, Cameron replied that he did not believe in sex before marriage.
· During the housemates' "Christmas party", he read out the Gospel account of the nativity, with simple sincerity. ‘
{Noah has been brought along today to Baptism and He is about to embark on a journey for the time being with his parents, family and friends. It will be a journey of discovery, excitement, with highs and lows and all that life brings with it. His parents are asking Jesus to be with him in that journey and hopefully one day He will make the promises his parents are making for him today for himself. Noah, too can be known as someone who reaches out for Christ to others. } When the opportunity presents itself, let us speak and act for Jesus. Let Jesus be known in us in the way we respond to others. Amen.

1. Would you have turned up for church if there had been a risk of arrest or persecution?
2. How do you respond to people you are unsure of or have upset or hurt you in someway?
3. Who are modern day lepers (I listed some) and how do you respond to them?
4. How would you like to respond?
Pray about the responses you make in difficult situations.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Sunday 26 April 2009 Easter 3, Acts 3:12-19, Luke 24:36-48, Melanie

I wonder if you have ever looked at a bible passage and thought ‘this doesn’t make sense’.
I’m sure that there are times like that for most of us, and I am no exception.

I looked at this gospel passage, and was immediately struck by the sentence ‘he opened their minds so that they could understand the scriptures’. Why now? Why not open their minds before? and then explain the scriptures before he died? It would have been easier for them to believe. Easier for them to follow him. Easier for them to accept the miracle of his resurrection.

Yet all through Jesus life they didn't understand. They stumbled and struggled with the teaching. Jesus continually rebuked them and tried to teach them the right way. How much easier it would have been if he had opened their minds first.

So why did Jesus wait until now to open their minds? The answer is simple. The story wasn't complete.

How could they understand until they had seen the death and resurrection of Jesus? They needed to experience the reality before they could start to understand.

I remember a story I heard about an explorer who some years ago had just returned to his country from the Amazon. The people at home were eager to learn all about the vast and mighty river and the country surrounding it. But how he wondered, could he ever describe it to them – how could he ever put into words the feelings that flooded into his heart when he saw the exotic flowers and heard the night sounds of the jungle. How could he communicate to them the smells that filled the air and the sense of danger and excitement that would come whenever he and his fellow explorers encountered strange animals or paddled through treacherous rapids?

So the explorer did what all good explorers do – he said to the people, ‘go and find out for yourselves what it is like’, and to help them he drew a map of the river pointing out the various features of its course and describing some of the dangers and some of the routes that could be used to avoid those dangers.

The people took the map and they framed and hung on the wall of the local science museum so that everyone could look at it. Some made copies of it. After a period of time many of those who made copies for themselves considered themselves experts on the river – and indeed they knew its every turn and bend, they knew how broad it was and how deep, where the rapids were and where the falls. They knew the river and they instructed others in what it was like whenever those people indicated an interest in it.

How many of us fall into the trap of reading the words of scripture and yet fail to understand on a deeper level. Fail to experience the reality of God

It is easy to do because experiencing God can be tough. We don't want to hear the message of carrying the burdens of others. We don't want to hear about suffering for love. We don't want to hear about giving up family and home for the gospel. We don't want to hear about how good people like Jesus have to die before they can become fully alive.

Good news for us is so often the glory given to the faithful. The power given to the righteous. The humble inheriting the earth. The poor in spirit being given the kingdom of heaven.

But we can't have the one without the other. We can't have the earth unless we carry the burdens of others. We can't have the kingdom of heaven without being willing to put God before our own desires. We can't have power without the willingness to suffer. We can't have glory without willingness to die.

Until we understand that; until our minds are opened to see the links between what we are now and what will be later; between what we experience now and what we will experience later; until we see the links between death and resurrection, the scriptures are a closed book.

It is a bit like the children’s story of the teacup:

A grandfather and a grandmother are in a gift shop looking for something to give their granddaughter for her birthday. Suddenly the grandmother spots a beautiful teacup.
‘Look at this lovely cup’, she says to her husband. He picks it up and says, ‘You’re right!’ This is one of the loveliest teacups I have ever seen.’

At that point something remarkable happened – something that could only happen in a children’s book. The teacup says to the grandparents, ‘Thank you for the compliment, but I wasn’t always beautiful’. Instead of being surprised that the cup can talk, the grandfather and grandmother ask it, ‘What do you mean when you say you weren’t always beautiful?’

Well, says the teacup, ‘once I was just an ugly, soggy lump of clay. But one day some man with dirty wet hands threw me on a wheel. Then he started turning me around and around until I got so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. ‘Stop! Stop!,’ I cried. ‘But the man with the wet hands said, ‘Not yet’. Then he started to poke me and punch me until I hurt all over. ‘Stop! Stop!’, I cried. But the man said ‘Not yet’.

Finally he did stop. But then he did something much worse. He put me into a furnace. I got hotter and hotter until I couldn’t stand it. ‘Stop! Stop!’, I cried. But the man said ‘Not yet’.
‘Finally when I thought I was going to burn up the man took me out of the furnace. Then some short lady began to paint me. The fumes go so bad that they made me feel sick.
‘Stop, stop!’ I cried. ‘Not yet!’ said the lady.

‘Finally she did stop. But then she gave me back to the man again and he put me back into that awful furnace. This time it was hotter than before. ‘Stop! stop!’, I cried. But the man said ‘Not yet’.

‘Finally he took me out of the furnace and let me cool. When I was completely cool a pretty lady put me on this shelf, next to this mirror.

When I looked at myself in the mirror, I was amazed. I could not believe what I saw. I was no longer ugly, soggy and dirty. I was beautiful, firm and clean. I cried for joy. It was then I realised that all the pain was worthwhile. Without it I would still be an ugly, soggy lump of wet clay. It was then that all the pain took on meaning for me – it had passed - but the beauty it brought has remained.

Jesus waited before he opened the minds of his disciples because he could do nothing else.
The story wasn’t complete until his resurrection occurred.

At that meeting with his disciples, Jesus didn’t give them special knowledge so that they could understand the scriptures.

He opened their minds, he reminded them of what they had experienced with him, and of what they were at that moment experiencing with him, and he pointed to the scriptures which spoke of that experience: he made connections for them.

Like those first disciples we cannot fully understand until our minds have been opened by our experience with God and by our faith in his resurrection.

Without experiencing God, we are like the people who studied the Amazon, we can know a lot about him, but never understand him or experience all that he has in store for us.
If we allow God to open our minds we will truly understand and we will praise God for it
and for the life he has given us.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Sunday 19 April 2009 Acts 4:32-35, John 20:19-31, Easter 2, Bruce

Acts 4:32-35 (New International Version)
32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

This Easter we respond to the shock, the enormity of what God has done in Jesus. We are on a journey of discovery. What does this all mean, how can we be different as a result?

Thus I finished my sermon for Easter Sunday, and thus I start this morning. In our Encounter Groups last week, many of us then discussed passionately what it means or might mean to have a personal encounter with the living God, and also what will happen to us after we die. Will we have resurrection bodies?

Each week we are presented with a portion from the Acts of the Apostles and from the Gospels. Last week my theme was that personal encounter that Jesus has with each of us, and of the varied stories that were told then, and that we might tell now.

This week, we see evidences of Christ alive and in his church. He appears among his disciples and breaths upon them. Thomas is not present, and finds this difficult to believe; Jesus returns a week later and invites Thomas to put this to the practical test. “Put your finger here …”

More astoundingly, we see evidences in the new quality of life lived by the first disciples. In Acts 4 we read of a praying church that is united. Very much in the spirit of the 40 Days of Relationship, we read that “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” There is something about a shared experience that binds people together. We can imagine that to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus would put everything else into perspective.

“No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” This sounds a little more incredible. Instead of hearing that the disciples touched the raised Jesus, it sounds to us as if they themselves were a little ‘touched’. Is this not the kind of over-the-top, kooky thinking that gives respectable Christians a bad name? How dangerous. How this might disturb the status quo.

And yet the status quo is what Jesus came to destroy. The status quo is that we live hard, unhappy lives, chasing our tails and afraid of death and afraid of each other. Jesus came preaching a message of love that they thought was unrealistic. He said that we are all equal, which upset those who thought that they were superior. He said we should favour the poor, which upset those with money and property. He said that we were born to have a personal relationship of love, forgiveness and trust with our Father God, which upset those who used religion as a means to control our minds and aspirations. Worst of all, he came back from the dead, demonstrating that he had the power to do all this, and that he was right!

This is the revolution. This has been God’s new status quo for the past 2000 years. We have found it hard, and have harked back to the old way of doing things. Even now, the very fabric of our society is under threat, and we do not know whether to rejoice or despair. When the Berlin Wall was torn down, there were many socialists who did not know how to adapt. Now that Wall Street and the City of London are shaking, it is a good time for us to stop and take stock. There have been voices which sounded unpopular notes before: Oliver Jones wrote in 2007 about Affluenza, his term for the chronic desire for security through material possessions that afflicted and continues to afflict so many of us in our comfortable western societies, but which gives rise to so much insecurity and depression.

Of course, 2000 years ago a wise man said “31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6).

So how do we respond to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection? The disciples did it by a concept of koinonia, a Greek word that we translate as fellowship or sharing or communion. So in a little while we will take part in the Holy Koinonia, the Holy Communion or Sharing. The bread and wine symbolise Christ’s presence among us, and that we are united in him. The early church seem to have understood this to mean the whole of their lives. They did not just share an hour on Sunday, or even a Wednesday evening or Thursday lunchtime together. Jesus had given all of his life for them, and so now they loved him with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength, and they loved their neighbour as themselves.

Much our thinking about what we call stewardship comes from a theology of creation. God is the Creator and we are the creatures; he has entrusted this earth and its resources to us, he has loaned them to us, and we manage them on his behalf; part of this is the portion we place in envelopes or give by standing order.

The early church seems to have operated also from a theology of redemption. God has given up his only Son for us, and therefore we joyfully give up everything for him. Everything we have and everything we are is his. It is right and proper that we use a proportion for our personal needs, but everything is his; not just the income but the capital as well. We have seen a glorious outworking of this already in the way that some have felt able to become angels to help the current stage of the Renewal Project.

In his Easter sermon, Archbishop Rowan Williams issued a new call to learn from the monastic movement. St Francis first issued the Evangelical Counsels in the 1200’s: poverty, chastity and obedience. In his day these were revolutionary and counter-cultural. To many people today, they sound plain loopy. To think of a way of life characterised by simplicity, purity and freedom from the desire to be in charge seems as absurd as someone as far from the ideal appearance of a superstar as Susan Boyle winning Britain’s Got Talent.

What difference does it make that Jesus rose from the dead? A new race of people has been brought into existence, those who have received Jesus’ love and find themselves in fellowship, in koinonia, with all those who are his. We have the glorious opportunity before us to live this life of openness, sharing, fellowship. Amen. Let’s do it.

Discussion starters
1. What do you find to be the most exciting aspect of the resurrection of Jesus?
2. What are the practical ways that we can live that New Testament quality of Resurrection Life in 2009?
3. What are the aspects of this that we question or find difficult?

Easter Sunday 12 April 2009 John 20:1-18 Bruce

I asked eight people about the Agape Supper that we held last Thursday. Five mentioned that it was a re-enactment of the Last Supper, five mentioned that it was an occasion of friendship or fellowship, four mentioned the symbolic use of herbs and spices, two mentioned the foot-washing, two mentioned the vigil afterwards, and only one mentioned the use of candles.

The accounts are not identical, and would give a confusing picture to anyone who did not themselves attend. Does this mean, therefore, that someone was making things up or embroidering? Or possibly, was the whole event fictitious, concocted afterwards by those who wished to lay a false trail. If you were not there, what evidence do you have that we held an Agape Supper last Thursday? Only the 41 people named on my list who you can ask. If you are reading this sermon in 100 years or 1000 years, however, you will have to trust the record of these eye witnesses.

We have a wealth of evidence about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have so much evidence, garnered from the eye witness accounts of so many different people, that it is not possible to harmonise them exactly. When I wrote reports in the Bank, there was an art of proof-reading and adjusting to make sure there were not inconsistencies or weaknesses that senior management could jump on. The gospel accounts have patently not been edited and manicured to produce an artificially bland and ‘correct’ version.

All the accounts agree that Jesus was buried hurriedly on the Friday evening, and that women came back early on the Sunday morning. All agree that Mary Magdalene was there, and some add that she was accompanied by other women. They agree that they found the stone rolled away. They agree that they were spoken to by one or two beings dressed in white. They agree that Mary was commissioned to be the first to spread the news that Jesus was risen.

John alone tells the story of Peter and himself racing to the tomb and wondering at what they found inside – the grave clothes that were worth more than the body. John alone tells of Mary, in her distress, confronting the gardener, and her shock when it turns out to be Jesus. John emphasises the point that this is no mere vision; Jesus has to ask Mary not to touch him, one translation has “Stop clinging to me”. Jesus has a body that can be felt, grabbed, handled. The message is clear, that this is the same Jesus that the disciples have known for three years, and yet not quite the same.

Notice the sense of unbelief, or at least unprepared ness. Peter, John, Mary were not desperately hoping, wishing, for their dead Lord to be alive again, wishing so hard that somehow they convinced themselves that it was true. Rather, they acted as any sane person would, cautiously, appraisingly. It took quite a lot before they could begin to conceive of the enormity of what had happened.

Notice also the personal engagement of each person in the story. There is a wealth of intellectual debate and enquiry to be engaged with here. But there is also an openness and emotional involvement. John and Peter are drawn by their loyalty to Jesus; the younger man John gets there first and looks in wonderingly. The older Peter pants up and rushes straight in to inspect the scene; is he perhaps still smarting from his refusal to acknowledge himself as a follower of Jesus around the fire? He would dearly love it to be true that Jesus was alive, but all he sees at this stage is a puzzle. If you read the accounts carefully, and especially Luke, you will see that it is likely that Jesus had a private interview with Peter that is not described anywhere. That is the love and care that Jesus shows for him.

Mary is drawn by her love for Jesus. She had wanted to complete the funeral ceremonies, but this is now denied to her. She is lost in the agonies of the final act of desecration – the imagined theft of the body from the tomb. I stress again the fact that intellectually, Mary knew that Jesus was dead and gone. But her heart cried for him in love, and in love Jesus reached out to meet her. There are countless who have given intellectual assent to the evidences of Jesus’ resurrection, but have never responded with all of their heart as well.

John has carefully told his story, in a plain and simple manner, so that we might catch the flavour of the eye witnesses and their experience. What will we do about it? How shall we respond? At this point in the lives of Peter, John and Mary, we are only part of the way through their journey with God.

This Easter we respond to the shock, the enormity of what God has done in Jesus. We are on a journey of discovery. What does this all mean, how can we be different as a result?

One glorious possibility is that just as Jesus met with Peter privately, and Mary Magdalene privately, and later on he met with Paul, so he is willing to meet with each of us privately. We cannot make this happen on our command, but we can make it more likely by engaging in the ancient Christian disciplines of scripture reading, prayer, silence, and fellowship in small groups just as the earliest disciples did.

May the Lord bless you richly this Easter tide.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Palm Sunday 5 April 2009 Love is Forgiving – Colossians 3: 12-17 and John 12: 12-16 Kim

We have come to the last sermon in the series 40 days of Relationships. Over the last six weeks we have looked at different aspects of love. Love being the most important factor in life. Love is kind, it is patient, it is humble. We have looked at how love does not envy and we have looked at how it is the key to life.
This morning we are going to look at the ultimate test of love. The ultimate test of love is when somebody hurts us. How do we respond? Do we have a grudge? Do we get resentful? Do we get full of bitterness? How do we handle when somebody hurts us?
The bible says in 1 Cor 13:5 ‘Love keeps no record of wrongs.’ In other words love does not store up hurt, does not keep a grudge, does not keep score, does not keep a record of wrongs. I wonder if any of us do that. I know there have been occasions when I have. Sometimes we will keep a record of wrongs so we have ammunition when others hurt us, we can hurt them back. The Bible says love does not do that. Forgiveness may be the single most difficult act of love above all the other things we have talked about in this series.
There is a lot of wrong thinking about forgiveness. A lot of myths, a lot of misconceptions and because of this forgiveness gets watered down, abused, cheapened. If you study the Bible and read what Jesus says, you will discover that TRUE forgiveness is doing the complete opposite to what our emotions, our thinking and possibly what other people are telling us.
Forgiveness is NOT conditional. It is NOT based on somebody else’s response, it CANNOT be earned, it is NOT deserved, it CANNOT be bargained for, is NOT based on some promise that you will never do it again. If you say to someone “I will forgive you if….” That is not forgiveness. That is called bargaining. “I forgive you if…” is not forgiveness at all. Genuine forgiveness is UNCONDITIONAL. What if Jesus had said when He prayed, “Father forgive them if they ask for it.” The truth is that none of us asked for it when Jesus prayed on the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Genuine forgiveness is UNCONDITIONAL. It is freely given and is offered whether it is ever asked for or not. It is given without question.
Forgiveness is not about minimising the seriousness of the offense. It is not saying, “Oh, that’s ok, it’s no big deal, it didn’t really hurt me,” or if somebody tries to ask forgiveness, you say. ‘Don’t worry about it.” That is not forgiveness. Why because there is a difference between being wounded and being wronged. Those are two very different things. Being wounded is something that is accidental, somebody hurts us accidentally. When we are wounded, that does not require forgiveness, we are hurt unintentionally all the time. We just need patience and acceptance at that. But when we are wronged, when other people wrong us, that requires forgiveness. When we minimise a wrong, either our own or somebody else’s, we are cheapening forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean resuming a relationship without changes. This is one of the most misunderstood concepts about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same as restoring a relationship. Some people are afraid to forgive because they are afraid that they are going to have to go back with that person, they have to resume the relationship as it was before. No, restoring relationship and forgiveness are two different things. Forgiveness is instant and trust must be built over a long period of time. Forgiveness takes care of the damage done. It lets the person off the hook, we let them go but it does not guarantee that the relationship will be restored instantly – it can do – but nine times out of ten it will take some time and some changes. Forgiveness is our part in the reconciliation, when we forgive the offender. But for a relationship to be restored, the offender has to do three other things that are totally unrelated to forgiveness. Firstly, they must demonstrate genuine repentance. They have to show that they are genuinely sorry and that means a change in their lifestyle. Secondly, they have to make restitution whenever possible for the damage done. And thirdly, the offender must rebuild our trust by proving they have changed over time. If a person repeatedly wrongs us over and over, we are obligated by God to forgive that person over and over again. But we are not obligated to trust that person or instantly restore the relationship. It takes more than forgiveness to build a relationship. It takes trust and trust is built over time.
Forgiveness does not forget what happened. Some people have been afraid to forgive somebody who hurt them because they do not want to forget. We have all heard the cliché “Forgive and forget.” The only problem is that it is impossible to do. It’s foolish and illogical. When we are trying to forget something, what are we focusing on? The very thing we want to forget and whatever you focus on, you tend to move towards. Our brains stores every single memory we have ever had and if doctors were to open up our brains and take a probe and stimulate a certain part, they can bring back every single memory we ever had in vivid colour. Our brains do not forget anything. It can be pushed down from trauma and repressed into the deep recesses of our minds but we really ever forget anything. The only way to forget something is to replace it.
But there is something better than forgetting and this will take us to a new level of spiritual maturity. It requires us to remember and realise that God can bring good even out of bad things that happen to us. Romans 8:28 talks about how all things are not good – in fact, there is a lot of bad in the world. But all things work together for good. This is the difference between forgetting and letting go. We remember it, but we let it go. The Bible talks about letting go of the pain, letting go of the hurt, of the resentment, bitterness, not holding onto it. But that is not forgetting because we will never forget.
Forgiveness is not our right when we are not the one that was hurt. Only the victim has the right to forgive. We can not forgive people that have not hurt us. This is shallow, faulty, forgiveness. It is not our place. We can only forgive those who have hurt us and others can only forgive those who have hurt them. It is meaningless to short circuit. And there is always a cost to sin and there is always a cost to forgiveness and that it why we have to let go and we have to reach out to the offender.
Real forgiveness is relinquishing our right to get even. We do not seek revenge. We do not want to fall into the bitterness trap and we do not want to hold onto resentment We may think that’s unfair. Was it fair for Jesus Christ to forgive everything we have ever done wrong and let us go scott free? No. We always want justice for somebody else, and we all want forgiveness for ourselves. When it comes to somebody else, it’s not fair but we do not want God to be fair to us, we want God to be gracious to us. And remember that resentment and bitterness can be passed down from generation to generation. We don’t just make ourselves miserable we make everybody else around us miserable too. It is a worthless emotion so we will relinquish our right to get even.
Real forgiveness responds to evil with good. How do we know they we have genuinely forgiven somebody? When we can pray a blessing for them! When we pray we also understand their hurt, see their hurt. When people are hurting inside, they take it out on others. When we learn to forgive we start to understand why they acted in such evil, selfish, hurtful or abusive ways. We can pray for them and pray for God to bless them.
Real forgiveness is never or rarely a one-time event. Forgiveness goes on and on and on. How often do we have to do this? How often do we have to keep blessing them when they do evil? Until the pains stops, until we stop feeling the hurt. And then we will know we have forgiven them. Peter asked Jesus, ‘Lord how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No’, Jesus replied, ‘Seventy times seven.’ (Matthew 18:21-22. In other words to infinity and beyond! Just keep on doing it. Every time we remember the hurt, we make a wilful choice in our minds and say ‘God they really hurt me and it still hurts but I am choosing because I want to be filled with love and not resentment to bless them. God I pray that you will bless them and should your grace to them as you have to me’. We keep on doing it until we know we have released them.
There are times when we will struggle with forgiving someone. We have made a decision to do so but we can’t get the words out for one reason or another. That’s the time we seek the help from someone we trust or the clergy. Someone who will walk with us to the cross.
We were forgiven not because we deserved or earned it, because we promised never to do it again but because we have put our faith in Jesus Christ and because we want to become more like Jesus.
Over the last seven weeks we have listened to the sermons, spent time with the daily readings, been part of a cell group and maybe visited St. Paul’s on a Sunday Evening for more input. We have learnt that we need to be loving, kind, patient, forgiving and when we do these we start a transformation in ourselves and others. Colossians 3:15-17 tells us we should let the peace of Christ rule in our Hearts, shape our minds and determine our actions.
What is ruling our hearts right now? Is it guilt, greed or grace? What is shaping our minds? Is it the Times or Telegraph Editor, BBC controller, work, pornography or is it the Word of God? We are what we eat and what we fill our minds with. If we want to be wise we will let the Word of God dwell in us richly. Apparently, there is a book, in which there is a prayer for everything we do from waking, worrying, sleep, household tasks, relationships, driving – endless prayers for everything. We get up and do things without always including Jesus. When was the last time we said ‘I do this in the Name of Jesus?’
How can we have the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts. By continuing to confess our sins and repent, by reading the Bible daily, by joining in a service or two and having fellowship with other Christians. Just as being in the company of an angry person can breed bitterness, so too can fellowship with loving people breed love and forgiveness. Give Jesus the day ahead and ask Him to be part of that.
How can the Word of Christ shape our mind? By reading, studying, memorising, meditating and applying God’s word and making it our highest daily priority. Why must we do this because “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16).
Let the Name of Christ determine your actions. By doing everything in Jesus’ Name. Paul is saying act consistently with Jesus’ character – act the same way Jesus would do if he were in our place. In Matthew 2:.20 Jesus said to his friends, ‘I am with you always’. He is indeed here, with us, in us, right now. The heart of spiritual life is to do everything with Jesus, in his name – the way He would do it in our place – knowing He is actually present. What would happen if we were to spend an entire day doing everything in Jesus’ name? Let’s start this morning. Amen