At the age of seven I joined the Brownies. It was a big deal, being part of a uniformed organisation. I was proud of my uniform and the badges which I had earned. Being a Brownie was important to me making my promise and following this law:
“A brownie guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day!”
To this day those words have stuck with and even though my active guiding and brownie days have finished, the promise I made aged seven and the Brownie law have remained as part of my thinking. Over the years, trying to be a good person will have amounted to a lot of good turns.
I might have tried for years but you see the thing is I’m not perfect.
I am impatient. I get cross, I can be rude. I am quick to judge. As fellow human beings you are all sat there thinking, well I’m like that sometimes too. Yes, we are all guilty of being in the wrong or hurting someone back because they have hurt us.
My colleagues say to me, you must be a good person because you go to church. I always reply I go to church because I’m not a good person. I need to be made better because I get it wrong. I get involved in gossip, I can be creative with the truth, and I hurt those whom I love the most. I need to be forgiven.
Human nature makes us behave that way. It is impossible to live on this planet without getting hurt, offended, misunderstood, lied to or rejected. Learning how to respond properly is one the basics of the Christian life. In order to forgive others I must first be forgiven myself.
Part of recognising how to be forgiven and doing forgiveness must begin with our prayers. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us that we should ask for forgiveness for our own actions before we can forgive someone else.
This should not be news to us. We know it well. We acknowledge and pray it every Sunday and I’ll bet most of us pray it every day. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray those words with ease and familiarity but do we live our prayer? Do our actions support our request?
Firstly, to ask God for forgiveness of our own actions. Taking ownership for our own faults and failings and being able to say them out loud to God.
Secondly, as we forgive those who have hurt us. Our willingness, often with caution, to forgive others must be connected to God’s forgiveness of us. With God’s grace to us we are able to offer grace and mercy to others. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean we forget or approve of their actions, but forgiveness releases us from those actions, helping us to move forward rather than backwards.
God in his mercy and forgiveness allows us to live in a community drawn together rather than a community which is torn apart. We are a community of imperfect people, and without forgiveness there can be no lasting community.
In our gospel reading, Peter wanted to know from Jesus what were the rules about forgiveness within a community and how many times should he forgive someone who had done him wrong.
Peter thought the answer from Jesus would have the situation all sorted out in his mind. Peter thought seven times might be enough. Not seven times, but seventy seven times, Jesus replied. In other words, forgiveness should be limitless, inexhaustible, however many times you or another might ask.
Forgiveness creates a space for a new beginning, not just with God but with each other. God’s love for us is limitless and forgiveness begins with him. That’s what the slave in parable didn’t understand. He didn’t recognise that he should also forgive his debtor because he too had also been forgiven.
To be forgiven is a continuous grace from God and one which we may find easier to receive than to offer. It’s not easy and can come at a cost. I’m sure none of us will be thrown into jail as the slave in the gospel was, but the cost to us could be feeling uncomfortable when confronted with someone or something that you would rather avoid just to make a clean slate.
Jesus forgave those who hated him the most when faced with his own humiliation had his clothes divided by the soldiers who mocked him. Looking to Jesus as the example of what it is to forgive, we see unconditional forgiveness, not earned or deserved. Just given.
The forgiveness of God changes us and makes us people who have the capacity to forgive and begin a change of our relationship with others. I know I need to be renewed daily and each week I confess my failings before a compassionate God and all of you.
Perhaps the words of the hymn at communion could be our prayer for this week: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. Forgive our foolish ways!
By recognising that we aren’t perfect, and living a life of faith doesn’t make us perfect, but we have the knowledge through the grace of God forgiveness is written into his plan of salvation, and without that we have no hope at all.