Sunday, 24 September 2017
Sunday, 17 September 2017
I want to talk about forgiveness today.
Forgiveness is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity, both that we can receive forgiveness and that we must offer it.
Forgiveness, however, isn’t easy. In fact it’s precisely at those moments when it’s most important that it usually becomes most difficult to offer.
So I want to say some words about a few related things: to dispel some misconceptions about forgiveness, to indicate why we NEED to offer forgiveness, and to indicate what we need to do to offer forgiveness.
First misconception. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean saying that what they did didn’t matter, it does mean saying it’s “alright”, and it’s doesn’t mean making excuses for them.
When the Lord Jesus hung on the Cross, as the Gospels record, He offered His forgiveness to His murderers. He didn’t ignore their crime: they’re were committing the greatest evil in human history: they were rejecting and killing God. Yet, He freely chose to forgive them.
Second misconception. Forgiveness is not a feeling, rather, it is a decision.
I must choose, in my will, to forgive the person who has hurt me, long before my emotions have caught up with that. I may still feel anger, but forgiveness is a choice, not an emotion.
I must CHOOSE to forgive.
Third misconception. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
Sometimes I must forgive my brother even though there is no realistic chance of us coming to harmony and talking to each other happily. Yet, my decision toward him but be one of forgiveness.
Fourth misconception. Forgiveness is rarely over in an instant, rather, it is often a long process involving many stages. Often I must renew my decision to forgive daily. I must, repeatedly, look at the evil that has been done to me and at the person who has done it, and say, yet again, “I choose to forgive”.
But why? If it’s so hard, WHY must I forgive?
Well, most importantly, because Jesus commands it. He commands it so emphatically that He says we will not be forgiven ourselves unless we forgive others.
We might also note the logic of this: I need forgiveness for my own sins, so I have no right to refuse it to others. If I say, “But my sins are not as big as the sins of this person against me”, well, I then seeking justice not mercy. And if justice is what I want, then justice it what I will get: condemnation, not salvation.
The Lord make this point so often that I could fill the entire length of Mass by citing the occasions.
Let me close, however, by offering a more human motive for forgiveness:
When we fail to forgive then we deny ourselves the possibility of inner healing.
Often we can see the evildoer merrily continuing on. He doesn’t seem affected. But unless I forgive I can’t let go. I cling to this event. Unless I forgive it will continue to weigh me down and afflict me.
If I forgive, however, a path to a new life is open to me.
Some significant recent books have been written on the healing power of forgiveness. I would like to commend to you one in particular, “Forgiveness is a Choice”, by Robert Enright
We have a few copies for sale in the porch.
To sum up: I forgive because Jesus commands it.
I forgive because Jesus forgave.
I forgive BECAUSE what has been done to me is evil, not pretending that it wasn’t.
I forgive even when my emotions are not with my decision of the will.
Forgiveness is a daily process, but the only path to life and healing.
Sunday, 10 September 2017
Today we’re keeping our Harvest Festival, something that I hope will become a regular annual event in the parish.
Some of you might recall a news report from a few years ago that reported a survey that showed that a surprisingly large number of people didn’t know where milk comes from. A lot of people seems to think milk comes from Tesco, and didn’t have any idea where Tesco got it from! In our increasingly urbanised world it’s easy to forget what happens on a farm. It’s easy to forget where things come from.
And today’s parish Harvest Festival is a valuable way of remembering where things come from.
So, for those of you who don’t know, milk comes from a cow.
But, what we really recall at a Harvest Festival is that all good things come from the good God above.
I want to make two simple points today:
The habit of giving thanks to God changes us in two ways:
It changes our relationship with God, and, it changes our relationship with our neighbour.
In our modern individualistic world we tend to have a rather selfish view of ownership.
We tend to think: this is MY money, I worked for it; this is my possession, I paid for it; no one else has a right to it.
In contrast, when we give thanks to God for our good things we trace that train of cause back further, and more honestly, and we realise that there is nothing I have than I don’t owe to God.
This changes how I feel about my ownership of things, it makes me see my ownership in a more relative sense.
It also implicitly reminds me that other people also come from the hand of the Creator; other people also have a right to the good things of Creation.
When we have this sense we are better able to live that “love” that our second reading says fulfills all the commandments (Rom 13:8-10); we are better able to see other men as our “fellow” men, not as rivals to our possessions.
A habit of giving thanks to God thus prepares us to live love of our neighbour.
Perhaps more obviously, a habit of giving thanks changes our relationship with God.
Again, this is particularly important in our modern world. We live in a culture of immense material prosperity, but in the quest for more and more things, there are two things we can forget:
(1) We can forget the God who makes all things, and by forgetting Him we forget what gives meaning and PURPOSE to all things -and a life without purpose isn’t much of a life, even if it is a life with the latest iPhone.
(2) More ironically, we can forget to enjoy the things we have: the quest to possess more and more frequently stops us pausing to appreciate and enjoy the good things we have. While I’m yearning for the iPhone 8 I forget to appreciate how amazing my iPhone 5 is.
So a habit of thanksgiving brings us joy.
In summary, today we are keeping a Harvest Festival.
This reminds us that milk comes from cows.
It reminds us, even more, that all good things come from God.
This reminds us that there is a Creator, that thus life does have purpose, and that that purpose is to be found in Him.
It remind me that my fellow man also depends on God, and that he and I are thus in mutual relationship, and that I must love him.
And finally, in giving thanks I experience joy because I pause to see the goodness of what I have.