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Sermon for Trinity 14

Listen to or read a sermon based on the gospel reading for Trinity 14, Sunday 13 September 2020

Note: This sermon is also included in the recording of the service of Holy Communion for Trinity 14.

Do you remember the year 2000?

Setting aside the pedantic controversy of whether or not the new millennium started on 1 January 2000 or 2001, do you remember the sense of excitement and optimism that surrounded the beginning of, not just a new century, but a new millennium?

Yes, everyone who owned a computer was scared of the millennium bug (which proved to be non-existent) but, in general, we looked forward with hope and optimism.

Of course, as is the way with human beings, it didn’t take us long to mess up the new era that had so recently dawned.

There are political and social landmarks of shame from the last 20 years that will stick in most of our minds.

As with other historic events that some of us have lived through, we will all have our own specific memories of the moment we heard of the 9/11 atrocity, etc., etc., etc.

Yes, as was the case when the last millennium dawned – not that long before the Norman invasion of this country – it didn’t take humanity long to set all that excitement and optimism to naught.

When I read through this morning’s gospel reading the excitement of the year 2000 and the things that have gone wrong since immediately sprang into my mind.

The reason for this being my first thought lies in Peter’s question to Jesus: Lord … how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?

Peter’s question is very human.

Peter is asking Jesus to give him guidance on the moment when it becomes acceptable to say: That is enough. My patience has run out. Now you have reached the point where you cannot expect me to forgive what you have said or done!

Peter’s question is very human – it is the way we all are. We have a breaking point when we utter those terrible words: I can never forgive him or her for what he or she has done to me!

Jesus’ response to Peter’s question is, in reality, as ‘divine’ as Peter’s question was ‘human’. Jesus says: Not seven times but … seventy-seven times.

To fully understand what Jesus is saying in this reply we need to become acquainted with the code he is using.

The number ‘seventy-seven’ is not an exact measure. Jesus is not calling us to keep a tally – the number 77 was code for ‘times without number’.

In his reply, Jesus is telling Peter (and us) that we should never give up on forgiving those who sin against us.

As I say that I can feel some (if not all) of you thinking of things that you could not possibly forgive. For some those unforgiveable things will be comparatively minor, and for others they will be big events that have brought about suffering and pain.

But … let us pause for a moment and reflect on that very ‘human’ reaction: to not forgive is to root our thinking firmly in the past – not in the future, or even the present.

To not forgive is to keep our minds in the negativity of the past without ever allowing space for God’s kingdom to break into our flawed present.

To not forgive is to turn away from the future that Jesus holds before us – the future of ultimately coming into the inexpressible joy of God’s nearer presence.

Terrible things are done by human beings to other human beings, terrible things that cause anguish, pain, suffering and agony.

That is, of course, what humanity did to Jesus some 2000 years ago.

But … despite the cruelty of humanity all those years ago, 2000 years on we know that Jesus did not bear a grudge against us, rather he let us do all that to his human body in order that, in his divinity, he might bring us the certainty of forgiveness.

If you are nursing a grudge, or a pain that was caused by another, Jesus invites you to join in his divine wisdom and divine action.

Jesus is inviting us to forgive in order that we might be set free to live in the present until, eventually, we arrive in the future God has planned for us.

Today, Jesus is calling us to join him in setting aside the destructive force with which we damage ourselves – and then to let him bring help to us in the healing process of forgiveness, the forgiveness that no one deserves – not even us!!!

Amen.