Sunday 17th September 2017
It is said that during the Second World War some soldiers serving in France wanted to bury a friend and fellow soldier who had been killed. Being in a foreign country they wanted to ensure their fallen comrade had a proper burial. They found a well-kept cemetery with a low wall around it, a picturesque little Catholic church and a peaceful outlook. This was just the place to bury their friend. But when they approached the priest he answered that unless their friend was a baptised Catholic he could not be buried in the cemetery. He wasn’t.
Sensing the soldiers disappointment the priest showed them a spot outside the walls where they could bury their friend. Reluctantly they did so.
The next day the soldiers returned to pay their final respects to their fallen friend but could not find the grave. “Surely we can’t be mistaken. It was right here!” they said. Confused, they approached the priest who took them to a spot inside the cemetery walls.
“Last night I couldn’t sleep” said the priest. “I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery walls, so I got up and moved the fence.”
Sometimes we have to move the boundaries in our personal lives and indeed we have to move the boundaries as a Church. No one pretends it is easy to do that , but we live in a fast changing world and sometimes we need to change with it. Boundaries are there to be moved, they are not there to restrain us.
We are continuing our theme of encountering God particularly in the wonderful readings these past three weeks we have been having from the book of Exodus. Sometimes an encounter with God requires us to rethink our ideas , reassess our priorities and move some boundaries in our thinking .
We started three weeks ago with Moses encountering God in the burning bush, who he was told he was on holy ground and that God had a task for him to lead the people of Israel into the promised land. Then last week the people of Israel encountered God in the Passover when they saw the Lord save them from danger, and lead them forward and now today the passage began with the description of the angel of the Lord moving to behind the people and the pillar of cloud leading them forward on their journey.
They were on a long journey , a pilgrimage to the promised land and the lord is with them at all times symbolised by the pillar of cloud . And then the narrative moves on to describe, a great barrier that needed to be crossed , the Red Sea .
The journey of the people of Israel though the wilderness was a time when they needed to move their boundaries and trust in God. It was very difficult time for them, many times we read they grumbled against God and particularly their Leader Moses .they reach what seems like an insurmountable barrier , the Red Sea . But God though his servant Moses makes sure they have a safe passage by parting the Red Sea.
It is similar for us as we journey in our pilgrimage as the church. We go through difficult times , challenging times . Sometimes we cannot see the way forward .
But the reading today reminds us that God is always going before us leading us on , leading us forward symbolised by the pillar of cloud.
Paul has some wise words in the epistle for today .
Paul knew how difficult it was to lead Christian communities . He was critised by many of the churches and by his fellow leaders .
But he says
Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God.
Paul is inviting us to consider the need to take other people opinions into consideration instead of always thinking we are right.
In the church he says we need to be generous in our judgments on others and generous in our consideration of other people’s point of view particular when it differs from our own .
This theme is continued in the gospel reading for today .
Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
In this passage we are eavesdropping on a conversation between Jesus and his disciples. The problem is that we’re eavesdropping halfway into the conversation. In order to get a fuller understanding of what they’re talking about, we need to look at the wider conversation. Jesus has been talking about the behaviour of the church, the way they should live together. Jesus has spoken about: the need to be humble; looking out for weaker members;
accountability;reconciliation and restoration; and church discipline.
“So Lord,” Peter asks, “if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? Seven times?”
This seems a fair question . How often should I forgive – seven times?
“Not seven times, but I tell you seventy seven times,” says Jesus, and to get his point across he tells a parable.
And the point of the parable is:
The forgiveness we are called to offer is not based on a formula or law, but comes from what we have experienced – outrageous grace and forgiveness. Our forgiveness is “grounded on the nature of God”
God’s unconditional mercy and grace.
We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. At the centre of the Lord’s prayer we are reminded of this: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
The forgiveness that marks the church – forgiveness grounded in the mercy of God – offers good news to the world. It offers an alternative to hate, envy and revenge. And you have only to look at the world of today to realise that our world need us to model this grace and forgiveness now!
It reminds me of the story of the king who gave a birthday party and he invited all his guests to bring with them a gold container .
It could be anything they liked but it had to be gold and a container,
One friend said I will take a large fruit bowl . It will cost quite a bit to make but the king is a good friend of mine very generous so that it what I shall give him.
Another friend, who was a bit mean said , I will take a gold thimble. It fulfils the requirements .
So the party went well and at the end of the party the king said to his guests I want you take the gold containers you brought with you and go to my treasure house, and fill your container with the Jewels you find there diamonds , rubies sapphires and take them home .
Well, the man who took the thimble really felt seen off struggle to get more than a coupe of jewels in to the thimble .
The man who took a large fruit bowl was overjoyed at the generosity of the king.
God is generous beyond our imaging with the blessings he bestows on us and so calls on us to generous in our judgements, in our forgiveness of others and our giving of ourselves to his service .
Forgiveness does not originate in us. It begins with God. That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand. It was not about him. It’s about God. We do not choose to forgive. We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received.
And that is truly good news .
This is our last Sunday in Mojacar church. We are grateful for your kindness and generosity these past six weeks and very much hold you all in our prayers as you look to appoint your new Chaplain .
May God lead you all that you do in his name .
The Reverend Ian Eglin at Mojacar