Tag Archives: proper 19a

Telling others what to do.

It is one of the most objectionable features of religion – people who want to tell you what to do! Too often it is not a helpful sharing of good ways, but a desire to control, manipulate, or play power games.

As Paul moves on in his letter to the Romans (now to Romans 14:1-12) he clearly has this problem in mind. There are many ways of living the Christian life. In Rome, there were clearly believers from Jewish backgrounds, some of whom wanted to be wary of “unclean” food, and to keep the feasts they had grown up with. Paul is happy, as long as they do not confuse their customs with what is necessary for salvation. But believers of all traditions are to accept one another without hostile comment, as long as they share in the basic facts of faith. Of course, there is always a debate about what is basic, about what you “have to do”, but Paul argues against extending the basics to “our way”, whatever that may be.

I doubt there are many congregations today where the issue is between those of Jewish and Gentile background, but the issues remain. Food has become an ethical issue more prominently as ecological concerns have suggested the earth cannot support a Western style, meat focused, diet for all. Health experts have also ruled against much red meat. So some of us, if not becoming vegetarian, have added more meat-free meals to our diet. It is an interesting point to debate, but it is not a fundamental point of faith.

Anglicans (like me) tend to find the cycle of the “Church year”, looking at different parts of the faith at different seasons, a helpful teaching aid. Autumn brings Harvest, a thanksgiving reminding us of creation (and our need to care for it!). Kingdom reminds us of God’s rule, and Advent of our readiness for God’s Coming. Christmas (disentangling ourselves from the commercial version) speaks of God among us, and Epiphany of how that became known. There is time in Lent to consider the cost, of our salvation and of following a crucified Saviour. Easter takes us to the resurrection, and then on to ascension, Trinity, and the consequences all this has for our life routines and habits. Useful? Arguably. Necessary? Not at all. Many Christians will never keep that pattern, or those feasts. If they are “not like us” that does not affect their faith. In fact, it is just as well there are many Christians “not like us”, for it makes it easier to see what really is important!

We remind ourselves that the person to tell what to do – is ourselves. I am the only person I am meant to control, and as yet I have not worked that out fully. I am happy to try and encourage others, even to try and explain what I know of faith and Christian life, but I need to restrain the urge to tell others what to do. That is God’s job, and God is better at it than I am.

Forgive – again, and again

(The passage Matthew 18:21-25 is featured in the “Giving in Grace” programme: see http://www.givingingrace.org/Preach-Matthew! and the preaching notes http://www.givingingrace.org/userfiles/files/Design/preaching_notes_matthew.pdf as well as Dr Jane Williams Sermon Reflections at http://www.givingingrace.org/userfiles/files/Design/reflections_matthew.pdf )

Peter is a good man; in Matthew 18:21-35 he has listened to Jesus, he is committed to him as his disciple, and he realises that forgiveness is important. But he wants to get it right, so he asks a question – a good idea!  He doesn’t ask “Do I have to?”, but he knows its difficult and – he wonders “How many times?” Jesus would be generous about things like that – make a suggestion – make it big. Seven? bit much, but a perfect number – surely that’s enough?

“Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven,”
but don’t get this wrong, Peter, you’ve got to see it like this. And so Jesus tells the story. The story is about a man who owes millions, and his helpless plight draws the pity of his creditor, who lets him off. [Note, by the way, that this is not pretending he wasn’t in debt – he admits it]

What about you – do you have anything that needs forgiving?
Let me see – I did lose my temper last week, and I was late taking my library book back, and I was a bit greedy ..
Get real!
I asked if you had anything that needed forgiving, and that’s not it!
You’re selfish. The one thing you’ll protect at all costs – is you. You’re cruel – maybe you wouldn’t hurt a fly, but what you’ve said about people, what you imagined doing to the bully, the way you’ve treated your rivals.
God made you, gave you life, – and you feel good if you give him a thought for an hour or two a month; you’re not even that fit.

OK, enough, this isn’t meant to make you feel bad – and you need to provide your own answers. But take it from me, you have plenty that needs forgiving, and it isn’t the trivia, it’s the real things you prefer not to think about – great scars of anger, resentment, and refusal to serve & obey.

Where were we? Oh yes, “Do I have to forgive?”
Jesus story makes us annoyed with the man, forgiven so much, who can’t pass on the blessing. Perhaps he’s shaken by the experience, perhaps he want’s to pretend it didn’t really happen.
Do you know people like that? “I know I’m not perfect, of course, but (BUT), compared with them, or them, or the people you read about . .

Get real! Don’t ever go there!
What Jesus explains to Peter is that forgiveness is not about the irritation of people who annoy us, rather it is about seeing other people as God sees us. We’re hopeless, but he won’t give up.  We’re stuck in a selfish, violent, self-pitying hell, until he opens the way to heaven and helps us on the way.  We are foul (if disguised) until he starts cleaning.  We depend on a God who knows all this, and loves and acts to help.

OK! Peter, Andrew, anyone else listening – how should a person like that deal with other people they find less than perfect? Don’t count to 491 and let them have it.  Count to heaven, and let them have that.