"Consider this ...." by Canon Denise

 

Canon Denise Acheson

Years ago I came across a poem which basically said – the more you learn makes you realise how little you know! Becoming a Christian is the first step of an eternal learning journey.

With the Holy Spirit’s guidance along the way one learns new things about oneself, about God and about others. We may outgrow some of the things we learned in the past as we grow closer to God through faith in Christ.

Faith is not static – and there are many things which we are called to think upon as we journey. 1 John 4 v1 says to test the spirits in order to recognise the Spirit of God.

So as we journey together let’s make time and space to consider this …….

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The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Collect Two

Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
Give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The First Reading - Exodus 16: 2-15
The Psalm - Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45
The Second Reading - Philippians 1: 21-30
The Gospel Reading - Matthew 20: 1-16
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website

Post Communion Prayer
Lord God, the source of truth and love:
Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friend, I am doing you no wrong;” Matthew 20 v 13

Archie was a confirmed bachelor. He was a farmer and because he lived right in the middle of the village he was never short of callers. One of the attractions of calling with Archie, apart from the gossip, was that the other farmers hadn’t to worry about being scolded by an anxious wife concerned about dirty wellingtons messing up the kitchen floor! Archie wasn’t bothered by a bit of wet or dirt on the floor. He loved the company. Fortunately, Archie was surrounded by his two sisters’ families who took good care of him, but as the years went by the inevitable speculation about who would inherit the farm began. Everyone had their own ideas and Archie did nothing to deny or confirm these assumptions. As Archie got older and needed more care one or two people were more available than others to help and Archie was not the strong independent type- he loved attention- and whoever was willing to do things for him he just let them get on with it! When Archie died and the will was read surprises were in store for many. All his nephews and nieces got something but the ones tipped for getting the house and farm didn’t get it! One of the relatives who lived pretty far away and was unable to offer practical help over the years was the recipient of the house. And it was a shock to that person as well as to the rest of the family and needless to say murmurs of ‘It’s not fair. Why should she have got it? Look what I did for him over the years. I can’t understand it!’ dominated the conversation for years afterwards.

But the truth was that whatever Archie had Archie was free to share it in whatever way he chose. All the people who had been good to Archie over the years did receive something, but some thought they should have had more. The one who got the house was overwhelmed by her windfall because she had never ever dreamt that he would leave her so much. Her gratitude and joy knew no bounds and 10 years later she still pinches herself to make sure it isn’t a dream!

And in the gospel reading we have mutterings of, ‘It’s not fair. Why should they have got the same as me? I worked all day! I can’t understand it!’ from the workers who started working early in the day.

However, they didn’t go to the landowner and say outright to him “I think you should have given us more than the latecomers.” Nor did they say, “You should have paid those guys less.”

No, they said, “You have made them equal to us.” This was what was hard to stomach, they were all on the same level. All rewarded equally.

They stopped short of using the words unfair! But the landowner says back to them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?”

Ah, but! But what?

There is no doubt that when one looks at life it can be unfair- very unfair. Hard work is not always compensated. Loyalty is not always valued. Calamities come without warning or reason. Read the Psalmists observations in Psalm 73. I am sure we can all give an example of when life has unfairly treated someone we know – or we have felt unfairly treated ourselves. And there is no redress.

Yet this parable gives us encouragement. It doesn’t encourage us to think that life will be, or should be fair. Rather it gives us an insight into the extravagant generosity, grace and fairness of God. God promises every blessing that the kingdom can bring and in return asks us to give him our hearts, minds, soul and love.

And while we want God to be generous and gracious towards us as individuals sometimes we want to keep that generosity for ourselves. All who follow Jesus will receive the blessings of the kingdom. But, sometimes followers of Christ can behave like those early workers. Those who have loved and served God all of their lives can feel they have an exclusive claim on God’s blessings. Those who come in at the end, those who come in from the edges, can certainly be welcomed but to receive the same blessings of the kingdom?

Those who seem to be unwanted by society are called by God. He says to them, Come on in here and take your place in the kingdom with those who are already working. Letting the outsider in to a place of equality?

Is it easy to accept? Jesus reveals a God who is out there in the market place calling out to people that disturb and challenge the perceived image of what it is to be a follower of Christ.

Can we be generous as we share the good news of who Jesus is?

God’s generous grace will reach out and draw to himself those whom he calls, whether it appears unfair or not.

“Friend,” he will say, “I am doing you no wrong; am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Prayer: Lord, we praise you for your extravagant love and your life transforming grace. In your mercy you seek us out. There is nothing that we can do or accomplish that will make us worthy of your love, yet in Christ you have claimed us for yourself. There is nothing about our commitment, worship or service that makes us more acceptable- yet you fill us with your Holy Spirit. May your presence, mercy and love hold our lives, fill us with joy and give us hope. Amen

Canon Denise

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The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Collect Two

Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
Help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The First Reading - Exodus 14: 19-31
The Psalm - Psalm 114
The Second Reading - Romans 14: 1-12
The Gospel Reading - Matthew 18: 21-35
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website

Post Communion Prayer
God our creator,
you feed your children with the true manna,
the living bread from heaven.
Let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage
until we come to that place
where hunger and thirst are no more;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Matt 18 v 21

Have you ever wondered why Peter asked Jesus that particular question?

Was there someone who was constantly getting at Peter? Someone who was constantly annoying him? Someone he was finding it increasingly difficult to forgive?

Maybe Peter had forgiven this person in the past and now is being asked again and he thinks, “Enough is enough!” Well, I don’t know. All I can do is superimpose my thoughts on Peter- which is never a good thing to do!

But what if the other person doesn’t ask for forgiveness? The passage doesn’t say anything about it being a two way dialogue. A bit like last week’s reading- “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” The onus seems to be on the one who feels they have been offended- or sinned against.

Can forgiveness take place if only one person is willing?

I think the apostle Paul summed it up when he said in Romans 13 v 18, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

There are times when I would prefer it if the teaching on forgiveness wasn’t so clear- then one might have an excuse for nursing and harbouring grudges, and withholding forgiveness. But Jesus is pretty adamant that forgiveness must be practiced – forgiveness for big and small issues.

If we never read any other part of Scripture other than the Lord’s prayer then we cannot plead ignorance of God’s intentions towards us. God is willing to forgive us with the same measure that we forgive others. How open are we to forgiving others? How long does it take to forgive? Is there anything that cannot be forgiven?

If I ask forgiveness of God then I have to be prepared to forgive? Wholeheartedly?

These are hard questions. Very hard questions. Some would argue that if God truly knew what people had to suffer at the hands of others then God would know that forgiveness is impossible. And in all likelihood that is true- from a human perspective. But again we have to come back to words of Jesus later on in Matt 19 v 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

I leave you with this story which I believe to be true.

Missionary Rosalind Goforth in telling her life story admits of an internal rage she harboured against someone who had greatly harmed her and her husband Jonathan. It was a serious injury, which the couple would never talk about afterwards. But while her husband found it in his heart to forgive the offender, Rosalind refused to do so. For more than a year she wouldn’t even look at this other person and for another 4 years the matter remained unresolved and to a certain extent, forgotten. Things seemed to go on as normally as ever.

One day Rosalind and her husband were travelling by train to a Christian meeting, but for months Rosalind had felt a lack of power, a lack of enthusiasm, a lack of joy in her Christian walk and work. In the train, she bowed her head and cried to God to fill her with His Holy Spirit. There and then came a clear direction to her heart to write to the person to whom she felt hatred and unforgiveness and ask forgiveness for the way she had treated him. She was totally shocked. SHE should ask forgiveness? Never! Her whole soul cried out. She prayed again, and again that directive came to her to write and ask for forgiveness and again she cried out in her heart she would never, never, never forgive him. A third time she prayed but still the same instruction came to write and she jumped up and said to herself she would sooner give up all her work for she would never, never forgive!!!!

Sometime afterwards she was reading the book The Pilgrim’s Progress to her children and she came to the passage where the man in the cage moans,“I have grieved the Spirit and He is gone. I have provoked God to anger and He has left me.” Instantly she felt that those words were directed to her as they described her own feelings of despair .

She wrestled with these feelings for days and then confided in a fellow missionary. He asked her, “Well, are you going to write the letter?” After a long pause she said, “Yes.” “Then go at once and write it,” he advised. Rosalind did so.

She wrote apologising for her actions. She did not seek to justify her actions on account of what was done to her. She never made any reference to his offence. The joy and the peace of her Christian life returned.

Afterwards she wrote,

“From that time on I have never dared to not forgive.”

Prayer. Lord Jesus, help us to forgive one another from the heart. You know how hard it can be for us to let go of hurt and pain. As we wrestle with our sense of injustice help us to hand our grievance to you. Whenever we take the hurt back, help us to release it to you again and again and again until we know that peace that passes all human understanding. Amen.

Canon Denise

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The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire, or deserve. Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask save through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

The First Reading - Exodus 12: 1-14
The Psalm - Psalm 149
The Second Reading - Romans 13: 8-14
The Gospel Reading - Matthew 18: 15-20
Click here to view the readings via the oremus Bible Browser website

Post Communion Prayer
God of compassion, in this eucharist we know again your forgiveness and the healing power of your love. Grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that forgiveness and healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

If he listens to you, you have won him over.” Matthew 18 v 15

One Saturday morning I received a phone call from my daughter. She had taken her child (who was eighteen months at this stage) to gymnastic lessons and it was the first time he had been there. He had had a great time as he raced around and climbed on the apparatus and came out of the class exhausted and red. So was my daughter! Why? Well, yes, her son had been active but not in the way he was supposed to be! His group were asked to do specific exercises. The leader wanted the children to be a broad bean, a baked bean, a cooperative bean but this active child only wanted to be a runner bean! He couldn’t be convinced what fun he could have being a baked bean ie a quiet bean! He was and still is a very strongwilled child and along the way he has encountered situations head on that have led to many tears! He just won’t listen!

If you have the time to spare there are many programmes on day time television that deal with ‘conflict resolution’ and one of the most popular used to be (maybe it still is) Jeremy Kyle!! Say what you like about those who come onto the show- but what interests me is the way resolution is brought about. Those who have a grievance state the problem, those who are causing the grievance are brought out to face the accuser, and with the help of a mediator, usually Jeremy (and sometimes a bouncer or two is brought on to keep law and order!) a resolution is sought. Many of the exchanges can be quite ugly, painful, angry and tearful and even allowing for ‘the shock effect’ these situations are causing angst. Sometimes this very public airing of dirty linen is seen as a last resort. It is a make or break moment in a relationship, and sometimes it is just that! One of the party storms off the stage. There is nothing more to say, nothing more to contribute and the listening is over. Nothing more can be done.

A friend of mine was living with four others- who would not take their turn at tidying the place up a bit, despite her appeals for help. In the end she moved out because their attitude was ‘it doesn’t bother me, I don’t mind the mess, it will be alright’ and they would just walk away. It is sometimes easier to just walk away – but if we pretend everything is alright when it isn’t and if we pretend the other person hasn’t really done anything wrong, then that is not reconciliation.

Reconciliation is about confronting wrong that has been done, facing it, dealing with it, and end up loving and accepting one another again.

Disputes, conflicts and hurt happen within the life of any Church, because we are all sinners, saved by grace, yes, but nonetheless capable of hurting others.

What do we do?

What must we do?

Tom Wright refers to this passage in Matthew as, “Severely practical and ruthlessly idealistic. Four steps. Four basic principles on which to build reconciliation and love.”

These steps ask for a large dose of humility. Someone has offended me and I must go to them? Ouch! Why can they not come to me? Matthew is asking a lot here. But Matthew is also asking something from the other person. The offender is being asked to listen, and for that person to be prepared to listen, really listen, may be a difficult experience also. There is risk for both parties here, but it is worth taking because it is in the listening that the air can be cleared, reconciliation can take place and for both the opportunity to walk away respecting each other.

But, and in life there are always but’s, if the offender refuse to listen to you, another attempt is made and this time the offended party brings along two others – not to browbeat , not to humiliate, but to bring a wider perspective to the situation. But, if still there is no change of heart one could stop there? No! If the matter is serious enough then it has to be taken to the whole church and disciplinary measures implemented to deal with the situation. But, if that fails to bring about reconciliation, then this is the really tough part of the teaching, the offender has to be treated as an outsider or as a tax collector or pagan. Needless to say tax collectors and pagans were not highly thought of in Jesus’ day!

If someone digs in their heels and rejects all attempts at reconciliation, humanly speaking there is nothing else to be done.

This is a pretty bleak note to end on, in some ways a hopeless note. But we must bear in mind who wrote this gospel. Matthew, before he became a disciple of Jesus, was a despised tax collector, an outsider, considered to beyond redemption! And yet it was to these very people – tax collectors and pagans that Jesus never hesitated to reach out to. When others had given up on Matthew, had passed judgment on Matthew, Jesus stepped in and brought about such a change of heart in him that he gave up all to follow Jesus. Was Matthew thinking of his own turned around life when he wrote – “With man some things are impossible but with God all things are possible.” Matt 19 v 26.

The reality may be that we no longer have direct communication with those who refuse to engage with us. Nevertheless we must always hold those we disagree with before God in prayer- not praying that they will change to suit our agenda, but that they will be changed into the people God wants them to be and equally being open to God changing us as well.

God loves us but it doesn’t protect from conflict. However, we are given a way to grow through it. Whatever happens let us never forget the power of God’s love and the presence of the Holy Spirit to change people and situations.

That strongwilled little grandson of mine has met and does meet conflict with tears and frustration as his parents challenge his behaviour. But whatever they do for him is motivated by a profound sense of love for him .

He just doesn’t realise that yet.

Prayer. Heavenly Father, teach us how to be reconciled to one another. Give us the humility, the courage and the grace to be willing to take those steps that will rebuild faith and confidence where relationships have broken down, trust betrayed and hurt inflicted. Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Canon Denise


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