The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

13 September 2020

Reading 1

 

Genesis 50: 15-21

 

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached  Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Reading 2

Romans 14: 1-12

 

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?  Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?[d] For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Psalm 103

 

Refrain:    The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

 

1    Bless the Lord, O my soul,  ♦

and all that is within me bless his holy name.

 

2    Bless the Lord, O my soul,  ♦

and forget not all his benefits;

 

3    Who forgives all your sins  ♦

and heals all your infirmities;

 

4    Who redeems your life from the Pit  ♦

and crowns you with faithful love and compassion;

 

5    Who satisfies you with good things,  ♦

so that your youth is renewed like an eagle’s. [R]

 

6    The Lord executes righteousness  ♦

and judgement for all who are oppressed.

 

7    He made his ways known to Moses  ♦

and his works to the children of Israel.

 

8    The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,  ♦

slow to anger and of great kindness.

 

9    He will not always accuse us,  ♦

neither will he keep his anger for ever.

 

10  He has not dealt with us according to our sins,  ♦

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. [R]

 

11  For as the heavens are high above the earth,  ♦

so great is his mercy upon those who fear him.

 

12  As far as the east is from the west,  ♦

so far has he set our sins from us.

 

13  As a father has compassion on his children,  ♦

so is the Lord merciful towards those who fear him. [R]

 

14  For he knows of what we are made;  ♦

he remembers that we are but dust.

 

15  Our days are but as grass;  ♦

we flourish as a flower of the field;

 

16  For as soon as the wind goes over it, it is gone,  ♦

and its place shall know it no more.

 

17  But the merciful goodness of the Lord is from of old

and endures for ever on those who fear him,  ♦

and his righteousness on children’s children;

 

18  On those who keep his covenant  ♦

and remember his commandments to do them. [R]

 

19  The Lord has established his throne in heaven,  ♦

and his kingdom has dominion over all.

 

20  Bless the Lord, you angels of his,  ♦

you mighty ones who do his bidding

and hearken to the voice of his word.

 

21  Bless the Lord, all you his hosts,  ♦

you ministers of his who do his will.

 

22  Bless the Lord, all you works of his,

in all places of his dominion;  ♦

bless the Lord, O my soul.

Refrain:    The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Merciful Lord,

as we come from dust and return to dust,

show us the face of our Redeemer,

that in our frailty we may bless your name

and praise you all our days;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel Reading

 

Matthew 18: 21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “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.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Collect for 14th Sunday after Trinity

 

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 your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Hymn

 

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour's love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then "Crucify!"
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend

 

Samuel Crossman written 1664.

Sermon, Sunday 13th September

Mark Taylor, Reader.

 

Do not be afraid. ...God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people as he is doing today.[1]

It doesn't take much for people to be divided against each other through minor differences in customs, or opinion or skin colour or social rank.  At least it starts with something minor. Paul in his advice to the Romans highlights a particular issue that he suspected split the Christian community there.  Probably some from a Jewish background could not bear to eat in the company of converted pagans.  Surely such nit-picking would not happen in our society? Well, yes, it does! 

It took a long time before local friends understood why, when they invited a Syrian refugee family for a meal, they would find excuses not to come. And when they did they would bring untold amounts of food themselves as though for presents to the host, and barely touched anything that the host had so carefully prepared.

The explanation for this apparent rejection?  Dogs.  Syrians are universally repelled by the idea that we have dogs in the house. Worse; dogs wander freely into our kitchens or sit expectantly under the dining table. Uuugh! The Syrian sense of visceral revulsion exceeds anything served up on a Japanese reality TV show. 

Divisions begin small and trivial but grow.  Favouritism over Joseph as a small boy led to enslavement and trafficking by his brothers. We all know the story[2], Joseph's dreams, the coat of many colours,   the slave traders, the bloody garment shown to father Jacob, the big lie.  Just before our reading from the very end of Genesis, Jacob had died, been mummified in the Egyptian rite and buried alongside Isaac and Abraham with full honours. Was the apparent compassion of Joseph, the civil servant in charge of rationing, just to honour his father Jacob? No, it was genuine.  His take on the restored relationship is extraordinary, as though it does not just come from him or his ties of family relationships. "God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people as he is doing today." Joseph sees the ghastly attack on him as a small boy as having another deeper and positive dimension.

We are stunned when we are see evidence of forgiveness like that today. At the sentencing of the man who shot to death 51 people at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, survivors were allowed to address the gunman directly in court. Janna Ezat, whose 35-year-old son Hussein was killed, recalled seeing his skull wide open and his brain bleeding out. He was riddled with bullet wounds. She is permanently scarred by the loss and grief, barely able to sleep, having panic attacks, on medication and unable to work. She said  to the man who did this "I have decided to forgive you because I don't have hate".

Jesus was very clear with Peter; there is no cap on forgiveness. The parable explains why.  The steward in the parable was let off an eye-wateringly massive debt (incidentally, in Jewish currency). But he sought to reclaim a debt from another person for a trivial amount (Roman everyday currency for wages).  In order to forgive, the person forgiving must have sustained a loss of some kind. The greater the loss, the more extraordinary the act of forgiveness. However, it  would be inadequate to see debt and forgiveness in the parable in only human terms.

Do we believe in an omnipotent creator god who is set apart from creation, observing from a distance, remote and unmoved by the insignificance of human activity? If so, forgiveness by such a deity would be totally meaningless and impossible, as such a being would be unaffected by anything we do.  Christians know differently.  The whole thrust of Matthew's gospel is that God is with us. His account begins and ends with this imagery.  The Lord of all creation is seen in the life of Jesus, and he bears in his human body all the weight of human division, from the trivial through to hatred, rejection and violence.  Uniquely, therefore, He is in a divine position to forgive.

We believe that one day we will stand in the presence of our forgiving and redeeming Lord. Impossible to imagine. In preparation for that, we might think what it would be like to meet Janna Ezat.  Would we be mindful of her Iraqi background?  The long history of British involvement in her original nation, greed over oil, a sense of western superiority that ignores that deep historic civilisation. awful newspaper headlines "Mission accomplished", "Gotcha!", refugees, some of them her countrymen, washed up on Kentish shores? How would we relate to someone who has found it possible to forgive the most unbearable wrong?  Such an encounter might let in a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do not be afraid.... God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people as he is doing today.

Mark Taylor, Reader.

 

[1] Genesis 50: 19-20

[2] Genesis 37 onwards.