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.
Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement 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 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. 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.
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 should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they how many times we 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 should 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.’
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 14
Last week we heard about how we ought to help people who are in a bad way. Jesus said, ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’ I talked last week about these delegations – today we heard that those delegations of love need to visit seventy-seven times, not just seven times when such an intervention is required. I think these two lessons from Matthew 18 have to be read together. It is a shame the lectionary separates them. I think it shows that Jesus’ approach to the sinner is never-ending just as it should be for us – we are to go to the sinner seventy-seven times. First he tells us that we have to go quietly to the other person and we have to keep going to that person who has claimed our attention because of misdeeds. We start out very simply then get more and more people involved in the process. We are asked to keep approaching the other and encourage change out of love, I would say.
Such dedication to the other is not our normal behaviour, is it? In our usual busyness, we don’t have the time to devote to the other person, especially if we have been offended, or that other person is a “trespasser”. For instance, in our everyday, we say, “Hello, how are you?” But do we stop to listen to the answer? We are always on our way to something else, something “more important” than a conversation about that other person’s “how”. We believe we don’t have the time to sit down and really hear how that person is. We don’t listen to the spoken, but we also don’t listen for the silent tale the other is telling us then and there in response to our very banal question.
But we do have that time! Lockdown proved that to us, didn’t it? At least we all admitted we appreciated the time we were taking to be ourselves in isolation, the time we had to talk with others even if through the barrier of a windowpane. Why aren’t we continuing to do so? I want us all to take the time to listen and hear what the other person is saying to us when we ask, “How are you?” It seems we will have to slow down and be less busy to do that.
But that is not the reason this combination of lessons has leapt to the front of my mind. I think the dealing with sinners is what Paul is writing about as well, but his words do not deal with people who “sin” as such. Paul writes, “Welcome those who are weak in faith.” These are words which should encourage all of us. After all, anyone may be seen as weak and it could be that someone might welcome us. They might be making us a friend or just give us a smile to make our day a little brighter.
Welcoming those who are weak shows a benevolent love. After all, when we love someone, we do it just for the sake of love, don’t we? Love expects nothing. Love is a completely open attitude. We have to be without prejudice when we welcome the weak, don’t we? We have even shown this in “political correctness” haven’t we? Generally the insignificant have taken on real substance in the world.
Our bad attitudes towards minorities have changed, haven’t they? All right – we may not like the way these game changers have been introduced, but, I am sure, it has changed the way we think fundamentally. Do we ever use the pronoun “he” in the same way any more? No longer does “he” include everyone in the same way as that exclusive “he” used to. Are we not more aware of the “she”in the “he” today, so much so that often “she” becomes the generic personal pronoun in speech?
Our conscious attitudes, I would say, have changed because of the impulse of love, that agape which Jesus showed in his teaching and miracles and Paul extolled in his letters to the young churches. – The open self which loves, encounters every other person in the same way, so naturally the old normal, the everyday of being jostled by the “they” – that crowd which takes over our lives causing us to be too busy – the old ways of behaviour have been forsaken for a new normal, a way of life which arises from the solitude of being one’s own self. I hope that as we have risen from the isolation of lockdown, we will not return to those bad, old ways.
“Welcome those who are weak in faith,” Paul writes. I think he could be speaking directly to us in this covid world, but especially in a post-covid world. The weak in faith are the people who are not strong in themselves. They are afraid in their isolation, fearing the approach of the stranger as a possible introduction of that evil virus. – Such an attitude has been repeated so many times in the history of civilisation. Today’s fear is just as debilitating as the fear of AIDS only three decades ago, or the terror at the black death three centuries ago, or the anxiety at leprosy two millennia ago. We dread so many things, and they take over, when we are weak. As we are here in church, we say we are weak in faith, we hope to bolster our faith through confession, but we all know how this weakness affects the whole of our lives. We fear we cannot cope against the evil, great and small, which confronts us day by day.
I think that is why we fail in our being caring people: in other words, we sin, plain and simple. We are weak But there is nothing simple in our experience of our failure. It is always the most awful thing that has ever happened in human history. Every adolescent knows that – they can not go on because the weight of the world is pressing down so hard on them that they are afraid. They fear everything sometimes to suicide.
That is when the delegation of love should arrive. Whether the sympathetic singleton, the gracious group or the caring community, whatever the profile of the delegation, the weak in faith should feel supported in the hands of love. After all, who else but someone who loves dispassionately will approach the sinner seventy-seven times? That is the gospel message for today. That is what Paul encourages us to do for everyone, but especially those who are weak in faith. Welcome them, just as Joseph finally embraced his estranged family when he said to them, ‘ “have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.’ I suppose that we need to encourage this ideal love – love of our neighbour, the stranger and the weak. We need to embrace them with kind words and reassurance. We have all been recipients of that delegation of love sent from the great congregation gathered around the throne of God in Jesus. We are now all encouraged to act on that love which transforms the world for all of us, from the chaos of despair into the cosmos of hope. We need to listen with those ears Jesus demands, so we will hear those tales without prejudice as they are told to us even though it is the ordinary, “How are you?” which elicits it.