This week is going to be a busy one, so I sat down yesterday and thought hard about the service.
At one church we have 'creative church', where we are focussing on the parable of the unforgiving servant & the issue of Fair Trade. Below is almost the complete sermon for a communion service where the readings will be
& Romans 14: 1-12
It feels quite strange to be so ahead of myself - but with a funeral this week & two next week it's probably just as well.
Thoughts for Sunday 14th September
Today we will be praying for Zimbabwe. It is difficult for us to understand the intricacies of what has gone wrong to the hopes of independence in that country, but all the news from there seems bad. Inflation is astronomically high, which means that everyone’s wages are next to useless. There are terrible shortages of food and fuel, and the country seems riddles with corruption, from ordinary police officers confiscating food from people, to armed men threatening those who want to vote for the opposition party, and a president who it seems simply won’t step down whatever the result of any election.
The whole country seems to be in a terrible mess, and we might wonder what on earth can help to sort it out.
Only a decade or so ago, South Africa seemed to be facing similar problems, with gang violence, lack of trust in politicians, and deep concerns about how to move forward as a nation. South Africans responded by setting up the Truth and Reconciliation commission – a way of examining crimes of the past so that those who were in the wrong could admit their crime, and move forward into a crime-free future of justice for all. Not surprisingly the church was at the heart of this work, stressing the need for confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness, and today we’ve heard just one of his parables – the story of the unforgiving servant.
The first man owed 10,000 talents. This is a huge sum – a talent was about 15 years’ wages for an ordinary person, so his debt represents about 150,000 years’ wages. We might wonder how on earth he got so in debt! His plea to the king ‘have patience with me and I will repay you’ is blatantly untrue - there is no way this man will ever be able to pay back his debt. And yet the king forgives him and wipes out the debt.
The second man owes the first man 100 denarii – a denarius being one day’s wages – so a total debt of hundred days’ wages – it might take this man about 6 months to pay the first servant back: he has only to be patient with his fellow servant – but of course he refuses.
Jesus wants our minds to boggle – there is just no way the first man could ever pay back his debt. The only way out for him was the mercy and forgiveness of the king.
And of course in all of Jesus’ parables the king represents God.
Jesus wants us to know that God’s forgiveness is staggering – and that when we know forgiveness we too can afford to be generous in our forgiveness of others.
The first man’s predicament seems unmanageable – but he only has to ask and he is out of trouble.
Jesus teaches us to ask for God’s help – whether our need is for personal forgiveness, for help in an awful situation, or for prayer for a country which is in a mess.
We have only to ask, to pray, to have faith in the staggering love and forgiveness of God.
As we share communion, we see before us a sign of that love – a remembrance of the life and death of Jesus, who was able to pray from the cross ‘Father forgive’.
Here we may take and eat and drink and be filled with the forgiveness, love and peace of God.
In Jesus’ name.