Preacher: The Rt Revd Dr Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston
Reading Matthew 18; 21-35
First, I should like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to come to St Matthias. I should also like to thank the Team Clergy, Ministers and Churchwardens for everything they are doing to support the Church through this interregnum. Please pray for them and for everyone involved in the appointments process as we seek to fill this and other vacancies in the Diocese; we are also searching for a new Dean of Southwark Cathedral and for Bishops for the Woolwich and Croydon areas. This afternoon I shall be at the Cathedral for the Licensing of Revd Canon Leanne Roberts as Diocesan Director of Ordinands and she too would welcome your prayers as she starts this role supporting those who are training for ordination in the Diocese.
Today’s Gospel started with Peter asking Jesus, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “Not seven times I tell you, but seventy times seven.” These are hugely challenging words for the 10th anniversary of 9/11! This evening’s Awareness Sunday service at Westminster Abbey is one of many events which are taking place to mark this occasion, and with so much unresolved pain so evident it is inevitable that people are still asking, “How are we to deal with major conflict?” “Can we ever forgive such terrible acts?”
The question, “How are we to deal with major conflict – especially when we do great harm to each other?” applies at at least four levels. At a global level, on the anniversary of 9/11 we need to look back to see how it has shaped our world in the face of a huge legacy of fear and mistrust, and talk about clashes of civilisations. Nationally, the recent riots are raising questions about our policies for sentencing and policing, and are prompting us to identify the causes of civil unrest. On a personal level we encounter conflict within families and many employers offer courses on “Dealing with conflict”. And the Church itself needs to resolve disputes and divisions. “How are we to deal with major
conflict?” It is vital that we find the answers.
In searching for these I’d like to draw on three principles from today’s Bible readings. The first is that for Christians, God is the ultimate Judge and we should aim to see our lives and world events in relation to Him, not just in relation to each other. “We all stand before the Judgement Seat of God….each one of us will be accountable to God,” says Paul, in his letter to the Romans; “We do not live to ourselves; we do not die to ourselves…we are the Lord’s”.
The second principle is that we need to keep a sense of proportion and to concentrate on what really matters. Earlier in the same reading Paul tells the Romans not to get into arguments about meat eating or observance of the Sabbath, saying that it is perfectly possible for them all to be in full fellowship with the Lord despite having different views on these issues. They are, in the Greek, “adiaphora” – “indifferent” or “peripheral” matters which are not central to our faith – yet they remain key in current church disputes about gay issues and women’s ordination, for example. We need to concentrate on what really matters.
I’m returning to the Gospel for my third principle – that forgiveness is central to the Christian faith. In the parable of the slave Jesus shows that we should not condone or overlook wrong-doing, and indeed Matthew gives us a process for dealing with it. Justice must be pursued. But the message behind the parable is that forgiveness is central and, as Joseph showed us in the passage from Genesis, we should always aim at reconciliation.
So – how does this affect our lives today? First, on this, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in particular, we need to consider Jesus’s message in the light of wrongs which have been done to us and those that we have done to others. Second, it is central to our worship and prayer, particularly in the Eucharist. Here we bring to God all that is happening and pray that His healing love will always be at work through Christ’s death and resurrection. As we remember all who died ten years ago and the terrible hurts and scars in our world, let us pray for God’s healing.