Trinity Fourteen – 13 September

Sermon by Revd Steve Benoy

It’s very good to be able to join you in worship today, whether here in the building or online. As you’ve heard, my name is Steve Benoy and I lead the team in the diocese which helps people explore if God is calling them to some kind of ministry within the church, whether lay or ordained. As Director of Ordinands I work especially with people exploring ordination, supporting them through the selection process and on into training and curacy.  

Thank you for how you have encouraged me in this ministry over the years. There has always been someone coming from or going to this part of the diocese. One week ago Jenni Duffy was ordained priest, and in two week’s time Simon Aley will be ordained deacon. So I wonder who you would like to seeing emerging into ministry from the church here next? Why not everyone think and pray about this over the coming days and drop Stephen a message.  Maybe if you yourself are sensing God’s nudge to explore a life in ministry, this might be just the encouragement you need if others sense that about you too!

These strange months have of course affected our usual pattern for ordinations, so it has been a strange summer for Simon – initial training completed but ministry as an ordained person not yet begun. I’m very pleased Simon is joining you here. He is someone who is not a cradle Anglican, but who has grown to love and be dedicated to an Anglican approach to ministry, for the importance of sustaining local churches, especially in more rural areas. And he is someone who believes in the ministry of the whole body of the church, not only the ordained.

I’m excited about seeing people move into ordained ministry, because I am excited about ministry. Ministry is what God calls the whole church to be involved in, sharing in his work in the world. 

In one way, God’s call to the church never changes – to tell the good news of Jesus and to be good news in the community where we are set. In another way, every generation poses new challenges about how to go about doing that, in our time, in our place, and in this year in particular. Perhaps along the way we are discovering people & communities we had never connected with before. 

I have heard it said that Christians are people who know that Jesus is the answer but who have forgotten the question.  Can you remember what it was that first drew you to Jesus?  Perhaps it was your upbringing, perhaps it was some life event that happened, maybe a good one, or a troubling one, but one which led you first to wonder about God and if He is there and if so how to know Him.

You may have heard the story of the child in a school assembly who wanted to be helpful and answer the vicar’s question: “Can anyone guess what I have brought along in my bag for assembly today?” The eager child put up her hand and said “I know the answer is meant to be Jesus but I’m sure he wouldn’t fit in there”. 

There is something unchanging about the Christian remedy for the world we live in, and we need confidence in that. We also need to consider how to present that, clothe that message for our times. How can we be good news so that we can tell good news.

Our gospel reading today spells out very clearly for us one way in which we can present the unchanging Christian remedy for our world. This is to be people of mercy.

Jesus’ parable is straightforward enough. A servant owes his master the equivalent of millions of pounds.  He begs for time to pay it back, even though he would never be able to do it. The master takes pity on the servant, and cancels the entire debt. Yet, after such a display of mercy, the servant goes out and finds someone who owes him just a few pounds. He has no need of being paid back, yet treats with poor chap with the exact opposite of the kindness that has been extended to him.

Of course, it’s Peter whose question gets Jesus to tell the story. “How many times should I forgive someone?”  Perhaps he thought he was showing off his generosity of spirit by suggesting 7, rather than 3, strikes and you’re out! But we can’t have a score-card faith. It reveals something of what is in Peter’s heart, or perhaps our own, whenever we think this way.  ‘Surely there comes a point when enough is enough, and God will let me off this forgiveness business if someone is really annoying’.

I was struck by a radio show I listened to about restorative justice, where victims of crimes met their perpetrators.  It sounds a soft option, or even unkind to the victim, but the evidence seems to be it is powerfully effective in helping offenders realise the gravity of what they have done, and for victims to move forward and not stay in a place of bitterness and resentment through saying the costly words I forgive you.  Said one couple, “To lack forgiveness is to punish myself for what someone else has done, because I allow them the power to keep me stuck for the rest of my life”.

Perhaps the servant behaved the way he did to his fellow servant because he didn’t really believe that the master was as merciful as he had appeared. Perhaps he thought he’d got away with it for a short while, so needed to build up a bit of fund just in case the master changed his mind. Whatever the reason, being shown mercy had not made him merciful.

Some years ago I found myself really tested on whether I was actually a Christian after all. For my 40th birthday I had got myself a shiny new black Yamaha acoustic guitar. A single strum would echo and linger for minutes. Never had I enjoyed such a guitar before!  Just before Christmas, one of my sons asked to borrow it for a children’s music group at one of our carol services. “Sure” I said, “just be careful with it.” Of course, halfway through one carol, the strap came off, the guitar crashed to the ground, hit a music stand and split from one end to the other.

No longer did a single strum on my shiny new black Yamaha echo for minutes! “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” my son sobbed. “I’ll pay you back all my pocket money to repair it.”  You can imagine that throughout this I was the picture of calm and reason, and entirely unconcerned by what had happened!  Actually, I was quickly calculating that, at his current levels of pocket money, he’d be paying me back well into his 70’s. In the financial frame of reference my son had, he’d be paying me back for the rest of his life.

In our parable, the servant, his wife and his children were all sold into slavery. They did pay with their lives. Jesus is not using this example to commend slavery – he is using an example of what the people then knew in the Roman empire would be the normal outcome if the story he had told was real.