Sermons & services

Trinity XIX sermon

Published Monday 19th Oct. 2020, at 7:27 a.m.

For 2,000 years the same argument has been raging, and it’s rather dull, albeit predictable, that the argument is still raging today. Who is Jesus? Down through Christian history there have been those who’ve said that he was god but not in any way human. Or those who said he was human but not in any way god. Or those who said he was a bit of both. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, as my mother used to say. It’s interesting that the Jewish people of Jesus’ time had no qualms about who Jesus claimed to be. They knew exactly what was happening when Jesus said to the man with the palsy, thy sins be forgiven thee. This man blasphemeth, St Matthew recounts, in the version we read in today’s Gospel. But St Mark’s version is much more explicit. Not only do they accuse Jesus of blasphemy: but they also say why. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And as CS Lewis once pointed out, anyone who claims they can forgive the sins of others is either lunatic, liar, or Lord. Mad, bad, or God, as the trilemma is sometimes called. I can forgive you if you sin against me, and vice versa. But only God can forgive all the sins of all people of all time. So in forgiving sins, Jesus is equating himself with God. As Jesus tells Phillip in chapter 14 of St John’s Gospel: anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. To look upon Jesus is to see God made visible. The God who forgives sins. The God of mercy and compassion. And mercy, compassion and forgiveness all go hand in hand. In Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see what divine mercy, compassion and forgiveness look like. Because in Jesus, they have become enfleshed. Incarnated. We no longer have to guess what they look like. We can see what they look like, lived out in a human life. The life of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus can forgive the man’s sins in today’s Gospel because he is divine love and mercy made visible. God has become one like us in all things but sin, and so can forgive the sins of all in the sight of all people. In other words, in Jesus, we see God in action. Now before saying anything else, I need to remind us of something vital. To believe in divine mercy and forgiveness means to acknowledge there is a problem. Not just that we are sinful human beings in need of some kind of acquittal before the court of divine justice. But that we are wounded human beings. We sin because we are wounded. So though we may be deserving of divine wrath and indignation –our sins have merited this – what we are really in need of is divine healing. One of the private prayers that the priest says before receiving communion reminds us of this. It’s one I would recommend to anyone. He says this: I say this! Let the partaking of thy Body, O Lord Jesu Christ, which I, unworthy presume to receive, turn not to my judgment and condemnation: but of thy goodness let it avail unto me for protection of soul and body, that I may receive thy healing. It’s healing that we need. And it’s also useful to remember that there is a difference here between sin and corruption. We all sin. The question is: do we acknowledge our sins, however many they are, and come to God, time and time and time again if necessary, to receive mercy and forgiveness? Or do we kid ourselves that what we do isn’t really a sin. God won’t mind. It’s no big deal. Remember the words of St John: if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Are we guilty of a state of mind that rejects the reality sin, that tires of asking for forgiveness and ends up believing that they just don’t need to ask for it anymore? That is corruption. People sometimes ask if God gets bored with us listing the same old sins, the same old failings, the same ol’ same ol’ same ol’. The answer is no. God never tires of healing us, forgiving us, being merciful to us. And there’s a reason for that. In the Book of Ezekiel, we encounter one of the recurring images of the relationship between God and his people: that of marriage. The story compares Jerusalem to a little girl whom God finds, anoints, clothes, adorns with jewels and silks. But she becomes infatuated with her own beauty and behaves unfaithfully. The infidelity of the people of Israel to God is likened to marital infidelity. Yet, despite all Jerusalem’s infidelity, God says this at the end of the chapter: “I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” In other words, we may be unfaithful. But God is always faithful, true to his covenant, true to himself that he will be merciful, compassionate and forgiving: time after time after time. And the Lord is faithful because he has to be true to himself and his essence, His very being, which is Love. As St Paul reminds us in his letter to Timothy: If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself”. Now we can read that story of Ezekiel and think it’s talking about someone else. Or we can read it as talking about us. You and me. We are the ones who are unfaithful to God. Yet God remains ever faithful to us. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness, says the prophet Jeremiah in his Lamentations. In these hugely uncertain times, the steadfast love of the God whose mercies never come to an end should be a huge comfort to us. Whatever we do, however serious the sin, God never tires of forgiving us, and pouring out his mercies and blessings upon us. The Lord of mercy always forgives us if we come to Him in sorrow and repentance; always offers us the possibility of starting again. He always loves us for who we are, warts and all, and always offers the hand of mercy and compassion and forgiveness, however small and faltering the steps we take towards Him. Think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. While the son is a long way off – a long way off – he Father sees his returning son and comes to embrace him. That is God. But in the same way, we, too, must never tire in forgiving others when they sin against us. We must show God’s mercy to the world as tirelessly as God has shown it to us. Humanity needs to see God’s mercy and compassion and forgiveness at work in human beings. And guess what, people? Those human beings? They’re you and me! Amen.