Sermon and video 17th Sept 2023

Readings Matthew 18, 21-35, Romans 14, 1-12

Forgiveness. How often do you think about that word? We use it every week in church when we speak of God forgiving our sins through Christ. But what about you?

Are there people in your life who might need your forgiveness, might want your forgiveness, or even that might not ask for your forgiveness, but you should nevertheless forgive?

It’s a tricky area and, despite God’s forgiveness through Christ’s death, one that, strangely, Christians tend to avoid, even though we should be the very best at it. And that happens, as I said in last week’s sermon, because we let human concerns get in the way of Godly concerns, or, if you like, in the way of love. When Christians are seen to not be very forgiving, it’s not a great witness to our faith, and sadly, throughout Christian history such behaviour has led to division and the church sometimes gaining a poor reputation with the rest of society.

Peter in our Gospel reading, having heard the words of Jesus we read last week, asks for some guidance from Jesus on how to behave, how to forgive. And Jesus surprises him with an almost unbelievable tolerance “ forgive not seven times, but seventy- times seven ” and tells the parable of the rich man and his servants, the servant forgiven a massive debt who then fails to forgive a minor debt- the parable speaking of humanity’s debt of sin to God, and, for the reader of Matthew’s words, leading to the future: the enormous debt of human sin that God has forgiven humankind in Christ, and the consequence of not then “ carrying that forward”, as the saying goes, into our own lives.

But forgiving isn’t easy. When you’ve been hurt by someone’s action, or betrayal, or inaction, when someone has abused your trust in them, when the pain is real, the anguish deep, it is so hard to forgive. When it’s within a relationship of love or trust, where that bond is broken, it is even harder. When Jesus says at the end of the Matthew reading that Peter and the disciples, and by inference us, should forgive “from your heart” it means just that. From deep within, with all sincerity.

And that is hard if that which is being forgiven has broken your heart. For Christians, the realisation of the power that God’s forgiveness through Christ can put into our lives can enable a greater forgiveness that overcomes human concerns, worries and mistrust.

 And there is a freedom in that, a freedom which is God’s gift to us.

Human society, as a whole, (and Sark is a microcosm of that society), finds it hard to forgive. I see and hear many aspects of unforgiveness here and in my previous ministries, between individuals, between families, between different society groups, between those who have, and those who have less, between Sarkees and newcomers and many other groups, not least, sadly, between our  churches. Indeed, one of the reasons for my call to Sark four years ago was the recognition of the reconciliation needed over the “Barclay” issues, and the reconciliation needed between the two churches.

If we, as Christians, cannot learn to forgive, cannot provide that example, hard as it may be, then what hope is there for society a whole?

Paul, as he continues his teaching in the letter to the Romans which we have been following, addresses some difficulties within the early church that had led to division and an unwillingness to forgive, because of different understandings of their faith. Those from a Jewish background had inherited, had ingrained into them certain religious rule and rituals, from the Torah and Old Testament scriptures. The new Gentile Christians, Greeks and Romans did not have that history, culture or tradition, or had different traditions. Arguments about who was right, or which traditions or cultures to follow were dividing the Christian community, people were judging each other for their behaviour and there was no forgiveness.

Paul doesn’t say who is right or wrong, he simply asks that people focus instead on Christ and their relationship with him. If that relationship is right and true and honest for each person, then who are they to judge other’s relationships which they also feel to be true and right and honest. That’s not our job as Christians, judgement is in God’s hands, not ours- in the meantime, Paul says, live in unity with each other, and answer to the Lord. Because there are far more important things to worry about- and part of that is all the people who are yet to learn of God’s saving love through Christ and have yet to know the compassionate and loving care which the church is commissioned to share with the world.

It’s a lesson the church worldwide, and here in Sark too, might take to their hearts.

So how do we manage forgiveness when it is hard? It is even harder if those we seek to forgive do not seek forgiveness, or can’t admit their wrongs. Sadly, in relationships, in breakdown of marriages and partnerships, I see this all too often, and it leads to deeper hurt, even hatred and bitterness, which leads to deeply affected lives on both sides and an inability to move on, to find happiness and contentment whilst the anger and pain and bitterness smoulder under every part of their lives.

We have just remembered the anniversary of 9/11- it hardly even made the news this year, despite the enormity of the event. Perhaps also because of the recent tragic floods and earthquakes.

But, recognising that it is an immensely complex issue, at the time I was deeply saddened by the desire for retaliation which led to not just the hunt for Al-Qaeda, but the war in Iraq and some of the ongoing problems in the Middle East and continued mistrust there of the Western World.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to such complex and deeply painful human issues, but I often wonder where the world would be today if, despite everything, there had not been retaliation, but instead the deeply difficult offer of peace, forgiveness and negotiation which may have led to some sort of reconciliation. Sadly, in human terms that would have been seen as “giving in” to terrorism, but the awful human outcome of the action taken was far, far worse than the initial sin of the destruction of the twin towers.

It’s an extreme example, but illustrates how difficult forgiveness is, especially when the perpetrator of the fault sees themselves to be in the right and not needing to be forgiven, and especially when those that might offer forgiveness have been so deeply hurt.

But it can happen. After Enniskillen, the very public forgiveness of Gordon Wilson, the father of one victim, began a change, a change that eventually led to peace, and a gradual reconciliation of people who had harboured a hatred for so many years. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought victims and perpetrators together, recognising the sin of one, but offering ways forward in repentance and forgiveness.

If such can be achieved in major human conflict and injustice, then surely such can also be achieved in our own lives with the relatively minor things we disagree over.

Is there anyone, or any group you need to forgive, is there anyone, or any group you might seek forgiveness from, no matter how painful it is?

Don’t let it smoulder of fester.

Give it to Christ, who has forgiven even your greatest sin. Put human concerns aside, said Jesus to Peter, instead seek the way of God, the way of love.

It’s how Christ changes the world.


(Prayer/poem shared in the service)

Love’s Thirst

Lord, my head is bowed

Eyes cast down to the earth

Closed, to block out the ugly world beyond

In humility

In shame.

Beyond, above, I know you are there

Crown of hate thrust into your brow

Pierced by the nails of my sin,

The world’s spear thrust in your side,

Your lifeblood seeping slowly into earth.


You thirst, not for humanity’s bitter wine

But for justice and peace,

Mercy and grace.

You cry out, not for your pain

But for forgiveness.

Of the world.

And the world stands, looks on,

Again cries “Crucify”,

Yet our voices fail to say

It is for love that you died.


Lord, my head is bowed

Eyes cast down to the earth

Yet I feel your touch, from a world beyond

Gently raising my sight

Outside the dark shadow of the tomb

To see you risen, somehow unrecognised

Walking the earth’s garden

Calling each by name,

Those others, and I,

To follow you in your path of love


We thirst, not for humanity’s bitter wine

But for justice and peace,

Mercy and grace.

We cry out, not for our pain

But to learn to forgive

In this world.

So that the world stands, looks on

And knows the lie

Of the voices which deny

It is for love that you died.

©David Stolton 2023

Video shared at Breakfast Church "I Forgive You"