The ecology of God’s forgiveness: 4 Rs

IMG_6823If you do something wrong, or mess something up with consequences for others, how hard are you on yourself? Many of us are our own worst critics. And if someone else does something wrong, or messes something up with consequences for others, how hard are you on them? We live in times that encourage blame and fault finding. Lots of fingers wagging and shaming.

It is easy to get caught up in it. And yet, often this blame culture is a smokescreen for deflecting attention from ourselves, or even facing up to the darker recesses of our own psyches. That does not mean no one should take responsibility for their actions, or that sleaze and corruption are not real, but I sense more than a hint of deflection in so much blaming and shaming.

There are, of course, passages in the New Testament which go straight for the jugular and don’t hold back. Jesus called hypocritic leaders ‘white washed tombs’. John the Baptist called some of those who came to be baptised by him at the River Jordan a ‘brood of vipers’. And in the Old Testament the prophets were not at all scared to let rip when oppression, injustice, corruption and sleaze was running rife.

Our first reading this morning, though, sits at the gentler end of the spectrum (Acts 3:12-19). There is a strong call to repent – that’s a theme in both readings (Luke 24:36-48). But Peter makes the way out easier and less confrontational. They acted out of ignorance. It’s like Jesus from the cross saying ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’. He could have added, some of them know exactly what they are doing and don’t care, but he looked deeper at the moral and theological blind-spot. What they are doing is seismic and they don’t get it. That might actually be more damning.

The confession I’ve chosen for today includes a wonderful line about seeking forgiveness for sins committed in what we think, say and do; ‘through ignorance, weakness and our own deliberate fault’. Put more colloquially, we are either stupid, weak-willed or down right bad – and possibly all three. It’s a catch-all but it’s also a recognition that we aren’t always down right bad. Nonetheless we need to repent and seek the forgiving, restoring grace of God; to seek the new life of Easter redemption.

There is a way back. No one is consigned to the rubbish tip and certainly not without second, third, or even 70×7 chances. We live in a throw-away society, one that likes cheap fashion that can easily be disposed of when we get bored or it wears out. There is a danger we treat people the same. They too become ‘throw-away’; when they go wrong, they can be chucked out.

The Easter forgiveness, which brings new life even from death, brings an ecology of forgiveness. Just like we should think of the four Rs of ecology to protect the environment – reuse, repair, recycle and only then rubbish – we do something similar for ourselves and others: reuse, repair, recycle or repurpose before finally laying to rest.

The key to this ‘ecology of forgiveness’ is the repenting so that sins can be wiped out. We may have been stupid, weak-willed or down right bad, in what we think, say and do, but repentance and forgiveness is proclaimed to us.

And we are called to be witnesses of this. So, to live it in practice. Actually I think churches can be incredibly forgiving places, just as well. This means that grace is at work, because as I was encouraged by a wise friend the other day when looking forward to my new role, he said remember it is all about grace.

So to explore the 4 Rs a little, as applied to forgiveness. To be reused, all of us need the confession at the beginning of our worship. It’s the normal washing of the face to be able to embrace the new day. To be repaired is more challenging, not least if what needs mending is hard to face or deeply painful, but our injuries can be the cause of injury to others, so there is much wisdom here and we may need help.

Sometimes the effects mean we need to change role, outlook, be repurposed for God’s kingdom. And there will come a time for us all when we need to be laid to rest. But even the most notorious offender can be offered the repurposing, for there are ways all of us can serve safely – safely for ourselves and for others.

Our readings this morning invite us to explore the ecology of God’s forgiveness as we approach with the humility that repents, seeks to turn and rejoice again. We are to be reused, repaired where there is injury, repurposed for God’s service and finally laid to rest in hope and trust in God’s grace and mercy.

Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 18th April 2021

About Revd Canon Ian Black

Ian is currently Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. On 17th January 2021 he was announced as the next Dean of Newport Cathedral in the Diocese of Monmouth in South Wales. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes in Faversham. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury in partnership with the Diocese of Rochester. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare’s Church – Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus, was published by Sacristy Press on 1st July 2017. There is also a hymn based on this – Christ the Saviour. Other online writings can be found under the Books & Publications tab above. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s and was a contributing blogger to the ReJesus website. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his Facebook and Twitter posts.
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