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JCFL was delighted to welcome John Bradley (Churches Together in England) to the JCFL Prayer Vigil at Farm Street on 4th August 2011. The theme for the evening was ‘God is Forgiveness’. John’s Reflection on the Word follows:

“Most people today don’t understand forgiveness.  They think it means the wrong-doer is ‘let off’ and ‘gets away with it.’  It goes with the popular idea that the greatest commandment is the 11th – ‘Thou shalt not get caught!’  Have you ever told someone that what they did to you was hurtful and they say “I’m sorry you feel that way”?  That is a cynical non-apology.  It’s saying “if you feel that way it’s your problem!”  Have you ever apologized to someone for what you have done and they reply ‘forget it’?  Forgiveness is not about forgetting what has been done; it is remembering it as forgiven.

At the heart of the word ‘forgiveness’ is the word ‘give’.  Forgiveness is a costly gift which may be hard to give.  If you have been deeply hurt, you may not yet be ready to give the gift of forgiveness. Are you ready to be made willing to forgive?

In the prayer we all pray, Jesus links our being forgiven by God with our forgiving others for what they have done to us.  When someone says ‘I will never forgive…’ I think ‘I hope they never need to be forgiven.

What did the paralysed man want?  His friends wanted him to walk and believed Jesus could heal him.  Some people thought his paralysis was a punishment for sin.  He was disabled by the attitude of others to his condition.  Perhaps he believed them!  Have you heard people say “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it”? What’s going on there?

There was healing in the attitude of his friends.  They refused to accept that he could not access Jesus.  They made a way where there was no way and I hope they repaired the roof afterwards!

Jesus spoke forgiveness into the situation in response to the faith of the man’s friends. In answer to Jesus’ question, it is easier to declare forgiveness than physical healing because forgiveness can be invisible.  I could be forgiven right now and nobody would see the difference but if I were to leap out of this chair and run around the church ‘walking and leaping and praising God’, there would be no doubt that a remarkable healing had taken place.  So when Jesus healed the paralysed man he was both cured and forgiven. The lawyers were offended because their focus was on what happens when things go wrong, not how to help things go right!  They said that only God can forgive sins so they thought Jesus was blasphemously taking the place of God by declaring forgiveness.

We all need to know that God has forgiven us.  When the philosopher Heinrich Heine was dying one of his friends was concerned that he had not made peace with God.  Heine replied “Dieu me pardonnera; c’est son métier!”  But God is not like some indulgent uncle who simply smiles at our sins and pats us on the head.  The foundation documents of the Methodist Church which nurtured me states that Methodism was ‘raised up to spread scriptural holiness’.  That means that the saints are not just a small number of exceptional examples and the rest of us can just ‘bump along the bottom’ of holiness; we are all called to be saints!  God told the people of Israel ‘you shall be holy for I, the Lord, am holy.’ John Wesley called commandments like this ‘covered promises’ because whenever God commands us to do something, God thereby promises to enable us to do it. So God who commands your holiness promises to make you holy and fundamental to that is to know at the depth of your being that you are forgiven and, in gratitude, to forgive from that same depth those who have done wrong to you.”

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