Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 11/03/2021

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

We don’t get the chance to watch much TV, and when I do, I’m normally looking for something diverting rather than gritty.  We’ve got into a series on Netflix called Modern Family over the last few weeks. It’s a sitcom following the lives of three interrelated American families living in California. At times I find it hysterically funny.  The idiosyncrasies of the different families’ lives provide a rich vein for humour.  However, one of the striking things about their interactions is how frequently they lie to each other.  Part of that is a dramatic device to create the tension that resolves itself in the punchline of the scene.  But the motivation for the lying is easily recognisable.  Sometimes its to avoid being found out for simple mistakes.  Sometimes its to cover up for things the characters wanted to do, but that their nearest and dearest didn’t.  More often than not, its to protect other’s feelings by keeping uncomfortable truths from them.

In real life such consistent dishonesty (we’re on season 5 of 10) would probably bring those relationships to an end.  Such a relentless undermining of trust would hole most relationships below the waterline.  Of course, being an American sit-com, everything is neatly resolved and forgiven after 21 minutes of drama and slapstick. Would that ordinary relationships were so straight-forward.

Part of the reason it amuses, is its satirising of ordinary relationships.  We see something of our own lives in the characters, albeit exaggerated for effect.

The use of deception and spin to protect ourselves from the consequences of our actions has become entrenched in modern society. A society that quickly resorts to law to determine liability and exact compensation, is not one that deals easily in the currency of forgiveness. Genuine admissions of error in the public sphere are greeted with surprise, partly because they are so unusual. But our consciences are a gift from God, and not easily ignored.  Paul’s advice to many of his churches is not to force people to act against conscience, even if the conscience is misguided. He recognised that to get into the habit of ignoring it on debateable matters ran the risk of it becoming desensitised in serious ones.  Discerning the right thing to do in the complexities of human relationships is never easy.  We need all the help we can get to do the right thing.

Our inadequate knowledge of people’s needs, baggage and sensitivities means that hurting people unintentionally is a constant risk. I’m sure I’m not the only person who through an off-hand remark, or a carelessly copied email has communicated something really hurtful; regretted instantly, but with the consequences left hanging in the air, dependent on the other person to release us from the guilt of it. Its that releasing, that forgiveness, offered by God himself that is the heart of the gospel.  We believe all of us owe our existence to God’s creative energy. Each of us is made in his image.  Every time we hurt one of his creations, we wound Christ himself.  Of course, Christian disciples seek to reconcile with one another, but in every flawed human interaction our Father God is wounded too.  If a church community is working properly, openness and honesty in our failures is met by the liberating power of forgiveness.  This forgiveness is not cheap, nor does it collude in wrong doing, or act rashly in safeguarding situations where there remains a risk.  But it does cause us to treat people as if they hadn’t wronged us and keep short accounts.

As we approach the events of Holy Week we are reminded of a graphic example of this in Peter’s betrayal of Jesus. It’s a worked example of Christ’s forgiveness in the face of betrayal. The ability to forgive like that is only released through the transforming power of the cross.

I came across these words by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Michael Tavinor’s daily compendium of Saints and Sinners of the Marches this week.   I think she conveys something of the reality of Jesus pain at Peter’s betrayal, but also something of Christ’s unshakeable commitment to his disciples through success, or more often failure. More importantly, it reassures us that even the darkest betrayals or failures cannot cut us off from God.

I think that look of Christ might seem to say,
‘Thou Peter! Art thou, then a common stone
Which I at last must break my heart upon,

For all God’s charge to His high angels may
Guard my foot better? Did I yesterday
Wash thy feet, my beloved, that they should run
Quick to deny me ‘neath the morning sun?

And do thy kisses, like the rest betray?
The cock crows coldly. – Go, and manifest
A late contrition, but no bootless fear!

For when thy final need is dreariest,
Thou shalt not be denied, as I am here:
My voice to God and angels shall attest,
Because I know this man, let him be clear.’