Seven is a symbolic number in the Bible. It represents perfection and completeness. Peter asks Jesus if he should forgive someone who wrongs him as many as seven times. He is asking, should I forgive always? Jesus replies, not seven times but seventy-seven (or in the King James Version, seventy times seven times). Forgiveness is not to be merely perfect and complete, but infinite and unconditional. Do not judge, and forgive always. These are Christ’s way. They are to be our way of life.
This is such a relief, such a joy, and yet such a hard thing to do! We are trained to judge, and we so easily get tangled up in resentments or annoyance. We have a hard time letting go of old wounds and grudges for complex psychological reasons. Some of us are pretty good at not judging and forgiving others, but mercilessly judge our own flaws or failings to be unforgivable.
A loving and beloved community requires that we try to live by Christ’s wisdom. A family, a village church and a small town can be united and harmonious only to the extent that we practice having non-judging minds and forgiving hearts. We will reflect on how we can do this, reading from Psalm 103, Paul’s letter to the Romans (14:1-12) and Matthew 18:21-35. The children will hear more about Moses and the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness to the Promised Land, this time about the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire that led and protected them, and a G-rated version of passing through the Red Sea (leaving out the multitude of horse and human corpses—Exodus 13:21-22, 14:19-31).
We will hear from one of the great witnesses to the power of forgiveness in our time, Bishop Desmond Tutu, as well as John Newton, the 18th Century author of “Amazing Grace,” and an old story from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We will sing three favorite hymns including “Amazing Grace” and “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (to the Pilgrim Hymnal tune In Babilone) and “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” Carol Rousseau will provide the music in Annemieke’s absence.
Here is a YouTube of the In Babilone tune.