A sermon given at Choral Evensong on Luke 9:37-50 for The Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, by The Rev’d Sally Sandford-Morgan, Assistant Curate, St Jude’s, Brighton
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen
I have always enjoyed walking on the beach. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, or what time of day it is. Summer or winter, morning, afternoon or evening, there is always a peacefulness about the rhythm of the waves continually washing up onto the sand and then running back again, ready to wash back up onto the sand, and run back again, and again and again. Sometimes the waves are enormously powerful and break with a great crash stirring up the sand and dumping seaweed onto the beach, and other times the waves are no more than ripples and it is possible to see small brave fish coming in very close to the shore. There is a certainty to the action of the waves as they continue to do as they have for the past hundreds or even thousands of years, repeatedly wiping clean and restoring the surface of the sand to a fresh blank canvas with each high tide. If you have ever returned to examine a seemingly well-constructed sandcastle from the previous day, and have been disappointed that it has gone, you will understand this ability of the sea to renew the beach landscape overnight.
God’s forgiveness can be likened to the action of the waves at the beach. Our sins, that we just sang about in our previous hymn, are like the seaweed or sandcastles left on the beach, and when we ask for forgiveness God’s love comes and washes them away and renews and refreshes our lives. In the second reading tonight, from the Gospel of Luke, we heard of four instances where the disciples’ words or actions needed forgiveness from Jesus.
The events that we heard about occurred the day after Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountain after the splendour of the transfiguration and just before Jesus began his final journey to Jerusalem. The transfiguration had been an amazing event where Jesus’ glory had been revealed to the three disciples present. When they descended the mountain, they were met by a large crowd who were keen to see Jesus and hear him speak. The first story involves the disciples failed attempts to cure a sick child that had awful convulsions and foamed at the mouth. Filled with compassion, Jesus stepped in and cured the child himself, revealing his glory to the whole crowd. The reason the disciples were unable to cast out the demon is attributed to their lack of faith in the healing powers of God and thinking that they were responsible for doing the healing themselves. Secondly, they did not understand Jesus when he told them he was going to be betrayed. The author of the gospel is kind to them and says that the meaning remained concealed from them, but then goes on to admit that they were too afraid to ask Jesus to explain what he meant. Thirdly, they started to argue between themselves over who was the greatest amongst them and Jesus used a small child to teach them about humility and service. And finally, John admits to trying to stop a stranger from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and Jesus points out that if they were curing people in his name, they were not his enemies and should be allowed to continue, even though they weren’t known members of his particular group of disciples.
If this passage was the only one available to us, we might consider the disciples to be a faithless, arrogant, and foolish group of individuals whose main concern was for themselves. But thankfully we do have access to other scriptures and know that although they weren’t perfect, and neither are we, they did have many redeeming qualities. They were loyal and faithful people who loved Jesus and were keen to listen to all that he said. Jesus knew this too and he used their less than perfect moments to instruct them about the kingdom of God and how to think and live in accordance with his teachings. He accepted and loved them, and forgave them for their imperfections, and he does the same for us as well.
In the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus, people were instructed that burnt offerings were needed to obtain forgiveness and atonement was only possible through a priest. Later, Psalm 32 encouraged people to seek forgiveness saying, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” However, in the New Testament, we hear how John the Baptist came and offered a different path to forgiveness that did not involve the offering of animals as sacrifices. He encouraged people to repent of their sins and be baptised so that they would be forgiven. Jesus also explained about forgiveness during the Last Supper when he took wine and proclaimed, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” His death on the cross shortly afterwards enabled all believers to be forgiven. As Peter said in one of his sermons recorded in Acts “Everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
We ask for forgiveness regularly in our services when we pray the confession. In this we speak directly to God and ask for him to pardon us from our sins whatever they might be. They can be large or small, things we have, or have not, done, said or thought, in fact they can be anything that we are sorry about. He listens and responds to all of our prayers.
When we were baptised, the water signified all of our sins being washed away and us coming into a new life and relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. However, like the disciples we are ordinary human beings, and we continue to make mistakes and need to confess our sins and seek forgiveness in order to maintain this wonderful connection through Jesus to our merciful God whose love is as constant and dependable as the waves in the ocean.
Next time you are at the beach and see the waves breaking or rippling onto the sand, flattening, reshaping and renewing our beautiful coastal environment, I pray that you are reminded and reassured of the unending love and forgiveness of God, which wipes away all of the sinful debris from our lives, enabling fresh hopes and new beginnings for all of us.
 Leviticus 4:20-35 and 5:10-18 (NRSV)
 Psalm 32:1
 Acts 10:43