With two of our five granddaughters in residence now watching an early morning showing of Peppa Pig, a somewhat rough and ready blog as the rest of the house sleeps. Let’s see if I can make it in one go without any disturbances. Here goes:
It was the German reformer, Martin Luther, who concluded that anyone could be a Christian in a monastery, the big challenge had to living in a family. He knew this from experience. He and former nun Katie had six children; they also raised four orphaned children.
Family life helps train Christians “in the virtues of fortitude, patience, charity, and humility.” I think he was right, especially patience.
Certainly it was for the apostle Paul. On advising Timothy on appointing church leaders, he indicates that an indication of a potential leader’s ministry can be seen in their family context. “For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church?” (I Timothy 3:5).
(Three are now watching Peppa – and I’m supposing to be supervising them. I’m not sure whether St Paul would approve).
But – as we all know – it is not that easy. It was George Burns who observed that “happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
Just before Christmas I met up with an old school friend who told me that his brother and sister, once very close, had become totally estranged. He now acts as their go-between. From my experience of taking funerals sadly that is not at all uncommon. And even more sadly, that is accepted as life rather than seen as a first-order problem to be tackled.
For the one thing you learn in the family is the practice of on-going forgiveness. And on-going forgiveness is at the very heart of the Christian life. After all it is the only thing we commit ourselves to as we say the Lord’s prayer. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15). Jesus could not have made it any clearer.
A Christian is someone who having been forgiven by God is tasked to forgive others. No exceptions, no delayed time frame, no qualifications. If you haven’t got that right, then forget everything else. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 13.
Of course, it is difficult but it is just something we have to work on – and we are promised the help of the Holy Spirit. We’re not talking now about our feelings here – just something we do and keep on doing, whether we like it or not. It’s our defining characteristic. A Christian who refuses to forgive is a contradiction in terms.
Over Christmas I was encouraged in taking Holy Communion’s to the housebound. One of the saints I visited shared that they had fallen out with some dear friends. Over bread and wine I encouraged reconciliation.
Soon afterwards I received this email: “Shortly after you left I initiated a conversation with one of those people who had previously made distressingly little contact. She was very comforting in her words, and we re-established the common love and affection.” That’s how the Christian life works, folks.
So as we begin a new year, who do you need to forgive? It may mean going out of your way or even losing face, something God does with us each day. After all arithmetic in the Kingdom of God follows a different law so that 70 times 7 equals infinity.
So every blessing for this new year. May we know God’s guidance and protection as we seek to make Christ known, the Holy Spirit working even through our weaknesses and failings. My family know mine only too well!