Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Forgiveness and
partnership mean
‘All Things are Possible’
in mission with USPG

Getting to the roots of radical mission … at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon with USPG (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Having challenged us with the significance of the Beatitudes, the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills moved this morning from reminding us that ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ to challenging us to ask ourselves, ‘Who is your enemy?’

She was leading her second Bible study at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, on the final day [4 July 2018] of the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Her reflections were based on a passage in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 17-19, 43-48):

[Jesus said:] 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven …

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Bonnie reminded us that the command to love is the summary of the law and the prophets and that not one tiny little bit of that commandment will be lost. The law and the prophets are summed up in that one tiny word, Love. Every other commandment depends on this.

She pointed out that nowhere in the Bible is it said to ‘hate your enemy.’

Returning to her idea yesterday morning [3 July 2018] that peace-making needs to engage both the perpetrators and the victims, she recalled a story told by Ruth Scott of an American soldier in Vietnam who came across an ‘enemy soldier’ in a hammock. The other soldier smiled, reached into his pocket, and the American shot him immediately, only to find the Vietnamese soldier had not been reaching into his pocket for a gun but was gripping a photograph of his family that he wished to share.

There is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no-one who is not worth forgiving, she said, commenting on The Book of Forgiving by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, the Revd Mpho Tutu.

There are times when each and every one of us has needed to forgive, and when we have needed to be forgiven, and there will be many times like these in the future too. We are all broken and in need of being on the path to wholeness.

She told the story of a young Israeli who was a peace activist but who accepted conscription believing he could make a difference. But he was killed almost immediately. His mother’s immediate response was to tell his fellow soldiers: ‘Do not take revenge in the name of my son.’

His death was a test of the family’s commitment to building peace. ‘The worst has happened to us. The only thing we have left is to reach our hand out to offer to help build peace.’

‘Forgiveness is the radical act of a freedom fighter,’ she said. And she urged us to let go of the pain and the need to punish and to hate and to have revenge.

Bishop Donald Jute of Kuching, a member of the Anglican interfaith commission, spoke later this morning of ‘Partnership’ in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

He spoke of the move from paternal to fraternal relations in mission, and from divisive concepts of donors and receivers. ‘Together we are called and together we are sent.’

He took as the basis of his reflections the passage about the full nets while the disciples were fishing (Luke 5: 1-7):

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.

Mission involves taking risks (‘put out into the deep water’), obedience to Jesus, listening to his voice, and letting go of investments – they were washing their nets rather than fishing in deep waters. Peter cannot gather in all the fish by himself, not can one boat hold all the fish. But the real partner is not the next boat but Christ himself.

Our final presentation, on theme ‘As you from here,’ was led by the USPG Mission Engagement Team, headed by Canon Richard Bartlett.

The celebrant at the Closing Eucharist at the end of the conference was the Very Revd Charley Thomas, Dean of Lusaka Cathedral, and preacher was Canon Chris Chivers.

The High Leigh Conference Centre in warm summer sunshine during a coffee break at the USPG conference this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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