reflections from our home learning journey week 4/2

What a mix of emotions, reactions, choices this week has held. We have been blessed with 2 whole nights of sleep from all three children at the same time, sadly it took one of those nights for my body to adjust to such a gift. Last night with the start of colds they all ensured sleep was not something we got overly accustomed too. My encouragement in it all though was that I am actually a functioning, capable, calm, rational and reasonable parent when I have sleep and my short fuse and usual foggy state of mind is not a sign of something wrong in me as such, but simply the difference sleep makes. So please children tonight remember who I was yesterday and who I was this morning and see that it makes sense for all of us to let Mummy and Daddy sleep all night.

On Monday our church held a open doors event to enable folk in the community to engage with the current refuge crisis and provides means of helping. We had various stations around the church and two ‘home’ installations, one a comfy home that many of us would be familiar with and in contrast a refugee shelter. Bob and I had put together the refugee shelter and then went back later in the day to engage with all that as going on. It was a gentle way to help walk through this situation with him, to increase in him an awareness of what others are experiencing, of ways we can pray, and help in practical ways. As we talked and built the shelter in the morning Bob turned to me and said “Mummy I have the very best idea so that no one else has to sleep in shelters and they can live in their own homes again – all those countries should make peace with each other and themselves.” I love that Bob believes that peace is doable and tangible. It is not beyond the realms of impossibility that my cynical heart has come to believe.

We spent two hours at the event, one of those while we went round it and then he spent some time just sitting and pondering it all and playing with a friend while I spoke to folk who came into it. As we anticapted that night saw night terrors return and the next morning I knew I should have stepped back. I should not have just ploughed straight on with the planned lessons for that morning especially when I saw the length of his sentence for copy work. But a night of little sleep saw me reacting and getting more and more annoyed, mainly at myself for knowing I shouldn’t be pushing on with my plan but I couldn’t find the stop button. It was not a pretty morning but eventually I prayed for wisdom to be shed on it all so I could see if there was anything going on for Bob beyond feeding off my blown fuse when the light bulb went on. I turned and said to Bob, “you do know don’t you that no one is expecting you to solve world peace on your own.” And you could see his body totally crumple as I lifted that weight off him. He was getting himself so caught in knots as he just could not work out how he could do it on his own as a 6 year old. I was able to say sorry for my reactions, hold him and we talked about how he feeds off my reactions and he turned and said “yes it is like those diseases that spread really easily from one person to another or just like sin on sin so it needs to be destroyed” Yes little man it does. More pictures can be seen at


We have enjoyed Mark around for what looks like one last full week before he starts work next week or so, (heard today that he got a temp job he had an interview for on Wed for which we are exceedingly thankful for). His focus this week has been with Zog and Kanga while Bob and I have stretched out like pussy cats on our bed enjoying the late September sunshine as we journeyed through maths, grammar, reading, writing, spelling and the Byzantine Empire. The way our house faces the only place that is bright and pleasant in the morning when the sun shines is our bedroom, otherwise it feels like you are in the deepest darkest cave, which is just not inspiring or encouraging for anyone.

Kanga’s highlight this week has been to ditch the stroller when out and about in the village now and was very proud going for her first walk into the village with me on Tuesday to go to the hardware store. She was not put off by the torrential down pour on the way home and now makes it very clear that walking is her means of transport. So she was delighted today when I let her and Zog walk with me to the bus to go to Sainsburys to do the shopping before being collected by the other two after Friday Forest School. It is so liberating after 6 1/2 years of going places with a stroller to think those days may be drawing to an end. Though now my question is how do we carry all the library books home :)

We had a fun library visit with other home learning friends and then back to ours on Wednesday and it was great to walk in and see books spread everywhere and children all buried in books though one little walker did find it all just too much and needed some sleep.


I was also struck this week with how differently I feel in contrast to two years ago when Zog at 22 months had few clear words and was well off the so called expectations chart and it was weighing on me, in part because others would raise their concerns, though at home he was well able to make his needs known. Kanga is no different and neither was Bob. Actual Bob did have four words by the time he was two, ‘water’ with a full Canadian accent, ‘ladder’ and ‘purple turtle’.  Kanga is very clearly able to show you what she wants, needs etc but there are few clear distinct words at 22 months and if not much changes in the next 2 months I can see myself having the same conversation with the health visitor as I did with Zog.  And it is not even as if the others answer for each other, they have just not seen the need to say individual words. Hopefully though it will be perfectly clear based on the boys that ours are just late talkers but once they get going there is no stopping them and that their grasp of language is highly formed.

Thursday as usual this year saw us at Pittville with lots of friends for picnic, learning about the autumnal equinox and general fun in the park.

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This morning brought evidence that colds are definitely on the horizon and over-tiredness from either staying up beyond lights out or waking way before lights on to read, so both boys took themselves off to once again the sunniest warmest place in the house in the morning and then alternated between reading books themselves and Bob reading to Zog. For me the scene when I walked in and saw Bob reading to Zog with Kanga joining in by giving the boys simultaneous head massages  says it all about why we are on this journey of home learning. No rush, no pressure and doing it together.

So this weekend we head into it thankful for the provision of work for Mark for this season as we continue to look beyond. My heart is full of all that this week has held, for the hugs, laughter, forgiveness that has flown in all directions, for the embrace of big thoughts and dreams and hopes, for moments that say it all.

reflections from our home learning journey 3/2

I am finally beginning to relax into the year and with that we have actually also managed to stay on track with lessons. That is probably been largely due to having Mark at home at the moment and so we can tag team and one of us can focus on Bob’s lessons while one of us can do activities with Zog and Kanga. It has been fun to learn together as a family and give the three of them more of our time. It has also felt like a week when we have been able to breathe once more though tiredness levels are still far from being righted.

Today has been on of those unexpected light bulb days of a fact that we have known but I have found hard to embrace is the reality that both our boys score high on levels of sensitivity. For Bob it is external stimuli such as noise, light and people and Zog we are realising is touch and feel. The right feeling fabric and shape makes a huge difference to how he copes and our understanding that for him even the slightest bang or knock is excruciatingly painful. It can be frustrating when trying to get everyone out the door and Zog is kicking off because he will not put on the clothes put out for him and the need to have that item that is at the bottom of the laundry pile because that is the only thing that will feel right against his skin that day. It can be hard when he drops something or steps on something and cannot just rub it better and move on.

But if we look back on this year and think how far we have come with Bob who now can handle new situations far better and in the moment tolerate noise, light and people (though not for hours on end). We know that the melt down will come once Bob is back home in the safety of home and he will be overloaded with energy or anxiety. We have let him lead us over the years as far as there was room to do so with what he could handle and what we have exposed him to, and while it has meant at times saying no to events and not joining in on everything that is supposed to be ‘family/child focused’ we have seen big steps forward in his confidence and willingness to step into new situations. It has never been an issue as some have assumed of being clingy, as he has always been happy to stay with others but it has had to be in very calm, safe places for him. The same is true for what he watches and while his younger brother can handle many programmes and DVDs Bob still struggles to handle the tension resolution that many story lines hold to, in a way that allows normal day-to-day life to carry on.

Today I have been reminded that we need to do similar for Zog, to provide him with options of clothes that he can be comfortable in which are not going to raise irritation levels and therefore increase his willingness to get dressed when asked/needs to. And it is the same with his pain tolerance, while not nursing the idea that he is really badly hurt, we need to register and acknowledge that to him it is a significant hurt, and in fact simply doing that today and then offering a kiss has seen many bumps which have often seen melt downs in the past when i have tried to brush them off.

It has been easier to accommodate his ongoing reflux and eating issues and make allowances for them with us and with others but today as I walked Kanga I realised that yes we have two fantastic boys who have sensitivity buttons that can be very easily triggered and as parents we need to help navigate them through those scenarios rather than tell them to get over them. It is moments like this that reminds me of how right it is for us to be home educating at the moment to allow them the freedom to develop and grow at their own pace in each area without unnecessary external pressure. It is not an easy road especially when others around you are not walking a similar road and whose children appear to glide through childhood in ways that your child just cannot do. I am confident all children have their battles and moments but for some those battles can are accentuated  and need different strategies and ways forward.

Thursday nature walk at Pitville was as usual the highlight of the week as 5 mums and 12 children delved in the world of mini beasts exploring and learning about harvest man spiders, oak bush crickets, vapourer moths, worms, slugs and snails to name but a few of the creatures we had found. The sun shone, the leaves have started to change colour and all was good. Zog with his love of colour gathered a selection of leaves to make a new autumn leave picture for our front door and some leaves for leaf painting.


And as usual there was plenty of tree climbing and adventuring upstream.


Bob’s love of writing is still waiting to be discovered but as with a few of his lessons this year we are noticing a big difference in his attitude to work when he sees the point of it, so copy work seems pointless but give him a sentence the next day for dictation and he is more willing if not yet enthusiastic. Maths and 2+2 is never 4 more than once but give him a word problem and he can give you the equation and correct answer before you have finished reading the problem yourself. And don’t look at him counting on a number line if you care about 2+2 equalling 4 all the time because it is soul distressing but let him lie on the floor and shout out the answer having been to Jupiter and back and he will tell you the right answer. I cannot fathom how his brain is working but let him work way outside any box and he will come good. Set him limits and rules and he gets utterly lost. And conversations have started to get interesting now as he reads himself to bed with his history encyclopedia, pondering WW2 and what war looks like today. Romans and Greeks all seem safe and it does not bother me to teach him about that or to make costumes but WW2 and war today are just to close to home to feel comfortable having my 6-year-old reading about but how do you censor certain chapters in his beloved history encyclopedia which journeys right through to modern-day? His alternative bedtime reading (this is after bedtime stories with us) is his space encyclopaedia or science experiments books and working out which he can do here and what ones might need to wait till he can visit Grandad and Grandad’s shed for various bits and pieces.

History this week included a first look at manuscript writing. One day I hope to take him back to Dublin to show him the Book of Kells.


Mark and I were also commenting today how we are moving from a season of behavioural discipline and training with Bob to character building. Not to say his behaviour is all sorted, as he said to me in response the other day to why could he not show the same table manners as he does when at friends houses or when we have guests he said “but if i did that i would run out of manners and run the risk of not having any left when it mattered with other people around”. Not sure how to come back on that one. We all need a decompression space to let go and blow a fuse or two from time to time and if he knows home is the safe place to do that then that I think in light of the bigger picture is a good thing. We are starting to notice how he can be easily swayed into following others, caught up in the moment and we need to help guide him through that now to be able to remind him to stand up for what he knows is right, to consider the whole group he is with and his parents choices and requests of him. How to be able to say ‘no’,  to pause before acting, to look around and not simply people please but watch out for others. When we started parenting and behaviour was our focus of training it seemed like the biggest deal but now character training has come along this seems even more significant. Behaviour while desirable is very much about surface expectations and giving a good impression, character makes a mark, good character will hopefully also know how to behave as well, poor character may be able to say please and thank you and play by the manners rules outwardly but behind backs be anything other than. Character shapes people and those around. It is not so immediately obvious, it takes time, there is no immediate obvious fruit in the same way but once more it is about taking the long range picture and sowing for the future a seed much deeper that will last a lifetime.

Zog along with intensive sensitivity buttons being on high alert he is also developing rapidly (no doubt some correlation there ) with each week and is loving all things number wise and is much more confident with a pen in his hand and writing but that is no surprise as his happy place is perched up high on the table out of Kanga’s reach with paper and pens and colouring away to his heart’s content. Sometimes though he has to share the painting space.


When he learnt this week that a friend of mine has her own painting studio in her house he was in awe that this was even possible and is looking forward to seeing it someday  and maybe even getting to do some painting. I am keen to see him in that environment and to see how God might move in that place for him.  This week he delved into the world of the letter ‘C for caterpillar’ from and so he and Mark ensured we were will fed this week with caterpillar cake.


Kanga is growing in leaps and bounds as ever and is getting more vocal and just like Zog is going for last sounds of words so once you tune into her way of chatting you can understand lots more which is helping to ease the frustration levels that were reaching excruciating levels in the past couple of weeks. The boys are both impressed with her very clear “no” that she can say and uses regularly. She knows her own mind and is generally unwilling to be moved from it unless you offer her some cheese. So needless to say the consumption of cheese in our house is somewhat ridiculously high at the moment.

All in all it has been a good week. We have grown as a family, we have learnt lots, we have had our eyes opened to new ways of doing things, we have played and read lots. Sometimes who never know who might show up for lessons.


And Mark and I have sent in a joint application for a church post in London which we are excited by so we wait and see what comes of that, closing date 30th Sept. Tomorrow grandparents are coming for the day to watch the children while Mark and I get to stretch our legs and breathe some fresh air and celebrate 8 years of an incredible journey as husband and wife.

Two ways…

I’ve been reading Philippians a bit recently – I was leading a short session this morning for those preaching on Philippians at our church over the coming weeks.  As I’ve read and re-read I’ve felt that the book has come more and more into focus.  As it has done so I am more and more convinced that the heart of the book is (perhaps unsurprisingly) 2:5-11:

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The Philippians are told to have the same mindset as Jesus, and then Paul outlines Jesus’ journey from heaven to earth, to a cross – the very lowest point imaginable, the shameful death of a common slave, and then to exaltation now and in the future.

This pattern of suffering and then glory is the same pattern as Paul outlines in Philippians 3:10-11

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

To know Jesus is to both know his resurrection power and his sufferings.  It is the expectation that we will suffer, perhaps to the point of death, certainly to the point of having to give up something dearly held, because it is only in that suffering that we can expect to share in his glory.  This suffering, becoming like Christ in his death, involves humiliation.  It involves what is considered shameful.   It involves a cross.  And a cross is not a nice decoration for a church, the cross is the symbol of torture, death and despair.  The cross is the barbed wire fence that spells the end of hope for the one seeking refuge. The cross is the torture chamber where the confession of despair is extracted.  The cross is foolish and despised and weak. And it is to the cross that we are called.

That pattern of suffering then glory comes in contrast to two other patterns of life in Philippians 3.  Two ways to get to glory without a cross.  The first is Paul’s old way of life as a Pharisee.  The way of perfectly keeping an external code.  Everything Paul says about his past in 3:1-6 is accurate.  He was blameless.  He did keep the law. But it wasn’t enough.  Because it wasn’t about knowing Christ.  Now that Christ has come belonging to God can never be simply about keeping laws.  Now the Spirit is given to all God’s people so that all God’s people, from greatest to least can know him.  A written code can be kept.  Jesus’ way of life always calls us further into a deeper discipleship, an ever growing following of the crucified Christ. As we follow the call there comes the ever deepening awareness that the full meaning of the written code is the crucified life – and so we can’t keep it.  We can only come back to the crucified and risen Christ to see that he gives a righteousness that is based on Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is through faith.  It is all about Jesus.  We stand before God because of Jesus’ faithfulness, because of Jesus’ obedience to death on a cross.  We live our lives, and lay our lives down because he lives and laid his life down.

The other way to glory is in 3:18-19 – Paul describes this way with tears.  Their goal is destruction, their god is their stomachs, their glory is their shame.  This is the way that makes a new kind of glory, a glory out of things that should make us ashamed.  This is the way of the world without God.  We take something that should be shameful and make it a virtue to be emulated.  Usually it is something that satisfies our appetites and our greed – that is what stomach most likely refers to here.  We make a god out of what we most want, and spend everything in service of that desire.  And the goal of that life, the final destination is destruction.  No wonder Paul says it with tears.

That leads me to the haunting question.  How much do I believe that?  How much do I truly believe that the only way to glory is the cross?  How much am I prepared to sacrifice for him?

Of course it is immeasurably worth it for Paul who writes 3:20-21:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

That is what is in store for all who follow Paul’s example and adopt this mindset that was in Jesus.  The mindset of suffering now, of crucifying self to follow Christ.  The encouragement we have in this letter comes right at the end.

4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Everything we need to follow this pattern of life is met by God – out of his riches.  Yes it will be hard.  Indeed it is impossible for men – but not for God – and he will give us all we need to follow him.  All we need to do what he wants.

As Timothy Dudley Smith puts it in one of his hymns:

Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us-
self on the cross, and Christ upon the throne,
past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

Philippians is a letter of joy – but a joy that comes through pain.  A joy that comes when we know the pain of the cross.  A joy that comes through tears, through heartache and loss.  But a joy that promises a morning brighter than any earthly dawn.  When the morning sun will finally rise and chase every shadow and sighing away.  When we finally see the risen sun and we see the risen Lord.  Then we will know that any suffering now has been worth it, for the greater glimpse of our Lord and King, our Saviour and Friend:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

reflections from our home learning journey 2/2

This term i can see is going to be one where days may seem long but weeks are going to disappear before we know it. This one seems to have disappeared along with any sleep but hey ho. Right now in this moment 3 children are actually asleep which then begs the question why am I not but somewhere in the midst of it all I wanted some time awake remembering who i am.

We are all still working out what our days look like as Mark is not in full time work at the moment though he has plenty to keep him busy. It has helped though as he has been able to help out with dentist and osteopath appointments and it has meant lessons have stayed on track this week despite the interruptions of appointments.

Two highlights for me this week have been Bob’s writing, while he generally hates writing and will not even attempt to write regardless of spelling he has done really well with the dictation exercises he has had. This is a new part of the material we have carried on using from last year. He is still not keen to sit at the desk to write and needs to constantly move, but he has done really well with this which was one part of the handwriting i was least looking forward to. The other highlight was his maths review lesson today. Friday’s lessons allow him to show me how well he has been learning during the week by himself. Normally maths requires me to sit and watch him and often write down the answers he comes to, he settled down and got on with it. While he often knows the theory of what he is doing he is just not slow enough to pay attention to what he is actually doing and so often writes down any number even if he has told me the correct one. It was good to see that he actually has been learning though, so I know that I need to not worry too much about his ability but help him be more diligent in his work. A lesson I remember my parents and teachers trying to teach me.

With exploring nature this week we have been looking for mini beasts but on our home ed group walk they must have all heard us coming as we basically found none but today while gardening Zog and I came across the most amazing caterpillar (Vapourer Moth) only to learn that it would not turn into a beautiful butterfly but rather a dull brown moth. A friend then told us that often the most amazing caterpillars turned into the least exciting while the most unassuming of caterpillars turned into beautiful butterflies.


We have been looking at Pluto this week and no doubt more will need to be done as reports in the news this week indicate that the photos sent back do not match with what was expected. We have also added our model of Pluto to the solar system pictures the boys are making.

We are continuing are studies in art on Picasso and the boys decided they wanted to copy his rose and blue period so got themselves set up outside with a copy of one his works and paints and had a fantastic afternoon painting. The actual lesson did not have artwork with the next session but they were so caught up in it we ceased the moment and it lasted an hour which was wonderful. Bob did not paint on his side but the computer is not accepting my edit of the photo to turn it the right way round.

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There is as ever much learning and growing to do in character as well and we seem to be up against boys finding new levels of identity and dynamics so that brings with it plenty of new challenges for them and us to navigate and sadly I have missed the heart on many occasions this week thanks to lack of sleep. Kanga also keeps pushing limits and while she is still not bothered by the use of actual clear words she has no problem in communicating and making her opinions and desires known. Zog continues to enjoy dipping in and out of his folder of weekly activities from letter of the week from confessions of a homeschooler as well endless hours drawing.

One aspect of home education that came to mind this week and may not have a correlation with home education as such but that the context of it allows for it to happen more naturally, is in regard to friendships. It struck me after another mum was sharing with me the struggles of playground friendships and I considered the lack of friendship issues we have encountered in the home educating circle. It may be that we have simply been very blessed with the friends we are home educating with. (though we are blessed in that our children have some great friends).But I also wondered if there was a greater security in the friendships and while we need to work through dynamics when a new family has joined us, many of the friendships are done within family contexts and so the children know not just the ‘friend’ as such but siblings and at least one of the parents really well. So while we often give them room to work through disagreements though on hand if things are too complicated or someone is very clearly hurt (though that has not yet happened thankfully) there is not the same drop you and ignore you attitude that can occur in the playground and I wonder if that is because the friendship context is wider and more secure with the inclusion of whole families building friendships and speaking into each others children lives as well as our own?

Right, three children are still sleeping and I have had some time to stop and breathe and the ironing can wait, so I am going to go to sleep too.

week 1/2 of our home learning journey

I really cannot believe that the summer is over and a new season of more formal learning is back underway in our home. We took an extended summer break in order to keep my sanity while Mark finished up his PhD, we navigated lots of uncertainty over what was next. Turns out what was next is the gift to draw breathe in the same home, same community for a few more months.

So we have started up a new term and already my nice neat little schedule is out the door which once again and with no surprise is causing me angst. I saw the disruption coming, I had a year of learning this lesson last year and walked myself straight back into it in the first week of this new year. And with it my frustrations and short temper, but we are learning together to nip it in the bud sooner, to stop, to pay attention to what is really going on.

This year we begin with Bob reading confidently, so much so that while Mark is out tonight he offered to read Zog bedtime stories while I settled Kanga which marks a shift from placing them both infront of the screen for half an hour while I settled her down.

I have lots milling around in my head about this year, this week just done, but I am also exhausted after a first week back into routine and solo parenting tonight and we are not in a great place with sleep and little folk at the moment. Zog is navigating some serious developmental jumps right now which have been so encouraging but are draining on him and he has reverted to needing night time contact. Which I understand and get but in the morning when I need to roll out of bed and get moving but cannot because he has attached himself to me and even more than moving I need him to sleep so my planned slow entry into the days have become scrambled rushes and I am already contact time out before the day has started.

Our mornings are filled with the basics of maths and writing, reading, grammar and spelling with the afternoons for alternating history/science and art/music. Thursday afternoons are going to see us at the park for nature walks once more, this time following a new book and if I could work out how to link it I would – will try and do so next week. Fridays are for history and science projects so today along with a friend we made roman standards and the start of our solar system posters. We will add a planet a week as we study them.

Overall it has been a good week, there have been bumps mainly my own creating which we have had to navigate. It also takes a while for the whole family to settle into new patterns and we are working out which evenings we are in and out. We are involved in more events this season through church, Alpha and a study for women as well as home group and the hopes of starting up a mums with young children bible study fortnightly during the day.

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God Picked up the Pieces.

Preparing for a presentation on the presence of God in relation to the tabernacle in Exodus I came across this quote buried in Childs’ Exodus commentary (which incidently I’d recommend for any preachers and teachers of Exodus if you have access to a good library, or can pick it up second hand – especially the OT context, NT context and theological implications sections).

“Then again the story of the golden calf has found a place in scripture as a testimony to God’s forgiveness.
Israel and the church have their existence because God picked up the pieces.
There was no golden period of unblemished saintliness.
Rather the people of God are from the outset the forgiven and restored community.
There is a covenant – and a new covenant – because it was maintained from God’s side.
If ever there was a danger of understanding Sinai as a pact between partners,
the rupture of the golden calf made crystal clear that the foundation of the covenant was,
above all, divine mercy and forgiveness.

I love the line “Israel and the church have their existence because God picked up the pieces”.  It’s a great one sentance summary of the gospel, and its a great starting point for our expectations of church life.  We are a mess that God is in the business of putting back together.  We don’t get swept away like a broken glass. We get picked up and repaired.  Picked up and moulded into a new creation that reflects Jesus in a broken world.  We constantly get it wrong.  And yet God’s mercy and forgiveness remain for all who turn back to him and ask to put back together and made new once more.

God picked up the pieces.

Forgiveness Unlimited…

This is the, now traditional, post sermon blog post with the “full script” – the actual sermon was slightly different at both services, but this was close.  Two books which have useful material on the subject of forgiveness are “Total Forgiveness” by RT Kendall, and “What’s so Amazing about Grace?” by Philip Yancey.

“How often must I forgive my brother?” Must I forgive that again? I’m sure that you can fill in the blanks from that sentence, and think of particular situations to which that applies.

We’ll see that Jesus answer is that his disciples must forgive without limits, because we have a compassionate and merciful God who forgives us without limits whose forgiveness in turn demands that we forgive others. Therefore, concludes Jesus, we must forgive each other from the heart, or else we do not live in the world of God’s forgiveness.

We’ll unpack Jesus’ answer a little more now. First
Jesus’ disciples must forgive without limits.
Peter’s question comes following Jesus teaching his disciples about how to deal with sin in a fellow member of the church – the local group of disciples seeking to follow Jesus.
So presumably this is in Peter’s mind. How many times should this happen? How many times should a sinner be forgiven? How many times should this process be gone through?

Peter’s answer of 7 is reasonably generous – the Jewish teachers around that time said 3 times. Jesus’ answer turns the question upside down. Not 7 times, but 70 7 times. It is possible to argue about whether this means 77 or 490. But that is rather missing the point. The point is that forgiveness is unlimited. 7 is a complete whole – 70 times more than that is beyond all limits. To have a check list of how many times we have been sinned against, to tick off 77 so that on number 78 we do not forgive is to miss the point.

This is not to say that forgiveness is easy. In this context we are talking about sin within the community of believers, and we are talking about forgiveness when someone has made some move towards apologising and seeking to put things right.

There is a whole other discussion based around what happens when someone sins against us and never seeks forgiveness. There I think, we must be ready somehow not to hold it against them, and to be ready to forgive if forgiveness is ever sought,
but I do not think we need to go round telling people we have forgiven them if they have never asked for that forgiveness.

Having said that, it is still very sadly the case, that even within the church there is room for massive injury to be done to us by others, and for us to do to others, and that there may well be times when we are called to forgive something that seems really hard to ever forgive. It does need to be remembered that personally forgiving someone who has committed a crime against us does not stop us playing our part in the judicial process which will convict and punish them of the crime, and take appropriate measures to protect others from their crime.

Think of the school teacher recently, in the news for amazing forgiveness – still important to testify. Does mean that we leave the outcome it in God’s hands, and his instrument – government and police, rather than personal vengeance and vendettas.

Also forgiveness is not to be used to cover up sin, but to deal with the personal impact of sin. And at that personal level Jesus disciples’ must forgive without limits however hard it is – and so Jesus tells the story to show us why and how.

The first part of the parable tells us to Forgive because God is a compassionate lord, who forgives beyond limits.
We forgive, because God is a compassionate Lord, who forgives beyond limits. This is another one of Jesus’ parable which tells us what life in his kingdom is like. As with last week we see a King who is settling the accounts, and this time there is a servant who owes him a lot of money.

10,000 bags of gold we heard. One bag of gold (talent in other versions), is worth something around 15-20 years wages for a working labourer in that day. So 10,000 of these is a lot of money. It is the highest numerical unit in that culture – 10,000 multiplied by the largest unit of money. If you work it out in equivalents today, assuming a talent is 15 years wages for an average working person you get £3 billion or so. It is an unimaginable debt that an individual can never hope to repay.
Think of the anger a few years ago when the scale of the banking crisis became apparent, and the scale of the mislending. To get this high into debt the servant had to have been that foolish somewhere along the way. There has been unimaginable folly to get into this situation.

And so on hearing his sentence, a standard punishment for debtors throughout history
he begs for time, he begs for patience. He begs to be allowed to repay.

And just like the Father in the prodigal son, the King in the story has compassion. He feels compassion deep within him – the word is not talking about feeling a little bit sorry or concerned for someone, nor is it talking about a patronising sense of superiority –
rather it is talking about the gut wrenching (the word is related to the internal organs) sense of sorrow over another’s pitiful state, a sense of sorrow that always leads to action. Look up the word in the gospels and see that it is compassion that motivates Jesus time and again. And then notice how the Lord forgives the debt – doesn’t just give more time, he gives a complete reprieve.

Jesus puts us in the position of this servant (we’ll see that at the end). We owe an unimaginable debt because of our sinful actions, thoughts and deeds. We place ourselves at the centre, and our self-centredness, our inward focus leads us to lives of sin. We deserve punishment. We do not deserve to be counted as God’s servants. And yet – we serve a God who has compassion and forgives without limits.

No-one who casts themselves on God’s mercy is ever turned away. God is utterly and totally good. There is no shadow of turning with him. This can be relied on. We can always come back to God. Always cast ourselves on his mercy. “We do not presume…”
Forgiveness marks the King of God’s Kingdom – and so it must mark the citizens too.

That is fantastic news. That is unimaginable joy. My sin can be forgiven. All of it. In an instant. By the creator of the universe. But there is a sting in the tale of Jesus’ story.
That forgiveness with which I am forgiven is not about me being given a ticket to heaven,
an escape route from here and now.
No, the forgiveness with which I am forgiven is to transform my life here and now,
so that here and now I live as a citizen of that kingdom, marked by the forgiveness of that kingdom. Because Jesus goes on:

We must forgive from the heart because not forgiving makes God angry
This next section highlights the hypocrisy of the servant. He goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes 100 denarii, and launches himself on him – seizing and choking him –
now, 1 denarius is, according to the parable of the labourers a day’s wage, so, it is not a small amount of money. A few thousand pounds in today’s terms. So he wants it back – perhaps understandably.

Then look at v29 – this fellow servant repeats exactly the plea of the first servant – “be patient with me, and I will repay”. It should echo in the first servants ears. But his response is so different to that of the master. To throw the fellow servant into prison. That will teach him. Justice has to be done after all – he can’t go round running up debts… Except, coming from the man who has just been forgiven an unimaginable debt it doesn’t convince.

So with us, our forgiveness sometimes takes a vast amount of effort because we have been badly hurt in one way or another. But, in the story, compared to the amount of debt the servant has been forgiven it is tiny. In general terms that is how we are to think of forgiveness.

God has forgiven us so much, that surely we can forgive one who calls for mercy on us. If we have seen our own brokenness and need of forgiveness, and the generous compassion of God then we will forgive. If we cannot forgive, we must ask God to show us more clearly our need for forgiveness and his great compassion.

The fellow servants see. They are distressed. Their grief, the word is used for genuine sorrow in the rest of the NT. This isn’t a fake concern, this isn’t a scoring points issue.
This is a sorrow that reflects the compassion of the master. And so they take it to the master. They go to him.
In passing that’s pretty good advice for the first step in any conflict – go to Jesus, and tell him about it first. Here the master takes action. He is angry. First we saw his compassion, now we see his anger. Anger at someone else not being shown mercy.
Tells you a lot about someone – “what makes you angry?” His question to the servant is revealing – the master had mercy – he expects the servant to show mercy in response.
The behaviour of Jesus’ followers should reflect Jesus’ character. Truly receiving God’s forgiveness should lead us to forgive others.

Not forgiving others makes God angry. It brings exclusion from God’s kingdom. The punishment is worse than the original, demonstrating how angry God is at unmercy. And we could shrug this off as just part of the story except for what Jesus says next – v35. This is how God will deal with us, if we do not forgive from the heart.
Not forgiving invites God to not forgive us – you can count to 77, or 490 if you like – but only if you want God to do the same and I’m pretty sure I’ve reached 490.

Matthew’s gospel contains a number of warnings from Jesus’ lips about the dire consequences of looking like one of Jesus followers for a while, yet being shut out of Jesus’ kingdom. It is right to talk about Jesus’ acceptance of us. But that acceptance must lead us to change. Being forgiven by God should transform us. Knowing that we deserve nothing, but that he chooses to forgive freely should soften our hearts so that we are willing to forgive others.

God’s grace not only saves us from punishment, it transforms us in the here and now.

Therefore, Jesus emphasises, we are to forgive without limits, from the heart. We are to be a community of forgiveness and grace. So what does this mean for us in practice in church life. Be ready to say sorry, and to forgive. When we forgive say so. If someone apologises, then say “I forgive you”. There is wonderful power in that declaration. Roz and I want our children to learn that in their interactions. We try and practice it in our marriage – that when one of us needs to apologise the other needs to reach the point of being able to say “I forgive you”.

It should be that way in church too. We should be ready always to forgive from the heart. Is there someone here today you need to forgive? Is there someone you need to say sorry to.? Very often when we know someone has sinned against us, we have played our part too, and need to offer our apology – part of forgiveness is not waiting.
We are about to share the peace. Before we do that, why not take a minute two to see if there is anyone God would have you forgive today, someone you need to be reconcilled to this day.