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Summary: A short talk outline given at a Parade service with brownies and guides and cubs

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A husband and wife who’d been married for 15 years began to have some very difficult disagreements; but they were determined to make their marriage work and so they agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop slips of paper into a "Fault" box. Has anyone tried this before? I’ve just got visions of election-day and people putting countless slips of paper into my ballet box every time I mess up!

The couple agreed that the boxes would provide a way to let the other know about irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts, writing down things such as, "Leaving crumbs in the butter", "Wet towels on the carpet", "Socks and pants not in the wash bin" until the end of the month. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began to read. They were all the same. On every slip her husband had written, "I love you!"

If every time you did something wrong, if every time you did something really naughty, someone gave you a note saying, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” How would you feel? Loved? Accepted?

Jesus reminds us that we find it easiest to forgive and love people we that we love. We want to be able to forgive friends and family and that’s good, because God wants to forgive us deeply and completely.

What about people who dislike us, hate us or mistreat us? On the cross as Jesus was being crucified he prayed for the people who were mistreating him. He prayed, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” People had told lies about Jesus. His friends had run away when he was arrested. One of his best friends, Peter, had even said he didn’t know who Jesus was! He said, “No. I’m no friend of Jesus. I don’t know him!” If that was my best friend saying he didn’t know me I’d be devastated.

Think back to our Bible reading. Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you” (6:27-28). He said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (6:31), and “be merciful just as your father is merciful” (6:36).

Jesus wasn’t giving us a list of rules to obey, but he was teaching us and showing us what God is really like (6:35) – and he was modelling for us an attitude towards life and an attitude towards people that reflects the mercy and love of God.

What a different world it would be if countries did not retaliate tit for tat, if governments did not launch pre-emptive strikes, if evil was not repaid with evil. What a different playground it would be if a rude or hurtful comment was not repaid with another, if an act of aggression or cruelty was not repaid. What a difference it would make to our homes and families.

Just this week a new Pope has been elected. Back on 13 May 1981 there was an assassination attempt on the life of one of his predecessors - Pope John Paul II. Fortunately, the Pope lived; but after he recovered, the Pope shocked the world when on Christmas Day he made a prison visit to see the man who had attempted to kill him. Millions of people watched on television as the Pope spent time with Mehmet Ali Agca, who only two years before had tried to assassinate him. The white-robed Pope and jean-clad terrorist huddled in the dark prison cell for 20 minutes, talking in low voices that could not be heard.

When he emerged John Paul II simply explained, "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned."

The love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and teachings of Jesus are literally meant to turn the world upside down and I could tell you story upon story of people forgiving their enemies after terrible atrocities.

But today the spotlight falls on to me and you. Following Jesus means that God has forgiven us for all of the terrible things that we’ve done to other people, and he’s forgiven us also for all of the good things we’ve neglected to do.

We’re called to be family-changers, community-transformers, and world-developers by forgiving, loving and blessing all of those difficult and unlikeable people in our lives – at school, at work, at home. Of course sometimes we need to remove ourselves from a situation in order to protect those that we love, but that doesn’t stop us from loving and forgiving.

What could you do this week to bless someone who dislikes you? If you’re finding it hard to forgive we can pray about that in a moment; but if you’re struggling with bitterness or disappointment it’s good to turn your focus out towards others, and I’d like to tell you about the IF campaign being run by Tearfund: Food for all!

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