Forgiveness 1: The Repair Shop

Forgiveness 1: The Repair Shop

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My wife and I love watching The Repair Shop on TV. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know that people bring in treasured heirlooms in urgent need of repair, to a group of experts skilled in their own particular craft. Old teddies are re-stuffed and their ears sewn back on by the bear-ladies. Broken pottery is put back together by Kirstin in a way that you can’t see the join. Stopped clocks are made to go again by Steve, who wears two pairs of glasses at the same time, and Will just looks good while doing his thing with French Polish.

It’s a programme about restoration. Not just of the items themselves but for the people bringing them in. People for whom the item is wrapped up not just in tissue paper but in all sorts of memories and associations, often with family members who have long gone. There’s usually both delight and tears when the repaired item is returned to the owner.


And you get the feeling that those doing the repairs are just as invested and caught up in it too. That this is more than just the demonstration of their skill – that they are moved by the significance of what all this means to those who have come to them for help.

It’s with that same sense that I approach the Gospel reading today. Because I see this possibly difficult passage as being about restoration and about people being changed – not just those being restored but the restorers too.


But first, we need to step back to see these verses in context. This chapter of Matthew starts with the disciples, rather crassly it seems, asking Jesus who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus replies that the greatest is someone who becomes humble like a child. That is, probably someone who wouldn’t have asked that dumb question in the first place…

Jesus then warns about not being a stumbling block for anyone, before telling the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd leaves the 99 to search for one that went astray. Then he explains that our Father in heaven is not willing for any of the little ones to be lost and that we should take care of the most vulnerable.

How many times

And after our passage today, Peter asks how many times he should forgive – and Jesus says not seven times but seventy-seven. A countless number of times. And he follows that with the parable of the unforgiving servant.

So, we have messages here about being humble, about not being an obstacle, about caring for the vulnerable and about limitless forgiveness. And with that framework in mind, let’s look at today’s Gospel reading.

Two or three

There’s more than two or three of us here. And we’re gathered in his name. So, he’s here. Right now. God with us. Emmanuel. What a wonderful promise that is, isn’t it? We often quote it without remembering the verses which come before it.

But because of that promise we have to resolve any difficulties between us, to be in harmony. If we’ve been humble and avoided being an obstacle for each other and cared for the vulnerable and forgiven each other countless times – and there’s still a problem – then you have to think that what Jesus is describing here is a place of last resort. But Jesus is realistic enough to recognise that there will be problems within a congregation.

And it strikes me that this is a gentle and loving way to do it, in keeping with the rest of the chapter. It’s about restoration rather than punishment. Trying to resolve things in private first. Not to brood on it or pre-judge. Bringing back a lost sheep – if they are indeed lost. And if that doesn’t work, then bring along just one or two trusted others.

Perhaps it’s me

Because, shocking as it may seem, maybe it’s not the other person who has the problem. Maybe it’s the one doing the accusing. Perhaps it’s me? Maybe the other person thinks I’m the one that’s failing! Perhaps we both think we’re right? And it could be that the voicing of those perspectives in front of some carefully chosen others may just help resolve matters.

So, we should ask ourselves, how would I, how would you, like to be treated if it was actually us causing the problem?

Without the facts

In today’s verses, Jesus builds on Deuteronomy 19:15 – ‘A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.’

And that makes me wonder how often we, metaphorically, single-handedly judge and convict people of some perceived wrong or slight? How often now do we get trial by social-media without all the facts? We would do well, both in the church and outside it, to get different view-points. And we do well to remember that in the Lord’s prayer we ask to be forgiven in the same measure that we forgive others. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

If there’s still an issue, then it gets a wider audience – and if that doesn’t work then Jesus says treat them like a Gentile or a Tax Collector, that is people that they wouldn’t normally have much to do with. Now, that may mean exclusion – but we know what Jesus was like with Gentiles and with Tax Collectors like Zacchaeus! He sought them out, he healed them, and he went for meals with them. So, if you still have a problem with someone after going through all the other steps – follow the example of Jesus and go for lunch with them!

Bind and loose

“…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

What a huge responsibility isn’t it? If two of us agree on something it has heavenly consequences. I think it’s meant to put us on notice about the actions that we take, in a community which should be marked by restoration and love. As the song says, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Are we? Is that how we’re known?

Yes and no

But what does it mean to bind and loose? Fundamentally it’s about forgiveness and justice. That what we say “yes” to and what we say “no” to has heavenly implications. How we behave as a church and as individuals is witnessed in heaven: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

But remember that the reverse is true too: Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. See Matt 25:31-46.


I sometimes wonder if the church should be called The Repair Shop – for shouldn’t we be known in our community as the Restoration People?

For all this to happen, for God to be truly with us, for people to see the Christ in us, we must be humble and avoid being an obstacle for each other; we must care for the most vulnerable. We should love as we ourselves were first loved and forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven. Children together in the family of God. The forgiven, the restored and the repaired. And perhaps, just as in The Repair Shop, we might find that each one of us gets moved and changed and transformed in the process.

Let’s pray

As I gather myself to pray

I remember those around me

those in need

who are praying also for me

and together

you and I

we make up the church of God

gathered in Your name

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Children together in the family of God

no longer strangers

or lone rangers

but the forgiving and the forgiven

gathered at the table of the Lord

once again to renew our strength

for service

of You.


‘Forgiveness 1: The Repair Shop’ was delivered by Ian Banks at St Margaret’s, Heywood on Sunday September 10th, 2023. A version of it was first given on-line on September 6th, 2020. It’s based on Matthew 18:15-20.



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