…a place of peace and Presence by the sea
Focus: In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.
— Nelson Mandela
Threshold Moment: Sunny Mornings by Peder Helland
Music: Servant Song (by David Haas) -Michelle Currie
Call To Worship: (Psalm 103)
L: Bless GOD, O friends: with all our strength, bless God’s holy name. Bless GOD, O friends, and never forget God’s gifts—Bless GOD, O friends, and never forget God’s gifts—
People: Forgiveness flowing into healing, Tireless goodness and joy: Strength and youth of the Eagle’s flight. Bless God’s holy name. Bless GOD, O friends, and never forget God’s gifts—
L: Vindication, justice for those oppressed; Liberation from bondage, and guidance for the way; Unending mercy, steadfast love.
People: Bless GOD, O friends: with all our strength, bless God’s holy name. Bless GOD, and never forget God’s gifts—
L: For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is GOD’s love toward those who are faithful;
As a parent has compassion for one’s children, so our GOD has compassion for us.
People: Bless GOD, O friends: with all our strength, bless God’s holy name. Bless GOD and never forget God’s gifts.
Compassionate-One, Lover-of-Goodness, Patience-with-Sinners, Draw near to us.
Surround us with confidence in your good news:
that you love us as parents love their children;
that your mercy is boundless and generous,
that you beckon us always and will wait forever
as we find our way back to you.
Open our hearts to receive your compassion;
And then show us how to forgive,
So that we may be bearers of resurrection hope in our troubled world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Scripture: A Prayer to Heal a Divided Nation,
Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
Music: Forgiveness (by Matthew West) -Michelle Currie
Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.
Prayers of the People
Closing Music: Who Am I (by Casting Crowns) -Michelle Currie
Benediction: Let us go forth to forgive as we have been forgiven, freed of the burden of separation and division in order to do justice, love mercy, walk confidently, and humbly, with God.
Postlude: Go In Peace
Our Readings for Today
A Prayer to Heal A Divided Nation (Adapted) by Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton
We are a United Divided States.
Help us to remember that the experiment called democracy is not over; it is still being tested. We still have work to do. It stretches out before us, across wheat fields and deserts, from the mountains to the prairies, from sea to shining sea.
Help us to remember your call to us to love one another as you love us. Help us to put aside our own feelings when possible– in service of others, our families and friends and neighbors – here and around the world.
Help us remember your high calling to us to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation, love and peace, healing and hope in a world made dark by fear and hatred and brokenness.
Help us to rebuild this nation by seeking out your image in the face of others, finding the best in us to serve those who are the least, the lost and the lonely.
Help us to remember the words of one of your servants of old who reminded us that ‘perfect love casts out fear’. Help us perfect our love.
We are your people. You know us by many names. You are our God. We know you by many names.
May we find strength in our diversity and seek the courage to live into what is written on every piece of currency in this nation: In God we Trust. In God. We Trust.
For only in you can we live in safety. Only in you will we find justice. Only in you will we know the peace that passes all human understanding. Amen.
14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
14:3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
14:5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.
14:6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
14:7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
14:11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
14:12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
18:21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
18:24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;
18:25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.
18:26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
18:28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’
18:29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
18:30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
18:31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’
18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
18:35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Sermon — September 13, 2020
How May We Heal?
In today’s readings from Paul and from the Gospel of Matthew, we are provided with wisdom that just might be helpful for us in these times. I am sure that many of us are really saddened to see the levels of conflict and division that have arisen across our country over recent years. Some families have actually stopped talking to each other, not only about politics but about other matters too. It’s painful to watch and we may wonder if we can find reasons for hope. What are we to do? Let us pray, O God of love and justice, open our minds and hearts to new ways of healing divisions, new ways of addressing conflicts, and be with our community and our world as we seek a new path forward that respects the dignity of all. Amen.
About two weeks ago, many of us heard about the untimely death of a young black actor, Chadwick Boseman. He was only in his early 40’s when he died from a personal battle with colon cancer. If you haven’t seen his films, I highly recommend the beautiful and inspiring film on the great baseball player Jackie Robinson titled 42. He also starred in Marshall about our first black Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall as well as the very popular film The Black Panther which is based on some of the Marvel Superheroes.
We hadn’t yet seen The Black Panther so when it was aired on tv, we watched it with our teenage son. I’m not really a superhero movie fan and there is a great deal of violence in the film, but it was a film that gave inspiration to many young black youth and folks of all ages when it debuted back in 2018. I thought about the Legend of King Arthur when I watched the film, because it is about a utopian black community in Africa that has great resources that allow all to live in peace. When the half brother of the King appears on the scene and seeks to gain power, the country is torn apart as factions choose sides and even those who love one another turn against each other to support their opposing sides. It’s a sad study on so many nations around the world who have been torn apart by civil wars or by political infighting where leaders exploit the people to create division and hatred. We only need turn on the news every night to see too much of this in our own beloved country.
And so, what can these texts from Scripture say to our present situation? What may we still learn about finding a path forward?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we recall that Paul took the “Jesus Movement” all across the Roman Empire in the First Century CE. He brought the message of the Risen Christ to people and places far away from the Jewish communities where Jesus lived and taught. People of diverse practices and backgrounds around the Mediterranean world were drawn to new communities founded by Paul. Conflicts often arose in those communities about what constituted faithful practices: was it necessary for a Gentile follower of Jesus to first become a Jew, and follow Jewish Law? Or, could a Gentile follow Jesus without first adopting a Jewish way of life, including dietary practices and Sabbath observance? These conflicts were serious and could potentially tear communities apart. In his letter, Paul does not take a side. Instead, he encourages all in the community to stay focused on what is important: faithfulness to Jesus, thanksgiving to God, leaving judgment to God. Within this view, many different ways of following Jesus are possible. Our issues may be quite different in this 21st C, but Paul’s process still has much that may illuminate us.
I know many of us have strong views on the important issues of the day and that there are issues of social justice and peace, of racial justice and poverty that must be addressed if we are to be responsible for caring for one another. At the same time, we might ask ourselves what is most important to us as a nation; what can we agree upon? What are the highest values to which we aspire? And, for us as a community of faith, how do our understandings of Christianity, of caring for all of humanity have an impact on when and how we choose to speak up for those ‘the least’ among us? There are no easy answers here; I know that much.
Matthew’s Gospel is a very familiar story on forgiveness. The ways in which we may harm one another and the divisions which occur in families can often cause rifts that seem unbridgeable. We might pause and think about people that we refuse to forgive. For most, there are certain limitations to where forgiveness can take us. It’s hardest when the one who causes the wounds refuses to acknowledge or ever ask for forgiveness.
So in this reading we hear Jesus hand down this tradition of how often we need to forgive. Sometimes we hear seventy times seven and in this translation, it’s seventy-seven times. In any case, it’s a lot!
So, here Jesus as the Rabbi, the teacher is sharing a Sermon; that’s what the parable is. They think that Jesus didn’t make up this parable, that it was what they called ‘midrash’. The parable is about a king and his court. These ministers, maybe tax collectors, were part of the court and one of the tax collectors, one of those servants, had been caught and he owed a great deal. He likely had been skimming and it was a large amount of money he owed. In the story, he was threatened and begged forgiveness and was forgiven, but in the story, what was important was that he learn a lesson. But he didn’t. While he was offered the gift of forgiveness, he did not then extend the same gift in return to his servant.
This story was an important and challenging lesson to those who listened to Jesus that day as it should be in our present times as well with division and hatred literally tearing our nation apart. This story was one of the great sermons that continued to be shared during the second generation after Jesus, so Matthew chose to included it in the Gospel. When things are going well in our own lives or we are caught up in such conflict, we can listen to a story like this and perhaps feel removed from it in a sense, but when conflict becomes a true challenge in our personal lives, we may find it seems nearly impossible to forgive. What do we do with those feelings? The holocaust, 9/11, and other tragedies on a grand scale are hardest, but also on a more personal level, many of us carry in our hearts very painful family histories that continue to cause us great sorrow and pain.
The Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur falls in late September. Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. The day’s focus is on atonement and repentance and those of the Jewish faith traditionally observe this holy day with fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue service. According to tradition, Yom Kippur dates to the time following the Exodus when Moses received the 10 Commandments and God forgave the people for worshipping false idols. In the days following Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, people try to amend their behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against others. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt and at the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.
We still have work to do, my friends, as we hold onto the hope that we may find ways to heal our divisions, that we may continue to lift up the highest ideals of justice and mercy for all of our brothers and sisters, while finding ways forward whether in our families or our communities and nation. We can each do our part; we can, as Paul says, focus on the most important things that bind us together; we can, as in Matthew, find ways to forgive one another and work for change. Let us pray for our nation; it is not yet broken but it is greatly in need of hope and healing. Amen.