Sunday February 26, 2023 – Lent 1
Throughout these Lenten days and nights we turn to walk the inward way,
Where meeting Christ, our guide and light, we live in hope till Easter Day.
© 1995 by WGRG, Iona Community, Scotland, Admin. GIA Publications Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission Onelicense.net #A-723756
Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather in worship, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship ~written by Steve Brown
Forgiveness is mercy.
Such pardon and kindness we cannot fathom.
Forgiveness is unfailing love.
Such patience and understanding we cannot comprehend.
Forgiveness is overwhelming compassion.
Such sympathy and warmth we cannot reciprocate.
Forgiveness is the blotting out of transgressions.
Such freedom and good will we do not deserve.
Forgiveness is the washing away of our iniquities.
Such purity and newness we cannot maintainWe gather here to worship the One who forgives and calls us to forgive others.
We gather to worship God.
Service of Lenten Candles
Lent calls us to a time of repentance and forgiveness.
We remember God’s grace in forgiving us.
We remember Jesus’ call to forgive others seventy times seven.
We remember how often we fail to heed this call.
We remember our commitment to always try to do better.
As we extinguish this candle, we offer our Lenten Prayer.
Compassionate One, you know how often we fail and how often we rebel against your call to us. You know our doubts and our fears and how often we hold back and hesitate. Yet we also know that you do not give up on us. Continue to call us. Continue to challenge us. Continue to forgive us. Amen.
Gift of Music Dear God Who Loves All Humankind #608
Our reading from the Gospel According to Matthew today, deals with forgiveness.
Matthew 18:15-35 Good News Translation
“If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses,’ as the scripture says. And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.
“And so I tell all of you: what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
“And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven, because the Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay you everything!’ The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go.
“Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said. His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’ The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”
And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Favorite Hymn Request In the Bulb There Is a Flower #703
As We Forgive
Forgiveness is one of the most complicated, most often misunderstood and most often abused concepts. Forgiveness does not mean condoning unacceptable behaviour and it does not mean that apologies have necessarily been made or that relationships have been restored. Forgiveness is about letting go of resentment, anger, and hurt and turning the situation and the people involved, over to God.
But forgiveness is also not an easy way out of conflict. Simply ignoring a difficult situation or person and saying we forgive is not what true forgiveness is about. When someone hurts or disappoints us it is a very personal experience. We cannot deny the emotions that it stirs. We need to deal with them.
Our scripture today begins with advice on how to deal with such hurts and conflicts. And the best way is one on one and face to face. The other person may not even know they have hurt us and they may have no idea that what they have done or said has caused a problem. And this doesn’t just apply to our “Church”. The word translated as church in this passage is perhaps more accurately translated as gathering or community.
When a conflict goes beyond the personal and begins to affect the entire community, then the community needs to deal with it. It cannot be left to fester and end up causing even more problems. But we all know that some conflicts cannot be resolved and some people will never listen to the advice or guidance of others no matter how many people tell them the same thing.
When this happens, our scripture tells us that the person should be treated as a pagan or a tax collector. But before you begin to think that this means that we treat them with distain, think about how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors. They were treated with the same love and respect with which Jesus treated everyone, regardless of how they might treat him in return or how they might treat others. Forgiveness is also not about offering someone absolution and then feeling justified in rejecting and excluding them if they do not accept.
And it is not about trying once or twice or even seven time. It about trying over and over, continuously, or as it is expressed symbolically in the scripture, seventy times seven. We continue to work towards forgiveness and towards reconciliation until it becomes a habit, until it becomes so ingrained within us that it becomes a normal patter of behaviour.
For any behaviour to become a normal part of who we are, we need to practice it. The same is true for forgiveness. We need to be consciously aware of the times we are hurt or angered by the actions of another person or group of people and we need to make the conscious effort to “practice” forgiveness.
Forgiving someone is seldom something that happens once and then is over and done with. All too often we forgive someone for something they have done and then something will happen that triggers a memory and all the old pain and resentment come rushing back and we have to forgive them all over again. And it can be even more difficult if the person we are trying to forgive continues to do the same things over and over or if they see nothing wrong with the behaviour that has hurt us in the first place.
When we talk about forgiving others, we also need to talk about our own need to be forgiven. None of us, even with the very best of intentions, ever goes through life without making mistakes, without hurting others or without falling short of the image that we stive to live up to in our faith. Yet our faith tells us the we are forgiven.
And it is here that Matthew relates the parable of the unforgiving servant. The king forgives a huge debt to one of his servants. When the Good News Translation of the Bible was put together in the 1960, the amount was translated as “millions of dollars”. Today it would likely be translated as billions. This is not a reasonable amount of debt for anyone, let alone a servant. The truth is that it would have been pretty much impossible for a servant to have gotten that far in debt. The amount beyond imagination, an amount that could never be paid back. And yet the king forgives the entire amount, much more than seventy times seven.
The servant, however, then goes out and refuses to forgive a debt owed to him that totaled only a few dollars. His refusal to forgive is soon discovered and the king becomes furious. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’
Now you could argue that, once the debt is forgiven, the king has not right to go back and demand payment. You could argue that this is not the image of God that we would like to believe in. Yet how often do we take back our forgiveness from someone when they hurt us when they do something that makes us feel like they do not deserve our forgiveness?
True forgiveness cannot co-exist with anger or resentment. In order to truly forgive from your heart, you have to let go of anger and resentment. And as I said before, this is not a one-time thing. Whenever anger and resentment over someone else’s behaviour or over something that has happened in the past begins to resurface, we need to forgive all over again.
So, what makes us think that we only need to be forgiven once by God? How many times do we turn around, after having been forgiven and do the same thing over again or do something else that is just as destructive to our relationship with the Divine? What would happen if God forgave us only seven times?
Forgiveness is an ongoing process. It is a process in which we must learn to let go of our angers, hurts and resentments. It is a process to not only leave justice and punishment to God, but to let go of our expectations of who should be punished and how sever that punishment should be. Forgiving someone because you know that God is going to punish them worse than you ever could, is not forgiveness from the heart. When we truly forgive from the heart, we want what is best for the person who has been forgiven.
This kind of delayed retribution is not the kind of forgiveness that we want for ourselves. We do not want forgiveness for the things we do wrong, just so that all those wrongs can all be added up later and we can be forced to give account for each and every one of them. We want to know that when we are forgiven, it is because we are loved and that the one who loves us wants only what is best for us going forward. We want to know that there is not a tally being kept that we will have to pay for later.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, and during this Season of Lent we are called to a time of honest reflection and self-examination and a time of returning to and renewing our relationship with the Divine. It is a time to re-examine our priorities and to recommit ourselves not only to a stronger and healthier relationship with the Divine, but also healthier relationships with one another.
Part of building those healthy relationships, is learning not only to forgive, but to accept forgiveness. It is part of the discipline or the discipleship of Lent. It is about striving to live into the practice of forgiveness. We’ll never do it perfectly but Lent calls us to an intentional time of awareness and effort.
Many people tend to give something up for Lent. But what would happen this year if we were to “give up” our long-held grudges, our resentments, our hurts and anger and our judgement of others? What if we were to give up our own ideas of what is just and fair and instead, concentrate on mercy and grace?
The most well-known prayer in all of Christian tradition calls on God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” What if we really meant that? What if we were able to truly forgive as God forgives? We will never be completely able to do that, but perhaps this Lent, we can take a few steps closer to that goal. Amen
Gift of Music Forgive Our Sins #364
We Offer Our Gifts
We have much to be grateful for, even in these difficult economic times. And so, as an expression of our gratitude, let us offer what we can, whether our gifts are financial or the gifts of our time and talents. And as we prepare to ask God to bless those gifts, let us bring them forward as we sing our offertory response.
Offertory Response # 542
We give you but your own, what-e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is yours alone, we give it gratefully.
© 1976 Frieda Major Music. Robert Fleming. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
We come before the One who is full of compassion, seeking forgiveness and mercy.
When we consume more than our share of the earth’s resources and wealth while others basic needs go unmet, Divine Love, we need your forgiveness and mercy…
When we fail to recognize the privilege we enjoy and judge those who have less as not working hard enough or not managing what they have as well as we do, Divine Love we need your forgiveness and mercy…
When we take for granted our right to what we have, when we worry that we might lose our comfort and security, when we fail to reach out in care and concern for those who do not have as much, Divine Love, we need your forgiveness and mercy…
When possessions cloud our view of you and your gracious love, when we become so caught up on our own desires and our own comfort that we isolate ourselves from other people’s pain, Divine Love, we need your forgiveness and mercy…
When we shut out all the pain and suffering of those around us and of those around our world because we feel helpless to do anything about it and we would rather not allow ourselves to experience that pain, Divine Love, we need your forgiveness and mercy…
When we dismiss the pain of creation itself because acknowledging that pain and the need for change would mean we would have to change ourselves, Divine Love, we need your forgiveness and mercy…
In all the times that we fail to live up to your call for us and the times we fail to live up to our own potential and our own principles and beliefs, Divine Love, we need your forgiveness and mercy…
Forgive us, merciful God, and help us to do better…
And now we continue in prayer as we share the familiar words of our tradition as we say together, Our Father…
Gift of Music We Turn to You #685
As you go out from here today, go knowing you are loved and forgiven. Go knowing that, through the one who forgives us, we too can forgive. Go knowing that, in all our efforts, we are not alone. God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirt walks with us and within us, now and always. We go with God.
Choral Blessing #298
When you walk from here, when you walk from here,
Walk with justice, walk with mercy, and with God’s humble care.
© November 2001 Neil MacLaren. email@example.com. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756