Forgive From The Heart

CALL TO WORSHIP: This is what the Bible says: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’” We are part of that great company. Let us worship Him now.

Loving Lord, We read in the Bible that after Jacob, the father of Joseph and his brothers, died, Joseph’s brothers came to him, fearful of their welcome. He was great and powerful and they thought that he might use his power to hurt them.

We thank You that although You are mighty, we need not worry about what kind of greeting we will get, for with You, we are always welcome. We can come confidently, as loved children, and tell You everything that is in our hearts.

Help us to be completely honest with You, and to be ready to listen to You and to obey You. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

HYMN 34: O WORSHIP THE LORD IN THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS -StF

PRAYER OF ADORATION:

Let us praise the Lord with everything that we are; With my whole heart, I will praise His holy name.

May we never forget the good things God does for us. He forgives the wrong things we do, and brings us His healing. He surrounds us with His love and mercy. He fills our lives with good things, and gives us strength when we need it.

Let us praise the Lord with everything that we are; With my whole heart, I will praise His holy name.

The LORD gives justice to those who are treated unfairly. He showed what He was like to Moses and to others in times past. The LORD cares about His people. He is slow to get angry and filled with love that never fails.

Let us praise the Lord with everything that we are; With my whole heart, I will praise His holy name.

His anger does not last; He forgives us for the wrong things we do. The LORD is a loving parent to us. His love towards his people is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

Let us praise the Lord with everything that we are; With my whole heart, I will praise His holy name. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: GRANTING FORGIVENESS Matthew 18:21-35

You might remember that last week’s Gospel lesson was about solving problems. Jesus told the disciples about several things they could try if someone did something unkind – or “sinned against” – them.

Do you remember? He told them that when someone has done something unkind that a good first step is talking with them privately to see if the problem can be solved. (And a lot of times it can!) But solving – or stopping – the problem is only part of what needs to be done.

Then we have to forgive. Do you know what that word means?

When we forgive others we make a decision to stop being hurt and angry – and we move on. We don’t just tell the other person that everything is okay – we decide in our hearts to let things be over. Sometimes that’s hard, isn’t it?

When people are unkind it can hurt our feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to solve the problem than to truly forgive someone who has hurt us.

But Jesus tells us that we must. Not only must we forgive – but we may even have to keep doing it over and over.

In today’s lesson Peter asks Jesus just how many times we need to be ready to forgive someone. He even makes a suggestion. Peter asks if seven times is enough?

That seems like a lot. What do you think? If someone was unkind to you do you think you could forgive them for it seven times?

It would be hard, wouldn’t it? But Jesus tells Peter that even seven times isn’t enough! Instead he tells him that we need to forgive 70 X 7 times! (And do you know what? I think that even that isn’t what Jesus really means. He means that we need to keep forgiving and forgiving…as many times as it takes.)

Shall we pray for the patience to forgive?

Dear God,

Forgiving those who hurt us can be so hard. Give us the strength to forgive – just as you forgive our own shortcomings. Amen.

HYMN 247: I DANCED IN THE MORNING – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING:  Jesus told us a story to show how we should forgive others. Let us pray.

Lord, we have come to say we are sorry that we do not always forgive as Jesus teaches us to do.

For counting carefully how much we will forgive others; Lord, forgive us.

For taking your forgiveness for granted; Lord, forgive us.

For pretending the wrong things we do are not important: Lord, forgive us.

For saying sorry and not meaning it in our hearts: Lord, forgive us.

“As far as sunrise is from sunset, God has separated us from our sins.” “To all who are truly sorry, God says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Thank you Lord. Help us to follow the example of Jesus and to forgive as You do, generously, without counting, and from the heart. Amen

READINGS: MATTHEW 18: 21-35

HYMN 426: HARK, MY SOUL! IT IS THE LORD – StF

SERMON: FORGIVE FROM THE HEART (MATTHEE 18: 21-35)

What does it really mean to forgive someone? We often learn about it as a practice from a very young age, being taught to say “I’m sorry,” and then “It’s ok. I forgive you” when something happens that hurts another person. But, as we get older and life gets more complicated, we discover there is far more to it than boiling an egg or making a cup of tea. The truth is that life sometimes hurts; not just in general, but in specific, tangible ways that cause us real harm, emotionally, financially, mentally, and even physically. And when we are hurt, or when trust is broken, forgiveness is often the farthest thing from our first response. Sure, we hear the countless instructions to forgive, but when it comes down to putting them into practice, we say not for me, I am not Jesus. Perhaps because we don’t quite know what forgiveness really looks like, or how exactly we are to go about it.

That essentially is the question Peter is asking Jesus at the onset of today’s gospel lesson. His suggestion of seven times is no accident – that is the biblical signifier of what is complete or perfect. Peter, not surprisingly, wants to get it right. He’s not asking the Rabbi what the bare minimum requirement is to pass the class; Peter wants to ace the exam with a perfect score. Jesus replies, though, with an astronomical figure – seventy-times seven. This isn’t just maths to get him to the number 490. It is the response that forgiveness requires something even beyond perfection. Let that sink in for a minute. The goal is the perfection of perfection; infinity times infinity. As Lewis Donelson puts it:

It must be beyond counting. Forgiveness becomes an absolute.

No wonder we have such a hard time doing it! However, there is hope in this initial response from Jesus; he indicates that forgiveness is not so much about a check-list or sticker chart or final exam, but instead is about ongoing discipleship. Put another way, forgiveness must become a way of life.

The most prominent citation given from scripture was the parable we read today from Matthew 18, often known as the parable of the unforgiving or unmerciful servant. It is a parable of extremes. Just as Peter and Jesus used big, epic terms in their exchange in the preceding verses, Jesus introduces characters with larger-than-life debts and responses. The concept of ten thousand talents was astronomical. Both “ten thousand” and “talent” were words that were the biggest units in Greek at the time. It would be akin to saying “a million or billion or trillion” or some other inconceivable number. The amount that the servant owed was absurd. The concept of a master forgiving that amount of debt? Also absurd. Thus, the illustration shows a measure of grace in abundance. It is a seventy-times-seven kind of forgiveness of debt. In contrast, of course, is the response of the servant to the one who owes him a debt, comparatively tiny at only a hundred pounds. While we might expect a repeat of the grace exhibited to him, instead we see quite the opposite. And the lord summons the servant to make it clear that this isn’t how it works. Mercy, and grace, and forgiveness, necessitates the same.

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” These well-known words from the English poet Alexander Pope strike many as the right way to think about forgiveness: as something good but almost impossible to do.

In the face of tragedy, and other instances of loss and pain both intentional and accidental, we most times seem to do the impossible. This fits with the understanding of the pattern that Jesus gave to Peter, a repeated, ongoing forgiveness, seventy-times-seven, might lead to an embodiment of it even in the most trying of circumstances. In order to embody this radical way of living, it might be good to try to name what exactly forgiveness is.

Forgiveness, on its most basic level, is a letting go. Many offer that it is a choice that we make, regardless of remorse shown. It is both psychological and social; it happens both internally within ourselves and externally as we engage with other people. Presbyterian minister, writer, and retreat leader Marjorie Thompson writes:

To forgive is to make a conscious choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be. It represents a choice to leave behind our resentment and desire for retribution, however fair such punishment may seem. . . Forgiveness means the power of the original wound’s power to hold us trapped is broken.

Forgiveness is freeing, for more than just the one who might receive it. It is freeing for the one who does the forgiving. The benefits continue, too. Research shows that:

Forgiveness is good for the person who offers it, reducing “anger, depression, anxiety, and fear” and affording “cardiovascular and immune system benefits.”

But, as with most things that are ultimately good for us, it’s often not the most attractive option unless we make efforts for it to become our pattern. Our nature seems to be to get sucked into our own anger and the need for revenge to settle the score. Such an attitude breeds resentment, which is when we re-live that anger over and over again. Incidentally, that’s one of the signs that you haven’t really forgiven – if you are re-living all of those emotions over and over again. Forgiveness calls for a release of those things that bind us. This is what makes it such a theologically important concept – when we let go of that resentment and anger and relinquish the grudges we have, we open up space – space to experience all of the other emotions present in our lives; space to experience grief if we need to grieve, joy and hope the in promises of a brighter tomorrow, and time to work through other things that prevent us from living the lives God intends for us. Most of all, forgiveness offers us the space to experience God’s grace and love more fully.

Let me be clear, though: forgiveness is not just “getting over it.” It is not pretending that some wrong did not occur or forgetting that it happened or acting like the harm done is ok by condoning or excusing it. And it most certainly does not mean putting ourselves in positions where we continue to subject ourselves to harm. “Seventy-times-seven” is not meant to be a number of times which anyone must endure abuse at the hands of another. Rather, forgiveness is naming the offense and declaring that it should not be repeated. Forgiveness is also declaring that the offense will no longer take hold in our lives any more. Forgiveness proclaims that mercy is what will define us.

I think that’s what Jesus was hoping for in his conversation with Peter and the following parable; that the lives of his disciples would be marked by mercy. That’s the example we find in the story of Joseph from Genesis, who even in the face of immense pain – his brothers’ violence and selling him into slavery – would not let pain or violence be what defined him. Forgiveness can certainly open the door to reconciliation and the restoring of relationships. Such a move, though, can only come with a renewal of trust, which may not always be possible. If you aren’t able to get to that point of reconciliation, right now, or ever, that is ok. Focus your work on that of forgiveness – it may be more than enough for you to handle.  Even the Saints admitted that it was hard and excruciating work, repeating the refrain:

“We try to forgive, but we are human too.”

Forgiveness calls attention to our humanness at its most human. It reduces us to our most bases of instincts, and challenges us with the hard work of responding in the ways of Christ instead. We need such big images to begin to wrap our heads around the nature of God. And such seemingly unreachable examples might just be what we need to begin to take even a little step in the direction forgiveness calls. One opportunity at a time, then seven, then seventy times seven. May we, little by little, move more into the ways of God’s mercy. Amen.

HYMN 423: FORGIVE OUR SINS AS WE FORGIVE- StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: We all have people in our lives whom we find it difficult to like. They may be at our school or our work; they may live in our street; they may even be in this church. Or there may be people or situations in the news that make us so angry that all we can feel is bitterness.

During a time of quiet, we will think and imagine the name or picture of the person or situation on our hearts. Perhaps we might want to write their name or draw them after the service. Let us think of them now.

Lord, You know the people that we are thinking about, and You love them as You love us. You know about the situations that are in our minds, and You understand all the details, as we do not.

Help us to place all of these people into Your hands, and show us how to offer them Your love in Jesus. Amen.

HYMN 485: WHEN WE ARE LIVING, WE ARE IN THE LORD-StF

BLESSINGS: Thank You Lord that we may leave this place able to make a new start because of Jesus. Help us to honour Him as our Lord, and to live generously as He did, offering Your love to those we meet.

The blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon us and remain with us always. Amen.