Worship Service for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship this day for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on September 17, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In the bulletin you’ll find the order of worship, the words and responses of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. And as usual, the words that you need to know will be on your screen, and the sermon is included on this page below the video. We’ll be having recorded music this week as our musician is unable to be there.

For a fuller at home worship experience, you are invited to have a lit candle in your space from the start of the service that can be extinguished near the end of the service after the sending hymn along with the altar candles. And if you wish to participate in communion, you can do so by having something small to eat and drink ready for consumption at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s grace and love shine in and through you, now and forever!

O Lord of all, open our understanding to your Word, that we might hear you calling, see you leading, and feel your healing in our community and in our lives, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Forgiveness is hard, isn’t it?  Well, maybe it’s more fair to say that it’s actually hard for everyone else.  For us it’s easy.  Many of us were raised in the church so we know all about forgiveness and we forgive when we can.  We know it’s a good thing and have been doing it for a while, so we’re actually pretty good at it if we do say so ourselves.  We’re so good at forgiving in fact, that we laugh at Peter’s question thinking that we only need to forgive 7 times.  I mean, I’m sure that many of us probably forgive more times than that in a day or two, a week tops.

So Jesus’ response to Peter’s seemingly misguided question doesn’t really surprise us.  When Jesus is like, no not seven, more like seventy-seven times or seventy times seven or whatever astronomical number was invented back then, we’d be like, “yeah, and?”  We’d be completely unphased by it because it’s just what we do.  We live in Canada after all, we’re used to people saying sorry.

But while we’re sitting up in our pompous forgiveness thrones, a close look at the text changes everything.  Or at least, it changed for me when I read it this time around.  I can’t believe I never noticed it before, or maybe I did notice but forgot, which I also find hard to believe.  Anyway, when Peter asks this seemingly stupid question, his recorded words are, “when a member of the church sins against me.”  A member.  Like, he’s asking Jesus how many times he should forgive the same person

Right?? This whole time I always thought it was how many times total he should forgive.  Now that sounds ludicrous.  But now seeing that he’s talking one person, just this one person who keeps messing things up, this one person who just never seems to be able to learn their lesson.  How many times do we forgive this kind of person?

All of a sudden, this question got a whole lot harder, because in general we as a species aren’t exactly the most patient bunch.  As we’ve established, we could totally forgive multiple people once or twice, but the same person?  More than seven times?  I don’t know.

I mean, we have sayings out there, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice then shame on me” and “everyone deserves a second chance, but not for the same mistake.”  This tells me that people in general really do have a limit to how many times they can forgive the same person.  Because let’s be honest, it’s annoying when people keep doing the same thing against us over and over.  It’s irritating when they just don’t get how to not be bad to us.  It’s infuriating when they can’t seem to be able to get something so simple right.  Something so simple like just stop being a jerk, for goodness sake. 

I’m sure you all have people like this in our lives.  I personally can think of 3 little ones that constantly get on my nerves… wait make that 4 little ones.  Seriously though, just off the top of my head I can think of like 2 or 3 people that I’ve actively cut out of my life because of the constant wrongdoing and my own inability to tolerate their incompetence.  No one from here though, so don’t you worry about that.

Just last month I was dealing with a major tech company trying to set up a new service, and you’d think this kind of thing would just be a phone call, a contract to sign, and wait for the service to start.  But no, with them it was mistake after mistake, miscommunication after miscommunication, and total blunder after total blunder, all on their part by the way.  It was such a drawn out headache that after a month of back and forth and finally getting the service up and running, they ended up charging me way more than the quoted price.  That was just the last straw for me and I ended up cancelling it all and going back with my former provider.  It was so bad that my wife actually said, “never again with them… never again.”

And so Jesus says that I should forgive them for the last month of headache?  I should forgive those people that I’ve had to cut out of my life for their screw ups?  I should forgive those that have totally used up all of my patience?  How can we do that?  How can we look past all the frustrations brought out by these people that don’t get it, the anger we feel due to their actions that are actively against us, and the hurt that comes from these bad interactions?  Knowing that some people never learn, having that proven to us again and again to the point that just have lost all credibility whatsoever, how can we give them that second, third, or 77th chance?  With all the frustrations we can have with the conflict and friction with those whom we don’t like, where can we find the strength to love them enough to see how they are just as fallible, just as human, just as in need of forgiveness as us?

Because really, deep down, that is what it is all about.  Our inability to forgive is linked to our inability to see the humanity in those that wronged us, our inability to recognise the value that we all share as God’s people, our inability to see others as just as fallen… and forgiven as we are.  And when we don’t equate others with ourselves, we automatically think that it’s somehow up to us to determine who deserves what.

That’s what the parable that Jesus gives is all about, isn’t it?  We know the story, the slave owes the king like a bajillion dollars, but out of compassion the king forgives the entire debt.  But then that same slave goes and turns around and threatens someone who owes him like a Keg dinner or something to better pay him back or else.  The king catches wind of it and out of anger, imprisons the original slave until he pays back the initial debt. 

A lot of people might think this means that we have to forgive or else God won’t forgive us, and I admit at first glance it really seems that way.  But as I look at it closer I just can’t agree with that for one big reason: this whole parable makes like no sense.  Everything is clearly exaggerated and blown out of proportion so I don’t know if we can make such clear parallels like that. 

Instead, it seems to me that the point of this parable is not to fear us into a forgiving spirit, but it’s to explain to us just how hard forgiveness is, no matter the size of what is being forgiven.  The parable is showing us that our role in forgiving others starts with recognizing how we’ve been forgiven first.  I think the big lesson that Jesus is giving here is that learning and having the strength to forgive is just as much for our benefit as it is for the other.

Because when we forgive, we are humbled, we see God in the other, and we recognise how we are God’s dearly beloved along with all the saints of light.  In forgiveness we are brought a step closer to community, relationship, and God’s kingdom.  Because of forgiveness, God’s love is made to be more apparent in and around our lives, and empowers us to heed God’s call to love and serve.

Still, I know, it isn’t easy.  In fact, it continues to be extremely hard.  But by God’s grace we are made strong, given resolve, and led to see God’s love for all people in all its glory.  We are reminded of how we are all given value and worth and it isn’t up to us who deserves what.  And as we forgive just as we’ve been forgiven, we continually grow in our faith and acceptance of who we are and whose we are, allowing us the peace that surpasses all understanding.

This isn’t to force us into forgiving others.  It’s not about guilting us into being better people.  It isn’t even about threatening us that we’ll lose our place in God’s family and kingdom unless we forgive others.  But this whole forgiveness thing is designed to help us to see how much we are loved, how much value we are given, and how, although we mess up from time to time, we are constantly welcomed into God’s arms of grace and mercy.  And as we see that, we see that in others as well, humbling us into community and relationship and recognition of God’s presence with all of us for all time.  It is then the hope that we can forgive the same person 77 or more times, because we have been forgiven eternally by the God who created the universe.

So in this season after Pentecost, may we see the value in forgiveness not just for other but also for us, that we might continue to grow as God’s people in God’s kingdom, empowered by God’s love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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