Worship for Sunday, September 13, 2020

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

The Word of the Lord.

Brothers . . .Truly intriguing and amazing and a blessing!

Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works vindication
   and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
   his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
   nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
   so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.  Amen.

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 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. 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.

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. 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.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 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. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

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. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 18:21-35

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?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 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. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 

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.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 

But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 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. 

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Sometimes forgiveness is shockingly hard – isn’t it?  Earlier this summer I was confronted by just how difficult forgiveness can be.

This summer some absolutely – positively shockingly thoughtless human beings exposed my beloved brother-in-law to COVID-19 – through no fault of his own.  John was being careful and following the rules.  John was adhering to the CDC guidelines. 

But this entire family still knowingly chose to expose John to COVID-19.  Seriously – I am not kidding – when I tell you that they suspected they might have a potentially deadly virus and they willfully exposed other people . . .

They actually met with John right before their appointment to be tested for COVID-19! 

They met with John and then they all immediately went to be tested for COVID-19!  It was their next scheduled stop of the day!!!

When I learned of this I literally thought my brain might explode.  I normally have low blood pressure – but I didn’t that evening!  I worried my brain might just melt and leak right out my ears!  I was livid!  I was filled with white hot fury.   I was outraged!   I decided immediately that I really – really – really did not like these people – even though I had never met them. 

Their thoughtless – selfish behavior exposed my warm-hearted – kind – loving – hilarious – generous – practical joke loving brother-in-law to a deadly virus.  And if John tested positive – then Jason’s amazing sister and their awesome children were in danger too – as were Jason’s wonderful – loving parents.

My crazy – wonderful – wacky family right before a hike/bike ride in our favorite place in the world!

I was very worried and I was MAD!  I may have even suggested that John and Elizabeth’s priest ex-communicate the “COVID family.”  But John informed me – this particular form of wrathful vengeance was a “no go” – because “the COVID family” isn’t even Catholic . . . bummer. . .

I know I wasn’t thinking very “pastor-y” thoughts.  But pastors are human too.  And I was feeling very – very human in that particular moment!   Boy – was I feeling human!

Thankfully – John’s test came back blessedly negative and after a very inconvenient 14 day quarantine life got back to normal-ish for his family.  But this incident certainly did remind me of how hard it can be to forgive sometimes.

Brothers-in-law goofing around on Jason’s birthday. I think the 4 kids were acting more adult than Uncle was at the time!

Forgiveness is hard which may be why Jesus has spent so much time talking to us about forgiveness over the past few weeks.  Jesus knows how much we all struggle with forgiveness.

In our Gospel reading for today – Jesus tells us we should forgive one another 77 times. 

But I think it would be a mistake to take the number 77 too literally.  What Jesus is telling us is – we are supposed to be forgiving people.  We are called to be gracious and merciful.  We are supposed to choose love – even when it is hard!  Even when it is REALLY hard!

And we all know forgiveness is hard.  There are even times when we feel we have been so wronged it would be impossible to forgive. 

We may even feel that by forgiving someone who has wronged us we would be telling them what they did was okay. 

So – we choose not to forgive. 

But forgiving someone is not saying you think what they did was okay. 

Rather forgiveness is about not holding someone’s past sins against them.  Forgiveness is about letting go and starting anew.  Forgiveness is about a fresh start for both of you.

We all struggle with forgiving others.  Forgiveness rarely comes easily for us.  And yet we have all had times in our own lives when we longed to be forgiven.

There is a story of a father and son who had horribly bitter arguments.  They argued about everything from politics to religion to what to have for supper.  They both said cruel – mean things to each other. 

And then – one night the son left home.  The son did not tell anyone where he had gone.  He just left.  He simply couldn’t take anymore of the fighting and the arguing and the hate and the anger.  It was just too much for him to take.

His father was devastated.  The man searched for his beloved son for months but could not find his son anywhere. Finally, in a desperate effort to find his son, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad simply read: “Dear John, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Dad.”

On Saturday 100’s of men named John showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their dads.

Forgiving someone who has wronged you is rarely easy – in fact offering forgiveness may be the hardest thing you ever do in this life.  But think of the power of forgiveness.  Think of all of those men named John who showed up at a newspaper office yearning for forgiveness and longing for reconciliation.  Think of the times that you have been forgiven and how you felt.

Think of how willing God is to forgive you . . .

The fact of the matter is that God is far more willing to forgive us than we are to forgive one another.  In fact – God was so willing to forgive us he sent his beloved Son into the world to die for the forgiveness of our sins. 

When we ask for God’s forgiveness God is ready and willing to forgive our sins.  And when God forgives our sins he does not hold our past sins against us.  God completely and utterly forgives us when we ask him. 

I love the way Isaiah (1:18 ) describes our God’s forgiveness –  “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

God does not hold our sins against us.  When God forgives us – he really and truly washes our sins away.  They are gone.  Forgotten.  Erased.  And since we have a Lord who is so willing to forgive us – we have been set free to forgive one another.  To forgive as God so generously forgives us.  Truly this is Good News – AMEN.

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