In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook.  Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.



God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Scriptures this morning are included in the message and come from the Easy To Read version.

MESSAGE – Feasting on Forgiveness

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We’ve been given a feast … a feast of forgiveness … a feast of liberation from the baggage and burdens and worries and woes and regrets that we’ve been carrying. The feast is laid before us here at His table.

Here at the table, we are One in Christ. God’s grace is here for you who long for the presence of God. May we come as we are, opening our whole selves, our successes, and our failures, honestly confessing our shortcomings and opening ourselves to receive God’s merciful grace.

At this table, this meal, we celebrate Jesus who touched our brokenness with is life; who gathers us together, inside and out. We give ourselves to that wholeness moving from hurt to happiness and from darkness to light, filling our lives with love, laughter, and each other. May we join with all created things to say, “Holy are You, O God!”

A beautiful blessing for our feast today, yes? And yet today’s gospel reading might have you thinking differently about it. From Matthew 18 …

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.”

So far, so good, right? Unless forgiving others is a problem for you. Unless you’re prone to carrying a grudge in the baggage and burdens of your soul. Jesus seemed to understand that you might be, so he followed that passage with a story to help you understand the importance of forgiving others.

“So … God’s kingdom is like a king who decided to collect the money his servants owed him. The king began to collect his money. One servant owed him several thousand pounds of silver. He was not able to pay the money to his master, the king. So the master ordered that he and everything he owned be sold, even his wife and children. The money would be used to pay the king what the servant owed.

“But the servant fell on his knees and begged, ‘Be patient with me. I will pay you everything I owe.’ The master felt sorry for him. So he told the servant he did not have to pay. He let him go free.

“Later, that same servant found another servant who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him around the neck and said, ‘Pay me the money you owe me!’

“The other servant fell on his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me. I will pay you everything I owe.’

“But the first servant refused to be patient. He told the judge that the other servant owed him money, and that servant was put in jail until he could pay everything he owed. All the other servants saw what happened. They felt very sorry for the man. So they went and told their master everything that happened.

“Then the master called his servant in and said, ‘You evil servant. You begged me to forgive your debt, and I said you did not have to pay anything! So you should have given that other man who serves with you the same mercy I gave you.’ The master was very angry, so he put the servant in jail to be punished. And the servant had to stay in jail until he could pay everything he owed.

“This king did the same as my heavenly Father will do to you. You must forgive your brother or sister with all your heart, or my heavenly Father will not forgive you.” Matthew 18:21-35 ERV

When we get to this passage, Jesus has been talking about reconciliation and then about how he abides with those who agree, who live in community with one another. So, Peter saunters up, eager to show that he’d been listening. “Hey, Jesus,” Peter says, “suppose someone in the family does something really bad to me, how often should I forgive?” OK, he really said, “sins against me,” but sin in this case is a breach of covenant, an offense against a brother or sister. Then Peter plays his ace, “as many as seven times?” Most teachers would have said that you must forgive three times to follow the law. So, Peter goes way out on a limb and says seven times. I can’t help but think that he expected Jesus to say something like, “Hold on there, Sparky. Forgiveness is a good thing, but let’s not get carried away. I mean three is pretty good. Four is out of the park. But seven? Don’t be ridiculous!”


Only that isn’t what Jesus said. He did math right there in Peter’s face. Seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven. Which is it? Doesn’t matter, he wasn’t doing math; he was talking about what was and is grace. Jesus wasn’t giving us a checklist, a counter so that however the math works out, there’s a limit, and once we reach it, then pow.

No, he was talking in terms of infinite grace. He was stepping into eternity for a moment and describing a new reality. There is a different way of keeping score. Instead of measuring slights against us, we begin living by grace offered. Instead of counting the points of division, we measure out the ways we can come together. It is a different scale, or more appropriately, a different way of living.

And then Jesus takes the time to explain why. And he does it through a story, as you might expect. Or should have expected, anyway. And this one is a doozy. If you want to have a debate as to whether Jesus had a sense of humor, this parable is prime evidence. As the story goes, a king wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. So, he calls one of them who owes ten thousand talents. I’ll pause here. Ten thousand talents. A slave who owed ten thousand talents. OK, those online sports betting apps are really getting out of hand. Depending on which historian you read, this was either the gross domestic product of a relatively large nation or the equivalent of 150,000 years of average wages. In other words, there is no way that a slave could have amassed such a debt. It’s hyperbole, to say the least. But the debtor slave’s response is, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.” One hundred fifty thousand years would take an inordinate amount of patience. But for some reason, the king decided to just wipe away the entire debt. I guess he didn’t want to wait 150,000 years for his money.

But then the plot thickens, and the man who was forgiven the enormous debt stumbles across a fellow slave who owed him one hundred denarii. OK, if a denarius was a day’s wage, that was one hundred days’ worth of cash—not insignificant, to be sure. But Jesus says, “Do the math; 150,000 years equals 54,750,000 days of owing.” More than 54 million to 100, seems outrageous, to say the least. No wonder everyone got their noses out of joint. Now the first guy is going to jail to be tortured until he can pay the entire debt. Ow. So, fun story; Jesus left them rolling in the aisles with this one.

Besides the bad behavior or bad decision-making on the part of the first slave, what’s the point here? That we’re all in debt? Or that we’ve all been set free from a debt that we couldn’t pay in 150,000 years? Salvation is being set free to live as though we were already a part of the kin-dom of God, because we are. In which case, our default ought to be forgiveness. We ought to lead with grace. That’s the invitation that Jesus issues to us here. not that we count how many times we should forgive someone until we reach some magic number that then allows us to walk away or, worse yet, wreak some vengeance on them for being so mean to us.

Jesus doesn’t say we’ve got to sit there and take it, though. He doesn’t say that we’ve got to put ourselves in harm’s way in order to be the forgiving types that he wants us to be. We can be forgiving from a distance; we can protect ourselves and others in our care by removing ourselves from a toxic situation. We can be set free from suffering and from oppression. We can escape from Egypt.

Wait a sec … Rev. Val, you said we were going to picnic with you today without even leaving home. How did we end up in Egypt?

Let me explain, but first a worship-warning: I’m going to do my best to clean it up, but this story has some violent elements and unhappy endings for some of the characters, so if you have small children present, please be forewarned.

The Old Testament reading for today is Exodus 14:19-31, and is the story about how Moses was leading the Israelites away from Egypt after Pharoah had told them they could leave. But good old Pharoah, being the upstanding guy he was, changed his mind, gathered up his army and gave chase.

Moses and the Israelites found themselves trapped between the Red Sea and Pharoah’s armies. God’s angel and a cloud with a pillar of fire were traveling with the Israelites, and both moved to the back of the caravan and created a boundary between them so that Pharoah’s army couldn’t advance. God told Moses to wave his hand over the sea and the waters parted, leaving dry land with a wall of water on either side. The Israelites crossed on the dry land. Pharoah’s army started to cross, but the agents of God – the angel and the pillar of fire caused their chariots’ wheels to get stuck, slowing them down enough that the last of the Israelites were able to cross over safely. Then God let the walls of water fall down onto the Pharoah’s chariots, horses, and their riders. They didn’t survive, and the now intact Red Sea created a physical boundary between Pharoah and the Israelites.

Certainly, the liberation of a people from bondage in Egypt is a powerful witness to the justice and care of God. Yet it is hard not to be a little squeamish over the accounting of even an enemy force being wiped out in the crashing of waters as the Red Sea returned to its rightful place. Or the account of the enemy force getting stuck in the mud of the Sea of Reeds as the new-fangled sign of the arms-race superiority Egyptian chariots proved too heavy for the marshy ground. We could skip the passage and jump to Exodus 15 which the lectionary preparers gave us a choice this week, joining the party of celebration over this mass death.

Jewish rabbis have struggled with this story from the very beginning, and indeed the witness in the Hebrew scripture as a whole is very divided over this harsh and all too prevalent reality. On the one hand, we should celebrate the end of wickedness. On the other hand, can we celebrate such killing? Should we sing with such exuberance of “the horse and rider he has thrown into the sea”?

You might think, especially based on the next chapter in Exodus and Miriam the Prophet’s song celebrating their escape, that God was and is a God of War, a warrior God. It’s easy to miss the point that what God really did was liberate his chosen people and create a boundary physical between them and the ones who had enslaved them … boundaries are not only a good thing, but they’re also clearly lifesaving. It’s completely acceptable to set boundaries.

There’s an especially intriguing rabbinic teaching that Pharaoh didn’t die in Egypt but fled to become king of Nineveh, which explains that when Jonah rolls into town, the King was so willing to repent and beg forgiveness, much to Jonah’s chagrin if you’ll recall. It is worth wrestling with the issues of God as the war mongering, vengeful warrior God and humanity’s willingness to call upon that image of God, particularly in a time of rampant Christian nationalism that is often quick to pick up the language of violence and war. It is times like these when time would be well spent to reflect on the glorification … and realities of such violence by in Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”. Twain wrote The War Prayer as a satirical piece addressing America’s growing imperialist reputation around the globe. In the War Prayer, the main character, purportedly a messenger sent directly from the throne of God, reminds the reader that their spoken prayer for God’s support in their victory has an unspoken part as well, and that God hears both. To demonstrate the point, the messenger prays the quiet part – that unspoken prayer out loud to the congregation and the reader: “O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

 “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It makes one stop to think about the consequences of our prayers … or at least it should. And to hope that the Warrior God image we like to use as a threat to anyone who doesn’t conform to the status quo we imagine is the endlessly forgiving God Christ tells us about.

How many times have I forgiven you? Seventy times seven.

If you consider the over-arching stories in the Bible, God spends most of his, hers, their time watching humanity represented by the Hebrew people … the chosen people … reap the bitter fruits of the unspoken parts of their prayers, then picking humanity up, dusting humanity off, and forgiving humanity again and again and again.

The ultimate forgiveness, though, comes in the New Testament and is preceded by a meal … a feast of liberation we celebrate to this day.

“That evening, as the disciples gathered around Jesus at the table, the Huge Presence of God was palpable….

After supper, Jesus took the bread.  He blessed it, gave thanks for this life-transforming food!  He broke the bread to share it with ALL…the tax collector, the betrayer, the Pharisee, the Samaritan, the beloved— He gave a piece of bread to each one—it would be the last time in his “earthly Jesus body” before his resurrection.  It would give Strength to the disciples for the evening and days ahead.  Little did they all know the grave challenges they would face—each differently—that lay imminently ahead of them.  And he said, take, eat, for this is my body given for you.  Jesus’ own strength, his spirit, his love infusing their very being with sustenance in the bread.  It was so much more than merely a piece of bread: it was a part of Jesus’ body—his very being– to sustain their spirits.  

And then he took the cup filled and teaming with robust, life-giving fluid.  He looked to Heaven and gave thanks to God for this gift of life and love.  He blessed the drink each would receive, and then he personally served each one from the cup, saying, Drink of this All of you.  This is my very own blood, shed for you and for many.

Today, in this time and no matter what place you are sharing in this feast, Jesus calls us to love with the strength of his and our very being, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit toward the transformation and blessing of our world:  Listen and hear Jesus saying….

  • May this bread and drink be my body, my blood for you, infusing and coursing through your veins, bringing hope and wisdom and courage
  • May it bring sight to our blindness—our unawareness—of those who are left out and suffering.
  • May it bring strength for you to walk despite our limp—our—lameness—may we feel courage and have impetus to stand up and act when our legs feel heavy and we feel unable to walk, to live and love boldly

Today, May we receive God’s wisdom and words through Christ to speak truth in love. 

May we work and act together to set the prisoners—those barred from being compatible with Christian teaching, those shunned and disparaged no matter their theology—to be fully free to choose life and ministry with each other, no matter what skin color or lineage, no matter what gender expression, identity, or inner being we possess.  No matter our income, no matter our journey and challenges and abilities/disabilities.

 Illuminate our paths forward in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in the world.  May we freely, unchained come to this table … this Holy and Safe table, receiving God’s unfailing Grace and Love.  Come…”

Brothers and sisters, this table … this Feast of Liberation … this meal that represents the forgiveness of all … has been prepared for you … any of you … all of you. There are no conditions that prevent your sharing in this meal. Despite the beliefs in some, Christ established no membership requirements for sharing in this feast. Thinking about that night, he even fed the one who would betray him.

Come … the feast is ready, the table blessed centuries ago, the mathematics of keeping count of forgiveness abolished and infinite grace extended … come …

Come you who’ve been wounded

All you who’ve lost hope

Come you who are longing

for what you don’t even know.


Come you hungry for justice

Aching for heaven on earth

Come you who’ve been tossed aside

Don’t remember what you’re worth


Come as you are

Come you weary

Come and lay your burdens down

Come as you are

Bring your hopes

Bring your doubts and your scars

Come as you are


Come you who have been cast out

All you who’ve been shamed

come you who are looking

for that mystery you can’t name


Come you crying for mercy

Hoping for peace on earth

Come you carrying questions

All you who’ve been so hurt


Come as you are

Come you weary

Come and lay your burdens down

Come as you are

Bring your hopes

Bring your doubts and your scars

Come as you are


Oh you misfits and prophets, and you sinners and saints

Oh you broken and needy, weird and weary and faint

All who seek to simply open their eyes.

All who need to find a safe place to cry.


Come as you are

Come you weary

Come and lay your burdens down

Come as you are

Bring your hopes

Bring your doubts and your scars

Come as you are.

And all God’s children said … Amen, and let’s feast!


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