ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Divinity, Maya Angeles, Kevin Jones & Emerging Sound
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
- Message – Conflicted – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Hymn – Forgiven, Crowder
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – Blessed Assurance, YoungMin You
Good morning. My name is Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church. Thank you for taking the time to be here with me today!
Let’s begin with a prayer:
God, thank you for this time together and for those who make the choice to spend it with you and with me. I pray your voice and will supplant my own. I ask that Spirit come and fill us each, emptying us of ourselves and filling us with all you would have us to hear and to be. God, today we’re going to talk about judgment and forgiveness, Lord. Be with us. Open us to hear your will. Lead us to follow your Way.
In Christ’s name, amen.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Father, we come to you now in praise and thanksgiving for the blessings you bestow on us, especially those blessings we don’t realize we’ve received. We thank and praise you for the companionship and love of friends and family, For the laughter of children, the wisdom of the elderly, and the optimism of the youth that this can and will be a better world.
We thank and praise you for our waking breath, for each new opportunity, each and every second chance, for hearing our prayers and for hearing our hearts when we can’t find words to pray.
Lord, we come to you now with our prayers and petitions, prepared to place our burdens at your feet, and today our burdens are more than we can count.
Too many of our brothers and sisters are suffering loss right now. They’ve lost loved ones, jobs and livelihoods, homes, and they’re beginning to lose hope. They’ve been ravaged by storms, by fire, by COVID-19, by inequity, inequality, and by oppression. They’ve been victims of natural disasters and of human greed and selfishness. Their hearts are hurting, and their souls are crying out for respite from their grief, from their afflictions, and from a future that is more uncertain than it has ever been.
Fill them with your peace, Lord. Let the comfort and rest of your love become tangible to them. Extinguish the fires, calm the storms, and then strengthen and lead us, God, to hold them as they grieve, to help them in recovering what can be recovered, and in restoring their hope.
Even more of our brothers and sisters are suffering oppression, Lord. Open our ears, our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to hear their cries. Where voices would spread rhetoric of fear and hate, let Spirit fill us with your voice and your message and let it be heard more loudly and clearly. Speak through us to drown out the voices that keep us angry and fearful and divided. Guide us to drive hate from the hearts of the hateful.
We are called to be your peacemakers, but we often fail at that task, Lord. Help us. Again, replace our voices with your voice, our words with your words, our ideas with your will and truly make us instruments of your peace. Help us to bring unity that is genuine by teaching us to forgive ourselves and others. Where we may have lost trust in the information about our earthly world, help us to remember that our trust in you is well-placed and that we should filter all other information through our faith in you.
Many of the houses of worship we have built for you are empty right now, Lord, and where we might try to say it’s because of COVID, we know they were emptying long before COVID came along. Jesus taught us that these houses should be hospitals for the broken, not hideaways for the righteous, but we have not always honored that teaching, and our arrogance and self-righteousness have contributed to driving people away.
We humble ourselves before you, God, and ask for your forgiveness. You make all things new. Remake us, Lord, into the church you would have us be and help us to fill your houses once again.
I ask these things in the name of your son, and now, with the confidence of Your child, I pray to you in the words he taught us to pray … (Lord’s Prayer):
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Romans 14:1-12 (NRSV)
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.
Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)
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 would 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 would 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 scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – FORGIVEN
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Judging and blaming others seems to be the standard method of operation today, doesn’t it? We’re inundated with bits and bytes of people telling us who is wrong and who is right and who to believe and who not to believe and who we should fear and who we should trust and even who to blame. And only rarely do the deliverers of all this rhetoric ever own any of the blame themselves.
We get slammed with labels for everyone and everything, none of which are in any way positive, to a point that we begin to see labels instead of seeing one another. And, while each side of an issue quick to demand capitulation and apologies from the other sides, few sides are quick to seek or offer forgiveness. I believe there is a root cause at the bottom of it all, but let’s see what today’s scriptures tell us about it.
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us to not be judgmental. He asks us, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?” Then he reminds us why we shouldn’t judge or despise others: “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
Paul begins by telling us to welcome those whose faith is not as strong as ours, but he also admonishes us that our purpose is not to quarrel with them about their beliefs. He gives examples of differences between beliefs and then points out that those differences aren’t important as long as all beliefs are carried out in a way that honors God. He sums up his passage by reminding us that we are all ultimately accountable not to one another, but to God. It’s as if Paul is saying, “make room at your table for all.”
Matthew’s passage begins with Peter asking what constitutes adequate forgiveness. In other words, how many times must we forgive someone who repeatedly does us wrong?
His question, how often should he forgive … seven times? … already crosses a line in the traditions of the Jewish people because the traditional teaching was that you should only forgive someone three times.
Jesus’ answer to Peter, seventy-seven times in the translation I read from and as much as seventy times seven in other translations, makes clear just how extravagant and precious forgiveness is.
To illustrate his answer, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In the story, a servant owes the king 10,000 talents, the king declares the servant and his family should be sold in order to get back the money the servant owes him, the servant begs for mercy, and the king forgives the entire debt.
Before we look deeper into this story, there is something you should know that may help you understand what is meant by extravagant forgiveness. A “talent” is a measure of weight, close to 130 pounds, and was used to measure things like silver and gold. One talent of silver would have been equivalent to about 15 years of wages for the typical worker.
The servant owed the king 10,000 talents or 150,000 years’ worth of labor … that’s 3,000 lifetimes based on the average lifespan of people at that time. Clearly, it was a debt the servant could never hope to repay.
Going back to Jesus’ story, one has to pause here and wonder at the generosity of a king who would advance his servant 3,000 lifetimes of wages and to marvel at the king’s extravagant forgiveness of such a massive debt. And yet, this king had done both.
One would also think the servant would be so relieved, he’d be dancing in the streets and hugging everyone he met. But that isn’t what he did. Instead, upon meeting another servant that owed him money, he demanded immediate payment and when this other servant couldn’t pay and begged him for mercy, he had the other servant thrown into prison.
Jesus likened the extravagant forgiveness of the king in his story to the kingdom of heaven and his parable had a point: To accept forgiveness for your own actions and then not extend forgiveness to others is wicked and ends up costing you a life of torture until the debt you were forgiven is repaid in full.
Jesus used money owed as the example in his parable, but extravagant forgiveness isn’t limited to money. Remember that Peter’s question was how many times he should forgive someone who had done him wrong. Wrongdoing is anything that causes another harm. Harm comes through the actions of one to the detriment of another. The one and the other could be individual to individual, group to group, party to party, or even nation to nation.
And yet … we who are believers readily accept and give thanks that, through his death and resurrection, Christ provided the most extravagant forgiveness of all.
And yet … How often in our own lives have we been like that unforgiving servant? How often have we who are the beneficiaries of Christ’s extravagant forgiveness withheld forgiveness of one or more others? More importantly, do we even realize when we’re doing so?
I think too often we don’t realize how unforgiving we are, and that unforgiving nature is evident in how we react to various issues as individuals and as a society. It becomes especially apparent when, in order to lift up someone else, we’re faced with giving up something of our own so we almost immediately start looking for reasons to condemn those that would be lifted up in essence, sentencing them to the prison of the very conditions they’re seeking to escape.
It’s unclear from Jesus’ parable why the unforgiving servant did what he did, but I think I know why it is we tend to be unforgiving. I think it has to do with fear. Fear that somehow, by sharing the forgiveness we’ve been extended with others, we will have less as if forgiveness is a pie and we’re being asked to give our own pie away a slice at a time.
I also think that, to some degree, our fear of giving up what we’ve been told we’ve been given is compounded by guilt and unbelief. We know we need forgiveness and with all our hearts we want to believe we’re forgiven, but whatever it is we’re to be forgiven for is, to us, so unforgivable that doubt creeps in and stains the edges of our faith and trust in His faithfulness, in His forgiveness. So in fear, in doubt, we become stingy and withhold forgiveness of others, all the while crying, O God Forgive Us.
But, remember what Psalm 103 tells us? 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 forever. 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 toward 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. For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
He knows us and he loves us anyway. Our forgiveness was purchased by the spilling of His own blood. The least we can do is share that forgiveness with everyone we meet.
The greatest of all blessings you give us is forgiveness, Lord, and too often we not only doubt that forgiveness, but we also withhold it from others. Forgive our unbelief, God. Forgive our shallow faith. Strengthen us and remove the doubt from our hearts. Help us to spread your love to all we meet. Help us understand that, by sharing the forgiveness you’ve given us, we are increasing our portion in your kingdom.
In Christ’s name, amen.
“As Jesus was dying on the cross, his arms were outstretched. His precious life, poured out as a sacrifice for us, was a benediction—a forever blessing on the world. Hanging on the cross, Jesus asked the Father to forgive us in the midst of our sin, then he died that we might live.
Following his resurrection, and just before His ascension, Jesus gave another benediction:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 24:50-52)
In essence, Jesus was saying to his disciples, both then and now, “I myself bless you and keep you, I make my face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; I lift up my countenance upon you and I give you my peace.”
May we continue to live under the benediction of our Lord and Savior, no matter what uncertainties we may be facing.*
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, tell someone the Good News, be the church, and go in peace. God be with you. Amen.
*Benediction from an article by Joseph Tkach
Even though we can’t meet together in person, the church still has expenses that need to be met. If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through the online service provided by Holston Conference. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove.
Just visit http://www.holston.org/churchoffering, and follow the instruction for making your offering. When asked, please choose Smoky Mountain District and Union Grove UMC Blount – Friendsville.
If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:
Smoky Mountain District
PO Box 905
Alcoa TN 37701-0905
Please be sure to make your checks payable to Smoky Mountain District and write “Union Grove UMC Friendsville” on the memo line!