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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 – Self-forgiveness Seems to be the Hardest Word
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.
How often are you hard on yourself, so hard that you convince yourself you’re going to fail before you ever begin … so hard you constantly find your mind going back in the past to things you really don’t want to remember? So hard that you’ve never been able to forgive yourself for that past which makes you less than confident in the forgiveness you’ve already received from God, Christ, and the Spirit?
How many times has being hard on yourself, dwelling on your past … your woulda, shoulda, couldas and, even more so, your shouldn’t’ves … prevented you from doing, moving forward, moving on?
I have the better part of sixty-six years of past to reflect on and while those sixty-six years have contained a lot of wonderful, Hallmark card worthy memories … the memories that tend to come forward are very often woulda, shoulda, couldas and not just a few shouldn’t’ves.
I usually shake myself out of it by reminding myself that the choices I made then are how I got here today. A wife, mom, grandmom, and great-grandmom finally doing something that brings my soul peace, contentment, joy, a sense of purpose, and a fair amount of confidence as to whether I’m doing that something at least fairly well. And that should be enough, right? Enough to permanently vanquish any bad or shame-filled memories? Right?
One would think so … but mostly, they just move back into the shadows, waiting for the next opportunity to dominate my thoughts. A fire-and-brimstone preacher would say, “You need to confess your sins and repent or you’ll never be rid of them!” Except been there, done that already… My past is not something I hide. They’ve been confessed and clearly I’ve changed my ways or I wouldn’t be here wearing this collar. So why is it that I can’t seem to rid myself of those shadowy memories?
I don’t know about you, but I never can quite bring myself to forgive myself even knowing that God has forgiven me, Christ earned that forgiveness for me, and Spirit knows I’m forgiven. And that just seems to make those shadowy memories even darker, thicker since it feels like I’m making my self-forgiveness is more important, more valuable than the forgiveness of God, Christ, and the Spirit.
The Bible authors have something to say about self-forgiveness. John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Confess our sins: Check. Did that one. Repeatedly. Jessica Hottle suggests, “Forgiving yourself is a big part of the repentance process. Once God has forgiven you for your sins, the scriptures say that a big part of fully repenting is forsaking your sins, which means distancing yourself as far as possible from them. Focus on being the best person you can be now instead of dwelling on the past.”
OK, God, I’m sincerely trying to be the best person I can be. I’m trying hard as I can to heed and follow everything your Son taught us. I’m trying desperately to preach the gospel without relying on words, to let my actions preach for me.
Maybe it’s that word … “sin.” For generations, in fact for centuries now going clear back to as early as 450 BC and King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:20 that says, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Even Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
For centuries we’ve heard that word wielded over and over and over and over from preachers in pulpits whether in person or across the air waves of radio and television. It’s been used in and as the basis for movies, fiction and non-fiction books, politicians, and pundits. Today we hear it on every digital platform there is, and it continues to be used in the whispered speculations of gossipers around Christendom.
It has been used as a threat, a weapon, a judgment, a way to denigrate and shame, and a way to keep people under the thumbs of the piously powerful. In the Middle Ages, priests used it so fund the church through the selling of indulgences – monetary payments that would absolve one of whatever the sin du jour was and prevent them from being condemned to purgatory.
The word sin has carried the weight and threat of eternal damnation for so long and implied same for so long, many of us literally cringe when we hear the word, and even the frequent reassurance that Christ’s death paid for our sins pales each time we are reminded of how perfectly imperfect and doomed to sin over and over again, no matter how hard we try not to … our lives condemned from birth and the weight of “original sin” so thoroughly, repeatedly, and intentionally. I wonder if Isaiah didn’t see it that way as well when he said, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (64:6)
It’s even built into the prayers and liturgies we continue to use in worship today. We confess our sins as part of communion, we include prayers of confession in our pastoral prayers, many of our hymns include verses reminding us.
No wonder we struggle to forgive ourselves when everything relevant to our faith is reminding us that we are yet sinners to such an extreme degree, we often feel irredeemable.
So yes … maybe that word, sin, has something to do with it.
Artist and author C.R. Strahan wrote, “Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim–letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”
I know I’ve survived my past and I know those of you worshipping with me have as well, or none of us would be here. I know every proverbial bed I ever made and I especially know the the ones I destroyed all on my own and how I went about destroying them. I know I made myself a victim of my own actions. I know I’m a survivor because I’m here, but there are times when I struggle to remember that as easily as I remember the shadow memories of those mistakes.
And that’s a much better word than sin. The average person doesn’t intentionally sin. The average person does, however, make mistakes. Or “rebellious behavior” as one of today’s passages suggests. Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, I am the one who wipes out your rebellious behavior for my sake. I won’t remember your sin.”
Paul reminds us in Romans 8:1, “So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Lord, in your mercy, wipe these shadows from my memory, that I may know peace!
Louis B. Smedes, renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian, wrote, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
We change the memory … Lord, in your mercy, help me to understand how to do so.
Maybe it’s in the words of the song that inspired the title of today’s message …
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
What I got to do
To make you love me?
What I got to do
To make you care?
What do I do
When lightning strikes me?
And I wake to find
That you’re not there?
What I got to do
To make you want me?
What I got to do
To be heard?
What do I say when it’s all over?
Sorry seems to be the hardest word (that’s right)
It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more
And more absurd
It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh, it seems to me
That sorry seems to be
The hardest word
Perhaps the “you” in this song is really me. What do I gotta do to make me love me? Because to be honest, when some of these memories flare up, I don’t feel a lot of love for myself. Sometimes it does feel like I’ve been hit by lightning or a two-thousand-pound boulder or I’m drowning in a sea of regret. I stop caring about myself because why should I when too often I didn’t give the necessary care for others. There are times when I’d rather be anywhere else on the planet than anywhere near myself, and I just can’t seem to talk any sense into me.
Our father who art in heaven, I know I’ve always been the one to lead myself into temptation, that it’s always been you who has delivered me out of my own messes, so God … if you won’t deliver me from these shadow memories, would you please deliver me to that place where I can see how to change them into hope for the future? Because telling myself I’m sorry … I forgive me … these truly are hard words.
The Buddhist Prayer of Forgiveness says, “If I have harmed anyone in any way either knowingly or unknowingly through my own confusions I ask their forgiveness.
If anyone has harmed me in any way either knowingly or unknowingly through their own confusions I forgive them.
And if there is a situation I am not yet ready to forgive I forgive myself for that.
For all the ways that I harm myself, negate, doubt, belittle myself, judge or be unkind to myself through my own confusions I forgive myself.”
Steve Maraboli, author of Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience, wrote, “The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”
Lord, in your mercy, give me a good swift kick in the you know where to help me move forward.
Mark Twain wrote, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
I don’t say this often, but thank you, God, for Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39 that assure me “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus; not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created,” and for Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 10:17, that remind me nothing about me makes me less deserving because “God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes.”
“To understand is to forgive, even oneself,” according to journalist and editor Alexander Chase.
I think that pastor poet I so often turn to for inspiration, understanding, and guidance may sum it up best, this conundrum of how to forgive oneself. Rev. Kliewer shared two quotes, “A man [woman] in his [her] anxiety is a messenger who forgot the message – Abraham Joshua Heschel, and
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Before going on to add his own wisdom …
I sometimes think I was born anxious
Afflicted with dis-ease
Unsure of my destination my destiny
Unsure of how to get there
But most of all unsure about whether I could get there.
Perhaps I knew at some point
Endowed with original blessing
That I was loved
That small boy huddled in his mother’s arms
Perhaps I knew that something (someone) beyond understanding
Something powerful and creative
Also held me in love
Perhaps I knew that I was born to serve Love
To be a person who cares for others
And, while limping through life
Helps others along the way
And that the Love which first embraced me
Would continue to embrace me
And empower me
And help me
And sustain me
No matter what
No matter how I faltered and stumbled
I would still be loved
But somewhere along the way
I forgot the message
And I started to be anxious
I started to worry about whether I was
Smart enough, handsome enough, strong enough, good enough
And the answer inevitably came
You are not enough
And not feeling as if I was enough,
Not remembering the core message
That I am a Sacred child
I began to strive, to grasp, to protect
I sought to prove to myself that I was enough
Make myself enough
And I lost the compass point of love
And soon I truly did not love anything or anyone
I became lost
I am still anxious
But I hold a compass in my hand
A compass that points to a destination sure
To a God who is love
Love others (in that order)
That is the message I have received
That is a message I can share
There is no cure for being human
I will always be anxious
But there is surety mixed into my anxiety
Compassion mixed into my striving
Generosity mixed into my grasping
Serving mixed into my need to dominate and control
Because Love is
Love is woven into the fabric of my being
And Love will get me home
Back to the garden
And you with me
Thank, you, Rev. Kliewer, for reminding me that, just as I can and am called to love my neighbors because he first loved me, so too can I love myself. And in loving myself, I will find a way to forgive myself.
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