St. Andrew Presbyterian Church
Bulletin and SermonTo View the Zoom Recording Click HereSERVICE FOR THE LORD’S DAY
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
SEPTEMBER 13, 2020
WORSHIP LEADERS:Rev. Jason Santalucia, Pastor
Ms. Andrea Barbour, Guest Organist
Elder Dale Green, Liturgist Gathering
(We prepare ourselves for worship by acknowledging who we are,
and receiving the assurance of God’s grace.) PRELUDE “Day by Day” arr. by Lloyd Larson
GREETING & ANNOUNCEMENTS
CALL TO WORSHIP
The Lord be with you.And also with you.Praise the Lord.Let us praise the name of the Lord together.For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is God’s steadfast love;as far as east is from west, so far God removes our transgressions from us.Let us rejoice in God’s presence!Let us praise the name of the Lord together.
* HYMN 611 “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” HYMN TO JOY
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love!
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.
All thy works with joy surround thee; earth and heaven reflect thy rays;
stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.
Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began.
Love divine is reigning o’er us, joining all in heaven’s plan.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife.
Joyful music leads us sunward in the triumph song of life. This well-known melody was created to provide a choral setting for J. C. F. von Schiller’s poem, “An die Freude” (To Joy), as the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The author, Henry van Dyke, a prominent Presbyterian pastor and author, wrote the words with this tune in mind.
TIME FOR CHECKING IN
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Loving God, we confess that our lives don’t always reflect your transforming power. You are gracious, but we cling to judgment. You are kind, but we can be cruel. You are forgiving, but we nurse grudges and hang on to old resentments. You are filled with joy, but too often we are filled with dissatisfaction. Forgive us, O God, and fill us with your Holy Spirit this day. Make us new through Christ, your Son and our
ASSURANCE OF GRACE
SIGNING OF THE PEACE (USING AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE)Hearing
(We hear God’s word, written & proclaimed. God’s word is central to our faith;
hence we put it at the center of our worship.)FIRST READING 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.
Thanks be to God.
SECOND READING 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 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 word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION Sermon given by Rev. Jason Santalucia, Pastor
September 13 , 2020
“How Often Should We Forgive?”
Every week in church we give and receive forgiveness as part of our worship. In the assurance of grace we hear the declaration, “Know that we are forgiven, and be at peace,” or words to that effect. And in the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
This week we’re getting an extra heavy dose of forgiveness. In the gospel reading today, Peter asks Jesus,“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” And Jesus replies, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
Forgiveness was clearly at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, and it remains at the heart of our spiritual life. And yet I don’t think there’s anything we struggle with more than saying those words, “I forgive you,” when people hurt us, especially when they do it over and over. So let’s take a look at this reading, and see if we can find something in here that might help us be a little more forgiving.
It’s easy to misunderstand what Peter is saying when he asks Jesus how often we’re supposed to forgive. It sounds like he’s looking for a loophole. It sounds like he’s trying to wriggle his way out having to forgive. But that’s really not the case. Peter didn’t just randomly pick the number seven. In his day, seven was a special number that signified completeness or fullness—like in Genesis, where God wraps up creation in seven days.
So Peter isn’t trying to get out of anything. He understands that we have an obligation to forgive. He just wants to know where that obligation ends. When do we reach the point where forgiveness is complete, and our obligation is fulfilled? That’s what he’s really getting at when he asks, “How often should I forgive?” He’s trying to get Jesus to tell him where the line is. How much is enough? And Jesus’ response is basically, Buddy, you’re looking at this all wrong. There is no line. There is no magic number. There is no cut-off point where you can stop forgiving and walk away and be done. You need to stop worrying about how much is enough and just forgive—period.
I imagine Peter didn’t like that answer very much, and I imagine most of us don’t like it very much either. Because somehow it just doesn’t seem right. It raises questions that honestly I think are legitimate. If we keep forgiving people over and over and over, at some point aren’t we just letting them off the hook? Aren’t we just encouraging them to keep doing whatever it is they’re doing, since there’s never any consequence? What incentive do they have to change their behavior if we just keep telling them it’s okay, we forgive them?
But I’m pretty sure I know how Jesus would respond to that. He’d tell us we’re looking at this all wrong.
Jesus doesn’t treat forgiveness like a carrot. He sees human forgiveness within the context of divine forgiveness. And he tells a story about that—the story of the unforgiving servant—the point of which is clear: We should forgive one another without limit or condition because God has forgiven us without limit or condition. And if we don’t, then we’re the ones who will end up paying a price. We’re the ones who will end up being miserable.
That’s a totally different take on forgiveness. Jesus turns Peter’s way of thinking, and our way of thinking, completely upside-down. Instead of focusing on the receiver of forgiveness, Jesus focuses on the giver. Instead of focusing on the one who owes the debt, Jesus focuses on the one who decides whether or not to collect. And the other day I came across an interesting reflection on that.
Marjorie Thompson is a pastor, and in an article she wrote a few years ago, she says:
“To forgive is to make a conscious choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be. It represents a choice to leave behind our resentment and desire for retribution, however fair such punishment may seem.”
And she goes on to say:
“Forgiveness involves excusing persons from the punitive consequences they deserve because of their behavior. The behavior remains condemned, but the offender is released from its effects as far as the forgiver is concerned. Forgiveness means the power of the original wound’s power to hold us trapped is broken.
So forgiveness is not a matter of letting the other person off the hook. It’s a matter of letting ourselves off the hook. Because Jesus was right: When we refuse to forgive, we’re the ones who are condemned to a lifetime of torment. We’re the ones who are locked inside in a kind of emotional and spiritual prison. And it’s not God who does that to us. We do it to ourselves.
Harold Kushner is a rabbi, and in an article he wrote a few years ago, he tells a story about the power of forgiveness to free the forgiver.
“A woman in my congregation comes to see me. She is a single mother, divorced, working to support herself and three young children. She says to me, ‘Since my husband walked out on us, every month is a struggle to pay our bills. I have to tell my kids we have no money to go the movies, while he’s living it up with his new wife in another state. How can you tell me to forgive him?’
“I answer her, ‘I’m not asking you to forgive him because what he did was acceptable. It wasn’t; it was mean and selfish. I’m asking you to forgive because he doesn’t deserve the power to live in your head and turn you into a bitter angry woman. I’d like to see him out of your life emotionally as completely as he is out of it physically, but you keep holding on to him. You’re not hurting him by holding on to that resentment, but you’re hurting yourself.’”
Forgiveness was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry because his ministry was about setting captives free. Peter thought forgiveness is something that only benefits the one who needs to be forgiven, and he wanted Jesus to put a cap on it—an expiration date, so to speak. But Jesus knew forgiveness is about helping the one who forgives to let go of their anger and bitterness and finally be at peace.
And all we have to do to see that he was right is think about our own lives. Think about someone in your past who hurt you, who betrayed you, who took advantage of you—someone you struggled to forgive. Did holding on to your resentment bring you a single ounce of happiness? Did it help you heal and move forward? Did it have any uplifting effect on you at all? Or did it leave you stuck in a place where you just re-lived your hurt over and over?
How often should we forgive? As often as it takes for us to become the people of grace and joy Jesus wanted his disciples to be. Amen. Marjorie J. Thompson, “Moving Toward Forgiveness,” Weavings, March-April 1992, 19.Harold S. Kushner, “Letting Go of the Role of Victim,” Spirituality and Health, winter 1999, 34. Responding
(God has spoken, and we respond. We affirm our faith, pray for the world, re-commit ourselves to mission, present our tithes & gifts, and offer thanks that God continues to speak today.)*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH from the Confession of 1967
We believe that God the Holy Spirit fulfills the work of reconciliation. The Holy Spirit creates and renews the church as the community in which we are reconciled to God and to one another. The Spirit enables us to receive forgiveness as we forgive one another and to enjoy the peace of God as we make peace among ourselves. We believe that in spite of our sin, the Holy Spirit gives us power to become representatives of Jesus Christ and to proclaim the good news of reconciliation to all. Amen.
* HYMN 444 “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” DETROIT
“Forgive our sins as we forgive,” you taught us, Lord, to pray,
but you alone can grant us grace to live the words we say.
How can your pardon reach and bless the unforgiving heart
that broods on wrongs and will not let old bitterness depart?
In blazing light your cross reveals the truth we dimly knew:
what trivial debts are owed to us, how great our debt to you!
Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls and bid resentment cease.
Then, by your mercy reconciled, our lives will spread your peace. Few petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are as difficult to pray as this one, and we would not dare to pray it if we had to depend on ourselves rather than the example of forgiveness we are given in Jesus Christ. The shape note tune sets these words with appropriate spareness.
MOMENT FOR MISSION One Great Hour of Sharing
PRESENTING OUR TITHES & OFFERINGS(If you’re joining us via Zoom,
we invite you to make your offering online.
Thank you to everyone for your generous support!) PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING & DEDICATION
Generous God, all we are and all we have come from you. We give back to you what has always been yours. As you have entrusted your gifts to us, so we return these gifts to you, trusting that you will multiply them to the great glory of your kingdom on earth. We pray in the name of Jesus, who gave the totality of his life for us. Amen.
SHARING OUR JOYS & CONCERNS
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
(We hear the charge, receive the benediction,and are sent to carry God’s Word into the world.)CHARGE & BENEDICTION
POSTLUDE “Forest Green” TRADITIONAL ENGLISH MELODY
* Please rise in body or in spirit.