Welcome to worship from Wardie Parish Church. Whether you join us in person, or via Zoom, know that you are welcome and that your presence enriches us all.
Let us worship God.
Hymn 528 – Make me a channel of your peace. Listen here.
Call to Prayer
We stand before God
We open our hearts
We pour out our praise
We come in faith, in trust, in hope
Let us pray
Spinner of stories and weaver of dreams, Great God of the Universe, we come now in worship and praise. You have spelled out the story of your wonder in stars and galaxies on the page of the sky; you have inscribed your care on the face of the earth, each tree, each river, each mountain telling the story. You have written your love in the smile of a friend, in the touch of a hand, in the silence of a companion. Your story of love and grace was lived out in the earthly life of Jesus Christ our Saviour, our Lord, our Friend. Your story of compassion and care is written today with our hands, our hearts.
Great God of the Universe, hear our praise as we gather before you now.
Loving God, forgive us. We are sorry that so often we don’t live in your love. Our grudges and resentments are heavy loads that weigh us down, so we can’t lift our eyes to see your glory. We know that we have done wrong both to you and to others and we hug our guilt to us – afraid to acknowledge it, afraid to let anyone see, and also afraid to let it go.
Great God of the Universe, you are a for-giving God – you have given everything for us. You opened your arms to give us life, may we open our arms, letting go of our guilt, to embrace the life you give us. And free of our guilt, may we live in and live out your forgiving love.
Hear our prayers and hear us now as we join together in the words of the family prayer of the Church.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.
Reading: 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 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.’
Reflection by Rev. Anne Logan
I love a good story, don’t you? One of the great things about being a minister is that people tell me stories – the stories of their lives; stories of love and loss; of triumph and disaster; stories of laughter and stories of tears – stories of hurt and stories sometimes of forgiveness, because that’s how we shape our lives; that’s how we make sense of them. We explain who we are – form our identity in stories.
We don’t, of course, tell our stories in isolation, we tell them against the background of the bigger stories which are around us. Some are very big stories. Whatever stories we tell ourselves and others about this year will be told against the background of Covid-19, told against the bigger story of a world that has changed in ways we just couldn’t have imagined. Who would have guessed that sitting a child on your knee to read them a story would become a dangerous activity! Who would have imagined that singing a hymn together would be banned.
We live our lives in the context of bigger stories and as a Christian community we live our lives in the context of God’s greatest story.
Our reading today begins with a tiny insignificant incident. Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness – and we get the hint that Peter finds forgiveness just as difficult as do we! Jesus responds and tells a story – a parable. The parables are not analogies – the King in the story is not God, but the parables try to capture, in story form, something of what God is like and something of what God wants both for us and from us.
David Lose, an American scholar, points out that ‘parables try to grab our attention, surprise us by grace, and jolt us to embrace the life that God offers us that we might offer the same to others. Parables are also just one part of the story, just one sliver of the larger truth Jesus came to share, and so can’t be read in isolation from the rest of the Gospel.’
I will admit that I really wrestle with preaching about forgiveness – in part because I haven’t had any of the dreadful challenging experiences in life. For instance – none of my family or friends has died as a result of a drunk driver; I haven’t known anyone close to me abducted or murdered; I didn’t know anyone who was a victim in the Manchester arena attack or indeed any of the terrorist attacks. All I have had is the minor ups and downs of everyday life, so I don’t feel qualified to speak from my own experience. There are wonderful stories around of people who overcame great loss or abuse and were able to forgive, but sometimes, I think, they simply make the rest of us feel inadequate rather than inspired.
In the short time we have today, though, I thought we might focus for a little, not on what forgiveness demands of us, but what it offers us.
In our present-day culture forgiveness is often portrayed as a kind of self-help. Forgiveness is something which the wronged person needs to achieve for their own sake. Forgiveness will allow us to ‘move on’ with our lives. Forgiveness will allow us to ‘get past’ the injury. Forgiveness will allow us to forget. But real forgiveness, forgiveness as it is shown to us by God, is something altogether more complex and more difficult. Because real forgiveness, the forgiveness that God shows, is not self-centred but is given for others and it is costly. It cost Jesus his life!
Back to the parable! The amount that the first servant owed the King was, calculated by those who know about such things, about 150,000 years of earnings – it was an unimaginable debt. It was something he would never have been able to pay off. Yet, he was forgiven – it was an unbelievable gift.
In an early part of my ministry, in the open centre in St George’s West, there was a group who came in once a week for lunch and daily prayers. As I passed the time of day with them, one would explain that he had been an alcoholic who abused his wife and child, but God had saved him. Another woman had been a drug addict. A third person had spent time in jail. So, they had these great stories of personal salvation which left me at times feeling almost inadequate!!
And there lies the rub. For most of us, often our sins, the things we need forgiven for, are not dramatic or obvious to others – they don’t make a great story! Sometimes, they are not even obvious to us. Whilst I have no desire for the Church of Scotland to go back to making people feel miserable about themselves, I do sometimes fear that we have lost sight of sin – lost sight of the reality that there are things which distance us from God and God’s love. We have lost the sense that we need forgiveness and because we don’t feel we need forgiveness, we are missing out on the greatest of gifts.
Richard Holloway in his book ‘Seven to flee, seven to follow’ comments that the Church has had a tendency to focus on the sins of youth and forget sins like pride, sloth, greed and wrath which tend to be the sins of advancing years!
So, I invite you to pause for a moment sometime today, sometime this week, to think about the things that separate you from God and the things that separate you from other people. Often these are simple things – the phone call not made to a friend; the busy life that feels it has no time for prayer; the careless dismissal of someone’s hurt or pain; the pursuit of a personal lifestyle which has a negative impact on the planet; the purchase of a commodity which erodes the ability of other people to have a living wage. All these are little things in a way, but taken together, they add up – and put space between us and God.
I invite us to think about these things this week, really take time and think about them – not so that we can feel bad about ourselves, but so that we can begin to grasp the wonder, the immensity of God’s gift of forgiveness, so that we can grasp that God loves us, values us, so much, that God forgives us – God forgives us everything.
And as so often, I leave us with a question to ponder. If we really, truly accept God’s gift of forgiveness and live in it – what does that look like in our lives? How do we live out God’s forgiveness?
Hymn 693 – Help us forgive, forgiving Lord
Prayers of intercession, by Margaret Robinson
Merciful God, the whole world is experiencing challenging times to living and to health and freedom. Please give us all the strength to cope with the stresses and unwanted changes to our lives at this time.
Lord and saviour. Thank you for your great love and blessing over all our lives. Thank you that your favour has no end but lasts for an entire lifetime. Forgive us for forgetting sometimes that you know our ways. We ask that we would walk in your blessing and goodness today. That you would open the doors for our lives and our loved ones. We pray that you would make our life purposeful and our footsteps firm out of your goodness and grace.
Give us the wisdom to hear your voice and make us strong by your favour and grace.
The next part of the prayer includes two short silences for your private reflection.
God of Grace, in the silence of our hearts, we remember those who are suffering from illness. (Silence)
God of Righteousness, in the silence of our hearts, we remember those who are suffering from injustice. (Silence)
We pray for our neighbours:
Loving God, we pray for those who are lonely
Be with them today
Be with those who can find no peace
Comfort those who mourn
Comfort the broken-hearted
Give strength to those who are weary and give patience to those who wait.
God of Love, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.