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Sermon (2) and Liturgy for Ordinary 24 - Proper 19 - Year A
Romans 14:1-12 and Matthew 18:21-35
"Seventy Times Seven"


READING:  Romans 14:1-12 and Matthew 18:21-35
SERMON :  "Seventy Times Seven"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or24sn 686000
                  
   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   The Covenanting Service for The Sunday School that is included
   in this liturgy is very loosely based on ideas found over the years
   in the curriculum "The Whole People of God", but the specific wording
   and style is mine.  Please feel free to adapt and use it for your own
   Sunday School covenanting service.   


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)


* ENTRANCE & CANDLE LIGHTING


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  We are here today to celebrate God's faithfulness.
P  We gather to thank God for his steadfast love.
L  Rejoice in God's presence and praise his holy name.
P  We gather to celebrate God's goodness and mercy.
L  Lift up your hearts and proclaim the good news. 
P  God is with us 
   to save and to deliver all who call on his name.


* INTROIT:  "What Does The Lord Require of You" (VU-701)


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION:
Lord God - as you rescued your people from bondage in Egypt and
provided them with all that they needed - so you deliver us from
bondage to sin and provide us with those things we need.  We
thank and praise you.  Grant to us, O God, that in our time here
today we might hear afresh your life-giving word and discern anew
what your will is for us.  Forgive us for those things we have
done amiss, and bless our songs and our prayers and our every
thought and every action as we worship you - that they may bring
you glory and honour and praise, both now and always.  We ask it
in Jesus' name.  Amen


* HYMN: "Come, Let Us Sing of A Wonderful Love"          - VU 574


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
Gathering in of prayer joys and concerns.


INTROIT For The Word of God (please stay seated):
  Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!  (VU 371 v.2 & refrain)


A READING FROM ROMANS 14:1-12
   (NRSV)  Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the
   purpose of quarrelling over opinions. {2} Some believe in
   eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. {3}
   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. {4} 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. {5} 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. {6} Those who observe the
   day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat,
   eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God;
   while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and
   give thanks to God. {7} We do not live to ourselves, and we
   do not die to ourselves. {8} 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. {9} For to this end
   Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both
   the dead and the living. {10} 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. {11} For it is written, "As I live, says the
   Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give
   praise to God." {12} So then, each of us will be accountable
   to God.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 103 (VU 825) and sung Refrain


A READING FROM 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?" {22} Jesus said to him,
   "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
   {23} "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be
   compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his
   slaves. {24} When he began the reckoning, one who owed him
   ten thousand talents was brought to him; {25} 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. {26} So the slave fell on his knees
   before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay
   you everything.' {27} And out of pity for him, the lord of
   that slave released him and forgave him the debt. {28} 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.' {29} Then
   his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have
   patience with me, and I will pay you.' {30} But he
   refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he
   would pay the debt. {31} 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. {32}
   Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked
   slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded
   with me. {33} Should you not have had mercy on your fellow
   slave, as I had mercy on you?' {34} And in anger his lord
   handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his
   entire debt. {35} So my heavenly Father will also do to
   every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or
   sister from your heart."

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN: "Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive"                 - VU 364


SERMON: "Seventy times Seven"

"Peter came up to the Lord and asked 'How many times should I
forgive someone who does something wrong to me.  Is seven times
enough?'  Jesus answered: 'Not just seven  times, but seventy
times seven.'" (CEV).

   Let us Pray:  Father  - we come before you at this time
   knowing that you are a merciful God and that you forgive
   all our sins.  We come aware too of how much we need your
   guidance and your grace.   Bless, I pray, the words of my
   lips and the meditations of our hearts that they may be of
   profit to us and pleasing to thee, our rock and our
   redeemer.  Amen

I started last week with some medical news that I clipped from
the United Church Observer.  This week I would like to do the
same kind of thing - but from a different source...

   "Current medical research indicates that persons who are
   unforgiving are more susceptible  to a variety of
   illnesses than are their more tolerant counterparts.  The
   New England Journal of Medicine reports that type A
   personalities (long thought to be particularly prone to
   cardiovascular illness) are NO MORE LIKELY than anyone
   else to suffer heart attack or stroke.  The culprit,
   researchers say now, is anger.  Type A persons are in
   danger only if they carry around unresolved hostility.  It
   is anger, not activity, that places a person at risk."
                        (The Abingdon Preaching Annual 1996 - edited by
                        Michael Duduit, page 307)

Anger - not activity - 
Unresolved hostility - not personality type
Think on it my friends - 
think on it and on the links that keep on being reported between
faith and good health - .

"How many times", said Peter, "should I forgive someone who does
something wrong to me?  Is seven times enough?"

Have you ever wondered what in the world was going on in Peter's
head that day?
      
   Jesus has been talking to his disciples about temptation and sin
   - about how it would be better to chop off a hand or poke out
   an eye that causes one to sin and go into life crippled or
   maimed - than to go whole into the fires of hell - he tells
   them  this - and then he ends off his talk by speaking about
   his followers should deal with fellow believers who have
   offended against them -- and then Peter comes up to him --
   perhaps like students in school or at university go up to a
   teacher after class -- and asks his burning question -- how
   many times...

Was there someone Peter had in mind?
   Someone who had sinned against him time and again - someone
   close to him - who nevertheless kept driving him back -
   driving him away - by the thoughtless or just plain mean
   things he or she did.

Perhaps someone like we ourselves know?
   - Perhaps an alcoholic brother - who keeps on getting things
   right - and asking forgiveness - and then getting drunk and
   getting things wrong all over again??
   - Perhaps a father or a mother or a spouse who keeps making
   us promises - and then apologizes to us for not keeping them
   because their has been a new contract issued at work - or
   unexpected guests have dropped by - or I just had to do
   something else at the time I promised to you  - or I ran out
   of money - or whatever?

Hey Jesus - I want to do the right thing - but you got to know it
is real hard to take the same thing over and over again from the
same person.  Just how much do you expect me to put up with it?? 
Just how often should I forgive someone who persists in hurting
me:    - someone who persists in letting me down 
       - in insulting me 
       - and in feeling sorry and asking my forgiveness 
only to do it all over again????    (Pause - tone change)

Everyone here who wants to do the right thing please put up your
hand.  Everyone who wants to do what Jesus asks of you - what God
wants put up your hand.... 
   - that's marvellous.  Just look around for a second - you all
   here want to do the right thing - 

NOW everyone who has ever felt like asking the question Peter
asked Jesus put up your hand
   - everyone who has wondered just how much you are expected to
   take - how often you should be required to give a person a
   second chance.....

Interesting isn't it - just how much like Peter we all are??
   Whether male or female - young or old - we have our limits -
   especially when it comes to pain - especially when it comes
   to "setting ourselves up to get hurt - again and again - by
   the same person.

BUT we want to do the right thing -- even if it costs us...
And Peter - dear Peter - he really does try 
just like we try.

"How many times", said Peter, "should I forgive someone who does
something wrong to me?  Is seven times enough?"

   Who here knows what the number of a man is?? -  the number
   that is assigned by biblical tradition to us poor,
   wretched, imperfect mortals??  Say it out...  again... SIX

   Six is the number of humankind.  SEVEN is the number
   assigned to God by tradition - the number that is regarded
   as the emblem of perfection.

How often should we forgive someone asks Peter - "is seven times
enough?  Seven is the divine number - seven is lots - its
everything - it's certainly more than the human number -
certainly more than what our human nature suggests to us.  Is
seven times enough??

William Willimon writes: "the human animal is not supposed to be
good at forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not some innate, natural
human emotion.  Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are
natural human qualities.  It is natural for the human animal to
defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when
attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. 
Forgiveness is not natural.  It is not a universal human virtue."
                    ("Pulpit Resource.  Vol.24, No.3, Year A, 1996, page 44)
 
So Peter really is trying to go the second mile - to be all that
God wants - when he asks Jesus, if forgiving someone seven times
is enough.  Just as I think you here today really are trying -
that you really do want to do the right thing - even as you ask -
how often must I forgive Mary, or Ken, or Karen, or Mark, or
whoever.

And Jesus answered him, saying "Not just seven  times, but
seventy times seven."

(Covering eyes with hands)  Ohhhh!!  Doesn't Jesus just get to you
sometimes???

I mean isn't it a bit much - this answer - I mean how would a
person keep track??  Let's see - seventy times seven - who's got
a calculator here??
   
That's bring the zero down - multiply 7 by 7 - that's 49 
add the zero to the end
that's 490 times we must forgive someone 

That's about impossible to keep track of isn't it?

You'd have to have a book or something - a diary - a ledger -
just to manage it.

And it would have to be pretty large - because there are a lot of
people who hurt us over every day

And it would have to be pretty portable at the same time -
because after all - people will ask us for forgiveness in the
strangest of places and at the strangest of times ---  I've had
people ask me for a second chance from everyplace from my living
room to a public washroom - from MacDonald's restaurant to my own
kitchen table.

And then you would also need to keep track of all those times you
forgive a person without them asking to be forgiven - and 490 is
a lot of times.

Think of the image my friends -
think of the image of a person packing around a ledger with them
   - a score card
   - a lap top computer with the newest and latest version of
   "Forgiveness Facts" on it - one that runs in Windows 98 of
   course
just so they could see when the divinely appointed limit to
forgiveness has been reached and they can let go and be really
angry and hateful.

Pretty ridiculous isn't it -
kind of like the golfer who is so wrapped up in her score
that she forgets to enjoy her game
       or the fisherman who is so intent on catching the big one
       that misses the fun and relaxation of the sport.

Yet people do it all the time.

Keeping score in matters of forgiveness is not only ridiculous,
it is harmful.  Harmful not just to person we are resentful and
angry at - but harmful to ourselves.  The fact is that in matters
of forgiveness - the person who keeps score is almost always the
biggest loser.

   "One of the most seriously depressed persons I ever met
   was someone who could not let go.  He was trapped by grief
   over the loss of an older brother.  The brother had been a 
   bit of a scoundrel most of his life.  He had insulted and
   hurt his younger brother many times in the way that family
   members sometimes do - and finally - some 20 years earlier
   than the time I met the younger brother - he had swindled
   him in a land deal.  Apologies and offers of restoration
   had been rejected - and at last the older brother died. 
   After the funeral reality set in on the remaining brother
   - the reality that he had forsaken family to nurse a
   grudge.  He had been inflexible too long and it was too
   late.  His remorse over this, his inner conflict, his
   self-directed anger, his regret, ate him up."
          (adapted from The Abingdon Preaching Annual 1996 - edited by
          Michael Duduit, page 307)

I bet you all know someone like that -- perhaps - to a lesser
degree you are even like that -
   not bitter or angry or upset - at another person - for what
   they have done
but bitter or angry or upset - at yourself - for not having put
it behind you while there was still time.

And Jesus answered Peter, saying "Not just seven  times, but
seventy times seven."

Indeed -- and how is this possible - especially since we are not
a forgiving animal especially since forgiveness does not come
naturally to us??

Well - it is not possible for most of us in our natural state.
We need to be anchored to the divine and have the divine power
work through us -
   and that is part of the meaning of the story that Jesus tells
   Peter and us all when Jesus goes on to speak about the king
   who forgave his official a debt of millions of dollars only
   to discover later that the wretch would not forgive a debt of
   a hundred or so dollars.

Jesus suggests with his story that if you keep a ledger - if you
insist on what is due to you -- you will always end up in the
Red.

But he also suggests in the story that    if you remember how much
mercy god has shown you;
   if you allow the incredible wonder of his grace and his
   forgiveness to fill your mind and your heart
       if you recognize the incredible mercy God has poured out
       on you,
then you will, in turn, be able to forgive others as often as
need be - from your heart.

   A woman who disliked a singularly obnoxious neighbour was
   put in a bad mood every morning when, standing at her sink
   fixing breakfast, she would see him driving off to work. 
   Finally one morning she watched him drive away, and as the
   familiar feeling of resentment began to rise, she
   whispered to herself "He is a person for whom Christ Jesus
   died".  That morsel of theological insight - applied to
   her neighbour - was the antidote to her resentment. 

The point is that God doesn't keep track with us.
And neither should we with others.  
Keeping track is not GOSPEL
and it is not good for us.

The Gospel is that we can come to God over and over again
   that we can have a fresh start each day -
   that the past is put behind us - and forgotten completely
And the gospel is 
   that when we remember the mercy of god towards us
   it is easier to show the mercy of god towards others.

Sometimes of course - distance - or death - can keep us from
forgiving.

And sometimes too forgiveness is not accepted, and old wrongs
simply can't be made right - too much time has passed - too much
is changed.

But we can pray to God when it is too late - when things seem
beyond us - we can pray to him and say

   "Lord, I can't forgive this.  Do it for me.  Take this
   hurt into your own hands and bing your gift of healing."

A fresh start is possible.

God gives us one - 70 times 70 times 70 times 70 times 7 times;
and when we ask him - he will help us to do the same thing for
others.  He will help us to forgive and make us whole - even as
we pray - as the Lord also taught us "Father, forgive our sins -
as we forgive those sin against us."


LET US PRAY
Gracious and merciful God -- each one of us here today struggles
to do what is right, but we find it hard - especially when it
comes to how other people have hurt us or hurt those whom we
love.  Help us today to make a break through - bring to mind now,
as we sit in these pews, the old resentments that we have - the
old grievances - the old wounds that haunt us - and help us to
forgive them and those involved.  As you forgive us through the
blood of Christ Jesus - so forgive them and make them and us
whole.  Reach O Lord, if need be, beyond the grave - for you are
Lord of both the living and the dead - and bring this to pass.
...  Lord hear our prayer...

Father, we pray not only for our ability to forgive this day -
and not only for those whom we know we need to forgive, we pray
as well for those people we know - and those whom we don't, who
are caught in the ancient eye for an eye cycle of vengeance; for
those who are ill in spirit, soul or body because of the lack of
forgiveness in their lives; for those burdened with resentment
and anger because of the unpaid indebtedness of another....  Lord
hear our prayer....

These thing we ask through Christ Jesus - who taught us to pray
to you as  one family, saying "Our Father...."


* HYMN: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"               - VU 333


CHURCH SCHOOL COVENANTING
- Interview / Introduction Of Teachers and Leaders
- Act of Covenanting 
   - With Teachers and Leaders
   - With Students
   - With Parents & The Congregation

   INTRODUCTION OF TEACHERS BY STUDENTS
   Note: If not doing the introductions based on students
   interviewing teachers earlier in the Christian Education Wing
   you can use something like the following as a preamble to the
   Covenanting:

   Special welcome - today Sunday School classes begin -
   where we learn new things about God and about how he wants
   us to Live for Jesus.

   What you do - you students and you teachers - downstairs -
   -- and what we do here upstairs - is all connected
   together - and is all important.  We work together, each
   in the way God has given to us, to build a stronger church
   - an ever more faithful people of God.  The Sunday school
   has an important place in our life together - it is the
   place where faith is nurtured in the young.

   Without the students - we are poorer - without the
   teachers and helpers - we are weaker - without the parents
   and the rest of congregation - we are less than God wants
   us to be.  So today, in recognition of this fact - we make
   a set of promises to one another before God - we enter
   into a covenant - to love and support each other, to grow
   and learn together, and to make God and faithfulness to
   him the centre of our lives.

   COVENANING WITH LEADERS
   * The Teachers & Leaders will please stand
   Minister:  Please repeat after me:

   Teachers:  WE WILL WALK WITH GOD
              AND WITH THE CHILDREN AND YOUTH 
              OF OUR CONGREGATION.
              WE WILL WORK TOGETHER
              AND WITH GODS HELP
              WE WILL DO OUR BEST
              TO LEARN, TO LIVE, AND TO TEACH
              THE WAY OF CHRIST

   COVENANTING WITH STUDENTS
   * The Students will please stand
   Minister:  Will you please repeat after me:

   Students:  WE THANK GOD FOR OUR CHURCH SCHOOL,
              FOR THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS, 
              AND THE VISION OF CHRIST'S WAY. 
              WE WILL COME TO CHURCH SCHOOL 
              AS OFTEN AS WE CAN
              AND DO OUR BEST 
              SO THAT WE MAY LEARN ABOUT GOD
              AND BE WITH THE FAMILY THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US.

   COVENANTING WITH PARENTS AND THE CONGREGATION
   * Will the Parents and The Congregation please stand *
   Minister:  Will you please repeat after me.

   People:    WE LOVE OUR CHILDREN.
              WE WILL ENCOURAGE THEM TO LIVE,
              IN THE WAY OF CHRIST.
              WE WILL JOIN WITH THEM,
              IN STUDYING GOD'S WORD.
              WE WILL TRY OUR BEST,
              TO GROW WITH THEM IN FAITH.
              AND WE WILL SUPPORT THE WORK
              OF OUR CHURCH SCHOOL
              WITH OUR TIME, OUR TALENT,
              OUR TREASURE, AND OUR PRAYERS.

   LET US PRAY (by Minister)
   Dear God, as we have promised before each other and before
   you, so let it be.  Pour out your power and your grace
   upon us.  Help us be your family and to seek together to
   live your way; to learn together to do your will; to work
   together to help one another; and to share with each other
   the joys and concerns you place upon our hearts.  We ask
   it in Jesus' name.  Amen.

   DECLARATION (by Minister)
   In the name of God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy
   Spirit, I declare this covenant to have been made.  May
   god bless us and keep us, both now and forevermore.  Amen.


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand
for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU
541) and Prayer of Dedication

   Most Gracious and Generous God - Lord of Life in whom we
   live and move and have our being, accept these gifts we
   bring to you - symbols of love and earthly toil, signs of
   our praise and gratitude.  Accept them and bless them and
   us in the service of your eternal kingdom.  We ask it in
   Jesus' name.


* HYMN: "Would You Bless Our Homes and Families"         - VU 556


* COMMISSIONING (Unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now
   go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people
   of God, the body of Christ.
 

* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace
and may the blessings of God, 
   the source of all that is good and true and glorious and
   worthy of honour and praise 
be upon you all, both now and forevermore.  Amen


* THREEFOLD AMEN & CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"   - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1999 - 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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