13th September 2020
The Jews by the Parting of the Sea. (Art by Yomam Ranaan)
`The terrible mercy of God`
Rev Fiona Winn
Welcome and Grace
`Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?
Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?
For we will all stand before the judgement 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.` Romans 14: 10-12
TIS 598 `Dear Father Lord of humankind`
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 - 1892)
1 Dear Lord and father of mankind
forgive our foolish ways:
reclothe us in our rightful mind;
in purer lives your service find,
in deeper reverence praise,
in deeper reverence praise.
2 In simple trust like theirs who heard,
beside the Syrian sea,
the gracious calling of the Lord
let us, like them, obey his word:
'Rise up and follow me,
rise up and follow me!'
3 O sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
when Jesus shared on bended knee
the silence of eternity
interpreted by love,
interpreted by love!
5 Drop your still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of your peace,
the beauty of your peace.
6 Breathe through the heats of our desire
your coolness and your balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire,
speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm,
O still small voice of calm!
In a world of oppression and cruelty -You are God.
In a world of disaster and suffering - You are God.
In a world of injustice and inequity – You are God.
This is Your world. This is our world.
This world is in Your hands – and ours…
In times of confusion and uncertainty,
we, confused, uncertain people, turn to You,
to find our direction and orientation again;
to find liberation and salvation, a better path, to a better way.
In times of hostility and hypocrisy, we hostile, hypocritical people
turn to You, to rediscover integrity and truth,
to rediscover freedom in faithfulness and forgiveness,
a better path, to a better way…
Holy God, clear sighted and clean minded,
righteous judge, trustworthy arbiter,
there is so much we do not, cannot and will not understand.
In Your have mercy You invite us to communion with You
through Your Son, Jesus Christ,
Who is the better path, Who is the better way…
and the way is hard for us who struggle to relinquish our wills,
our ideas, our preferences and our privilege…
Come, by Your Spirit, to these wills, these ideas,
to the privilege and sense of entitlement.
Come and forgive us.
Have mercy on us and on this world, Your world, our world.
Forgive the hypocrisy and the lies…the broken lives and relationships which ensue…Lord have mercy…
Forgive the will to power no matter what the cost…the destruction of this beautiful world…Christ have mercy…
Forgive the endless desire for more…all the unhappy, unsatisfied lives…Lord have mercy…
`God, I`ve heard what our ancestors say about You, and I`m stopped in my tracks, down on my knees…Work among us as You worked among them. And as You bring judgement, as You surely must, remember mercy`. Habakkuk 3: 2
Our only hope is in the forgiving mercy of Christ. We hear His words of grace `Your sins are forgiven` Thanks be to God. Amen
Exodus 14: 19-31 - Crossing the Red Sea
19The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
The Pursuers Drowned
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
Psalm 114 - God’s Wonders at the Exodus
1 When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
3 The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.
Matthew 18: 21-35 - Forgiveness
21 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.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
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.”
Song `O the depth of the riches of the Lord`
(Christian Praise Worship)
Oh, the depth of the riches
And the wisdom and knowledge of God;
How unsearchable are His judgments;
How untraceable are His paths.
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
Or who has become His counsellor?
Or who has first given to Him,
And it shall be repaid to Him?
For of Him and through Him
And to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever.
Reflection and Q and A
The terrible mercy of God
The Gospel reading for today, set in Matthew chapter 18, is part of Jesus` teaching on greatness, true greatness.
True greatness, according to Jesus in this chapter, encompasses many things: wrongdoing, right-doing, caring for the` little ones`, lost-ness, found-ness, real, robust relationships – and forgiveness.
Not a begrudged or resentful forgiveness, not a forgiveness that keeps count or notes its own sense of generosity with self-satisfaction or beneficence – but a vast, incalculable forgiveness.
This is a forgiveness that doesn`t count the cost, doesn`t keep track of how many times we forgive…
Am I a forgiving person?
What sort of forgiving person am I?
Is my forgiveness calculated, calculating?
Peter`s question to Jesus suggests a certain level of certainty that he, Peter, not only knows what forgiveness is, but what generosity looks like when it comes to forgiveness. His question implies that he understands that forgiveness is not just a once or twice event. And that is laudable. For Peter, seven times is a generous amount of forgiveness to consider, a kind of ballpark figure for forgiveness – and then Jesus succinctly challenges that apparently generous thought…
`Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times`* (Matt. 18:22)
Jesus challenges Peter`s assertion. Jesus takes it, enlarges it, expands and enlivens it. Jesus gives Peter – and us – something to think about.
This is what Jesus does with our best thoughts, our most noble inclinations…even when, especially when, they are not so great and not so noble…Here Jesus challenges, subverts and transforms not so much what forgiveness is, but what our capacity to forgive is to be….
What would a world look like that was filled with people who forgave like that?
What would my life look like if I forgave like that?
If we are open, seeking, wondering, if we truly want to follow Jesus, this is what Jesus does: He takes our thinking on so many things we think we have already worked out and understood. He takes what we think, challenges, subverts, transforms…
There is a problem with thinking we know what forgiveness is, with thinking that we are more forgiving than we are, or in forgetting that we are all in need of forgiveness.
What do you think that might be?
In the Gospel parable, the unforgiving servant has forgotten he too is indebted – and has been shown mercy – and yet, in turn, he shows none. His hardness of heart, his callous disregard for the plight of those indebted to him? Is not that worse than being indebted?
The king appears to think so. His response is swift.
Merciless? Merciful? Just?
If there is `an intimate connection between divine and human forgiveness` (A New Dictionary of Christian Theology`) could we also say there is an intimate connection between human mercilessness and the apparent mercilessness of God?
In the Exodus story, Pharaoh has repeatedly had the opportunity to let God`s people go. Time and again he has reneged. This time there is no way back for him, his chariots and charioteers. He has steadfastly refused to show mercy. And so he and his army experience the terrible mercy of God for His people.
God acts to save His people.
Merciless? Merciful? Just?
`Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. You reap what you sow…` Galatians 6:7
The mercy of God is not a feeble, weak, malleable thing. It is not soft and sentimental. It is an awesome and fearful thing. It takes seriously our wrongdoing, our wilful resistance to His ways, and holds us to account.
We are indebted people who long to be forgiven this outstanding debt. The Good News is that in Christ, through Christ, this debt is settled, paid: we are set free, in turn to set others free; in turn to forgive as we have been forgiven – which is what we pray when we pray the way Jesus taught us to pray…
*Or `seventy times seven`
Prayer and the Lord`s Prayer
Ian Thomas - This prayer was adapted from prayers written by Bruce Prewer and Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark
Lord, when we dare to pray for others we know it is not an easy “out” of responsibility; rather it is a pledge of our intentions to be your instruments of forgiveness, compassion and care to those in need..
Lord, in these unsettled times of world-wide pandemic, financial distress caused by economic downturn and mistrust in world trade, political upheaval and natural disaster - how do you keep track of us all? So many people, some many needs, so much suffering! Yet you love each like the most generous of fathers, and feel their pain like the most devoted of mothers. Help us to be inclusive in our loving like you are.
- When we expend great efforts on a good cause and see little result for our labour,
- When we profoundly and faithfully seek and work for the healing of a friend, but to no avail,
- When we witness by word and deed to the Gospel yet see no obvious fruits,
- When disasters happen to the faithful, while unbelievers flaunt their prosperity,
- When we pray with anguish over a lost soul but see no change for the better,
- When we get so frustrated with our own failures that we become carping critics of others,
- When we seem tempted beyond that which any mortal should have to bear,
- When we are weary of body and soul, and feel like retreating into a closed-off piety,
Please save us from falling into unbelief, keep up our spirit, renew our resolve to show love, respect, compassion, patience, forgiveness and generosity of care and hospitality to those we meet - for herein lies your kingdom with its unlimited opportunities for sharing the innovative and resilient power of your saving love, which never ends.
Lord in your mercy hear our prayer
As the events of this year continue to play out with loss of life, income and home through natural disasters, war, acts of terrorism, the spreading pandemic, community protest, unrest and rioting caused by intolerant, boorish and supremacist behavior fueled by ideology, fake news, conspiracy theories and overreach of policing power, we pray for all those who have suffered in some way from these events and for those who work to ease their pain.
Lord in your mercy hear our prayer
- We pray for the abused and those who seek justice for them,
- the weak and those who lend them unmeasured support,
- the heavy-laden and those who share the load;
- the misunderstood and those who listen,
- the timid and those who speak up for them,
- the lost and those who will suffer to see their recovery;
- the strong and those who keep them gentle,
- the wise and those who keep them humble,
- the kind and those who shield them from over-stretching themselves;
- the violent and those who must arrest them,
- the cruel and those who must contain them,
- the corrupt and those who must judge and sentence them;
- the strong in faith and those learn from them,
- the battlers and those who affirm them,
- the happy and those who rejoice with them;
- for peacemakers and those who trust them,
- for leaders and those who vote for them,
- for opinion makers and those who are swayed by them;
Lord in your mercy, Hear our Prayer
We pray for members of the body of Christ throughout the world and those of other faiths, for the Uniting Church in Australia and its agencies, for our Parish in Armadale our minister Fiona and all who worship here. Ever present God, be with us in our isolation, be close to us in our distancing, be healing in our sickness, be joy in our sadness, be light in our darkness, be wisdom in our confusion, be all that is familiar when all is unfamiliar and uncertain, so that when the doors reopen we may in the spirit of Pentecost inhabit our communities and speak of your goodness to a reemerging world.
Let us summarize our petitions in the words Jesus taught us
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today the bread we need, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil for the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory as yours forever. Amen.
TIS 616 (St. Michael - 483)`O day of God draw near`
(Robert Balgarnie Young Scott – ad.)
1.O day of God, draw near in beauty and in power,
come with your timeless judgement now
to match our present hour.
2. Bring to our troubled minds, uncertain and afraid,
the quiet of a steadfast faith,
calm of a call obeyed.
3. Bring justice to our land that all may dwell secure,
and firmly build for days to come
foundations that endure.
4. Bring to our world of strife your sovereign word of peace,
that war may haunt the earth no more
and desolation cease.
5. O day of God, draw near as at creation`s birth;
let there be light again,
and set your justice in the earth.
May the blessing of all mighty God,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
guide and sustain you;
grant you a forgiving heart
and the humility and grace to be forgiven,
now and into all that is yet to be.