ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 13, 2020
Before you begin to follow this service and before you view/read the sermon, please get a piece of bread and keep it close by.
Please also read the Scripture lessons for the morning.
Welcome to Zion and a special welcome to our visitors. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are unable to gather as a community of faith in the sanctuary; so if you have chosen to view the YouTube worship opportunity, we invite you to use this revised bulletin to pause for reflection and as an expression of your abiding faith that our God is merciful and present with us in these difficult days. It is most likely the same sermon that we will share at the outdoor worship at 9:00 am. We hope you are keeping safe and maintaining social distance in order to slow down the spread of the virus and protect yourself. But please continue to check on your friends and neighbors via social media or the telephone. We may learn a new meaning of community and caring by the time that things return to a more regular routine. God bless!!
Light a candle before beginning your personal worship, signifying the presence of God in this time.
*CALL TO WORSHIP
As no one should fear rejection by God,
no one should fear rejection in this gathering,
for each one of us is accepted by grace.
* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
We observe this day to honor you, our awesome God; to bow before you in praise.
You have shown your steadfast love even when we betray it.
You have been with us amid the thunder and lightning.
You have been our Rock and Redeemer.
Make your presence and purposes known to us here,
that we may delight in you and experience your grace in Christ.
TIME OF CONFESSION
The law of God is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of God is sure, making the simple wise;
the precepts of God are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of God is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the awe of God is clear, enduring forever;
the ordinances of God are true and righteous altogether.
Let us confess the ways we have doubted and denied the ways of God.
We address you as a gracious God,
for we know that you are indeed merciful,
but we confess that we have difficulty in being gracious to others.
We reenact old hurts in our minds.
We pamper old grievances.
We refuse to set down our burdens of resentment.
Enable us, Lord, not only to receive forgiveness with joy
but also to become channels by which forgiveness is conveyed to others.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,
in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him
who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Thanks be to God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
As we present our morning tithes and offerings, we remember the words of Paul:
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.”
(Your ongoing support is appreciated and can be mailed to Zion United Church of Christ, PO Box 538, Arendtsville, Pennsylvania 17303. The work and witness of Zion continues in new ways as we adjust to this new normal.)
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
“We do not live to ourselves,” says the Scripture,
and we now express that truth by sharing our resources with others.
Romans 14: 1-12, p. 152 (NT)
14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
14:3 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.
14:4 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.
14:5 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.
14:6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
14:7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
14:8 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.
14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
14:10 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.
14:11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
14:12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
St. Matthew 18: 21-35, p. 19 (NT)
18:21 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?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
18:24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;
18:25 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.
18:26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
18:28 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.’
18:29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
18:30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
18:31 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.
18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’
18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
18:35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING – You can also view the sermon at https://youtu.be/oo_IxfdOPu8
September 13, 2020
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 14: 1-12
St. Matthew 18: 21-35
Last Sunday if you remember, Jesus was talking to his disciples about what ought to happen when someone sins against you or hurts you or tells lies against you. Go to that person privately at first, and then Jesus goes through a series of steps by which to seek to build reconciliation. So now Peter thinks he understands what Jesus is trying to say. It suddenly seems so clear. Jesus is taking the Jewish law and making it more generous. Jewish law, as constructed by the Pharisees and scribes, says that a person needs to be forgiven three times. After the third time you have forgiven another, you have the right to hold your anger, your bitterness, and your spite against that person. Certainly, it would be more loving and more in accord with Jesus’ teaching if you raised the count. Simple enough for Peter. So, feeling that he would finally be able to communicate a truth with which Jesus would agree, Peter comes to him and asks, “If my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him?” And then Peter seeks to show his own understanding of generosity by adding his own answer – “Seven times?”
Peter learns however, it is not quite that simple. Jesus calculates differently. Jesus is the original master of new math. When most of us were in elementary school, we were simply taught to memorize that 2 plus 2 equals 4. It was simply that way, and we never questioned it. Enough to just memorize it. In elementary schools today, it has become more important to understand how you arrive at that answer. It is a whole new way of thinking about math. When I was younger, 2 plus 2 equals 4 was just something you understood to be true, a basic fact. With the attempt to teach children why that is true, it is no longer so simple. It is confusing for we who learned by memorization, but as our children master the whys of math, they have the potential to arrive at a deeper comprehension of the principles of mathematics.
What, for Peter, was a simple issue – let’s just raise the number of times that we are obligated to forgive from the Pharisaic limit of three to a new limit, say seven for example, becomes more complicated. Jesus’ response requires us to think about life from a new perspective – we end up with Jesus’ math. Now we have to deal with the ‘whys’ of forgiveness. And we learn of the incomprehensible generosity of God which is meant to lead us to an equally generous attitude of forgiveness in our relationships with others. Not seven times, but seventy times seven; 490 times we are called to forgive. And yet not really 490 times for Jesus is making the point that forgiveness must be unlimited; there are no identifiable bounds to the attitude of forgiveness that the followers of Jesus can identify as the limits of their willingness to offer forgiveness.
Jesus’ math, this new way of thinking, is not easy. There is probably nothing more difficult that we are asked to do in this life than to forgive another person for the wrongs and the slights by which they have offended us. While we are willing to overlook, for the most part, the casual and the small hurts, considering them a normal part of human relationships, there are limits that we put on our willingness to forgive. We can forgive a friend for being late, but how about when we discover that our friend has betrayed our trust? We can forgive a spouse for forgetting a birthday, but how about a spouse’s unfaithfulness? Jesus’ math calls for forgiveness on a scale that is difficult, even seemingly impossible under some circumstances.
Sometimes we find it hard to forgive because we hold on to the past. We forgive, but we remember, and our remembering controls our actions and our attitudes. It’s that, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget” feeling. To remember a past hurt is to nurse it, to allow it to fester, to allow it to impact a relationship. Forgiving really does mean forgetting. Letting go of the past and looking toward the possibilities of the future. Some people, strangely enough, get an odd satisfaction and enjoyment out of holding on to those hurts. They often like to refer to them with a morbid sense of memory. Like, “I remember when so and so did this; sure I’ve forgiven them and isn’t it wonderful of me — they hurt me but I still talk to them and I still spend time with them.” It’s like not forgetting gives them some sort of power over that other person – a way of making another feel guilty.
Sometimes it is difficult to forgive because we believe that the person who so hurt us is not really sorry. It is particularly maddening when that person just goes on as if nothing ever happened – no apology, no change, no repentance. How do you forgive when that other person shows no sign of remorse? Forgiveness isn’t easy.
This new math of Jesus seems a bit overstated. Jesus seems to go just a little too far. To forgive unconditionally, to forgive continually, to forgive without a forthcoming apology – this is a different way to live. To refuse to allow the hurt to fester inside, to not secretly bear a grudge, to not continue to live in mistrust – this is a new concept to some people.
And yet Jesus tells us that we can live precisely that way. He conveys to Peter and to us the reasons why. The kingdom of God is like this – once there was a king who decided to check on his servant’s accounts. We know what happened here. The king discovered that one of the servants owed millions of dollars. The servant was unable to meet his obligations and asks for time to repay. The king goes even further than that. He is so generous with the servant that he forgives the debt. No extension, no repayment plan, but simply a cancelling out the debt. It is forgotten, as if the debt never existed.
In comparison is the debt of a few dollars. Not much, a trifle compared to the first debt. It doesn’t make any sense to be forgiven such a huge and impossible debt and then turn around and demand payment for such a paltry sum.
It would seem, at least to me, that those who find it easiest to forgive are those who are most keenly aware of how much they have been forgiven. Those who appreciate the generosity, the mercy of God at work in their lives, are most likely the same people who are capable of forgiving the hurts directed toward them. In light of God’s forgiveness, God’s generosity, how small are the acts of forgiveness we offer to each other?
We are reminded that elsewhere in the Scripture, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with a very simple prayer, but one packed with meaning. Since we repeat it almost every Sunday, and perhaps each day, it may have lost some of its power in our lives. But the prayer request we are taught by Jesus is simply this: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We ask God to treat us in the same way that we treat those around us. Is that really what we want? Can we say that we want God to show us the same attitude and the same spirit with which we treat others? Think about that as we pray the Lord’s Prayer later in this morning’s service – can we say those words and truly mean them?
Jesus’ math requires us to look at our relationships and the world differently. It calls for a radical new way of thinking, a changed attitude in our understanding of forgiveness. A different reality as the basis for our relationships with each other. We forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us; and God will forgive us as we have forgiven others.
Thank God for this new math. Let us try to learn it and use it and apply it to our daily living. We may find that we will find life more fulfilling and more pleasant if we simply let go of the hurts we allow to fester inside us and to affect our attitudes. We may discover God’s healing and reconciling power at work through us, bringing wholeness and restoring life by our capacity to forgive. In this may we rejoice and find new hope.
SERVICE OF THE BREAD OF LIFE
(please take the bread into your hands)
We lift up to you, O God, our praise and thanksgiving for your wondrous love made known in all times and in all places.
Even though we live in days of change, when we are not exactly sure how the future will unfold, your care and concern for us is steadfast and secure.
We trust that, through you, we will find a hope and a peace that will endure wherever the journey may lead.
You challenge us to be your witnesses as we go about our daily living. May we be found faithful to you.
Enable us to look within ourselves and see how we might make a difference as we go about our daily tasks.
A kind word, a gesture of care and concern, the ability to make others know they are children of your love, recognizing that all people should be treated with worth and dignity, able to express our faith as a reassurance to those who need hope.
Help us to understand that even the smallest gesture on our part can make a world of difference to someone who feels stressed and alone.
So, bless this bread which we eat that it might strengthen us for the week ahead, both in giving us a sense of hope and peace and giving us the courage to accept the challenges of living as your people.
May it so remind us of your love for us that we might share that same love with others.
And being fed, may we continue with a new and profound hope, rejoicing in the days that you give us.
(you may now eat the bread)
Let us pray.
Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for feeding us and
for assuring us that we are living members of your blessed and eternal community. And now, Holy One, send us out to do the work that you
have given us to do, to love and to serve you as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
During this virus crisis, the Office Manager will often be working from home. Please call the office before stopping by.
Cancellation of Worship: If outdoor worship is cancelled due to inclement weather, an email blast will be sent and a message placed on the church answering machine by 7:30 a.m. The email will have an invitation to Zoom worship at 9:00 a.m.
Coming Up Next Week:
September 13 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
September 14 Ladies Breakfast Apple Bin 9:00 a.m.
Special Consistory Mtg Fellowship Hall 7:00 p.m.
September 16 Bible Study Zoom 6:30 p.m.
What’s Cookin’? Trinity Lutheran 6:00 p.m.
September 17 Book Club Zion House 7:00 p.m.
September 20 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
Sunday School Zoom 10:00 a.m.
September 21 Mens Breakfast Apple Bin 8:00 a.m.
Consistory Mtg Fellowship Hall 7:00 p.m.
September 23 Bible Study Zoom 6:30 p.m.
Pastoral Care: If you would like a visit from George, please contact him and let him know a convenient time.
Happy Anniversary to: John and Sue M. who celebrate 55 years together on September 18th!
Sunday School: Zion needs your help! Christian Ed Director Dana B. has regretfully submitted her resignation effective the end of October. While we thank her
for her service, Zion needs to find a replacement so that our Sunday School program can seamlessly continue educating our kiddos and preparing them to lead a Christian life. Please prayerfully consider if God might be calling you to this position. Nothing is set in stone as to how this position is filled, it could be one person or a team, but we would like to have someone in place before October. Sunday School parents and other church members present a rich field of laborers for this particular harvest. Any interested individual or team should contact Minda H.
Adult Education Opportunities:
Bible Study began this past Wednesday on Zoom, but it’s not too late to sign up! Just let the church office know if you would like to attend, and a Zoom invitation will be sent to you.
Today is the last day to sign up for the joint Adult Sunday School class which begins on Tuesday, October 6th, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, using Max Lucado’s book, Unshakable Hope: Building our Lives on the Promises of God. We will partner with Trinity Lutheran Church to work and learn together in this new venture. The class is scheduled for 7 weeks, ending on November 17th.
Community Aid Bin: At the moment, Community Aid is only accepting clothing and shoes in the donation bin on the church parking lot. They also have a shortage of drivers for pickups. So, please either dispose of your household and home décor items in other ways or keep them until Community Aid can make use of them. We thank Angie V. and Debra S. for sorting and loading the contents of the bin and then delivering to Hanover.
Book Club: A change in schedule!! Zion’s Book Club will meet this Thursday, September 17th to discuss their feelings about A Company of Liars. Look for the Book Club Discussion on the church website for details! The Club’s October 8th selection is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson.
Mens Breakfast: Zion’s men will meet September 21st at 8:00 a.m. at the Apple Bin for breakfast.
Soda Can Tabs for Ronald McDonald House: Keep those soda can tabs coming.
Book & Puzzle Shelves: Our puzzle and book selections are growing in Fellowship Hall! Feel free to explore after worship on Sunday.
Zion’s Financial Information
Income through August 2020: $114,421.48
Expenses through August 2020: $112,580.34
YTD Surplus: $1,841.14