Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sixth Sunday in Eastertide: Coming Home

Joining with Michelle at "Graceful" for her wonderful weekly invitation to hear it/live it:

They say the third time's the charm.  Oh, I hope that's true!  It began to feel that way today, finally.  This was the third week we have worshipped with our home community since my retirement at the end of 2010.  It's been decidedly odd to drop back into a place which was so central to my own identity and yet has not been a part of our life in any real way for five months now.  Each visit has felt slightly less strange and today felt the most decidedly familiar.

Great music.  Oh my, I love to hear people I know and love leading in worship.  A couple of great hymns from what I consider to be the finest hymnal on the market today (well, it's now about 20 years old, I guess!) - The Covenant Hymnal: a Worshipbook, both of them done with a more contemporary tempo and arranged well for voice, guitar, bass and piano.  And a couple of my personal favorites in the contemporary repertoire, including, "Everlasting God."  'Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord...'

And one of the strongest praying voices in our congregation led in community prayer - a published poet and novelist, he teaches English literature at a nearby college and his prayer could have carried me home right there and then.  "The Spirit blows across the world, may we blow with that Spirit, opening our umbrellas to catch the current and rise..."

And a strong sermon on a familiar but difficult passage - the parable of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18.  Forgiveness is a huge topic for most of us, for a whole host of reasons, but here are my notes from today's reflection:

"We no longer think of forgiveness as something powerful enough to change our lives because we live in a culture that has pretty much therapeut-erized and eliminated sin.  
But a good biblical reading of the gospels shows us that 
Jesus proposes forgiveness as our new mother tongue, 
our new currency; 
it is the language of the Trinity and is modeled over and over by Jesus in the pages of the NT.  
Forgiveness is the 'innovative gesture of the Trinity to break the logic of vengeance' which so permeates our world.  
When we practice forgiveness, 
we enter the 'sweet logic of the Trinity.'  
This brings us back to the beginning of chapter 18 - 
where Jesus calls forth a little child as a living illustration of what a disciple is to look like.  
And though children can at times be prime carriers of vengeance - their basic language is forgiveness.  
It comes easily and naturally to them.  
So now, as grown-ups, we need to un-learn our habits, 
our cycles of behavior and our language.  
And that begins with confession, 
continues by living in healthy community  - 
practicing forgiveness in work relationships, 
family relationships, 
the church's community life, 
and is undergirded by realizing daily 
the power of sin at work in us 
and celebrating that the power of God's love is greater."

And then we stood and read together this beautiful confession of sin, written by Richard Baxter in the 17th century
(this may not be the exact wording of what we read together, but it's the closest one I can find in a Google search!):

O most great, most just and gracious God; you are of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; but you have promised mercy through Jesus Christ to all who repent and believe in him.

Therefore we confess that we are sinful by nature and that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.

We have neglected and abused your holy worship and your holy name. We have dealt unjustly and uncharitably with our neighbours. We have not sought first your kingdom and righteousness.

We have not been content with our daily bread.
You have revealed your wonderful love to us in Christ and offered us pardon and salvation in him; but we have turned away.

We have run into temptation; and the sin that we should have hated, we have committed.

Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father! We confess you alone are our hope. Make us your children and give us the Spirit of your Son, our only Saviour. Amen

It was a good morning and we are grateful.