Sunday, October 9, 2016

Forgiveness liturgy and meditations

We are in the middle of a forgiveness series and I had to be out for the second time in a month. Instead of lining up another guest speaker, I wrote out meditations to be read by laity as a way of walking people through different types of forgiveness.  

Entrance of the light

Call to worship:
L: From darkness and despair, from being lost and lonely, God calls us home.
P: Even though we have been selfish and let God down, we are still called beloved.
L: Remember the eternal love of God which has been poured out for you.
P: Our hearts rejoice at the wondrous ways in which God loves and forgives us.
L: Remember that in all your ways you can trust in God’s compassion.

Sharing Joys & Concerns
Prayers of the People


Hymn: What Wondrous Love Is This?

Last week, we began a series on Forgiveness.  Some of us might wonder, a series?  Why do we need more than one Sunday?  Can’t we just forgive and move on?  Generally not.  Most of us wonder if we can’t just move on when forgiving is difficult.  It’d be easier to stuff it down and move on, but it’s really not worth carrying that burden any further.  

One of the reasons we are often wary about forgiveness is we’ve heard mis-teachings.  The most popular false teaching  (at least as far as the scriptures are concerned) is “forgive and forget”.  How many of us believe or have been told that’s in the Bible?  (Hands raised).  Truth be told, the Bible is emphatic about our need for forgiveness, both as recipients and as those who grant it.  But nowhere does forgiveness hinge upon forgetting.  For many of us, especially those who have suffered betrayal, abuse, and manipulation, forgetting would push us back into bad or abusive relationships that are not good for us, and that is not what God wants for us.  

During this service, we want God to speak to each of us. To facilitate that, we invite you to do what is comfortable or necessary for you.  If you want to stay where you are, you may. If you want to come to the kneeling rail, you may. If you want to be the chapel area, you may.  If you want to pray during a hymn, you may.  If you need more time, please don’t feel rushed to move into the next section.  We trust the Spirit will move as it needs to.  If for some reason, a part of the service doesn’t speak to your heart, we invite you to pray for those around you or for someone you know.  

This morning, we are asking the Spirit to lead, inspire, and free us to forgive and be forgiven.  Let us pray:

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, fill us with your Holy Spirit.  Open our hearts, Lord, so we can hear you and respond to your movement in our lives.  Help us to do the work of forgiveness. Give us courage. Give us peace. Give us hope.  Soften the hardened places of our hearts.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.  

hymn: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus #349

Most of us have someone we need to forgive.  It may be a spouse, a child, a parent, or an extended family member.  It could be a co-worker or a boss.  It could be a neighbor or a friend.  It could be someone who has done something recent, or someone from a wrong committed long ago.  In this time of the service, we will focus on the other people we need to forgive. Maybe it is one name. Maybe it is many.  

In a moment, we will take a minute of silence to let God speak to us.  
O God, who is it we need to forgive?  Show us their face. Tell us their name.  Who is it who needs our forgiveness?  (Hold the silence for a minute.  It may feel like forever, but it is important to give God time to speak).  

God invites us to forgive.  It doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean condoning what was done. It doesn’t mean we have to reconcile and be in relationship again.  It means we let go of the weight and burden of the anger, resentment, bitterness, and hurt that we carry around because of what happened.  You’re invited to forgive—to let go of your anger, hurt, and resentment toward the person on your mind.  

2 corinthians 5:17 tells us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  That means, if we have Christ in our hearts, we are made new.  The old stuff…the waste that we often carry around, will be cleaned up if we let it go.  Will you let go today?  Let us pray: 

Prayer: O God, forgiveness isn’t easy.  We’re afraid that if we forgive we might be vulnerable to be hurt again.  Help us to see your will for us. Help us to know how good it will feel to be free from these burdens. Help us to give these people and situations over to you, so that we might be truly free.  Help us to let go. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Hymn (or Anthem): Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive #390

Forgiving Yourself

Though we’ve done the work of forgiving others, there is still more forgiveness to be found.  During this part of the service, we will focus on forgiving ourselves.  Many of us have messed up. We’ve hurt others.  We’ve hurt ourselves.  We’ve been selfish.  We’ve been hard-hearted.  We’ve been greedy.  We’ve been tempted.  And for those things we bear the weight of shame, disappointment and unforgiveness.  

But the Word tells us that forgiveness is offered to us.  1 John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

A large part of forgiveness for ourselves is confession. We have to acknowledge we’ve done something sinful and wrong before we can or will ask for forgiveness.  So, in these moments, we are invited to confess our sins to God.  Be honest. I promise you won’t surprise God with what you say. But it is still necessary to identify that which is breaking our hearts.  Let us now confess to the Lord. 

(Allow for one minute of silence. Again, it may feel like a long time, but it important to create this space).  

Let us pray: 

Collective Prayer: Lord God, we’ve failed.  We’ve sinned. We’ve been hurtful.  And many of us feel like what we’ve done is far too awful to ever merit forgiveness. But you tell us it’s not about what we do, but about what you do.  So, we place our trust in you and your work on the cross.  Forgive us now as we’ve confessed our sins.  Free us from ourselves and from the weight of the past.  Give us strength and courage to walk forward in grace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen. 

Hymn: Grace Greater Than Our Sin #365 (1, 2, 4)

Forgiving God

Having forgiven others, and forgiven ourselves, there is one more in need of forgiveness: God.  Supposedly our relationship with God should just be “good”. But we know better than that.  A lot of us believe God has inflicted illness, allowed bad things to happen, or failed to answer our prayers.  We struggle with the goodness of God.  It’s hard to trust with all our heart when things don’t always make sense.  

I wish I could offer you all the right answers to clear things up as far as God is concerned, but that’s not a thing any of us could properly do.  What I am here to do is encourage us to forgive God—for the things God has done (or seemingly done), and the things God has failed to do (or seemingly failed to do).  Many of us are holding onto a lot of anger, hurt, and resentment toward God and today we are invited to let go.  And maybe in letting God, we will feel some healing and restoration.  
In the following moments of silence, we ask that the Spirit would show us the things we’ve been holding against God.  Spirit of God, speak to us now: (hold silence for a minute).  
Let us pray:
Prayer: God, our hearts are heavy with the failures we see in our relationship with you.  We know we need you and we want to trust you.  So, today, we turn over our anger, hurt and resentment with the hope that we will be freed for greater faith.  Help us to see you at work in our midst. Help us to hear you speaking truth into our hearts. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Hymn: Leave It There #522 (1, 2, 3)

Final Thought: Forgiveness is important, and sometimes difficult, work.  As people of faith, we are called to do it 7 times 70 times…for each person.  Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean returning to an unhealthy relationship.  Pure and simply, forgiveness is letting go of the anger, hurt and resentment we harbor.  Hopefully, today has allowed us to take some steps, if only initial steps in some cases, toward forgiveness.  And may those steps shine a light in our hearts and free us for greater love and hope in our lives.  

Please join me now in the benediction:

Benediction: May our hearts be lighter as we leave this place and may we feel the blessing of God’s gifts of grace and forgiveness.  May God continue to move and speak throughout the week in a way that transforms and gives life to each of us. Amen. 

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