Grounded in heritage: Reaching out with the love of Jesus
September 17th, 2017
Romans 14:7-12 and Matthew 18:21-35
(Quoted scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
A story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, “Today my best friend slapped me in the face.”
They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, “Today my best friend saved my life.”
His friend asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?” The other friend replied “When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”
In our passage from Matthew, the Apostle Peter asked the question that many people would like to ask, but sometimes are too ashamed to ask. Matthew 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?”
Seven times forgiving seemed very generous to him because the going rate in that day was three times. According to the Talmud and Rabbinic law, you were obligated to forgive someone three times. But after the third time you could beat the plowshare into a sword and run your opponent through. You were no longer obligated to forgive. In other words, “it was three strikes and you’re out.”
Peter thinks he is being very generous. He doubles the number of times the law demanded, and then added one free pass as a bonus. After all, any Jew knew that the number seven denoted perfection. Peter thought he had arrived at the perfect answer. You had to forgive a brother seven times, and after that the gloves came off.
Jesus’ answer surprises Peter, “Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (v. 22)
The King James Version of Jesus’ words for this verse records “-I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
I prefer the KJV version, because it gives us a more infinite number. Seventy-seven times is not four hundred and ninety times that the seventy times seven would be.
Why did Jesus say this about forgiveness? Peter was appealing to the law, but Jesus was appealing to love.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the law it has everything to do with love. The law has limits, love does not. The law keeps count, love does not. The law keeps records, love does not. The law has a long memory, love has no memory.
I am reading a book by Bishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu, titled The Book of Forgiving. I chose to read this book because I encounter people who are living with heart and soul pain, because they have not forgiven a person or people who have hurt them, physically and/or emotionally. This heart and soul pain affects their emotional health as well as their physical health.
African Bishop Desmond Tutu is a retired Anglican clergyman who was instrumental is setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the final defeat of apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the policy in South Africa beginning in 1948 which resulted in the segregation and oppression of the native Africans by the whites. Disregard for human worth, because of the color of one’s skin, resulted in abuses which I cannot repeat. Apartheid didn’t officially end until 1994 when a new constitution was ratified. Bishop Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one of the most stunning events in history. People who had family members tortured and murdered by white police confronted the officers who had committed these crimes and publicly forgave them.
The reason Desmond Tutu could be so effective in this role is that he himself had to deal with a very personal battle of forgiving someone who had harmed someone he loved.
In this book Tutu tells how as a young boy, he had to watch helplessly as his father verbally and physically abused his mother. He says that he can still recall the smell of alcohol coming from his father’s lips, he can still see the fear in his mother’s eyes, he can still feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.
He writes, “If I dwell in those memories, I can feel myself wanting to hurt my father back, in the same ways he hurt my mother and in ways of which I was incapable of understanding as a small boy. I see my mother’s face and I see this gentle human being whom I loved so very much and who did nothing to deserve the pain inflicted upon her. When I recall this story, I realize how difficult the process of forgiving truly is. Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he was in pain. Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all. But it is still difficult. The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them.”
As we go through the next few weeks, The Forgiving Book by Desmond Tutu is going to inspire forgiveness in us that will affect our life. Instead of just saying, ‘I forgive the person who has hurt me,’ we will experience true ‘Heart Forgiveness.’
Desmond writes, “Forgiveness is nothing less than the way we heal the world. We heal the world by healing each and every one of our hearts. The process is simple, but it is not easy.”
Through these next weeks we are going to walk Desmond’s Fourfold path of forgiving: Telling the story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship.
You have a prayer insert in your bulletin. I encourage you to begin praying this prayer everyday as we begin our path of forgiving. Each one of us has people in our past and there will be people in our future, who will hurt us and who will need forgiving if we are to be healthy in our heart and our soul.
I encourage you to get a notebook specifically for this series. There will be steps along our path of forgiving which you will be asked to record in your notebook. This notebook is for your eyes only; to record your thoughts, emotions, ideas, and progress along our forgiving path.
As I read this book, it is revealed to me that people who have hurt me as a child, youth or adult, I have not really forgiven. I said the words, ‘I forgive them,’ and yet when I hear of my abuser experiencing misfortune, my immediate reaction is not one of compassion, but one of ‘he’s getting what he deserved for hurting me.’ Is there anyone here who can relate to that? Please, be honest with yourself.
Those of you in worship today have been given a stone. The people who are reading this at home or on the church website, please find a palm size stone; small enough to carry in your hand, yet with a weight and size you won’t easily lose. One day this week for a six-hour time period hold the stone in your non-dominant hand. Do not set the stone down for any reason during the six hours. On the back of your prayer insert there are questions for you to answer in your journal. (The questions are listed below.)
Desmond Tutu writes in his book, “There is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.”
We pray in the prayer we say every Sunday, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we mean what we pray?
Jesus’ words at the end of the parable we read in Matthew about the unforgiving servant who was handed over to be punished when he did not forgive the debt owed to him were, “So my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
In our passage from Romans 14 we read verses 10-12, “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 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.”
We begin our journey on our path to Heart Forgiveness.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
Reference: Tutu, Desmond & Mpho, (2014). The book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world. Harper-Collins e-books.
Prayer Before the Prayer
The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu
I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me, and I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may alsohave cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon
Can I even form the words Forgive me?
Dare I even look?
Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused?
I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing
That soul trying to rise on the broken wings of hope
But only out of the corner of my eye
I am afraid of it
And if I am afraid to see
How can I not be afraid to say
Is there a place where we can meet?
You and me
The place in the middle
The no man’s land
Where we straddle the lines
Where you are right
And I am right too
And both of us are wrong and wronged
Can we meet there?
And look for the place where the path begins
The path that ends when we forgive
Carrying the Stone
The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu
Questions to answer after you have carried your stone
1.What did you notice about carrying the stone?
2.When did you notice it the most?
3.Did it hinder any of your activities?
4.Was it ever useful?
5.In what ways was carrying the stone like carrying an unforgiven hurt?
6.Make a list of people you need to forgive in your life.
7.Make another list of all those you would like to have forgive you.
September 17th, 2017
September 10th, 2017
Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20
(Quoted scripture is New International Version)
In the comic strip, Andy Capp, the principal character is a chronically unemployed Englishman who spends most of his days playing soccer and most of his nights at the corner pub, both of which drive his long-suffering wife, Flo, up the wall. In one episode, Andy is pacing the floor while Flo stands with her arms crossed.
Finally, she breaks the silence: “Three whole days without speaking. This is ridiculous.” In the next frame she says to Andy, “I’m sorry I acted the way I did . . . you were right. Friends?”
A bit confused, Andy says, “OK, friends.” Flo hugs him and gives him a kiss on the cheek. As Andy leaves the house, he meets one of his soccer buddies, who says, “I’eard that, Andy. It takes a good woman to apologize when she is in the wrong.”
As they walk down the street, Andy reflects on his friend Chalkie’s remark and replies, “It takes a better one to apologize when she’s not.”
Sometimes this is the best way to solve relationship issues; to say you’re wrong and to ask forgiveness, even when it has not been you fault. Is it worth the anxiety, and sleepless nights to insist you’re right, even if you are right; or is it better to recognize that your pride is getting in the way of reconciliation and restoration of a relationship.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 13:8-10, ‘Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.’
Sometimes the most wonderful way we can love, is to ask forgiveness for something the other person thinks we’ve done, even if we know we have not. We all look at things from a different perspective.
Remember the example of the minister, the archaeologist, and the cowboy getting their first look at the Grand Canyon. The minister exclaimed, “Truly this is one of the glories of God!” The archaeologist commented, “What a wonder of nature this is!” And the cowboy said, “Can you imagine trying to find a lost steer in there?”
People look at life from different perspectives. People are in any moment in time, the sum of all their life experiences, and we see things from our personal point of view.
Reinhold Niebuhr, was an American theologian, commentator on politics, and public affairs and professor at Union Theological Seminary. In his book The Irony of American History, he writes, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime: therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone, therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
Sometimes it takes asking forgiveness from the one who has offended us, even if we’ve done nothing to them. This is the hardest thing to do, but it is the purest form of love.
Jesus said as he hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Remember Paul wrote at the end of this passage in Romans, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ–” (Romans 13:14a)
If you are having relationship struggles with family members or friends or co-workers, is it worth the anxiety your experiencing to hang on to your pride? Clothe yourself with Jesus Christ, swallow your pride and work toward restoration. Be the example of love.
If you see someone who is a friend, especially a church member sinning, it is also pure love to help them. A woman tells of praying for a friend whom she knew had become involved in an extra-marital affair. One Sunday she happened to be sitting behind her friend in church. During the prelude, she leaned forward and put her hands lovingly on her friend’s shoulders and whispered, “Be careful that you don’t throw away something very beautiful. I’m praying for you.”
The friend involved in the affair began weeping softly and almost immediately broke off this extra-marital affair. Years later this woman attended a high school graduation. One of the young people graduating was the son of the woman who had been having the affair. This woman came up to the woman who had confronted her and gave her a big hug. “You were so right,” she said with gratitude. “If you had not spoken those words to me that day, I would have thrown away nearly everything that was important to me. Thank you so much.”
Jesus is the example of pure love, and he was also the example of tough love.
In Matthew 21, Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and throws out all who were buying and selling there, saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’ (v. 13).
In John 3, when the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of the night, Jesus practices tough love when he tells Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, not one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3) “Everyone must be born of the Spirit.” (v.8b) In other words, you can follow God’s laws exactly and still not enter the kingdom of heaven, until you ask for and receive the Holy Spirit’s power, by confessing with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead. Only then can you be saved and enter the kingdom of God. (Romans 10:9)
Jesus is not only the example of pure love, and tough love, he teaches us in this Matthew 18 passage how to be examples of both to one another.
V. 15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
Gossiping about what others have done wrong and not confronting them one on one, is not love; and ignoring it will not make it go away. One on one, face to face conversation using words spoken in love, not condemnation, is real love. For those of us who do not like conflict, and do everything in our power to maintain the peace, even this confrontation done with love may be difficult.
Then Jesus advises a little tougher love, “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (v.16)
If he refuses to listen to them, Jesus says, then it’s time for real tough love. “—tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (v. 17)
As I was reading and praying about this passage, it came to mind, how did Jesus treat the pagans-the gentiles, and the tax collectors? Zacchaeus was a tax collector, whom Jesus called to come down from a tree and with whom Jesus went home to dine. Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus’ love resulted in this chief tax collector saying, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (v. 8) (Luke 19:1-10) Love may convict the heart and help love for God and love for neighbor to grow within that heart.
The Apostle Paul was commissioned by Jesus to take God’s love to the pagans-the gentiles, you and me. In Acts 9:15, after Saul was blinded by Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Lord said to a believer named Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” He was speaking of Saul the persecutor of the Jesus’ followers who would become Paul the missionary to the gentiles, the pagans.
How did Jesus treat the tax collectors and the pagans? He loved them. We are called to do the same. We are not to condone sin, and we may come to a place in our relationships where we have to agree to disagree and maybe even part ways. However, we must always choose love to handle relationship conflicts.
One last point to make on this passage from Matthew 18. In verse 20, Jesus tells us, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
We are not meant to practice pure love or tough love on our own. Jesus wants to be here, in the midst of our lives, in good times and in bad. If Jesus is the main focus of our life, and we strive to ‘clothe ourselves with Jesus’, everything we do, every relationship we enter into must be for the glory of God. Remember, when you don’t know what to say, ‘Just say Jesus.’ You and I are not meant to walk this earthly journey on our own. God came to us in Jesus to tell us of God’s love and to show us how to love God and one another.
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in their 40 years of working together. It began with a small misunderstanding, and grew into a major difference, and finally exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence. One morning, there was a knock on brother John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work,” the man said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?
Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my younger brother! Last week, there was a meadow between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a small river between us. Well, I’m going to do him one better. See that pile of old lumber? I want you to build an eight-foot high fence between us. Then I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.” The carpenter said, “Show me the nails and the tools, and I’ll do a good job for you.”
The older brother had to go to town, so he left for the day. At sunset, when he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. The carpenter had built a bridge that stretched from one side of the river to the other, with handrails and all! And his younger brother, was coming toward them, his hand outstretched. “You’re quite the guy,” he said, “after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers met in the middle, and shook each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter leaving. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother. “I’d love to,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
Jesus wants to be in the midst of our earthly journey.
When you and I come to the end of our days, God won’t ask how many fences we made, but He will ask how many bridges we built. He will not accuse us of loving too much, but He may judge us for loving too little.
Sometimes it’s pure love, sometimes it’s tough love, however if we want to bring honor and glory to God, it is always love.
God showed us His love when he came to live among us in Jesus. Jesus taught us about love, and showed us how to love one another. May we go forth today clothed in Jesus, to love one another
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
September 10th, 2017
Our Daily Cross
September 3rd, 2017
Romans 12:9-21 and Matthew 16:24-26
(Quoted scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
Charles Swindoll is a pastor, author and radio preacher whose radio programs are broadcast on 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. When he was a young boy growing up in Texas, he was greatly influenced by an old Texan gentlemen who said this, “The problem with the Christian life is that it’s so daily.”
It never ceases to amaze me how some Christians think Jesus calls us to attend church on Sunday, and maybe not every Sunday because we might have something more important to do, and the rest of the week live lives that do not reflect Jesus at all.
This passage from Matthew 16, reminds us that Jesus doesn’t just call us to worship Him, he calls us to continually have an attitude of self-denial and obedience. Verse 24 says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
God wants us to live out our faith, each and every day. As a follower of Christ, each new day is both a challenge and an opportunity. Our faith will be challenged, and we can use that challenge as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. As each day unfolds, we must pause and remind ourselves that this is a day dedicated to God, that it is to be used for His glory, and that it is best lived with a continual recollection of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
When Jesus said to us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” he knew what he was calling us to be and to do. He had just finished telling his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem, and he was going to suffer terrible things at the hands of the religious leaders there. Jesus told them he would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. He knew what was ahead for him and for his disciples, and he knew that to build the Kingdom of God would require denial of our selfish human ways, and living a sacrificial life of serving our fellow humans.
How do we begin to be cross bearers for Jesus? The first step is to surrender our life to him. In the words of a favorite hymn, “All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give; I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live. I surrender all, I surrender all, all to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” UMH #354 It is only when you and I surrender our heart and life to Jesus the Son of God, are we able to bear our cross daily. We are not meant to bear our daily cross on our own strength, we cannot.
The Apostle Paul writes in Philippines 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
What are the crosses Jesus calls us to bear? The Apostle Paul describes some of these daily crosses in our scripture passage from Romans. We will address just a few today.
The daily cross of love – Paul writes, ‘Let love be genuine, love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.’ Loving one another is not easy, is it?
We say our Christian marriage vows, we make a covenant before God to love each other; ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, — until we are parted by death.’ Unless we deny our selfish ways, and live out our faith depending on Jesus for strength, these vows are not possible. And to love someone we do not know, someone who seems difficult to love, is even more impossible. But, all things are possible with God!
The cross of suffering – ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. So many situations cause suffering; physical illness, mental illness, addictions, violence, and natural disasters, for example hurricane Harvey. Those people are bearing the cross of suffering, and yet look what is happening. American is coming together to pray for the people affected by the hurricane. It will be a long recovery, yet Americans are bringing hope, through prayer, monetary donations and offering to help in the recovery process. People are loving and helping one another with no regard for race, religion or political opinion. Those affected are finding reasons to hope and to rejoice.
The cross of having enemies – Paul writes, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ Is that possible?
The Israel-Palestine war is one of the longest, politically divisive, and theologically explosive conflicts in human history. Robi is a strong Israeli woman with a heart for peacemaking. She is faced with the problem of loving her enemy every day. Her son David was killed by a bullet from a Palestinian sniper, and Robi was devastated. Would she turn to anger and seek revenge?
Bassam, a Palestinian man was raised to hate and antagonize the Israeli military, and as a result of his hateful actions, ended up in jail. Bassam made friends with an Israeli prison guard, and they began to share their stories. By the time Bassam got out of jail, he was a changed man. He realized peace was not going to come through force. Peace was only possible through changed human hearts.
Just a few years after Bassam made a commitment to love his enemies, his 10 year old daughter was shot by an Israeli soldier as she waited in line at school. Bassam, despite his shock and immense grief, decided to remain true to his commitment to peace. Instead of retaliation, he joined a grief support group, the Parents Circle, made up on hundreds of parents, Israeli and Palestinian, all of whom have lost children or close family members to the hate and violence. There he met Robi. The common ground of grief has paved the way toward reconciliation and provided a glimpse of hope in a seemingly hopeless place.
What is your daily cross? A family situation, difficult relationship, financial struggle, physical illness, yours or someone you love: Controlling your anger, forgiving someone who has hurt you, finding hope in a seemingly hopeless situation——-
Surrender all to Jesus; your heart, your life, your struggles. Jesus knows what it is to bear a cross. He was able to bear his cross because He surrendered his will to God’s will, and God gave him the strength to endure. Jesus surrendered His life that we may have eternal life. Jesus knows what it is to carry a cross, and He will help you carry yours, if you pick up your cross and follow him.
Last week I encouraged you to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). I then asked you to ponder the question, ‘Who is Jesus to you personally?’
If you have prayed and pondered these questions, you know that when Jesus calls us to deny our human sinfulness, take up our cross and follow him; He will give us his supernatural strength and perseverance to do just that.
Surrender your heart and life, take up your daily cross and follow Jesus. He knows what it is to carry a cross. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for this day. Whatever you ask of me this day, Jesus, the answer is yes. However, I cannot do this on my own. I surrender my life to you. Amen
September 3rd, 2017
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Open Hearts ∙ Open Minds ∙ Open Doors
The People of the United Methodist Church
8:45 a.m. Praise Singing
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~~ For the renewal of the church Spirit of promise, Spirit of unity, We thank you that you are also a Spirit of renewal. Renew in the whole Church That passionate desire for the coming of your kingdom Which will unite all Christians in one mission to the world. May we all grow up together into him who is our head, The Savior of the world. Amen. ~~