Rev. Lee A. Ireland is a long-time Interim Pastor having served in many churches, most recently in Groton, CT, and is listening during this time of the pandemic.
Scripture: Genesis 50:15-21 (NRSV)
Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)
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?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 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. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 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.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 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. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
During the past 6 months, I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to participate in programs that Rev. Peter Panagore has hosted from his home in E. Boothbay Harbor, ME. In particular, he has helped many of us to hear stories and learn about the FB page where 100s of people who have had NDE’s share details of their experiences and what it meant for them as they returned to their physical life. If you’ve never heard any of these stories, I would strongly encourage you to hear Peter’s story, and those of others on his FB page, but also read his book, Heaven is Beautiful, which describes his experience of wonder and awe in the God’s presence. In each of the stories I’ve heard, the person shared how they were enveloped in a profound cloud/energy of divine love. It’s awesome to hear person after person offer similar descriptions and be moved to understand that upon their return to their bodies and earthly life, they are to try to discern how to live this message of love and forgiveness in all of their relationships.
I share all of this in light of the today’s scriptural passages on forgiveness not just 7 times but 77 times according to Jesus! When Joseph’s brothers came to him after their father’s passing and asked for forgiveness, his response is beautiful in Gen 50:19-20: Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”
Joseph had learned that none of us knows the ways of God and how they are unfolding in our day to day lives. Paul speaks to the Romans in a similar mindset and begs them to be careful of those moments when they pass judgments on one another. He, too, had learned that, despite all his high training and ranking in the Pharisees, he is not God…and someday must face God himself.
For our own lives, we can easily find ourselves making judgments about some of the things that seem wrong in this bizarre time in history as we live through this pandemic. We may want to sit in judgment of a few leaders, but in light of these passages - what is the deeper invitation for us today? If we are to forgive 77 times, and we see actions being taken that are selfish and causing harm, what choices are we to make - if we know we have also made the decision to follow the voice of love and compassion? As one who has learned about the importance of the teachings of ‘tough love’ so that we don’t enable poor behavior, how do we speak and act, to bring about a better resolution to a situation? Love and compassion don’t mean we just sit aside and let things unfold. It means we speak for the betterment of all, not just a few. Jesus knew that. He called people then, and us now, to learn the ways of discerning the best outcome for us all and speaking with truth and love to bring about that outcome if we can. I know I can be a dreamer, but when we recognize and respond to the invitation that is there for each of us, the ripples can make our world a better place where peace and love can thrive again, and this time of fear and worry can flow downstream. May we find the courage to live into the invitation and choose love.
Holy and Gracious Lord, pour Your Spirit upon us this day as we choose to listen for Your Voice and find the courage to make the choices of love and compassion in every moment of the day. Help us to be Christ’s body in the world. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
For those grieving for the more than 188,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
For compassion to outshine hate throughout this nation
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
For those rescuers working to save lives during the wildfires in western states
Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:
Hadlyme Congregational Church of UCC, Hadlyme, CT
First Congregational Church of Hadley, Hadley, MA
North Hadley Congregational Church, Hadley, MA
Haddam Neck Congregational Church, Haddam Neck, CT
First Congregational Church of Haddam, Haddam, CT
First Congregational Church of Guilford, Inc., Guilford, CT
North Guilford Congregational Church UCC, Guilford, CT
Groveland Congregational Church, UCC, Groveland, MA
Groton Congregational Church, Groton, CT
Union Congregational Church, UCC, Groton, MA
First Congregational Church of Griswold, Griswold, CT
North Greenwich Congregational Church, Greenwich, CT
This Week in History:
September 13, 1970 (50 years ago) The New York Marathon is held for the first time. 127 runners paid $1.00 to compete in a route that circled Central Park several times. 55 of them finished the race. In modern times, more than 50,000 runners finish each year. The marathon was canceled for 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The only other time the race was canceled before was in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Starting With Scripture is a weekly devotional and prayer request of the Southern New England Conference, UCC.
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