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  • Writer's pictureTillamook UMC

Following Jesus Courageously - Week 3



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Welcoming Words (Liturgist)

Today, we continue “Following Jesus Courageously” by examining our internal relations within our faith communities. Our reading from Romans continues to offer guidance about cultivating healthy relationships with one another. And Jesus tells a story about forgiveness in response to an inquiry from one of his followers. What questions do we have as we approach worship today? (Pause for a moment of reflection.)

Let us join together now in our Call to Worship.

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Call to Worship (liturgists)

Leader: Children of God, when we face strife, upset, and harm in our midst, we so often turn to God and ask:

All: How many times should I forgive?

Leader: When Jesus answers that we should forgive again and again and again, we are tempted to repeat the question:

All: How many times should I forgive?

Leader: Until God turns the question around: “How many times have I forgiven you?”

All: Seventy times seven.

Leader: “How many times have I loved you?”

All: Seventy times seven.

Leader: “How many times has my grace been sufficient for you?”

All: Seventy times seven.

Leader: Let us learn, then, how to forgive not out of our own power, but out of God’s, who forgives us that we might be free to learn to live with one another well.

All: Amen.

Written by Dr. Lisa Hancock, Discipleship Ministries, March 2023.


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Romans 14:1-12 (The Message, adapted for Inclusivity)


Cultivating Good Relationships

14 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.


2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that they can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume they should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table.


Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.


5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.


6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse.

Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:


“As I live and breathe,” God says, “every knee will bow before me; Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God.”


So, mind your own business. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

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*Choir Music Between Readings *

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Matthew 18:21-35 (The Message)

A Story About Forgiveness

21 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”


22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.


23-25 “The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.


26-27 “The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.


28 “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’


29-31 “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.


32-35 “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”


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Prayer Following Scripture: (spoken in unison)

All: Loving God, we confess that we struggle to forgive, and we struggle to create space for forgiveness to happen. We rush ourselves to excuse the harmful speech and actions of others as a way of suppressing instead of honestly naming the hurt we have experienced. We expect others to pardon our faults without also attending to our own need to repent. We demand forgiveness from others instead of recognizing forgiveness as a gift we give to one another and that we receive from you. We wield forgiveness as a weapon instead of a bridge that brings us back together.


Forgive us, we pray, and free us to joyfully extend mercy and grace to one another, to set and respect boundaries with one another, and to receive from you the love and wisdom we need to grow as the community of Christ. Amen.


Written by Dr. Lisa Hancock, Discipleship Ministries, March 2023.

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Reflection by Pastor AJ Wolff-Lynne


Ah, forgiveness! Something we all offer and receive freely, right? Hardly!


In my conversations with folx over the years, I find that forgiveness of ourselves is one of the hardest parts of the calling that comes with being followers of the Jesus Way. Forgiveness is a very big word indeed, and we often struggle with our own inner turmoil from childhood, from family dynamics, and from encounters we have had as adults. No one that I have encountered has perfected the art of forgiveness.


All we can do is practice.


This is not something that comes naturally in our culture. And it’s not something we are taught by example. In most instances, we are a punitive society, and one bad turn deserves another, or so it seems. But Jesus is making a strong point here, in our gospel reading today.

Do we notice the enormous difference between the amount that the king has forgiven the initial servant? And how does this compare to the rather small amount owed by the secondary character? And yet, the initial debt owed to the king was cancelled, and the recipient of that forgiveness would not extend mercy to the other.


This can be a troubling story, one that leaves us wondering what our actions say about our relationship with the Great Leader of us all. How do you feel today about your relationship with God? Do you feel the grace and mercy that has been extended? Or are you shouldering some doubts and worries about current or future judgement?


An Inquiry for the Sacred Imagination:

How might the story have changed if the initial recipient of the forgiveness had responded with gratitude? What might have changed in his response to his own debtor?

Perhaps it is something like the story when Jesus was at the well with the Samaritan woman:

‘If only you’d known God’s gift,’ replied Jesus, ‘and who it is that’s saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you’d have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ (John 4:10, New Testament for Everyone)


Do we know the gift of God, and who it truly is that is speaking to us? Can we drink from this cup of living water, and then pass the cup, even to one who was formerly our enemy?

This is our contemplation for the week!



An Exercise for the Soul:

Consider taking time this week to do something tangible as an act of forgiveness for yourself. Take a journey to the sea shore, either in your mind’s eye, or in the physical realm. Listen to the ocean’s waves. Breathe in the salty air. Feel the wind on your face. Notice the temperature. Notice your body’s response. Be fully present.


When some time has passed, kneel or bend down, or sit on a comfortable place.

Draw in the sand. Draw whatever comes to mind for you as you contemplate this week’s Scripture passages.


Is there a word or phrase or shape or picture that rises up for you? Express yourself freely.

When you are ready, stand back up. Stand as tall as you can.


Walk around your imagery.


Listen to the ocean’s waves. Breathe in the salty air. Feel the wind on your face. Notice the temperature. Notice your body’s response. Be fully present. This is a sacred moment.

Notice the image you have traced in the sand. And give it to the sea. Mother Ocean is a tangible expression of Divine Love and Compassion, of Transformation and Healing grace.

Breathe in the salty air that comes from Her own lungs. She has been given an enormous capacity to shift our perspectives.


Has the image changed yet? In time it will.


Give thanks for this sacred gift.


And allow the Holy Spirit to guide your next steps along the journey.


Blessings upon you!

~ Pastor AJ Wolff-Lynne ~


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BENEDICTION

May you go from this place with a posture of forgiveness, leading and being led by the grace that saves us into right relationship with God, neighbor, self, and creation. Amen.

Written by Dr. Lisa Hancock, Discipleship Ministries, March 2023.

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