On this second Sunday after Epiphany (January 19, 2014), we hear a words of forgiveness. There is the story of Esau embracing the returning Jacob, Gamaliel offering counsel of patience regarding this new Jesus movement, and Jesus, the Light of the World, changing the dynamics of judgment. Often at the beginning of a new year this is a word we need to hear so that we might experience reconciliation with God and with neighbor. Should you be looking for an alternative way of engaging the scriptures and you're a lectionary preacher, I again invite you to consider following David Ackerman's lead. David is a pastor from the United Church of Christ who has a heart for preaching and the word they are tasked to bring.
“Let go; forgive.”
Call to Worship: Psalm 44:23-26 NRSV
One: Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Many: Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
One: For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
Many: Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
Gathering Prayer: We come here today, God, from so many places and settings in life. There are so many different things on our minds, and with all these distractions, we confess that it’s hard to really focus on you. Help us, in this time that we share together, to look to you as the source of our strength, and teach us how to see our lives as gifts of joy and blessing.
Confession: It’s so hard for us to forgive, God. We’re tempted to think that forgiveness is about accepting abuse and saying that it’s okay when people do bad things to us. But this is far from the truth. We know deep down that forgiveness is about power, and that we come to a place of forgiveness when we say to someone who has wronged us, “The power you once had over me, you no longer have.” We find the strength to say this when we see how much you, God, have also forgiven us. So help us this day to feel your forgiveness, and in turn, to find the power to forgive the wrongs that others have committed against us.
Assurance: God sets us free from the wrongs of yesterday so that we also may find power to forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. Let us give thanks and praise to God for this amazing gift!
Scriptures: Genesis 32:3-7a, 33:1-4 – “Esau’s Mercy”
Acts 5:33-42 – “The Counsel of Gamaliel”
John 8:12-20 – “I Am the Light of the World”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
- If Jacob (Israel) is supposed to be a heroic figure in Genesis, why do you think that it’s Esau who is shown to be merciful and gracious in today’s first reading? What do you think this passage suggests about God’s relationship to Gentiles (non-Israelite people) from the very beginnings of the Jewish people? How might this apply to those whom we, in the Christian church, consider “outsiders” or “outcasts” today?
- Has anyone ever had mercy on you? How did it feel? Have you ever shown mercy to someone? How did that feel?
- What do you make of the story of Gamaliel’s counsel in Acts 5? How does an understanding of history offer a perspective that makes forgiveness (or letting go) easier?
- What does forgiveness mean to you? Why is it important? Have you ever struggled to let something go but felt better when you did? Are there some things you can’t let go? How and when does forgiveness happen?
- What comes to your mind when Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world”? When we equate light with good and dark with evil, how might people with darker color skin perceive this? How is racism woven into the fabric of some of our culture’s basic images about God?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: We thank you, God, for forgiving us and for setting us free from all of our sins. Show us how to respond by living grace-filled lives that truly show your love in this world.
Benediction: God sends us out today to be agents of mercy and healing. So let us go and share the good news that we find the power to forgive because God has forgiven us. Amen.