August 27, 2023, The Power of Forgiveness In Prayer, Pentecost 13

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP:
Lord, I believe: Help my unbelief. Help me to see my world as You see it.
Lord, I obey; Help my disobedience. Focus me; guide me. Prune me.
Lord, I follow;  Help me to stay on the path. Thank you for the path, for guidance, for providence and protection.
I humbly ask for wisdom and for knowledge in every human situation. 
Lord, help me to flourish as a part of the vine, as a means of grace, as a person through whom your Holy Spirit flows. Amen.

HYMN 77 How Great Thou Art
Carrie Underwood – How Great Thou Art (Official Performance Video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf6C0L_7-CA&list=RDYf6C0L_7-CA&start_radio=1

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − Dear Lord, This morning as I contemplate a new day, I ask you to help me. I want to be aware of and filled with your Spirit—leading me in the decisions I take, the conversations I have, and the work I do. I want to be more like you, Jesus, as I relate to the people I meet today—friends or strangers. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 352 It’s Me, It’s Me, O Lord
Standing In The Need Of Prayer (Live) – Gaither Music TV
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x90HfUJl6eY

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: The Power of Forgiveness In Prayer
Text: Mark 11:20-25, Matthew 5:23-24, 9:2, Luke 23:34, Acts 7:58-60
Series: You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

Mark 11:20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” 22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. ”

Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Acts 7:58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Matthew 9:2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

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HYMN 377 It Is Well With My Soul
Guy Penrod, David Phelps – It Is Well With My Soul (Live) [Official Video] Gaither Music TV
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nJ6wQpLmuo

BENEDICTION The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

We’ve been talking over the last few weeks about how our prayers can become more powerful, so that our prayers will be answered and we will live the kind of life that’s possible when God answers our prayers. And today, we want to talk about something that is a significant help and powerful prayer – and that is the power of forgiveness.

Now, let’s assume that Jesus knows what he’s doing. Let’s assume that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Do you remember the Bible story in Matthew, chapter nine? You’ll also see it in Mark. Four friends bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. And the crowd is all around the house and they can’t get through the crowd. So they actually go up on the roof– slate tile roof, thatched roof, not sure. But they make a hole in the roof. And they lower the man on ropes down right in front of where Jesus is standing. And it says, “When Jesus saw their faith–” these four friends. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Take heart, son. Your sins are forgiven.'”

Now immediately, an argument starts about whether or not Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. And then, Jesus says– to those who want to argue with him – “so that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins,” he reaches down and takes the man by the hand, and says, “Stand up!” And the man is healed. But let’s go back to what Jesus said first with regard to healing, with regard to many human problems: What if the main thing that is needed for healing is forgiveness?

I would like to tell you that something I deal with. Psychologists call it rumination. Rumination is when you’re dreaming about something that’s happened in your past. Rumination is when you’re dreaming. And your dreams move toward that bully in elementary school that beat you up or harmed you. Dreaming is when your mind goes– or rumination is when in a dream, your mind goes to someone who’s hurt you, someone who has harmed you to where you’ve been the victim of trauma or abuse. Rumination is defined as engaging in a repetitive negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind without end or completion. Now, the form that takes with me is to remember sometime in the past when I’ve been victimized, and I wake up, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I just replay the events over and over in my mind. Sometimes, it’s like a court case to where I make the most brilliant statements, and the person who harmed me looks at me and says, “Dave, you’re right. I’m a terrible person.” But in reality, that never happens, and I’ve learned that the hard way.

If I can’t go back to sleep, sometimes I just have to get up and sit in my La-Z-Boy recliner and pray. Well, what do you pray for in a case like this to where someone’s done something harmful to you? Or you’ve made a mistake and done harm to other people, and you can’t stop thinking about it? Here’s what I’d like to suggest is quite powerful: Pray for God to forgive the person who did wrong. Sometimes it’s me. Pray for God to make it better. Sometimes it’s me, and sometimes, it’s the other person. And I found that that’s one way that I can get back to sleep, which is that when things from the past torture you, to pray prayers of forgiveness because they can be powerful.

They did a survey once; what was the smartest thing that Ann Landers ever said? This was number one. “Hanging on to resentment,” Ann Landers wrote, “is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.” Whatever that person did to you, sometimes years and years and years ago, they’ve already forgotten. But it lives on in your head over and over again.

One of the things they tell us pastors. When you’re a new pastor in a church and somebody comes up to tell you about some horrible thing another church member did, you should ask them when that was. You want to know the secret? It will turn out to be 10 years ago, 20 years ago, sometimes even longer. Friends, we don’t want to let the memory of us being harmed live in our heads forever.

As Bernard Meltzer said, “Your history, your past, should not have automatic control over your mind. It should not have automatic control over your future.” And here’s the truth. “When you learn how to forgive, you don’t change the past, but you sure do change the future.” It’s time for a spring cleaning in your mind of everything that holds you back. And forgiveness is a powerful cleanser.

Mark 11:20, In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree you cursed has withered.” The day before, according to Mark, Jesus had come up to a fig tree that was green and covered with leaves, looked among the leaves for fruit, found none, and said, “May no one eat fruit from you forever.” Now, here’s the weird thing about that. It wasn’t time for fig trees to bear fruit. That’s like walking out into a cornfield in the spring looking for ears of corn.

But Jesus wanted to make a point, and this is the point: verse 22, “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, go throw yourself into the sea does not doubt in their heart, but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” That’s pretty blunt. But he wants to teach his disciples that faith can move mountains. You’ve heard that phrase. Faith can cause miracles to happen. Faith can cause our prayers to be answered.

And then Jesus teaches the lesson. “Therefore, I tell you,” Jesus says, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it. And it will be yours.” That’s the first part of the lesson. We talked about that last week. If you pray for a fish, the Lord won’t give you a snake. Now, keep in mind, if you pray for a snake, the Lord may give you a fish. God is smarter than us when it comes to answering prayers. But the first part of the lesson is very simple: Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it. And it will be yours. That’s the first part of the lesson.

But it’s a two-step lesson. Verse 25, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Now, this principle is repeated multiple times in scripture, even in the Lord’s Prayer that we just prayed.

Because you see, we always have a choice. We always have a choice, whether we choose to be like Jesus or not.

Luke 23:34, Jesus has been nailed to the cross. He is suffering in incredible agony. And he looks down on the soldiers that put him there. And Jesus says, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” We always have a choice to be like Jesus.

Now, I don’t want to claim that this is easy. I guarantee you, if you nail me up on a cross, I will say, “Lord smite them!” Friends, road rage is a problem. I’m good, but I’m not that good! But Jesus set the example of perfect. We always have a choice to be like Jesus.

Acts chapter 7:59, “And as they were stoning Stephen, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he died.” Stephen sets an example. But I’m not even there yet!

But I know I have a choice to forgive. Now, it might be 10 years later before I am ready to forgive. It might be 20 years later, when God wakes me up in the middle of the night and says, “Dave, I want you to think about this before you go back to sleep.” Might be 30 years after what somebody did to me. But I always have a choice. I always have the choice to be like Jesus. And that’s a priority.

Here’s another place where Jesus talked about the same thing. Very much a high point in the worship of the temple was when people would come to the place, and they would put their gifts in the offering plate. And when they were doing this one day, Jesus said this to his disciples. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against youNow let that sink in for just a minute. When we think we need to forgive people, we think that we have something against them. But here’s the standard that Jesus sets … maybe you’re innocent. Maybe you did nothing at all. But if somebody out there has something against you, here’s what Jesus says: leave your gift right there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to that other person. Then come and offer your gift.

Why? God wants us to reconcile with other people. Pastor Dave, you are always telling us that we should love our neighbor. I want to say, brothers and sisters loving your neighbor includes forgiveness.

Even when people don’t deserve it, even when people are evil, God wants us to be the kind of people that offer forgiveness. One of the things I find amusing about this particular scripture is if you and I took it seriously, we’d all have to pause church so that you could leave and come back later. But we’ll just keep going. Nonetheless, reconciling with other people is a priority. But the decision to be like Jesus is not very common in our world today.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered back in Watergate days – you have to be an old person like me to remember that! But people were shocked when, in the Watergate days, a memorandum written by John Dean came to light – there’s a pictorial of part of it – about “dealing with our political enemies.” People were shocked that the Nixon White House had an enemies list. An enemies list where they were going to use the government, the IRS, you name it, to harass people who were their political enemies, and guess what? There were 20 people on that list.

In a presidential debate that happened in the last 10 years, those candidates for president in the primary seeking the nomination of their party were asked about their “enemies list.” And one candidate literally said– now, they were joking with each other and laughing, but friends, it’s not funny. One candidate literally said that their campaign had an enemies list with 50 million people on it. Remember when Jesus said that we need to pray for our enemies? Friends, this is just not right.

But I have to be honest with you. The last time I preached on the importance of forgiveness– I can’t remember if it was a year ago, or six months ago. But I told myself I needed to sit down and make up an enemies list. I need to make a list of the people who were my enemy because they had harmed me, because they had abused me, because they had betrayed me. And I’ll be honest with you, there were 18 specific people on my enemies list. And I actually wrote it out. It’s in my phone. And when God wakes me up in the middle of the night, it’s usually about one of those people did to me, and I start praying for forgiveness for everyone on the whole list.

You see, you can turn your enemies list into a forgiveness list. And maybe you should. Because I don’t believe that it’s possible that anyone here has never been harmed by a person acting evilly. But if you can turn that list of harm into a list of forgiveness, maybe healing will come.

Because you see, as Corrie Ten Boom– you remember Corrie Ten Boom, arrested by the Nazis, along with her sister? Her sister was killed in a concentration camp. Corrie survived. Here’s what she had to say: “Forgiveness is an act of the will. And the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

See, the reason I wake up in the middle of the night is because I remember the harm done to me; I know forgiveness will ease the pain in my heart, but my heart’s not in it. But even if my heart’s not in it, I can say, “God, I choose to forgive. Lord, I choose to be like Jesus. I choose to be like Stephen. I choose to let go.”

As Joyce Meyer said, “forgiveness is not a feeling. You and I don’t have to wait for our feelings to do the right thing. You and I don’t have to wait till we feel like doing the right thing. We can do the right thing. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It’s a decision we make because we want to do what’s right before God. It’s a quality decision that won’t be easy. And it may take time to get through the process depending on the severity of the offense.

And so Corrie Ten Boom forgives the concentration camp guards that murdered her sister. There’s a great need for forgiveness because there’s a great deal of evil. You may not know this, but Nazi Germany put millions of children into concentration camps. Nazi Germany killed about 1.5 million Jewish children. Along with tens of thousands of Gypsy children. And 5,000 to 7,000 German children, who were crippled or mentally disabled, living in institutions, were executed in concentration camps. And since the little children couldn’t work, building Nazi military supplies, they were usually killed immediately when they arrived at the concentration camp. Friends, there’s terrible evil in this world – like that.

But as Jesus said upon the cross, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they do.” Now, that doesn’t mean that when they’re forgiven, they’re excused; there are always consequences. But forgiveness for us is a decision. And if we decide to forgive people, I think it frees God up to work in their lives.

I was looking for a picture of the fences along the interstate highways that keep deer off the interstate highways. I couldn’t find one. And the deer still get over those fences. But I did find this underpass which is literally for mule deer, to give them a way to get on the other side of the road. Why did the chicken cross the road? Too far to go around. But these mule deer don’t have to cross the road. The state of Wyoming at Interstate 80 has provided a way for them to get safely from one side to the other, which helps them. But you know something? If you’ve ever gotten your deer with a Ford, it helps us, too.

Love your neighbor doesn’t just mean to forgive your neighbor, but it does include that. But love also includes providing healthy boundaries because, as Robert Frost said – and it’s true – good fences make good neighbors. And you’re allowed to put safe boundaries between you and other people so that they are not able to do you harm anymore.

Forgiveness does not mean you let someone harm you again because you’re letting go of the past when you forgive. And good boundaries channel activities so that people can be safe.

But please don’t forget this also. What Jesus said was for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. A man was once told, “I will give you $50,000 if I can give the person you hate most in this world $100,000.” And the man said immediately, “Give me the money.” The check was written now for $50,000. And the man said, “No. No. No. You actually owe me $150,000 because the person I hate most in the world is myself.” Friends, sometimes you’ll wake up in the middle of the night because you need to forgive yourself and accept the reality that Jesus Christ has already forgiven you.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, talking about forgiveness stirs up a lot of painful memories, memories that we’d actually prefer not to think about, memories we would like to pretend about events that never happened. But, Lord, we can’t make something go away by pretending. Lord, help us to take a shovel and dig up those poisonous memories, dig up the trash buried deep in our minds that festers and harms us, and take out the trash. Help us, Lord, to become clean by asking you to cleanse us. Help us, Lord, to help our world to be cleaner by forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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