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15th Sunday after Pentecost

Inscrutable Mercy I

Morning Prayer with Sacrament Reserved

 

Yet he, being compassionate, forgave them.                        Psalm 78:38

We proclaim Christ Crucified                                             I Corinthians 1:23

 

The Invitatory and Psalter

V.   O Lord, open thou our lips,
R.   And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V.   Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R.   As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Alleluia

 

Jubilate Psalm 100[1]

    1. Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
      serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
    2. Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us; we are his *.
      we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
    3. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
      give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
    4. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
      and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.

 

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13

103:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits–

103:3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

103:4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

103:5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

103:6 The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.

103:7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

103:9 He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.

103:10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

103:11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.

103:13 As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him

 The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.

 

The Old Testament Lesson:                                            Genesis 50:15-21

50:15 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?”

50:16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died,

50:17 ‘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.

50:18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.”

50:19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God?

50:20 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.

50:21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Hymn: Father we praise thee             Percy Dearmer                         Hymnal 1982 # 1

Father, we praise thee, now the night is over,
active and watchful, stand we all before thee;
singing we offer prayer and meditation:
thus we adore thee.

Monarch of all things, fit us for thy mansions;
banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;
bring us to heaven, where thy saints united
joy without ending.

All-holy Father, Son, and equal Spirit,
Trinity blesséd, send us thy salvation;
thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding
through all creation.
 

The New Testament Lesson:                                                Romans 14:1-12

14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.

14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.

14:3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.

14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

14:5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.

14:6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

14:7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.

14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

14:10 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 judgment seat of God.

14:11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

14:12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

 The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

 

Praise to the Lord                 Joachim Neander           Hymnal 1982 # 390

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation;
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation:
join the great throng,
psaltery, organ, and song,
sounding in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord; over all things he gloriously reigneth:
borne as on eagle-wings, safely his saints he sustaineth.
Hast thou not seen
how all thou needest hath been
granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy way and defend thee;
surely his goodness and mercy shall ever attend thee;
ponder anew
what the Almighty can do,
who with his love doth befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath come now with praises before him!
Let the amen
sound from his people again;
gladly for ever adore him

 

The Gospel Lesson:                                     Matthew 18:21-35

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?”

18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.

18:24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;

18:25 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.

18:26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

18:28 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.’

18:29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’

18:30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

18:31 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.

18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’

18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

18:35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.

 

Sermon: Should You Not Have Had Mercy

Forgive…or else.

That’s the tl;dr on this gospel passage, a fascinating elaboration of one of the crazy-making lessons from the gospel readings over the last few weeks. That phrase is “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Truly, it might as well say “Do unto others as you’d have done unto you, or we’ll do unto you as you’ve done unto them.” That “we” is royal, or perhaps divine, in the sense that God in all God’s god-ness is so singular and beyond us that it were better to use the plural to speak of Him, Her, It, Them, Whatever. What goes around, comes around, to coin a cliché.

The man in question, and eventually in trouble, in this gospel owed his master 10,000 talents, which works out to about $3.5 – $4.7 billion dollars, a debt no honest man could pay if ever there were one. How he managed to wrack up a debt like that I cannot imagine, particularly with the relative lack of freedom and investment opportunities open to slaves, but it exceeds what he was owed as much a mountain does a molehill. (He was owed about $30,000, which is not nothing, but certainly not unpayable.) Yet having had his mountain laid low, once he pled for mercy and received it, he made that molehill into a mountain of its own, showing no mercy when the guy who owed him the thirty large pled as he had done, but to no avail.

What kind of people are like that? Jesus doesn’t say. He simply uses the story to illustrate that the kingdom of heaven will have no mercy on those who show no mercy, so watch out, but one does wonder. Are people to whom much good has been done more likely or less likely to pay it forward, doing good in return?

No less a mind than the poet W.H. Auden’s posited, in his poem “September 1939,” that “those to whom evil is done do evil in return.” That figures. He meant it regarding the people of Germany, whom he and many others of that generation held to have been abused by the Treaty of Versailles in the aftermath of the Great War. It was only to be expected, much as was the lashing-out of Private Lawrence (affectionately, Gomer Pyle) in the movie Full Metal Jacket upon his drill sergeant after one too many days and nights of abuse and tirades. Whip a horse and it will kick you. Kick a dog and it will bite you. Bite a person and that person will bite you back, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, until, as Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, the whole world is blind and toothless. It was from this that I thought Jesus meant to save us.

He does, if anyone does, as we confess and preach and to which we bear witness each time we show love and mercy in our own right. But what do we make of people like the much-owing slave in the example? Are there those to whom good is done who do evil in return?

Wisdom, or perhaps cynicism, tells me that I should not be shocked if we have to answer “Yes” to this. This is what people are like – I mean, not any of you, surely, nor I myself, nor the people in my family and my friends and at least most of my colleagues, students, parishioners past and present– sure, there were a few, I have to admit, but not that many tbh, and those who wronged me who had done them no wrong nor meant to may well have thought they exercised, in acting, virtue. How common is it for people to act as did the massively-underwater slave in the gospel passage – being merciless on purpose, just after having been shown mercy, doing evil and knowing he was when having just had good done upon him? One does wonder.

But before going down that twisted, stony road, there’s one possibility that we’ve not yet considered, and probably should. This slave may truly believe that he exercises virtue by demanding repayment of a payable debt to himself, since he is not wealthy, far from it, and probably needs the money. Like an addict smacking a bong or a beer out of the hand of a newbie, he wants to help people avoid his fate by showing a little tough love, if self-servingly. He’s not presented in that way, I know, that being the fate of stock characters in parables, but you never know. We can imagine a parent having been spared a reckless driving ticket or (gasp!) a DUI going nonlinear on a teenaged child for getting a ticket for 11 miles over the limit or getting ahold of some alcohol or weed; spare the rod, spoil the child. Let them feel the harshness now before they do something much, much worse, and don’t get away with it.

One can, as I say, imagine this. It’s not unlike the tradition in some families and communities who suffer brutally from the police and other authorities from disciplining their children quite harshly – beating them a little, as it was once explained to me, before they mouth off or act out and some cop or whatnot beats them senseless, or worse. As I say, one can imagine. Doing that, too, one points out from the gospel, would still earn one the merciless wrath of the kingdom of heaven, so in honor of Jesus and his teachings it seems best to spare the rod indeed, and show mercy as we have been shown mercy, to forgive our debtors as our debts have been forgiven, to repay evil with good, somehow, while not being doormats or enablers. We might do well to act kindly but shrewdly – being shrewd because we are kind, as well as self-critical and self-aware. Seventy-seven times – or, as it says elsewhere, seventy times seven – meaning, in essence, just do it. Forgive…or else.

Back to those who act mercilessly after having been shown mercy. Corporations bailed out at taxpayer expense who then use the dough to enhance their own wealth at the further expense of the rest of us come to mind. Those that pay their workers so little that those workers need food stamps and food banks just to put supper on the table come to mind. Those companies who pocketed relief money to save jobs lost to Covid who laid people off anyway come to mind. Those who have consistently, for decades, sought to arrange economics and politics to private wealth, socialize risk, and minimize their contribution to the common wealth and the common good, for all intents and purposes setting things up as a coin toss in which heads they win, tails they don’t lose, come to mind. Those who have achieved high office only to use their station to enrich themselves and corrupt, divide, and deceive the nation come to mind. Though there are many forms of social and institutional evil, these ones stick out in the light of this gospel, and in light of the clear and abiding misery that wealth disparities cause everywhere they appear. In the kingdom of heaven, says this gospel, those who show no mercy will be shown none, just as no mercy will be shown those who win life’s race by tripping up or pushing down those who run alongside them, often for their very lives themselves.

Should they repent, acknowledge their weakness and need, and show both remorse and mercy, any such persons or institutions would, by this gospel’s light, merit forgiveness indeed. People sometimes do. Those who have served corruption and now publicly repent, or who confess to having lied on behalf of the tobacco, weapons, or fossil fuel industries, or who come clean about their role in political corruption, economic malfeasance, and other ills, come to mind here. Those who blow the whistle, raise the alarm, speak truth to power and challenge liars (and worse) in power come to mind as well. Often their witness and actions help create the conditions in which those who have done us wrong can hide it no longer, either for their own sakes or for ours. As we tolerate all but the intolerant, we forgive all but the unforgiving, binding on earth what then stays bound in heaven, just as when we loose the bonds bound by wrongdoing and the lack of remorse down here, they stay loose in heaven. Forgive those who seek it – or else.

I like the way that sounds: “stay loose in heaven.” It speaks to a condition of mind that those who have power, know they have power, and use it without selfishness, fear, or a lust for revenge know perhaps best of all. Joseph, in the first lesson today, shows just those qualities, and reminds us what a leader looks like when he or she does. At this point in his story, he is all but running the kingdom of Egypt, having risen from the condition of an enslaved foreigner imprisoned on trumped-up charges to royal official in charge of food, and hence with the literal power of life and death over pretty much everyone. The famine he predicted has come to pass, and the long-term grain storage he instituted has given the people of Egypt food while their neighbors have none. To him in this condition come his brothers, destitute and starving, the very ones who sold him into slavery when he was young for the simple reason that they were jealous that their father loved him more than them. Truly, these sons of Jacob had done evil when they’d been shown nothing but good – and did it to the best among them because he was better than they were, more loved and loveable than they were, and they knew it.

Let me repeat that, because it’s an essential point: often, those who do evil when they’ve been shown good do it to those who are good whom they, the evil, resent because they, the good, are good, and the evil cannot stand it. Just as corrupt leaders cannot stand to have people with integrity working for them, much less holding them accountable, so do people who would act selfishly and without mercy resent the presence and even the existence of those who act mercifully and with generosity. They treat them as Joseph’s brothers treat him: as viciously as they can.

Yet God casts down the proud in the imagination of their own hearts. Joseph’s brothers crawl on their knees, hats in hand, begging for food from the one to whom they did wrong. He has every right to have them whipped or left in the cold to die as best suits them, but instead of doing that, he shows them mercy. As sometimes happens, they repent, for the most part – and Joseph is kind to them, for the most part. He feeds them when they are hungry, and has a better attitude than I might, saying, “You sought to do harm to me, but God intended it for good.” He focuses not on the pain and wrong done to him but on the goodness God brought out of it, and all he is now able to do: save lives, even the lives of those who would’ve gladly taken his own. Would that we all were ruled by such a leader.

This lesson, indeed this plea, is particularly fitting to hear on the week in which the United States has again remembered the vicious attacks upon it on 9/11/2001, much in the manner it also does December 7, 1941 the day that shall live in infamy. How would leaders like Joseph respond to attacks upon them? How would spiritual leaders like Jesus have us counsel them, and ourselves? Pray on that, O people of God, and also pray that we see never again such days of wrath, of tears, and of mourning. Pray to show mercy, and to be shown it, in this life and the next.

Mercy we also show to the weak, as Paul says in this passage from Romans, whether they are weak in faith or simply weak from eating only vegetables, or even nothing at all. We live and die to the Lord, he reminds us who is stronger than any of us and there for us in any weakness. We ought to be like that as well. Yet forget not the pepper in this gospel’s ragu: forgive…or else. Show mercy…or watch out. Be kind…come on, you know you have to be. Don’t be evil. Be like Joseph; be like Jesus. In everything. What else, really, is there to say? Amen.

 

A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)

Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.

 

A Collect for 15th Pentecost (Proper 18)

Grant us, O Lord, we pray thee, to trust in thee with all our
heart; seeing that, as thou dost alway resist the proud who
confide in their own strength, so thou dost not forsake those
who make their boast of thy mercy; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

 

A Collect for Peace

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know
you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend
us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that
we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of
any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

A Collect for a Need or Intention

We praise your abiding guidance, O God,
for you sent us Jesus, our Teacher and Messiah,
to model for us the way of love for the whole universe.
We offer these prayers of love  on behalf of ourselves and
our neighbors, on behalf of your creation and our fellow creatures
Loving God,  open our ears to hear your word
and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you
as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

A Prayer after St. Alphonsus

O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.

 

Closing Hymn:    Now thank we all our God   Martin Rinkart          Hymn  1982 #397

Now thank we all our God,
with heart, and hands, and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mother’s arms
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us!
With ever-joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven,
eternal, Triune God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be, evermore.

 

Blessing

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

 

Hymn: Spirit of the Living God    Daniel Iverson, alt.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

 

 

About Episcopal Worship and this Service

We give thanks this morning for our reader, Alta Cannaday, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.

 

Resources (available for free online)

These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.

This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.

The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

Links to church websites – National, Diocesan and our church’s website.

The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org

St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org

 

A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

[1] Or Venite, Psalm 95