By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
March 29, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 26:31-40, 47-52, 69-75
Video of the full worship service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/523455505252288/
(Thank you for your patience with the crackly sound on this video. A new microphone has been ordered to fix it for next week. 🙂
[For the Children’s Moment, Pastor Chris read the book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. You can find the full text of the book here: https://www.northiowa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ALEXANDER-AND-THE-TERRIBLE.pdf]
Okay adults…How many of you can relate to Alexander this week?
How many of you have had at least one “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” this week? I mean, we’re trying to survive and thrive during a global pandemic. I think some terrible, horrible, no good days are pretty much inevitable.
Now, you heard all of the terrible, horrible things Alexander had to deal with. Let’s share some of ours. This is your big chance to complain. Name the things: big and small, absurd and heart-breaking. Write them in the comment bar. If you don’t want to comment, you could share them with the people sitting next to you. If you are reading this later, just reflect on this question: Tell me. What were the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things this week?
Those are bad. Those are terrible. It has been a hard, hard week for so many of us. This all makes me think of what Peter was going through on that terrible day we hear about in the scripture. At this point in the story, Peter and the disciples know Jesus is going to die. They are scared. They are heartbroken, and yet Peter – he’s always the bold one.
See, Jesus tries to warn Peter that things are going to go badly, that Peter is going to deny he even knows Jesus by the end of the night. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” But Peter disagrees. He strongly asserts, “No way! I will die with you before I deny you.”
Of course, Peter was very very wrong. Under great stress and grief and fear, Peter does all of these things in one night: he falls asleep with the other disciples when all Jesus asks him to do is stay awake and pray. Peter fails. According to the Gospel of John, Peter is the disciple who strikes the slave of the high priest with a sword – and Jesus has to correct him. Peter is not supposed to be using violence or interrupting what needs to unfold for Jesus to fulfill his mission. By using his sword, again Peter fails. Next, three different people ask Peter if he knows Jesus. They say to him, “Hey, weren’t you one of the Galileans who was with him?” Peter denies knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. Fail, fail, and fail.
Right after the last time, the cock crows. It’s the end of the night: the end of Peter’s horrible day.
We have been having a series of horrible days during this global pandemic: as individuals, as a community, as a country, and a world. And I know we really, really want to respond in the way that is best for everyone. We really want to show people God’s extraordinary love in every moment. We really want to be responsible and courageous and compassionate and selfless.
But when we, like Peter, are under great stress and grief and fear, it is very difficult to show and share God’s love in those situations. I am sure we have all failed at some point this week. I have. I have been short with my spouse. I have failed to be mentally present with my family. I have had less grace and understanding with people than I know God wants me to have. I have not been the person God created me to be in many ways this week.
How about you? Now I’m not going to ask you to type this time. But maybe just take a moment reflecting on your week. Close your eyes in prayer if it helps you in your reflection. Reflection on these questions: when have you failed to be the person God created you to be this week? When have you failed to share the love of God inside of you with the world? When have you failed to courageously choose the good in a difficult situation?
Now, do you know the rest of the story of Jesus and Peter? Do you know what happened next? You probably do. Jesus was tried and crucified. At the crucifixion, all the disciples had fled. There were women around weeping, other people standing around, gawking. There were soldiers who nailed him to the cross and divvied up his clothing. There were leaders mocking him. There were criminals being crucified beside him.
In the midst of all of those people, Jesus said these words: “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they are doing.”
To whom Jesus said this is not entirely clear. Yet the willingness of Jesus, of God Incarnate, to die on the cross, speaking forgiveness, causes me to believe that God’s radical forgiveness was for all of those people – just as it is for all of us. God’s forgiveness is for all the times we have fallen short in small ways and in very serious ways. God offers that forgiveness to us freely – not after we have beat ourselves up, not after we have begged for it, but God offers forgiveness freely and lovingly in every moment.
There is a medieval mystic named Julian of Norwich who writes about the depth of God’s love for us – even when we fail. Julian had many visions about God, and she wrote them all down.
She has one particular vision of a servant and his lord. In the vision, the servant desperately wants to please the lord. She writes, “He dashes off and runs at great speed to do [the lord’s] will.” But as he dashes off, he falls into a hole. He is injured, and he can’t get out. He cannot do what the lord wants him to do.
The lord’s response to him is not to be angry that the servant messed up and fell into the hole. The lord looks at him with pity and compassion, and wants to do everything to help the servant who has fallen. Julian writes, “And the loving regard which [the lord] kept constantly on his servant, and especially when he fell…could melt our hearts for love and break them in two for joy.”
We fall. We fail like Peter. We fail like ourselves so many times this past week. But if we believe in God’s love shown to us on the cross, and if we believe in Julian’s vision of the depth of God’s love for us, then we know that God does not stand over us angrily in judgment. We know that God offers us forgiveness that humans cannot muster – and compassion that “could melt our hearts for love and break them in two for joy.”
However you have failed this week…and for the times you will fail in the future…
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
Those are the traditional words of assurance in the Christian tradition. They are a reminder that God forgives all of our sins, that God runs out to welcome us back home whenever we have wandered away, that God does not withhold grace from anyone, no matter what might have happened this week.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Would you type that in the comment box as a reminder to me and one another? I need to hear it as well. We are all in this boat together.
I will give you a second to type it. Let’s flood the screen with the reality of God’s grace and forgiveness.
In the name of Jesus Christ, WE are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION & REFLECTION
1) What were the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that happened to you this week? Name both the big things and the small, absurd things that made life difficult this week.
2) Given the anxiety, stress, and grief we are all experiencing, you may not have chosen to be kind and compassionate at all moments this week. Reflect on (and share with someone else if you feel comfortable) the times that you fell short of sharing God’s love with the world this week.
3) Jesus’ death on the cross, speaking words of forgiveness even then, shows us the depth of God’s love and mercy toward us. Are you able to accept and receive forgiveness for the times you have fallen short? Is it easy or difficult (or somewhere in between) for you to believe that God forgives you?
4) Has someone ever forgiven you in an unexpectedly gracious way? What might that show you about the possibility of God’s forgiveness which is even greater than our human ability to forgive?