A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Real Life "Living Generously" Story - Day #2 of Five-Week Spiritual Focus

So, I guess it doesn't take long for God to provide an opportunity to practice what was preached the previous day in worship. This opportunity occurred exactly 24 hours after we sung the last song in worship yesterday.

A family of five children, ages 4 months old to 16 years old stopped by our church today. They left their home in Columbus because they live next to a drug house and there was a murder in their neighborhood. For the past week, they have been living out of their van and looking for shelter. Our shelters in Lancaster are currently full.

Some of our church staff met the family at a gas station and put $40 of gas in their van so that they will be able to continue driving to another town where they will hopefully be able to live with an uncle. With the help of today's Monday lunch crew, we were also able to give them some food and table settings.

As one staff member shared, "They are certainly at rock bottom." Let's pray for this family as they seek to find a new place to stay where they can be safe and get back on their feet again.

Join us this upcoming Sunday as we continue our "Living Generously" church-wide focus. Let's continue to be open to the opportunities where God may be calling us to live generously and be a blessing to others.

See you Sunday!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - October 5

Sunday, October 5 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 8  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 17th Sunday After Pentecost; World Communion Sunday; Holy Communion; & Living Generously Church-Wide Focus

Scripture - II Corinthians 8:1-7 & Matthew 6:19-24

Sermon "Living Generously: Who Is the Boss?"

Theme - Living generously means that we empty ourselves so that we can be freed to serve God and others. True giving comes from our essence and just just from our excess. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lancaster First UMC - Another Really Old Picture

A big thanks to Ted Unks, one of our long-time church members who provided us with yet another really old picture from our church's history. Ted believes that this picture is around the time our church began holding worship services at our present main building. His father is somewhere in this picture.

My guess is that this photo was probably taken during the winter of 1908. The picture of the world's largest men's bible class was taken in April, 1915.

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - September 28

Note: The scripture readings for this Sunday through October 26 will not be based on the appointed lectionary readings. We will be using other selected readings as part of our "Living Generously" church-wide focus.

Sermon (September 28) - "Living Generously: First & Best"

Leviticus 22:17-20

This passage helps us to see that Priests are to receive the people's gifts in proper ways. Lay persons are not to eat of the food given for the priests.

Gifts are to be given without any physical blemish.

These meticulous commands regarding the offering of sacrifices relate to the concept of holiness which is what helps God's people to be set apart and unique in their vocation of being God's covenant people.

This scripture passage invites us to think about the gifts that we offer to God and the church. Are we offering our very best gifts or do we give to God our leftovers? The Book of Leviticus also refers to the tithe which is 10% of one's harvest. See Leviticus 27:30. This is the minimum expectation of what one is to give to the Lord.

Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus responds to a question about which of all the many commandments is the greatest. Jesus replies with the Shema, a prayer that would have been recited daily by the people of Jesus' day. It speaks of loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Jesus adds a second commandment which is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Even though Jesus gave a traditional answer by referring to the Shema, we are left with the question as to how we can obey this commandment. The word, "all" appears several times int he Shema. How can we offer God our very best (see our Leviticus passage) each day?

To answer that question, we need to think about the bigger question and how it's through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, that we are empowered to live as God's people. We can't do this on our own strength. We needed Jesus not just to give us the right answer but to live this commandment out fully, even to the point where he offered his life on a cross to bring salvation to the world.

Scot McKnight, a Christian author and blogger has a book entitled Jesus Creed which invites us to recite the Great Commandment as people would have done in Jesus' day. By reciting it, we not only continue a tradition that has been established over several centuries, we also become more aware of living out this commandment in our day to day living.

We are in the beginning of a five-week congregational focus on the theme, "Living Generously." Both our scriptures for this Sunday remind us that to live generously, we are called to offer God our very best gifts.

[Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.]

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Wrong Phone Number In a Small World

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.
The usual response is...
I'm sorry, you have the wrong number

But after two months it became....
I'm sorry, but you have the wrong person,
or maybe not......

Let me explain.

The first call, she left a voicemail on my house phone.
She sounded like she was 102,
with a crackly voice,
and she spoke very slowly.

"Floyd, this is Emma, please call me."

Since I have never been christened a "Floyd",
I chalked it up as a wrong number.

A couple of days later,
another voice mail.

"Floyd, this is Emma, I need to talk to you"

Evidently Floyd must have a similar phone number to mine, I thought.
I let it go.

A week went by.
Then, another voice mail from Emma.

"Floyd, this is Emma,
I'm worried about you....I haven't heard from you.
Please call me."

I stared at the phone.....
okay, now I have a lady who is older than dirt worried that Floyd has been abducted.
But I didn't know how to call and tell her that Floyd was probably just fine....
just at another telephone number!

Another week....
like clockwork Emma called again during daytime hours...

"Floyd, this is Emma.
Meryl has been asking for you to visit him at the nursing home.
He's worried about you, and so am I.
Please call me."

Now she had me.............
Emma was worried,
Meryl was worried.
and for all I knew,
maybe Floyd had been abducted.

If only 102 year old ladies could tweet,
or chat, or text......
But it wouldn't matter
I am not a techie.
I have no interest in pushing buttons,
and I have no desire how to learn about the latest gizmo.

But I looked at my phone closely for the first time.
There was a button marked menu.
I pushed it.
It said, "received calls"
I pushed on that,
and up came a list of phone numbers,
including a local number that was consistent with the days and times that Emma had called.

I debated whether to call Emma.
I'd like to say that compassion motivated me,
but I was more concerned that eventually Emma,
in an effort to rescue Floyd,
would call 911
and give them my phone number.

I picked up the phone and dialed.
That now familiar, older than dirt voice answered.

Ma'am, my name is David.
My name is David.
My name is David, You have been calling for me several weeks now by mistake.
"I don't know any David"

Emma proceeded to hang up on me.

Okay, now Emma was starting to tick me off.
And I wasn't making her very happy either.

2 days later, Emma called.
"Floyd, this is Emma.
Meryl's not doing too well
and he wants to see you.
Please visit him.

Okay, now I am envisioning Meryl on his death bed,
wishing to tell Floyd his last thoughts.

Sometimes guilt can motivate you.
One more call to Emma
(without mentioning that my mother named me David).

I have been receiving calls from you about a man named Meryl.

"Oh no, is Meryl dead?"

No Ma'am,
but you have been calling me to visit him

"Is this an insurance agent?"

No Ma'am, I am a pastor.

Emma hung up on me again.
It appears she wasn't interested in a pastoral visit.

I gave up .........
sorry that Emma couldn't find the right phone number,
hoping that Floyd hadn't been abducted,
and praying that Meryl wasn't dead.

Three weeks later,
I was visiting my aunt,
in a nursing home.
It was my first visit to see her there,
so I was checking the room numbers as I walked down the hallway
Just before I got to her room, #106
room #104.........
and a gentleman named Meryl was listed.

It can't be, I thought
I can't, I tried to convince myself.
But it could be
and I could.
I knocked on the door jam and entered.

Pardon me,
but are you Meryl?
He acknowledged that he was.
Do you happen to know someone named Emma or Floyd?
He acknowledged that his wife was named Emma, and he had a friend named Floyd.

Chills went down my spine.
The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.

I didn't bother to explain the craziness of wrong phone numbers.
But I did ask him if he wanted to pray.
He did, and we did.
He had never been a church goer,
but he believed that it wouldn't be very long till He met the Lord,
and he wanted to be ready.

I left a note at the nurse's station,
for Emma.....
Explaining to her that she had been calling me for weeks by accident,
that she needed to correct Floyd's number if she wanted to reach him,
and that I, by chance (not really) had come and met Meryl.
And if she needed any pastoral assistance, she could call me.
(She certainly knew my number)

I never heard from Emma again,
the wrong numbers ceased.
But I am convinced that nothing happens by chance,
that all that we do is ultimately under the Lord's authority,
and that He can and will use the strangest circumstances
for purposes that we can't imagine.

So if you think that God is calling the wrong person, when He calls you,
think again.
There are no wrong numbers, when it is God calling.

I know it, Meryl now knows it.
I hope you do as well.

I am the Lord.
I have called you in righteousness.
Isaiah 42:6

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Message from Lulu - Sign Up for Your Church Directory Photo Today!

Lulu says, "This is the last week to sign-up for your church pictorial directory picture." Yes, pets are allowed! LifeTouch does a great job. There's no pressure to buy pictures and you get a free photo and church directory! Members & non-members are welcome to sign-up. We want our whole church family in our new church directory! To sign-up, contact the church office at 653-3330 or simply make an appointment on our church website @ www.lancasterfumc.org

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - September 28

Sunday, September 28 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 1  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 16th Sunday After Pentecost & First Sunday of a Five-Week Church-Wide Focus on Living Generously

Scripture - Leviticus 22:17-20 & Matthew 22:34-40

Sermon "Living Generously: First & Best"

Theme - Living generously means that we are giving our very best in loving God and others. Are you giving your best? This is the first part of a five-part church-wide focus on "Living Generously." 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Don't Read This During Lunch

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

Summertime in America,
It’s all about baseball, hot dogs and……..oh  no, not that…….

The cars were coming up the highway by the hundreds.
If you happen to be in north central Pennsylvania in late August,
you can’t help but notice the migration
of thousands of fans to the Little League World Series.

I was in the vicinity that day, coming from a prison visit.
While heading home, I realized that I needed
to get something to eat for lunch.

The only food option around was a convenience store.
It was an older style store of which the exterior walls were glass.

As I entered, I found a hot dog rotisserie.
The smell of frankfurters cooking quickly lured me.

The rotisserie was next to the wall,
so I had a full view of the parking lot.
While I pulled out two buns,
I saw a van pull up in the parking lot.

Out sprang an all-American family,
no doubt headed for the little league game.
The son had a baseball glove
and the daughter was wearing a baseball cap.

The father was escorting his daughter towards the store
for what appeared to be a bathroom stop.

Instead of coming in,
the father and the daughter came up to the wall of the store,
just feet away from me on the opposite side of the glassed wall.

It seemed somewhat odd but I smiled
and continued to choose over the best looking hot dogs.

The father smiled back nervously.
I thought it odd that they chose to stand at the outside wall
gazing so carefully at me while I was preparing my lunch.

I am not quite sure about specifics of hot dog rotisserie etiquette,
but it seems that there should be a buffer space
similar to that of an ATM machine,
even when separated by a pane of glass.

It was somewhere between the application
of the mustard and the ketchup that I realized what was going on…..

The all-American girl was sick and was losing her cookies
into the parking lot waste can……
two feet away from me.

Now some things just don’t go together…….
Upchucking  and hot dog preparation is another.

Only a thin layer of glass
separated my condiments from utter vileness.

The father now realized that I was preparing my lunch,
as his little girl was losing hers.

There are many sacred and high holy moments in any man’s day.
Preparing a meat sandwich is one of them.

Having invaded my inner sanctum of meat preparation,the father feebly offered an “I’m so sorry” gesture through the window pane.      

I must admit that I have a strong stomach,
but nothing says “let’s skip lunch”
like an unobstructed frontal view of regurgitation.

But as the champion of sacred moments that I am,
I pressed on.
As I reached for the relish packets,
Little Miss Shortstop lost it again.

The resemblance of the relish to the projectile
was more than I could bear.
Game over.

I bagged my hot dogs,
headed to the cashier,
and paid for a lunch that would never be eaten.

As I left the store,
the father now offered a verbal “I’m so sorry,”
while his little princess continued to expectorate.

Sometimes, a kind deed is just as important as a word.
I offered him my napkins,
knowing that the hot dogs were of no good to anyone.

“I hope she feels better” I said.
And with that,
I departed knowing that I would never again
view hot dogs the same way.

As a Christian,
I should and need to be moved
when the lovely things of my world
are confronted by the unlovely realities of other’s worlds.

Each day, I return home to a comfortable residence,
while many in the world live in sub-standard or no housing.

I receive hearty and delicious meals several times a day,
knowing that children throughout the world go to bed hungry.

I have excellent medical resources at my disposal when I feel ill
while many in the world die prematurely from preventable diseases.

I live in a land that is relatively safe
while others dwell in war torn countries.

How do we as  people of faith reconcile all of that?
It starts with an abiding sense of gratitude.
But it needs to go further.
Gratitude should prompt us to action.

None of us can end world hunger,
or cure all diseases,
or build suitable housing for all of the world.

But we can make a difference in at least one person’s life.
What if the Body of Christ all rose and did so?

No one needs to see vomit while preparing their lunch.
But seeing can and should lead us to compassionate and healing works.

Jesus told us as much…..

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing,
and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

It’s interesting to note that Jesus predicates this on His return to the Father.
It’s because it is then that He sends the Holy Spirit to empower us.

We are without excuse.
And sometimes we need to see the unlovely immediately in our faces
to move us to service.

It’s not always pretty.
Just remember to bring extra napkins…………

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Readings Commentary - September 21

Sunday, September 21 - "A Life Worth Living"

Philippians 1:21-30

Overview of this Epistle - Philippi, located in northern Greece was the first European place to hear about Jesus Christ. Paul's first visit to Philippi can be found in Acts 16. This congregation gave Paul the most joy.

Paul is writing this letter while in prison, probably in Ephesus. The Christians in Philippi had sent him a relief offering and he is thanking them for this gift.

In this passage, Paul claims that whether he lives or dies, he has confidence because of his relationship with Christ. This passage offers some insight regarding life after death. Upon death, a Christian will be with the Lord.

New Testament, Tom Wright reminds us that there is a two-stage process after death. The first stage is being with the Lord as Paul mentions in this passage. The second stage is when Christ returns and all of God's people are resurrected and given new bodies. This is good news for those who have placed their faith in Christ and Paul wants the Philippian Christians to embrace this hope.

II Corinthians 1:8-11 is a companion passage to this one because Paul describes what happened before he was released from prison. Paul had thought he was going to be killed. Paul was willing to suffer the consequences for his obedience to the gospel but his desire was to continue building up the churches that he had founded. His release from prison ended up being a sign that Jesus was the true King of the world and not the Emperor of Rome or any other world leader for that matter.

For the sermon, I want to explore what it means for us to embrace this life that is worth living. Even though we face adversities, Paul is reminding us that life is worth living.  It all centers on the good news of Jesus Christ and his calling to share this good news with others.

Matthew 20:1-16

The Gospel reading is part of the lectionary texts for this Sunday. Even though my focus will be on the Philippians text, this scripture from Matthew is an incredible parable about God's grace.

As is true for many of Jesus' parables, this parable isn't primarily about workers' rights or fair labor. That's an important issue but in the context of Jesus telling this parable, that's a side issue. The point of the parable is that God's grace is available fully for everyone, regardless of how "late in the game" we may have come to Christ.

I once preached a sermon on this text entitled, "The Sting of Grace." We often think of grace as a sweet and beautiful thing but when we see other people receive it who we think don't deserve it as much as we do, we can become bitter.

Think of people who after living a life of intentionally hurting people and acting in very non-human ways accept Christ on their death-bed. If it's a genuine repentance and acceptance of the good news of Christ, they are given just as much grace as someone who has lived a full life of serving Christ.

We shouldn't be dismayed at this apparent disparity because if the death-bed conversion was truly authentic, that person would realize that he/she is the one who really missed out for most of his/her life. The point of the parable is not about when we receive Christ, but if we have received Christ. Don't be upset over death bed conversions. Be grateful for the grace you have received from Christ as well as for the grace others have received.

 [Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Happy Anniversary Lancaster First UMC Main Building! - September 15, 1907

Today (September 15) marks the 107th anniversary of when our congregation held the first Sunday worship service in our main church building. It was also when the building was dedicated. Construction on the building began in 1905.

It's interesting that 100 years later, our congregation dedicated another building, our beautiful Crossroads facility on West Fair Avenue. We held a dedication for Crossroads in 2007.

Think back with me to 1907 to provide some needed historical context.

  • Theodore Roosevelt was the President
  • Hershey Park opened
  • Taxis first begin running in New York City
  • The automatic washer & dryer were introduced
  • Pitcher, Walter Johnson won the first of his 416 career wins.
  • Oklahoma became our 46th state
  • The Apple iPocketWatch was first introduced (Just kidding!)
Our church decided to move to our present location because space was limited at the South High Street location. As a side note, the present day Sixth Avenue UMC had just built a new church in 1902 at the corner of Sixth and Garfield Avenues.

Our present church building was the location of the Stutson family residence. The church bought the lot for $5,333.33 and hired the John Rouser Company of Dayton as the General Contractor. Construction began early in 1905 and a cornerstone laying ceremony was held. Dr. Herbert Welch, President of Ohio Wesleyan University was the speaker. The church was finally completed by late summer of 1907.
In 1907, the church sold it's South High Street property to the Lancaster Masonic Bodies for $6,000 and used the proceeds from this sale to make the first payment on the new church building.

The last worship service at the South High Street location was held on Sunday, September 8. The following Sunday (September 15) our church worshipped for the first time in our present day building.

The sermon on that day was delivered by Dr. Thomas C. Iliff of Denver. The pastor of our church at the time was Charles C. Elson. The last dollar to insure the payment of the debt was announced allowing for the formal dedication of the church building to occur just before midnight on September 15!

The total cost of the church building including the pipe organ was $80,210.70. The first baptism in the new church was Elizabeth Stutson, the infant daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Willis Stutson. Assuming this was the same Stutson family from which the church bought the lot, this probably made the first baptism in the new church building even more special.

Eight years after the first worship service in the new building, our church celebrated another key event in our history. In 1915, we won the world's largest men's bible class. Our historic photo from April 18 of that year shows 1,316 men standing in front of what was then, Lancaster High School. Today, it is known as the Stanbery campus of Lancaster City Schools. The men had walked from the church to that location so that a large panoramic photo could be taken. For more on this historic photo, you can view the video here.

The first highlight is in how dedicated the church members were to financially support their new church building.

As I reflect on our 1907 dedication anniversary of our main church building, there are a couple of highlights that stand out for me. The first highlight is in how dedicated the church members were to financially support their new church building. Their dedication service on September 15, 1907 lasted until midnight when the final dollar to cover the cost of the building was pledged. Imagine the joy of the congregation in that moment. I look forward to a similar time of joy in 2016, the target date to pay off our Crossroads building loan. What a great day that will be!

The other highlight for me is how it seems like history sometimes repeats itself. When the church members dedicated our present church building back in 1907, it's pretty special to think that 100 years later, we would be doing the same thing for our new Crossroads facility. The reason for these buildings remains the same. They are meant to help us share God's love with the people in our community. 

Happy 107th main church building anniversary!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lancaster First UMC Heart Photo - September 7, 2014

This photo was taken at our Crossroads facility to be used for the front cover of our new pictorial directory. We used the shape of a large heart to match our church's logo, "Love First." The photo is also a way of commemorating the 100th anniversary of our church's 1915 photo of the world's largest men's bible class.

[Church Photo for 2014 Pictorial Directory, September 7, 2014]

[World's Largest Men's Bible Class, 1915 - Lancaster First Methodist Episcopal Church]

Sunday Worship Preview - September 21

Sunday, September 21 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, September 24  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 15th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Philippians 1:21-30

Sermon "A Life Worth Living"

Theme - Why are some people so excited about each day that they want to do a back handspring out of bed? Paul's letter to the Philippians is a positive letter about a life that is worth living. It is worth living because of the hope we have in Jesus Christ

Sermon (September 14) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "But Who's Counting?"

     How many of you like math? Great! Two of you!
      For some reason, there are a lot of us who don’t like math all that much. Math can be frustrating.
     Here’s a little math trivia. Do you know how to make seven an even number? You just remove the letter, “s.” That will make it “even” just by doing that.
     Why shouldn’t you do math in the jungle? Because if you add 4 plus 4, you get ate!
     Why is 6 afraid of seven? Anybody know? Because seven eight nine!
     Where do two math teachers go on vacation? Times Square.
     I know, I know. I’ll keep my day job.
     Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew requires a test of our math knowledge. And that math problem is, “How many times should I forgive someone who has hurt me?”
     This is the question that one of the disciples asked Jesus. It’s a math question. How many times should I forgive someone who has hurt me?
     Actually, it’s not that difficult of a math problem because Peter already knows the answer to his own question. You were expected to forgive someone up to three times.
     Forgiving somebody for something they did to you was seen as a noble thing. To forgive somebody two times, was seen as the gracious thing to do. And to forgive someone three times was viewed as being very generous. To forgive somebody that many times meant that you were going above and beyond.
     Notice that when Peter answers his own question about how many times somebody should forgive, he goes with a totally different number. He throws out the number seven. Wow, seven is more than double what the answer should have been.
     You got to hand it to Peter. He has been paying attention to what Jesus has been teaching. He knows that forgiveness is central to who Jesus is. He remembers that Jesus has already taught them to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. He heard Jesus say that if someone wants you to walk one mile, you should go the extra mile.
     By going with the number, “seven” Peter is thinking that this will show Jesus that he is one of his brightest students. Peter could have gone with an answer of four or five to prove his point, but he want all the way up to seven times. To Peter’s credit, he did expand the idea of forgiveness by 133 percent.
     Peter thought he got his own math problem right, but actually, he was still way off from the right answer. Jesus responds by saying, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.”
     It wasn’t that Peter wasn’t on the right track. He was.  I think Jesus was aware of this. It’s just that Jesus wanted Peter to see that forgiveness is not bound by arithmetic. Forgiveness is not an exercise of crunching some numbers in your head. Forgiveness is about the heart. We are to forgive others freely from our heart.
     And then Jesus drives his point home by offering us this parable about a man who was in debt. He owed a ridiculous amount of money to a king who wanted to settle his accounts.  One bible commentary I read suggested that the amount owed was probably equivalent to around 150 thousand years of wages. Sometimes, Jesus likes to use wild numbers like this just to get our attention.
     The king demands to be paid immediately or he will sell this man’s family and all his possessions. The man pleads for the king to be patient. Out of pity, the king forgives him of the mammoth debt that was owed to him.
     Can you believe it? The king forgave this man of 150 thousand years of wages! What would you do if you were that man? Kiss the king’s ring? Go home and write him a thank you note? Volunteer to polish his crown everyday for the rest of your life?
     You would be so relieved, that you would probably do something to show your gratitude for freeing you from your debt. What does this man in the parable do? Immediately after he leaves the King’s palace, he runs into a friend of his who owed him some money.
     He owed him what was equivalent of half a year of wages.  Now, for sure, that would be a sizable amount of money, but compared to the millions of dollars that he had just been forgiven, it was small change.
     You would think that out of gratitude for what the King had just done for him, he would have been gracious toward this man, but that’s not what happens. Instead, he demands that this guy pay up immediately.
     This man pleads with him to have patience, just like he had done just a few minutes earlier with the king who had forgiven him for his debt. We’re thinking that this man who has just experienced the largest bail out ever will reciprocate and pass it on, but he doesn’t. Instead, he throws this man into prison until he pays every penny that is owed.
     As we hear this story, we are in disbelief that this man would do such a thing even though he was this close to never seeing the light of day again. How can someone who has received so much grace, turn around and not offer some of that same grace to somebody else?
     Evidently, this man doesn’t understand the concept of “pay it forward.” Paying it forward means that we share the gifts we have received with others.

     Eric Law is an Episcopal Priest and he has written the book, Holy Currencies. His book is based on four fundamental assumptions about life and faith:
#1 – God owns everything. #2 – God gives abundantly. #3 – We are not to keep God’s resources; we are to circulate these resources. And #4 – God’s blessings are then recycled to create more blessings.
     In his book, he says that the word we often use for money is the word, “currency.” Currency is a word that means to run or to flow.  There is movement. In other words, money is not meant to be stagnant. It’s meant to move in such a way that it will not only bless you and me, but it will also be a blessing to others. That’s how our economy is supposed to work.
     The problem is when we become like the man in the parable who received so much but was unwilling to share even a small fraction of it with his friend who was in need of a helping hand.
      Eric’s parents started a music school  in Hong Kong in the 1960s which has continued to this day in New York City with the same business model – a sustainable business that never makes much money, but has helped their family to make a lot of friends and has provided livelihood for many people over the years.
     Eric’s father started out as a furniture maker and he assembled pianos. His mother noticed early on that it was very expensive for a child to learn to play the piano especially if a family had to buy the piano and also pay for the lessons.
     She also noticed that children didn’t have a lot of places to go after school and that their parents didn’t have a lot of time in their busy schedules.  This is when they decided to build soundproofed rooms in their apartment and they put a piano in each room and hired teachers to offer piano lessons.
     The parents were charged a very modest amount each month and in exchange, the students received a thirty minute lesson each week and they were allowed to practice there five times a week.
     The fee that they collected was shared with the teachers. Even though, their company never made a lot of money, it ended up creating jobs for piano tuners and other workers. Eric says that this is why his parents’ business is still going strong to this day. Their business is designed to be a blessing for others.
     This idea of money needing to flow and to not become stagnant is what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading this morning. The king’s generosity in forgiving the man’s large debt saved him and his family from going to prison and it helped him to get a fresh start. Just as this act of grace was set into motion, it ended abruptly by the man who was on the receiving end.
     The man who had received a huge blessing from the king was unwilling to forgive the smaller debt of his friend. He didn’t understand that generosity is meant to be shared with others. He didn’t understand the meaning of currency.

     If this is true of money, it’s also true of forgiveness. Forgiveness is like currency. It’s meant to be offered and shared again and again. The problem becomes when we treat forgiveness like we do a math problem. We set limits on God’s grace. That’s why Jesus told Peter, “Not seven times, but seven times seventy. That’s how many times you’re supposed to forgive.”
     Of course, we all know that forgiving someone is easier said than done. We might want to offer forgiveness once, twice, or even seven times, but the painful memory of past hurts can become too strong to overcome.
     Maybe this is the whole point of Jesus’ parable. Instead of focusing on the past hurts, maybe we should focus instead on the graciousness of the king. Maybe we should focus on how God has been gracious to us.
     In a matter of minutes, the man who had been forgiven millions of dollars had already forgotten the King’s graciousness. He was only focusing on what was owed to him. He forgot that forgiveness is meant to be a way of life and something to be shared with others.
     Think of forgiveness like the breath you take in any given moment. Your lungs can only breathe in so much air in one breath. At some point, we need to exhale. Just think how silly we would all look if we walked around trying to hold in the breath we just took. We’d all have great big puffy cheeks.
     Breathing works so much better when we breath in and when we breathe out. When we breathe in God’s grace and forgiveness in our lives, we are to also breathe out God’s grace and forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is meant to be shared.

     Today is an important day on the church calendar. It’s September 14th. It’s Holy Cross day. It’s a day for us to give thanks for what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross for the sins of the world. It’s a day to be grateful. It’s a day to celebrate God’s love for the world.
     The cross is the ultimate symbol of forgiveness. It reminds us that God went to great lengths to free us from our debt of sin. God didn’t just forgive us seven times. God forgave us seven times seventy times.
     I’m glad that Jesus doesn’t count up to a certain number of times that he will forgive us and then say to us, “I reached my limit. You’ve sinned one too many times.” Jesus knows that we are as dependent on forgiveness as we are on needing to take our next breath.
     When we think more about the cross than we do the past memories of how we have been hurt by others, we are able to be forgiving and gracious people. When we turn forgiveness into a math problem, we’ll end up with an answer that doesn’t even come close to how much God has forgiven us.
     A few months ago, a church member came up to me and handed me a little note that had a math problem on it. I think this sums up what we’re talking about today. It said, “1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given.”
     It’s when we focus on the cross, that we are able to forgive others. We might be surprised that we can forgive somebody once, twice, three times, or even as many as seven times seventy times.
     But, who’s counting?