Worship for Sunday 17th September 2023, by Rev. Caroline Wickens

Invitation to Worship

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
As high as the heavens above the earth
is his mercy upon those who fear him.
Come now, and worship our merciful God.

Opening hymn: StF 24 Come, now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Come, just as you are, to worship.
Come, just as you are, before your God.

One day every tongue will confess
You are God.
One day every knee will bow.
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose you now.

Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Oh, come. Just as you are to worship.
Come just as you are before your God.

Brian Doerksen (b.1965), © 1998 Vineyard Songs UK

Prayer of approach

God of all, we come to offer you the best of ourselves:
to take hold of mercy and let go of fear,
to take hold of generosity and to let go of resentment,
to take hold of forgiveness and to let go of sin,
to take hold of gratitude and to let go of grudge,
to take hold of all your very self,

Bible reading: Matthew 18:21 – 35

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?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 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. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 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.” 29 Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 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. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 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.’

Hymn: StF 431 O the love of my Lord is the essence

Oh, the love of my Lord is the essence
of all that I love here on earth.
All the beauty I see he has given to me
and his giving is gentle as silence.

Every day, every hour, every moment
have been blessed by the strength of his love.
At the turn of each tide he is there at my side,
and his touch is as gentle as silence.

There’ve been times when I’ve turned from his presence,
and I’ve walked other paths, other ways.
But I’ve called on his name in the dark of my shame,
and his mercy was gentle as silence.

Estelle White (b.1925) © McCrimmon Publishing Company Ltd


Part of the interest of any soap opera is seeing how the back stories play out in the current story-lines. Where do the fault-lines lie? Who has a grudge against someone else from two years ago, or twenty, and how is that going to impact on their relationship in this episode? It all adds to the fascination of the stories. It can be a lot harder to handle  in ‘real life’, especially if it’s you or your family who is involved in the ongoing drama.

Jesus tells a story about the kingdom of heaven. In the kingdom, there is no room for anyone to hold a grudge. The king is ‘settling accounts’ with his slaves. He comes across one who owes him an unimaginably large amount of money – this is finance at the Elon Musk level. And yet the king is persuaded to forgive the debt. He is so rich in resources that he does not need to worry about repayment even of this massive sum; he can be generous. And if he can treat his biggest debtor like this, how will he treat the other slaves who owe him much less? For this king, pity is more important than profit. He lets go of everything he holds against this slave and sets him free.

The slave goes on to reveal that his priorities are the other way round. Meeting a fellow-slave who owes him three months’ wages (a denarius was a day’s pay), he attacks him, then has him imprisoned for debt. Profit over pity in his book! He has learnt nothing from the king’s generosity to him; and as a result, he is shut out of this community, trapped in an endless cycle of revenge.

Why is it so important to break this cycle of grudge and counter-grudge? I think Jesus’ story points us in three directions.

The benefit to the debtor is obvious: he is set free from a burden that has the potential to break him and his whole family. If you translate that into terms of our society, remember some of the stories of loan sharks and the impact they have on people’s lives, alongside those all-too-real stories of people trapped in cycles of conflict in their relationships.

The benefit to the king is less obvious – after all, he loses a lot of money. Yet just a couple of chapters earlier, Jesus asked his disciples ‘what will it profit someone if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?’ (Matthew 16:26). The king values relationships over his bank balance, even when he is alongside someone who ranks low in society. His priorities will make him truly rich in the ways that really matter.

And Jesus points to the benefit to the community. The other slaves are distressed by all this – concerned for their colleague and perhaps for themselves. The vengeful action of the one slave destabilises life for the whole group, innocent bystanders caught up in the crossfire. Forgiveness means peace.

Yet it is not peace at any price. The king does not pretend that relationships are fully restored when the evidence shows that the debtor has not changed. A restored community needs a complete circle of forgiveness and acceptance. And so the debtor has to remain outside.

‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ reads the contemporary translation of the Lord’s Prayer. This story enables us to see why we pray this prayer so often, for we need to be reminded over and over again that there is a place for us in the kingdom of heaven when we learn to live in Jesus’ way of forgiveness and compassion.

Prayer of Confession

Reconciling God,
we would rather gossip about those who sin against us,
than speak to them privately;
we would rather parade our wounds for all to see,
than quietly work toward forgiveness and reconciliation.
Help us choose the harder road,
the road that opens possibilities
for real healing, real forgiveness,
and real growth in your Spirit.

Hymn: StF 391 O breath of life, come sweeping through us

1 O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.

2 O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive, restore, for this we plead.

3 O Breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart;
come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your church in every part.

Elizabeth Ann Head (1850 – 1936)

Prayers for others

Loving God,
we come before you now in need of your forgiveness.
We pray for your divided church.
So often we demonise those who disagree with us;
we see them as opponents
and allow ourselves to be swallowed up in taking sides.
Sometimes our desire for justice
becomes blurred with our desire to be right.
Forgive us our self-interest, Lord,
give us wisdom and a generous spirit.
Merciful God,
make us merciful people.

Loving God,
we come before you now in need of your compassion.
Our world is torn apart by war,
and we pray now for all who suffer because of it.
We pray for soldiers in danger, for their anxious families,
for civilians in war zones.
Merciful God,
make us merciful people.

Loving God,
we pray for the leaders of nations.
Fill them with your compassionate spirit;
help them to work for a fairer world
where resources are shared.
Inspire them to be just
and to seek peaceful means for settling differences.
Merciful God,
make us merciful people.

Loving God,
We pray today for the families of all who were lost in the earthquake in Morocco
Be with them and comfort them as they remember their loved ones.
Help us all, Lord, to deal with what we cannot understand;
to find strength in you,
to turn our back on anger,
to let go of bitterness.
We remember your cry upon the cross,
‘Father forgive,’
and we ask for grace
to become forgiving people.
Merciful God,
make us merciful people.

We ask this in the name of Christ our Redeemer,
forgiver of our sins.

Hymn: StF 495  Dear Lord and Father of mankind

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise;
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
beside the Syrian sea,
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word,
rise up and follow thee;
rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity
interpreted by love!
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace;
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm;
O still, small voice of calm.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892)


We go out as forgiven people,
forgiving those who hurt, disappoint or outrage,
not in the world’s way of ‘anything for a quiet life’,
but as disciples of Jesus who forgive from the heart,
offering generously of ourselves,
in the cause of God’s peace.

Resources drawn from Roots and re:worship