Matthew 21: 23-32

Have you heard people say, “I don’t go to church. They’re all a bunch of hypocrites there.” A hypocrite is someone who acts the part he or she is trying to play, in this case, a Christian. On Greek stages “hypocrites” were actors, playing a part; putting on a mask. Jesus called the chief priests and pharisees “hypocrites.” Might Jesus call any of us “hypocrites?” Might he call some religious leaders of our day, and some political leaders, “hypocrites?” It is a horrible term; it means you are a person of no integrity unless you are playing a part on stage. It means that both children and adults can see that your actions don’t match your words. It is like recognizing a liar. Those who best determine those who are hypocrites are those who watch them. We become frauds when we say one thing but do another. For example, Jesus gave his followers this imperative: “feed the hungry,” yet some Christians don’t. Or at least not in ways that outsiders can see! Don Hughes, one of the early directors of Halifax Urban Ministries, taught me to try to feed hungry people through feeding programs where there is a centralized check on a person’s visits. Before HUM, our Port Orange/ Daytona Beach Shores churches had an unofficial phone tree, where secretaries would call neighboring churches if a person or family stopped by for help. “Oh, they’ve been here” one church replied. “We already helped them,” another replied. “You did?” we would reply. “They said they hadn’t gotten any help!” Likewise, I once saw a man standing at the exit of a shopping center with a sign saying “Help! Homeless; in need.” But as I watched, something startled him; maybe a police officer. he folded his cardboard sign, walked a block away to a decent car, and drove away. These are examples of why we don’t just hand food out of car windows. Still, we try not to be hypocrites; we try to see that our money goes as far as it can. Last week we had to cancel our food drive due to a Nor’easter of wind and rain, but Mary Ann and I are still holding on to $20 worth of food we will be offering; others are holding their food for our next drive too. It has been said that we can set a better example with our life than with our lips. People watch what we do. Words flow freely in an election year. Watch the actions of political figures, then see if they line up with their words. Otherwise, there are hypocrites in our midst. Mark Twain once said, “Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed, and often, and for the same reasons.” Quite a satirist! Twain also said, “It’s not the things in the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the things I do understand.” This parable bothers people. Pharisees had fallen into the trap of not acknowledging Jesus’ authority. “They correctly identify which son does what his father wants, then they are denounced for playing the role of the disobedient son. As religious leaders, they claim to be faithfully obedient to God, but they are blind to the fact that authentic obedience includes responding in faith to the new things God is doing.” [Douglas R. A. Hare, Interpretation, Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993, p. 247] They had heard about John the Baptist, yet they rejected his authority. It seems that even prostitutes and tax collectors changed their minds about God when they heard John. John cried out for repentance. The Pharisees, in so many words, said whenever they decided that they needed to repent, they would. John said the time is now. They said they didn’t think so. Known sinners were ashamed to face God; but when the Word was preached in just the right way, on just the right day, they did repent and come to God. Jesus’ wake-up call can startle us! We need to not only talk, talk, talk; we need to walk, walk, walk. How are we doing? Let’s consider that message today.

First, most people in churches believe Jesus was sent to save the world. A smaller number live their lives as if he is they personal Savior too. Everyone who has joined a church should have answered a question like I ask: “Who is your Lord and Savior?” If he is, the Christian responds “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” The shortest and perhaps oldest Christian declaration was “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:3 and Romans 10:9. Will someone know you are a Christian without hearing you say it? Will they know you are a Christian by your love? We have to dispel the “hypocrite” label! Let your actions speak louder than your words. Let them see Christ in you.

Second, keep promises. Some make promises to God and some make them to others. Keeping promises is what God does; do that God thing too. In this political season, wouldn’t it be wonderful to choose a candidate whose positions you support, but also one who keeps his, or her promises? That’s a sign of integrity. Today’s parable reminds us of people who say one thing but do another. That happens in families too. Do we want children who A) Say they will do a chore but then do not do it; B) say they won’t do a chore and do it; or C) say they’ll do a chore and actually do it! Did you notice we didn’t get to pick child C in Jesus’ parable? We could only pick from child A and child B! We got to pick between two who were not our first choice! In both cases in the parable there is incongruity between what the son says and what the son does. Which is most like you? Type A? Type B? Or, dare I ask: Type C? If you know the right answer but are not living the right answer, Jesus whispers “tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom before you.” It is better to know you are living wrong and respond with ways to live right. And it is best to know what is right, and then to do it. That’s the gold standard. In Antioch, according to Acts 11: 26, followers of “The Way” were first called “Christians.” We can either carry on the great tradition, or we can turn it into hollow examples.

If we promise to provide oversight to young children as they grow in faith, and then we don’t follow through, get ready for the label: hypocrite. But if you provide good oversight, get ready for a different label: mentor. If you say you will attend a sports or music event or play for a child or grandchild, and then you don’t, they will never forget your absence. Your promise begins to mean nothing. My grandsons have learned they can count on what I say, but if I get their attention and say, “I promise,” they know they especially know. Leaders gain respect by keeping promises.

If you take today’s parable out of context, you may dismiss it, saying that neither son did the will of his father. But remember not to take these parables flat-footed. What if we replace the first son with the tax collectors and harlots? They did not respond to God’s call for faithfulness at first, but later they did, and they went. At first they said “I will not go” but later, they repented and went. That’s the key; sometimes we just need to repent and go for God! But the Pharisees said they would serve the Lord, yet they got sidetracked with the laws and the trappings of their religion. Ironically, they correctly named the “son” who did the will of the father: the first son, yet they were not doing what the first son did. The measure of a man—or a woman—is staying on track with what we promise. If we do not, children do not trust us, and adults call us “hypocrite.” Even a “hypocrite” can still call us that name; it may seem unfair, but Christians are held to a higher standard. Some people believe that any good person can get into heaven. But if we are Christian and claim that right, we are on display constantly. We are walking billboards for Christ.
Let me close with these words of encouragement that I heard years ago:
I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do, I ought to do.
And what I ought to do, I will do, by the grace and strength of God.
Be honest; say what you mean; mean what you say; do what you say you will do. Actions speak louder than words, but words, supported by actions, speak volumes.
Jeffrey A. Sumner September 27, 2020


Matthew 20: 1-16

If you didn’t get to see my Children’s Message today because you are receiving this message by mail, I’ll tell you of its point. I made an agreement with our worship team, saying I needed them to be in the sanctuary at a certain time. Three of them were there on time, and so I gave them each a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The others came in later, but I still had candy so I gave them each one too! They too are my friends! The ones ready on time got the deal I told them about; the second ones got more than they expected. But the ones on time were not happy that I gave the same candy to the others. Matthew tells us words that people repeat again and again even today: sometimes “the last shall be first, and the first last.” In potluck fellowship dinners before Covid, we often had people arrive early. They chose the table they wanted and waited for others to gather. They eyed the plates of food as people brought them in and placed them on the buffet table. As they eyed the food they wanted, an emcee called people to attention, asked me to offer a prayer, and then—surprise—she called tables either at random or on her own whim, and the table where the first people sat was not first. Was there resentment? Was there a cry of “unfair?” Or did they say, “It’s just dinner.” Issues of fairness and the grace of the giver are at odds in this parable. Here’s another example. When I was applying to colleges my A- average in high school and my SAT and ACT grades produced no scholarships for me. So my college tuition was $4500 a year- no scholarship. My Dad sat with me and said he had to save some money for my three other siblings to attend college too, but he would pay half the cost each year, and I was expected to pay for the rest. So each summer I came home and worked at Six Flags Over Mid-America for $1.70 and hour, and was our church Assistant Custodian for $2.35 an hour. During the school year, I applied to be and became the Head Waiter at Mary Ann’ sorority, and that kept my fraternity expenses down! But I heard how many fraternity brothers were at college on scholarships: some from in state, some from other states. Their costs were much less than mine. Still, it never occurred to me to dwell on that. There was an agreement for tuition I had, and an agreement that others received. When my own children went to University of Florida, they earned what are called Bright Futures Scholarships, which made their tuition zero or nearly zero. The big expense then was housing, but they learned, and I learned, how many others paid the full in-state tuition, some paid out of state tuition, and some attend for free on athletic scholarships. This is how the world works. There are agreements, and there are gifts.

Now, let’s turn the screws a little tighter. Years ago, there were some people of color who were invited to attend places of higher education through grants called Affirmative Action. Some Anglo persons felt offended because the others attended for less money and perhaps even lower qualifications. To some it was a gift; to others it was an outrage. I remember a cry went up among those in my parent’s circle of friends who resented it. But like my college tuition, I paid what my college said was the tuition. College Boards and Administrators decided who to invite from other states, or from other religious or cultural backgrounds. My deal was an agreement; a tuition amount. Their offer to attend was more like a gift. I think a reason Jesus tells us this parable is to name situations when we feel slighted; to name situations when others feel slighted, and to help us deal with our feelings regarding an agreement from a boss, a school, or a parent, and a gift any of those persons offer.
In this time of heightened awareness of how people of color are treated at traffic stops or even in their own apartment, I looked back over my life. These days I am more aware of my privilege as a white male. In the three traffic stops in my life, I was nervous about getting a ticket, but never nervous about losing my life. I was shocked to learn the parents of black teenagers have to give their sons “the talk,” not about sex, but about how to react when they are pulled over in a traffic stop. We live in such different realities because of the color of our skin. In the time our daughter was getting ready to accept her call to ministry and then put on the mantle of “Chaplain,” I learned how differently she was treated as a woman in ministry. Even now, she has some people ask for a male chaplain, and she gets one for them. I’ve never had someone ask for a different pastor, or different teacher! But this truly happened to me: when I was being tested for ministry in the Presbytery of Arkansas, I had over 40 minutes of questions put to me, much longer than anyone else. I learned later it was not because I was a white male, but because I was a Yankee from Princeton Seminary. The Secretary in my first church in Arkansas told me she had never met an actual Yankee ‘till she met me! And that was my welcome to ministry! I only know my own experiences; I really don’t truly know what it is like to be female in America, or an LGBT or Q person, or a person of color in America. My feeling is, people like me: male, white- could easily be asked to work at 5:00 p.m. and be given the same wage as the crack of dawn laborers. In Arkansas my congregation taught me that when I was bringing up uncomfortable topics from the pulpit, that I was “meddling.” Today I’m meddling. I think as I see our world, my Bible call me to “meddle.” People are reacting to issues of agreement and of grace in intense ways. But it is not new. The book of Genesis is filled with favoritism and human reactions.

Mary Ann suggested that we watch a movie two weeks ago called “The Green Book.” I knew nothing about it, but I’ve learned to trust my librarian wife’s recommendations. What a phenomenal film. It is based on the true story of a black man named Don Shirley. He was highly educated, getting degrees from the Catholic University of America, and from St. Petersburg Conservatory. As a cultured concert pianist and composer living in New York City and being treated as a treasure, he decided to have his manager arrange a tour to the deep south to perform. That was in 1962! He was wise enough to know he’d need a good, strong, protector/driver to take him from concert to concert. He chose an Italian American named Tony, who had street smarts but no higher education. Tony was given “The Green Book” as they set out, but Dr. Shirley had no idea what was really in store during their journey. Tony could have accommodations wherever he chose along the way; and Tony could eat wherever he chose along the way, but Dr. Shirley, the featured performer, could not eat at the venues that invited him; he could not use the restroom at venues that invited him; and he could not stay in the decent hotels where Tony could stay. He had to stay in flophouses for “Negros” listed in “The Green Book.” The full name of the book was “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” listing recommended places for people of color to eat and stay. The carte blanche that was given to Tony, and that were withheld from Dr. Shirley, the featured artist, was eye-opening. The film was not without controversy: family members of Dr. Shirley said all depictions were not accurate, but my point is this: if ever there was a black man who was not treated fairly, whose contract had no asterisks about accommodations, here is one example. But he is not the only example. Sometimes there are groups in our nation that can get better treatment as the 5:00 p.m. arriver (metaphorically speaking) than others who have worked hard for the same … or less. A Harvard Study published in December of 2018 concluded that the “Gender Wage Gap” was wider than we thought, with women only earning half the income of men in the same positions. I’ve never been in that situation. And I keep trying to step into the shoes of “the others.” Jesus did that all the time. I suspect he was trying to reach people like me, and perhaps people like you, when he told this parable.

Last Tuesday a story in the Orlando Sentinel intrigued me. A Central Florida man of color was jogging in his Deltona neighborhood when he was detained by a Volusia County Sheriff’s deputy saying he matched the description of a burglary suspect. He was suddenly surrounded by deputies. The man, after being detained, was told he was no longer a suspect, and was released. All were safe. But it occurred to me: I used to walk at night for my exercise, with a dark jacket and ball cap and headphones on through two subdivisions. I mean night: 9:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mary Ann finally told me to stop, thinking I might get mugged. Neither of us thought I might be identified as a suspect for something. But why not? Sheriff Chitwood turned a bad situation into a good one: he invited the black man to participate in the department’s bias training series. My mind went back to the 2016 Brock Turner case, a 19-year-old white male who assaulted a 22 year old female while she was unconscious. He was indicted on five charges and convicted on three felonies. For his heinous acts, he served just 3 months in jail.

What must it be like to be “the other?” The one who is treated differently? How do you feel when others seem to get treatment that you have not gotten, either because of money, or influence, or skin color, or gender? There are people in this very congregation who went from a white-collar world of privilege to getting up every morning at 4 am to be at the labor pool, shoveling rocks, along with others, for $40.00 a day. It can happen; It does happen. Many people say, “There but by the grace of God go I.” But does that imply that God withholds hold grace from others, but has chosen to make you feel blessed? It’s worth pondering as our Christian heart call us to see people as “children of God,” and not as “those others.” Some say Jesus offered this parable to describe how the Jews who were following Jesus were treated as favored, while Gentiles who chose to follow Jesus had to prove their devotion. Even Peter and Paul wrestled with how to welcome Gentiles who wanted to follow “The Way.” How will you react when God sheds extra grace, even amazing grace, on someone else instead of on you? We can give thanks for grace, but we should not expect it. God gets to do whatever God chooses to do! That’s God’s job description! “I Am Who I Am!” Let God be God.

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 20, 2020


Genesis 50: 15-21; Matthew 18:21-25

There are pockets of people in our nation today who are seething with anger; some are angry because justice no longer seems to happen like an ever-flowing stream. Lady Justice—the supposed moral force in judicial systems, the one who is blindfolded, indicating no partiality, who holds a balancing scale, and a sword—doesn’t seem to be consulted in the courts of public opinion. People cry out from polarized corners, believing that their cries are unheard and their pain is not acknowledged. Therefore, we are wounding ourselves again and again in our nation that is busy keeping score of wrongs. And those who keep score often move to destruction and then to an action with a terrible R word: Retaliation. In the 1960s marches by John Lewis and others, those freedom marchers lived by words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” But today, we are not, as a nation, at the threshold of forgiveness: forgiving those who shot men; forgiving those who created anarchy; forgiving those who beat others. And justice is not rolling down like mighty waters. We are, instead, in a cauldron of anger in a number of cities. Today I want to identify how caustic anger destroys, and how forgiveness can be an answer for healing.

You may have heard the story of the young man who lost his temper often. His father came up with a way for him to visualize how much his anger affected others. “I want you to do something for me,’ his father said. “Every time you lash out at someone in anger, I want you to go out to our back fence and hammer the biggest nail you can find into it. At the end of the month, we’ll talk again.” The boy agreed. At the end of the month, the two went into the back yard to look at the fence; it had more than a dozen large nails driven into it. The father said, “Now have you made amends with any of those people; told any of them that you are sorry?” The son brightened up. “Yeah, I sure have!” (clearly thinking that an apology would make everything all right again.) The father said, “Okay, now for every situation that you asked for forgiveness and said you were sorry, pull out a nail.” Nine of the fourteen nails came out, leaving deep holes in the fence. “You see, son,” the father said, “even if you ask for forgiveness and say you are sorry, the holes are still there. The wood is now more susceptible to rot and decay. The fence is never good as new again; with putty and new paint it may look as good as new, but it is never put back as you found it. That’s the way with people you hurt; the scars still remain.”

The father was right. Even though Jesus took the nails for us, presenting our repentant souls on the throne of grace just as if we had not sinned, that’s called “Justification.” Forgiveness is different. Clearly somebody has gotten hurt; someone has lost “a pound of flesh” or a pound of something else. A relationship is broken. A new one, hopefully, can be built on verification and promises kept. Today we will hear Jesus’ words and see if we can mend some fences too.

When Peter asked Jesus “How many times must I forgive?” how many times do you think he imagined? I’m wondering if he guessed “7 times” as if it were a magnanimous answer? Yet Jesus multiplied his answer. Did Peter’s eyes get wide as he heard it? There is greater chance for forgiveness between two parties if the injured one believes the request to be forgiven is offer in “good faith” and backed up with actions. If the word, “ Sorry” is offered flippantly or through self-serving motives, little progress toward a bridge can be made. Jesus reminds us through the parable I read today, that if God forgives us our debts, we need to forgive the debts of others! That’s the way he worded his prayer: “Forgive us our debts” we pray to God, “with the same degree as we forgiven our debtors; as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” If we want forgiveness, we need to offer forgiveness. Do you recall what Joseph said to his brothers who were afraid of him since they sold him into slavery? Joseph said to them: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 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. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. Relationships were restored through his forgiveness.

Second, forgiveness and wellness are interconnected. Those who walk around carrying a grudge, refusing to forgive, or acting like a walking victim are the ones who grow old with bitterness and isolation. Do you know how much unconscious energy it takes for you to not forgive someone who has hurt you? I remember Mary Ann taking her computer to an Apple store years ago, saying everything was running so slowly, maybe she needed another computer. The good technician said, “Look how many programs you have running in the background! Do you need all of these?” She didn’t, so the tech turned off the unnecessary programs and her computer ran at its normal spread again. If you do not turn off those unforgiven or unrepentant programs in the back of your soul, they will continue to sap energy from your life. Next week our Jewish friends come to Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement.” It’s the day they bring the year’s sins to God and ask with full humility, for forgiveness. Can you imagine collecting all your sins and not getting a Holy Word of pardon about it for 12 months? Hear God’s words to us: I will forgive your sins with the same degree that you forgive those who sin against you.” The ball is in your court.

Here is a true story that illustrates our human struggle with forgiveness. The Holocaust was a living nightmare that many survivors have tried to forget, in which 6 million Jews and 5 million gypsies Poles, and other so-called “undesirables” were sent to their deaths. One man who experienced firsthand what hatred could do was Simon Wiesenthal. He spent years, from 1945 until his death, hunting down and bringing Nazi war criminals to trial. His heart burned with torment at not being able to forgive any of them, even those he had not met. In his book called The Sunflower, he tells the story of a young Jewish prisoner taken outside of a Nazi death camp to a make-shift hospital for German soldiers. A nurse sneaks him upstairs to a 21-year-old German young man who is dying and wants to confess—not to a priest, but to a Jew—the horrible crimes he committed as part of the German offensive in Russia. The young man was particularly haunted as he helped to burn alive whole Jewish families and shot Jewish children who ran to escape the flames. Over a period of days, he poured out his heart to the Jewish man and begged for forgiveness. The Jewish prisoner reflected on the words. “Here is a dying man,” he thought to himself, a murderer who did not want to be a murderer who had been made one by the Third Reich’s murderous ideology. He is confessing his crime to a man who perhaps tomorrow night might die at the hands of those same murderers. Yet in his confession is true repentance.” Wiesenthal was that Jewish prisoner. After hearing the last of the young German soldier’s confession and his plea for forgiveness, Wiesenthal himself finally walked out of the room, never to return, without saying a word. In his book, he posed this profound moral question to his readers: “Was my silence at the bedside of a dying Nazi right, or wrong?”
The young soldier died without receiving the peace he hoped to get. He could not just ask God to forgive him. God had sent him to his enemy, a Jew, to ask for forgiveness, and he had not received it. Both were tormented. In the Torah, in the book of Leviticus, this is written, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” yet Wiesenthal couldn’t do it. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount “First be reconciled to your brother.” Instead, a Jewish man lived on and a German soldier died, neither getting the peace of God. Vengeance and justice fueled the rest of Wiesenthal’s life.

Jesus said: “The king … said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Jesus took the nails for us. He also set the supreme example, as he was hanging from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Pull the nails out of your fence of anguish, and let the holes be filled by the Carpenter from Nazareth. Ask for forgiveness from those you have hurt before you ask for forgiveness from God. And if you are the one being wronged and no apology has come, release the hurt into the cross of Christ. Don’t burn your bridges. God has built a bridge for you and the rest of the human race: it is the crossbar of the cross of Christ. Go to Calvary, and cross the bridge of forgiveness.

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 13, 2020


Romans 13: 8-14

As I was growing up, I got the lesson that debt was bad; except for large purchases like a home, I was taught to save for things I wanted to buy. I paid cash for my brand new Schwinn bicycle in 1969: $80. I paid cash for my first car: a 57 Chevy: $250. Even my parents didn’t finance their cars. Certainly, there are times when such actions are impractical or impossible. I had a lesson in college when I was trying to establish my credit rating. I had credit cards from petroleum companies but paid them off monthly. A banker told me, “In order to establish credit, you must take out some credit. You must pay for something over time, even if you can pay for it outright, to show lenders your good faith in paying things back.” What a strange lesson that was, but I learned it. So Paul’s words in Romans confirmed my lifestyle when he said, “Do not owe anyone anything.” But then the other shoe dropped, “Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another.” All these years I had missed that guidance from Paul: that we “owe each other love.” I always thought that love was something that I controlled; I chose who I loved, and who I didn’t. Others chose whether they loved me, or if they didn’t. But digging into my childhood Sunday School, I was reminded of this song:
“We love, because God first loved us! We love, because God first loved us!
We love! We love! We love, because God first loved us.”
Of course! How could I forget what I was taught in Sunday School opening assemblies? God pours love into our hearts; it is a limitless supply, not a limited supply as if we have to limit the love we share, protecting it from running out. It can’t run out! If we limit the love we share, it is self-limiting, not limited by the God who is love. Paul knew that and said it in a unique way: “Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another.” I don’t know about you, but I am a saver. (Almost a hoarder.) That instinct was buried in my soul by grandparents who washed out plastic bags to reuse them and washed off aluminum foil to re-use it. I don’t go that far, but my instinct is to not run out of supplies, especially in this Covid-19 and this hurricane season. So, is my inclination to guard the love I have? I hope not! Why would I guard something that is limitless and lush? Why would I limit what God gives in limitless fashion? Paul tells me love is something I owe to others. Now that computes to me! If I were to ever borrow an item (or rarely money) from someone else, I virtually rush to get it back to them; to pay them back. So now I am told that I owe love to others; and you owe love to others! That is a Christian mandate. That is something we must do! Learning that, it is something I will rush to give. What a helpful way of reframing that we love because God first loved us! I owe it to the Lord not to hoard the love God has given me! I owe it to others to love them! After all, if I, along with other Christians, am the voice, the ears, the arms and the legs of Christ, he is loving the world through me, and through you! Who are we to withhold the love of Christ from others? We owe love to others. But there is a slippery slope: what kind of love do we mean? English just has one word: love. Greek, in which the New Testament was written, has four words, as described in C.S. Lewis’s classic book The Four Loves. They are these:
Storge- when you love someone through fondness or familiarity.
Philia- the love between friends or siblings; “Brotherly love.”
Eros- Romantic love
Agape-Unconditional love. I spoke about that last week.
We do not owe everyone Eros, but could you see loving others through Storge, Philia, or Agape? Agape is the love Paul described in First Corinthians 13, and the love John described in his gospel and first letter. You might recall that Jesus told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That referred to squaring the emotional or financial account with those we harmed or from whom we had taken something, even if it was a piece of their heart. But this is different; we owe people love in addition to owing people our apology and restitution if we have hurt them. Today let’s also remember this: there is one other person we can harm by withholding love: ourselves. By not loving ourselves with the endless flow of unconditional love that God offers, we cannot offer our best selves to others. Sadly, some people filter God’s unconditional love and it becomes a toxic voice in their heads: conditional love. They hear: “You always disappoint me;” or “I can never depend on you,” instead of God’s message to you and me: “You are mine; you are precious to me; precious child, you are mine.” How many incarcerated people spend years trying to turn those toxic voices off in their heads and tune in to the voice of God? Chaplains or friends that understand genuine love can retune the narratives in their heads to Holy messages. But sometimes a person can’t turn off the toxic voices; then in some form, they get to the end of their rope and take their own life. “How tragic,” I say. “How tragic” God says, after having holy help drowned out by human bile. Let’s offer love; true love; unconditional love, love divine; the kind that never runs out. Then find out how freeing Agape is to our souls.

Let us pray:
Dear Lord Jesus: you showed amazing love for all you met. You loved even as you were taken to the cross, and you forgave even those who cried out for your death. As you host our meal today, remind us how powerfully it is a meal of love, prepared by loving hands, offered to others in love. Thank you, dear Lord Jesus, as we prepare our hearts to join you in this Holy Supper. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 6, 2020