This past Sunday and the Sunday before I did not have a preaching assignment. These were my last two Sundays before beginning a new call. My spouse suggested visiting the congregations of two dear friends, Pastor Rachel Manke and Pastor Stina Schaeffer. And so off we went!
The liturgy offered at both congregations was familiar. I have been a pastor for more than 35 years and a worshipper for 60. I know the routine! So it was not a surprise that both pastors began the worship with a Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness. While I will admit to not always giving the liturgy my fullest attention, two weeks ago I found myself listening from a place of intimacy and intention. What happened surprised me. When Rachel spoke the words, through Jesus, ☩ the bread of life, you are shown God’s mercy: you are forgiven and loved into abundant life, I not only heard the words, I felt them.
I have declared this same grace thousands of times. I get how it works. I understand the theology. It's no surprise. There is a formula to the liturgy. Yet there was something special in that moment. Maybe it had something to do with the way I was listening. Maybe it was because the grace was spoken by a beloved friend. Whatever the reason, I really heard God's grace in the words Rachel spoke.
Yesterday we visited Stina's church. Worship was held outside and we were seated in the front row of lawn chairs. As Stina declared the entire forgiveness of all my sins, she didn't make eye contact with me. She wasn't speaking just to me. There were more than fifty people in chairs and several more listening in their cars. But I heard the grace she spoke as if we were sitting on either side of her dining room table- as if we were the only people present. And oh how I have needed to hear that grace!
As a pastor, I speak the words of forgiveness far more often than I hear them. And when I am the worship leader I try very hard to speak those words with conviction and authenticity. My prayer this morning is that others can hear God's grace when I proclaim God's mercy and love. May they truly feel in their hearts the good news that God loves them without measure and their sins- all their sins, have been forgiven.