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Behaving Unnaturally - Third Sunday of Easter - Matthew 18

A worship service from Matthew 18 for the third Sunday of the Easter season. The theme of this service is forgiveness--a complicated issue for many people today.

Worship Service
Also in this Series

Eastertide Series

This is a series continuing the songs and themes of Easter’s victory during the fifty days of Eastertide that lead up to Pentecost

Theme of the Service

The theme of this worship service is forgiveness—a complicated issue for many people today. It is difficult to forgive others from our hearts. Yet, as we daily pray "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," we realize it's only because God first forgave us that we can and should forgive others.

Lead Me, Guide Me, Along the Way

Prelude [see music notes]

Gathering Songs: "To God Be the Glory" (st. 1-3) PH 485, PsH 473, RN 258, TH 55, TWC 72, UMH 99
or "Out of Need and out of Custom" (st. 1-3) PsH 259, TWC 800
or "Jesus Lives, and So Do We" (st. 1, 3, 5) PsH 399, TWC 246

Call to Worship: Isaiah 12:1-6

*God's Greeting:
Pastor: Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
People: Great is the Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.
Pastor: Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp.
People: He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the
Pastor: His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse nor his delight in the legs of a man;
People: the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
( from Psalm 147)
Pastor: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our loving Father, Jesus Christ his beloved Son,
through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
People: Amen!

*We Greet Each Other

*Opening Song: "Lead Me, Guide Me" (st. 1-3) PsH 544, RN 176

If You Lead Me, I Cannot Stray

God's Will for Our Lives: Contemporary Reading of the Ten Commandments (from Reformed Worship)

Prayer of Confession: Responsive Reading of Psalm 130

Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 43:1-7

Song of Dedication: "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" (st. 1-4) PH 372, PsH 264, RN 145, SFL 40, TH 530, TWC 563, UMH 402
or "Amazing Grace" (st. 1-3, 5) PH 280, PsH 462, RL 456, RN 189, SFL 209, TH 460 TWC 502, UMH 378

Lord, Let Me Walk Each Day with You

Prayer for Illumination

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35

Sermon: "Behaving Unnaturally"

*Song of Response: "Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive" (st. 1-4) PH 347, PsH 266, RN 184, TH 494, UMH 390

Lead Me My Whole Life Through

Congregational Prayer


Offertory Prayer

*Closing Song: "God, the Father of Your People" (st. 1-2) PsH 322

*God's Blessing

*Doxology: "My Friends, May You Grow in Grace" SNC 288

Postlude [see music notes]

* Please stand, if you are able.

Sermon Notes:

  1. The sermon will explore the issue of forgiveness as it is presented in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18). The theme of the sermon (taken from the text) is "always forgive others from your heart." It will be important to be clear about this theme throughout the sermon.
  2. We suggest developing this sermon as the text develops. The first point of the sermon should focus on verses 21-22 where Jesus addresses a common misconception about forgiveness. In answering Peter, Jesus makes it clear that forgiveness needs to be practiced generously.
  3. The second part of the sermon should focus on the parable in verses 23-34. As Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven, he makes it clear that forgiven servants (Christians) need also to forgive.
  4. The last part of the sermon should focus on application and on Jesus' words in verse 35. The challenge is to forgive others from the heart. It will be important to offer a few practical suggestions for actualizing forgiveness in our lives.
  5. As part of the application we strongly recommend a pastoral approach to verses 32-34. It is perhaps easy to preach the first part of the parable: having been forgiven by the king. We need to remind people, however, that God's forgiveness of us comes with a responsibility: we need to forgive others. It will be important to communicate the seriousness of the consequences for not doing so.

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

1. We have provided a list of songs that could be used in this service. We realize, however, that many other songs reflect the theme of this service. Below we give a brief explanation why we chose these particular songs.

  • "To God Be the Glory": This hymn serves as a great opening hymn and focuses on the reason we are able to come to worship: because we have received a pardon from Jesus. We have been forgiven first! This seems to be an appropriate way to begin the service.
  • "Out of Need and out of Custom": As we gather for worship, it is important to acknowledge our need to be together before God. Because the theme of forgiveness is a weighty one, this hymn encourages people to come as they are before God and search these matters out.
  • "Jesus Lives, and So Do We": Since this is the third week of Easter, we believe it is important to carry on the theme of Easter. We chose this song to help us do that, and stanza 3 wonderfully ties into our theme: " esus lives: his death atoned for my sin; I am forgiven." If your congregation is unfamiliar with this historic melody, pair the text with an alternate tune; GROSSER GOTT sings well with this text.
  • "Lead Me, Guide Me": Although this song is not necessarily closely related to the theme of the service, it allows the people to acknowledge their dependence on God and ask him to lead and guide.
  • "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian": This song's key phrase is "in my heart." In Matthew 18 Jesus challenges us to "always forgive from the heart." Our hearts must be right with God, and when we deal with forgiveness issues, we need to be like Jesus: holy and loving. We also gave the option of "Amazing Grace" since it focuses on the forgiveness God has given us. This hymn serves well to highlight what the king in the parable of the unmerciful servant is like.
  • As a response to the sermon, we have chosen "Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive." The text of this hymn is based on the Scripture passage from Matthew. Even though the tune might not be familiar, its words are very fitting.
  • "God, the Father of Your People": This closing song seems to fit well as the people will acknowledge how they are called to be one, to walk together, and to bear witness to the love of Christ. All of these are important themes within forgiveness: the unity of the body as imagebearers of Jesus Christ.
  • "My Friends, May You Grow in Grace": As the congregation leaves, this song reminds them that they are on a journey of faith. Growing in grace and knowledge of Christ takes time, just like forgiveness takes time.

2. Music suggestions for prelude, offertory, and postlude are given on the following hymns: "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" [HYFRYDOL], "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" [AZMON], and "God, the Father of Your People" [HOLY MANNA]. Each of these songs either celebrates the redemption and forgiveness that we have in Christ Jesus or calls us to service as the body of Christ.


  • Barr, John G. Processional Prelude on Hyfrydol H.W. Grey GSTC 01083 [1992] (E-M).
  • Callahan, Charles. Partita on Hyfrydol. Concordia 97-5940 [1986] (E-M).
  • Carlson, J. Bert. A New Look at the Old. Augsburg 11-11009 [1999] (E-M).
  • Childs, Edwin T. Organ Music for the Seasons, vol. 3. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7564-9 [2003] (M).
  • Coleman, Henry. A Book of Hymn Tune Voluntaries. Oxford ISBN 0-19-375115-1 [1950] (E-M).
  • Haan, Raymond H. Welsh Hymn Tune Preludes. SMP KK426 [1989].
  • Honoré, Jeffrey. Classic Embellishments. Augsburg 11-11005 [1999] (E-M).
  • Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 2. SMP KK235 [1982] (E, adaptable to piano).
  • Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (M).
  • Stearns, Peter Pindar. Twelve Hymn Preludes for General Use. Flammer HF-5145 [1987] (E-M).
  • Vaughan Williams, Ralph. Augsburg Organ Library – Epiphany. Augsburg 11-11073 [2001] (E-M)


  • Wilson, John F. A Sacrifice of Praise. Hope 347 [1994] (E-M).


  • Crawshaw, Craig. Hallelujah, What a Savior. Jenson 469-08019 [1984] (3 octaves, E-M).
  • Honoré, Jeffrey. Alleluia Passacaglia. Agape 1552 [1992] (3-5 octaves, E-M).
  • Hopson, Hal H. Fantasy on "Hyfrydol." Agape 1048 [1982] (2 octaves, E-M).
  • Hopson, Hal H. Fantasy on "Hyfrydol." Agape 2078 [1999 ] ( 3-5 octaves, E-M).
  • Tucker, Sondra K. Meditation on Hyfrydol. Choristers Guild CGB-182 [1996] (3 octaves, E-M).

AZMON PH 466, PsH 501, RL 363, RN 32, SFL 19, TH 164, TWC130, UMH 57

  • Bouman, Paul. Partita on Azmon. CPH 97-6506 [1995] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Groundings. Augsburg 11-11119 [2001] (E-M).
  • Hobby, Robert A. Three Hymns of Praise, set 6. Morningstar MSM-10-542 [2000] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. Ten Chorale Improvisations, set 9. Concordia 97-5556 [1980] (E-M).
  • Smith, Mark Brampton. Partita on Azmon. Morningstar MSM-10-718 [1996] (E-M).


  • Sherman, Arnold B. Acclamation on Azmon. Agape 1363 [1989] (3-5 octaves, M).
  • Sherman, Arnold B. Our Great Redeemer's Praise. Red River HB0018 [1997] (3-5 octaves, level 3).


  • Cherwien, David. Augsburg Organ Library – Autumn . Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7579-7 [2003] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Groundings. Augsburg 11-11119 [2001] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 9. AMSI SP-106 [1992] (E-M).
  • Haan, Raymond H. O Worship the King. Broadman 4570-42 [1979] (E-M).
  • Held, Wilbur. Preludes and Postludes, vol. 1. Augsburg 11-9318 [1972] (E-M).
  • Wood, Dale. Wood Works, bk. 2. SMP KK400 [1989] (E-M).


  • Carter, John. Folk Hymns for Piano. Hope 240 [1987] (E-M).
  • Carter, John. Hymns for Piano II. Hope 8197 [2003] (M).

Alternative Harmonization for Organ:

  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, bk. 5. Ludwig O-14 [1992].

Liturgy Notes:

  1. After the singing of "Lead Me, Guide Me," the transitions for the rest of the service are based on this song. The worship leader could make the congregation aware of this by saying something like, "Watch for the phrases of this song as we continue our worship."
  2. The Contemporary Reading of the Ten Commandments can be found in the December 2002 issue of Reformed Worship (). This can be done a couple of ways: two readers could read this for the congregation or reader one could be the pastor and reader two the congregation.
  3. It will be helpful for the congregation to say the words of the prayer of confession together. A good way to read Psalm 130 together might involve the pastor reading the odd verses and the congregation reading the even verses. This psalm is not very long and is a beautiful echo of the theme of the service.
  4. A children's moment could be included before the Prayer for Illumination. We suggest that this message reflect the theme of forgiveness and be closely related to what will be addressed in the sermon. We have chosen not to put a children's message in the liturgy and will instead make sure there are age-appropriate illustrations in the sermon.