He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Will you pray with me? O God, pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here so that our eyes and ears will be open to hear your call to forgiveness through Jesus Christ. May the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
This is the fourth week of our preaching series titled ‘God Sized Prayers.’ We are working through the Lord’s Prayer as it is written in the 11th chapter of Luke, verses one through thirteen. The first week we looked at what it means to know the name of God. In the second week, we spent time examining the nature of God’s kingdom and the ways we experience the transformative love of Jesus Christ. Last week, our focal point was the provision of daily bread that comes from God not only in the scripture texts but in our own lives. How will we work with God to be a provision of daily bread to our neighbors?
As we wrap up the series, we are exploring the petition in the prayer: Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
Depending on whether you’re looking at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew or Luke’s gospel, and depending on whether you are reading the King James, New International, Common English, or New Revised Standard translation of the Bible, this phrase will vary. One of the most noticeable differences is the varying use of sin and debts among translations. The flavor of the prayer certainly changes if we believe it carries an economic component, like forgiving monetary debts or being set free from payday loans. That experience of economic forgiveness echoes of the year of Jubilee in which even the land is fallow so that there will be a complete freedom among God’s people.
Years ago I came across a piece written by Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower. You may know it. The first half of the book is set in a concentration camp during the Second World War. The second half of the most recent edition of the book contains 53 responses from the foremost theological and philosophical minds of the 20th century.
In the first half of the book, Simon weaves his personal narrative with the unfolding horror of the German extermination of European Jewry. The narrative grows in intensity until it reaches its zenith moment. Simon, randomly, was brought into the hospital ward to visit with a dying German soldier. The soldier recounts to him an event in which he had participated: the mass killing of a Jewish village . The soldier later discloses his Catholic upbringing and his devotion to service of the church as an altar boy.
The scene is taking on the form of a deathbed confession in which Simon, the token Jewish prisoner, is sought out so that he can receive the soldier’s confession and pronounce forgiveness for atrocities committed against fellow Jewish brethren. “I know that what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and time again I love longed to talk about it to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. Only I didn’t know whether there were any Jews left…I know that what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace.”
“[Simon] stood up and looked in his direction, at his folded hands. At last [Simon] made up his mind and without a word [Simon] left the room.”
The remainder of part one holds the journey that Simon makes with a friend, who was a theological student. Between the two they explore the nature of forgiveness, its possibilities and its limits, not only in abstractions but in the lived reality of individuals and entire communities. Then in part two, Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis, Protestant pastors, Catholic cardinals, philosophers, and Holocaust survivors attempt to write the alternative ending, or at least issue judgment on Simon’s actions. What would they do if placed in Simon’s position? Is it possible to offer forgiveness on someone else’s behalf, or on the behalf of an entire community? How can we tell if the one seeking forgiveness is earnest and truly repentant?
The responses are varied, from the harshest that the German soldier should rot in hell and take his case up with God to the acclamation that forgiveness should always be given in the event of repentance, no matter what the cause of harm. And then there are more tempered responses that place a few more conditions on the possibility of forgiveness.
Church, we have waded off into the deep end of the pool this morning. Placing the Lord’s Prayer alongside Simon’s recollection of a historical travesty opens up this morning’s conversation about the work of forgiveness. It’d be far easier and less messy if we left the hypotheticals of forgiveness to the pages of the Sunflower, rather than walking through the door that it has opened. Once we walk through that door, Josek’s question of Simon is asked of us, ‘You mean you ought to have forgiven him after all?
What is the scope of forgiveness in our marriages?
In our relationships with family, especially with members who are estranged or undeserving of trust because of their multiple broken promises?
What about with a community member that we have seen intentionally take advantage of the economically vulnerable?
How do you forgive someone who has treated you less than the beloved child of God that you are?
Can discriminatory organizations be forgiven for the harm they have caused?
Should we forgive someone who harms a child? Are there some actions for which there can be no forgiveness?
I’m not going to answer those questions for you. I don’t want you to walk away this morning thinking you need to forgive and forget and that’s the fulfillment of Christian discipleship. I don’t want you to think that forgiveness means ignoring the real and significant pain you have experienced or caused, while promising to do better next time.
Rather, I want you to lean into the grace of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ to wrestle over the work of forgiveness that brings the restoration of right relationships. Restoration of relationships is the heart of the gospel. It’s another way of talking about the coming reign of God. When we are brought back into loving relationship with both God and neighbors through repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness, there is the kingdom of God at hand.
As I read the holy scriptures, especially the gospels, I see a tremendous amount of movement on God’s part to have a loving relationship with creation. There are a great number of things that human beings as individuals and communities do to mess that relationship with God up. And certainly there is plenty that we do that is counterproductive to having loving relationships with
one another. Remember, one of the first events outside the garden of Eden is that Cain kills Abel. That’s not a very good start to the biblical story but it’s representative of the violence that continues to rear its ugly head in our communities. There is great need for us to continue to pray, forgive us own trespasses as we forgive the ways we trespass against our neighbors. When violence, terrorism, addiction, vicious gossip, and greed are so pervasive in our reality, the real center of hope is in the movement of God to restore relationships, to awaken us from our destructive patterns, assuring us that we are loved, and especially called to demonstrate divine love to others.
I think one of my favorite church words that doesn’t get used very often is pardon. It sounds like it’s straight out of an episode of Law and Order or Jack Arnold’s District Attorney’s office, and it certainly could be. It just means being set free, set free by God’s love and grace, and invited to grow in love for others. Pardon gets right to the center of God’s forgiveness you can’t earn it, negotiate for it, buy it, or hoard it. It’s a free gift. Pardon is such a hope filled word to my ears.
Imagine being set free from every stupid, self-destructive decision that has caused you pain, heartache, and despair and God says to you, you are my beloved child. Imagine no longer feeling like guilt or a dark secret is a ball and chain around your ankle and God still says to you, you are my beloved child. Imagine living six feet under in the despair and depression of your own mind and then hearing these words of hope and freedom, you are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased. Imagine no longer carrying the pain and regret of telling off your sibling and the phone line ever since going silent.
Because God has moved toward us in Jesus Christ, we can move toward reconciling our love with others. We must.
I don’t know if there are actions so egregious that they are forever an obstacle to forgiveness between individuals. But this I do know: in the life of Jesus Christ, God comes toward us in grace, promises freedom and newness of life, and invites us to grow in love of God’s self and our neighbors. We have been offered freedom from our own destructive ways. Can we offer that same gift to another?
Bless you in the name of the Almighty, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.