August 1, 2021 – Pastor Beckie Sweet
You may have heard the preacher’s expression, “You know, I could preach on the scripture text for a month of Sundays.” Well as of next week, I will have preached on the text of The Lord’s Prayer for a month of Sundays. So vital and important is Jesus’ teaching concerning how to pray, that it is appropriate to spend significant time considering its application in our lives of faith. Besides, if I tried to cover all of this in one Sunday, we would be here all day!!
As Jesus teaches the disciples (and us) how to pray, an underlying purpose is to offer prayers which will help us to change our hearts, and help us to live-into our prayers. In other words, we need to articulate in prayer how we expect to make God’s will a reality in our lives. We need to treat others the way we ask God to treat us!
Jesus’ disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus’ response was to teach the disciples how to live God’s way through the expression of their desires for God’s activity in their lives. Jesus offers a prayer which describes a relationship with Almighty God / Abba/ Creator, which is then reflected in our relationships with one another. All of this is lived out in the midst of challenges and the need for comfort, hunger and the need for sustenance, guilt and the need for forgiveness, grudges and the need to forgive.
Yes, that is the concept which will so often trip us up when we give voice to this traditional prayer, or one of its iterations. Luke’s version states, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” That literally says that we need to be forgiving first, if we expect to be forgiven! The problem here is that many human beings are very good at seeking forgiveness, but pretty stingy about handing it out. How does that work for you? We cry, “Oh, God, I’m sorry!” “Please forgive me!” we plead. But let someone do us wrong and then ask our forgiveness and we’re not always so quick to forgive. And what about those who harm us and never seek forgiveness? Do we hold a grudge forever? And what does that do to our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being? And then, what happens when we do not forgive ourselves for a perceived sin or short-coming. Holding on to the unwillingness to forgive can be disastrous.
Roberta Bondi has written a wonderful reflective book on The Lord’s Prayer titled “A Place to Pray.” In that book, she defines forgiveness as “letting go of an injury so that you no longer even consider that you have been hurt.” Wow! That’s a tall order. ‘Certainly an ideal to strive for. But is that humanly possible?
Most of us learn the importance of Christian values by seeing them modeled before us. We hear a lot about that at memorial services, as grateful mourners reflect upon what they learned from the person who has been called to their eternal home. We hear about those who have exemplified hospitality, love, kindness, the ability to teach children, the ability to be a close friend. But seldom to people speak of their loved ones in terms of their ability to truly embody a forgiving spirit. The good news is . . . they are still out there!
A folk singer named John McCutcheon wrote a ballad about the Lord’s Prayer, which he titled, “Forgive Us.” Within this song he tells about his own experiences with the Lord’s Prayer as he was growing up in the church. Then, he comes to the bridge of the song when he tells about an event which you may remember being reported well over a decade ago, from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This was not a human interest story about some of the Amish inhabitants of that region, but rather a horror story. As I recall, a young man had entered an Amish school house, terrorized the teacher and children and then told the teacher and the boys to run away. He then proceeded to tie-up the young girls, ages six to thirteen, and he shot them. Upon hearing about this, I remember being stricken with grief and anger myself at what this man had done to families and a community of faith who work so hard to live according to their beliefs and to live peacefully among folks like us who are so different from them, and those who are sometimes so unkind to them. I remember trying to imagine the range of emotions which the parents of these children must have been experiencing.
The media reported on the findings of the ongoing investigation about why the man had taken these girls’ lives and how this tragedy had affected the tight-knit community. But then, as the song goes on, it reminds us of the next shocking, God-inspired turn of events. Within a couple of short days, the Amish families announced publicly that they forgave the man who caused them so much pain. And that was not all. The Amish families set up a scholarship fund for the gunman’s children. The chorus of the song continues, “Forgive us, as we forgive, forgive us….” Listen . . .
“Forgive us, as we forgive, forgive us . . .” Now, we sadly know that forgiveness does not happen like switching on the lights. It is often a process, a long process, that hopefully will lead to the point where those harmed will not seek revenge, and will even pray for good for the one causing such pain. But to state that we have forgiven holds one accountable to living into this faith principle which we pray will be extended to us in the grace of Christ Jesus.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, God-inspired even, if every time we were wronged, felt like getting even, or just wanted to hold a grudge in righteous indignation, we could be reminded to sing that chorus, pray the prayer, and convince our hearts … “forgive us, as we forgive, forgive us.” We may need to make this a mantra in order to convince ourselves that we can, with forgiveness, go on living with higher quality emotional and spiritual existence.
Consider for a moment how survivors of the holocaust found happiness. How can Persons of Color seek justice while racisms is still so viscous? How can Native Americans maintain the rich beauty of their culture after being taken from their families and stripped of their identity. How can LGBTQIA persons worship with joy in a denomination which for more than 50 years has claimed that the person God has created each to be is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” even though Jesus said nothing about their identity, other than that each one is worthy of love?
“Forgive us, as we forgive, forgive us.” When we seek God’s forgiveness each and every time we fall short of God’s glory, we must become a bit more forgiving of those who have harmed us, even when they have not apologized, or asked for forgiveness, or even seem to care that they have caused another pain. “Forgive us, as we forgive, forgive us.”
Please pray with me: Loving, generous, and ever-forgiving God: we thank you for the gift of forgiveness, for what you give to us from yourself, and for what you enable us to offer to others. Help us remember that we are all in need of your grace. Please forgive what we cannot yet do ourselves, and for the forgiveness we have chosen to withhold. You have equipped us to offer forgiveness to others as generously as you give it to us. May we live into the more frequent use of that gift. For we pray in the name of your embodied grace, Christ Jesus. Amen.