Thursday, August 11, 2011

“Forgive Us….Lead Us” - Matthew 6:12-13 - July 24, 2011

I love my brother, Adam. He is one of the most important people in my life. I have to tell you if I had a problem and really needed him; I honestly believe that I could call him in the middle of the night in Atlanta and by morning’s light he would be on an airplane heading this way. He demonstrated this throughout my journey through my catastrophic illness and again two years ago after my hip surgery. When he thought I needed him, he came. I want you to hear my deep love for him, because I have to confess that we spent much of our childhood – let’s see, how should I put this, locked in the natural struggle for self-differentiation one from another. OK, more directly, we spend much of our childhood wrestling and fighting with one another. We shared a bedroom until my sister left for college. Adam and I are only two years apart in age and it seemed that our constant state of being together created endless opportunities to disagree – not so agreeably. I remember that when my mother would hear the chaos, she would come upstairs and tell us; “Stop this now! Now forgive each other, hug, and make up. You are brothers! You should know better.”

Our promise to forgive each other became more about the stopping the fight of the moment – at least until Mom was out of ear shot range. I fear that for many of us, forgiveness is still about making up with someone for the moment, but does not ultimately change the way we feel or act toward others. Jesus understood our struggle to forgive one another. As we move into our third week of taking a closer look at the model prayer – The Lord’s Prayer – that Jesus taught as a part of the Sermon on the Mount. Our the course of the first two weeks we heard that we might best hear this prayer something like…

Our Father, who is up close and personal and divine and eternal, May I make your name Holy, revered, honor and respected in my life. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth and in my life, as it is in at the feet of your throne. Give me today, my most basic needs, so that I depend wholly and daily on you.

Now we hear ourselves pray: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…In many translations including the NIV we read; And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…and in Luke’s account of this same moment we hear Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Most of the time when we hear about forgiveness in church, we are talking about God’s grace and the promise that God will forgive us and redeem us. We hear Jesus proclaim from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” We hear Paul teach in Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.” We love these sermons. They are good and encouraging words to hear and the promises are real and true. But, I think we are slower to think about us forgiving others. While we cherish the promise that we are forgiven, we are also called to be a people of forgiveness. In fact, Jesus places a profound responsibility for forgiveness on our shoulders. In the model prayer Jesus teaches us to ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who trespass – who sin – against us. Every time I pray this prayer I find these words startling. I have to be honest with you and with God. My hope and my prayer is that God will forgive me – redeem me – restore me, much better than I forgive others – redeem my relationship with others – restore my walk with others. I think this is true for most of us. Our temptation is to demand justice when we feel we have been sinned against, and mercy when we are the sinner. We want justice when we feel like we have been violated. We want mercy when we blow it and wound another. Jesus wanted to make sure that there is no confusion on what he is teaching. At the close of the model prayer Jesus comes back to this theme. He teaches 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

It was interesting to read the scholars in the various commentaries squirm as they come to terms with the apparent conditional nature of Jesus’ teaching. We are much more comfortable with a single direction forgiveness – of an unrelenting God who forgives us regardless of anything we have done or might do. Jesus wants it clear that those who follow him and know what it is to be forgiven are expected to become a people who forgive others.

We have talked about the fact that this model prayer is a prayer of dependence. We have heard that we must depend on who God is, on God’s will and God’s way, and on God’s provision of our all we need. Here Jesus is teaching that we must so dependent on God’s forgiveness that it shapes our very nature – we who are forgiven become those who forgive. We do not forgive others as an act of benevolence or even kindness. We forgive because we are so shaped by God’s forgiveness that we can do no other. Does this define your heart for others in your life? Do you have an unspoken list in your life of those you simply cannot forgive? Are you still carrying the pain that others have brought into your life? Are you ready to finally let your hate and frustration go – to forgive those who have sinned against you – so that nothing stands in between you and your relationship with God? It seems we forget that the power of forgiveness is an important and releasing for the one who forgives as the one we are forgiving.

We hear ourselves pray; Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil….In these words we hear Jesus teach us to pray for God’s guidance for us to avoid temptation and power of the evil. So often we think that we have the personal fortitude to stand against temptation and evil, but Paul reminds us that we are weak and easily tempted. This is about so much more than the old line from the old Flip Wilson comedy show where he pronounces “the devil made me do it.” It is heard in the trembling voices who say, “I know it was wrong, but I just could not help myself.” We see the unmistakable impact it has on people who find themselves addicted to drugs or alcohol, to pornography or sex, or any one of a thousand other things. We see it lived out in those who tumble from one bad relationship to another. We feel it when we find ourselves stumbling and bumbling over the same issues – making the same mistakes – repeating the same failures, over and over again. We want something more. We long for the power to change. But as long as we continue to depend on our own spiritual strength – our own emotional resolution – as long as we depend on ourselves, we are doomed to repeat the same failures again and again. The only we can actually avoid temptation is for God to lead us away from it – and the only way we can avoid the power of the evil one is to trust God to deliver us from it.

I join these two together because together they help us to see that just as we need God to lead us away from temptation and to forgive us when we fall, we are called to be a reflection that same redeeming and restoring love. Jesus teaches us to pray a prayer that calls us utter dependence and complete obedience. Hear that this is not about become a nice rule abiding religious people. It is about giving ourselves to God a day at a time – a moment at a time. We have to let God define our way of life, becoming a people of forgiveness, and trusting God to lead us away from all that would wound our heart and spirit, and call us toward His feet.

Our Father, who is up close and personal and divine and eternal, Holy, revered, honor and respected, is your name,  Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth and in my life, as it is in heaven.  Give me today, my most basic needs, so that I depend wholly on you. Forgive us – forgive me, and help me to forgive others the same way I want to be forgiven by you.  Lead us away from anything that might tempt us – anything that might draw our eyes away from you- and deliver us from the one who would have us walk any way but yours. Amen!

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