There is an old tale told about a preachers’ get together from days gone by. Maybe you know it. Four preachers met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, “Our people come to us and pour out their hears, confess certain sins and needs. Let us do the same for each other. Confession is good for the soul.”
In due time all agreed. One confessed he liked to go to movies and would sneak off when away from his church. The second confessed to liking to smoke cigars and the third one confessed to liking to play cards. When it came to the fourth one, he wouldn’t confess. The others pressed him saying, “Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?” Finally, he answered, “It is gossiping, and I can hardly wait to get out of here.”
Confession is good for the soul and with the right pastoral support can be life giving. We have been focusing on the Lord’s Prayer throughout this season of Lent together. This is the sixth sermon in the series on the Lord’s Prayer, as we turn today to “forgive us today our trespasses.” In this unique Lent, we acknowledge that this has been unlike any other season that we have ever lived through. With so much uncertainty, we turn to the familiarity, comfort and depth of the Lord’s Prayer for guidance and comfort.
The Lord’s Prayer is a global prayer that connects the Christian world across denomination and division. I have often experimented in gatherings (in days before the time of quarantine). When officiating a wedding, a funeral, baptism of other faith gather, I would start the prayer and then let my voice fall out. The beauty of strong voices and learning voices, loud voices and those that whisper their prayers is stunning. We begin with our voices together – Our father who art in heaven. We find our voices falling into live together, as we breathe out together, hallowed be your name. We urn for God’s way as pray Thy kingdom, thy will be done on earth as it is on heaven. Falling into our rhythm, we allow God’s vision of wholes to become ours, if only briefly Give us this day, our daily bread.
Christians may find many topics upon which to debate or volley theologically, but begin the Our Father and our voices join into almost unity. This is until we come to verse 12, which Pastor Jim read for us. This is the point in ecumenical gatherings where you start to hear a cacophony of different words. We hear, Forgive us this day. And the you begin to see and hear the beauty of individual humanity.
Wrong against us
Or as one particular four-year-old prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” I know my trash baskets needs lot of emptying.
So, which is it? William Tyndale, in his Book of Common Prayer in 1546, translates the prayer into English as Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against you. Tyndale was informed by the law of the time. Trespasses were going outside of your prescribed set of expectation, and not staying in your lane. When we trespass onto someone’s property, we violate an established boundary.
Some pray to forgive us our debts as we heard in our gospel lesson. We may understand this prayer more intimately. Farmers put the crop in the field with operating loans. Contractors build houses with construction loans. Students and their families build an education with loans and hard work. Americans have significant debts with credit cards, and their homes. The problem of school debt, often running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, has now become a national crisis. We anticipate the impact of this pandemic will increase the debtness as families lose jobs. Even the federal government is in debt–debt that has soared into untold trillions of dollars.
However, many of us view debt as annoyance. In the ancient world, debt was punishable by jail time and possibly death. In the Roman Empire, prisons were not generally filled with criminals; they were populated with debtors. Most convicted criminals were executed or were forced to serve some other form of punishment for their crimes, but those who could not make good on their payments were incarcerated until they could pay what they owed.
Debt is also relational or social debt. We live in a web of mutual obligations as we interact with one another. Instead dollars and cents, in this market, we deal in a currency of attitudes and actions. We live in a world of give and take. It’s not always a matter of strict accounting, but generally, we try to keep the books balanced. If someone does you a favor, then we say, “you owe them one.” If someone sends you a Christmas card or gives you a present, you try to reciprocate; otherwise you fall behind.
One of the evenings this week, our family was participating in a challenge from the show, Taskmaster. This British TV show usually has comedians responding to challenges. In this time, the show has offered at home challenges for the nation (and the world). One challenge was to develop the most spectacular way of putting paper in a bin . Some of us made paper airplanes; others crumpled it up. Some stood close and others far away from the bin.(1) All of us required multiple attempts. We were all in good faith trying to make the mark, and yet, I was reminded of the definition for sin – sin is missing the mark. Sometimes, I do the thing I don’t want to do, and other times I omit or avoid doing the very thing I ought to do.
Pope Francis says, “The family is a big training gym for giving and forgiving without which love cannot last too long.” (2) In these unique days in which our worlds feel small in person, even though we seek to enlarge them virtually. It is understandable that those who are closet to us receive the worst part of us and regularly. We are under stress as we anticipate the unknown, the experience anticipatory grief, and feel like there is so little that we can control.
Our most common response when we hear that someone calls us to confess is to deflect or send the blame somewhere else. I didn’t drink the last of the orange juice, must have been someone else. I would never leave the door open, must have been the dog. And sometimes, we go even further, I did not say what you think I said, but here some things you did to hurt me. I did not do what you accuse me of, but here is what someone else did that was more horrible. Confession of our sins, our debts, our trespasses is not about shaming – it is about staying in our lane. We take responsibility for our actions, ask for forgiveness and change our behaviors.
Forgiveness, Jesus teaches, can be likened to the cancellation of a debt– the cancellation by the one to whom it is owed, absorbing the loss. Seen in this light, we know why forgiveness is not easy. C.S. Lewis puts his finger on the truth when he said that “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” However, God forgives us fully and completely.
To forgive is not to say that what has transpired does not matter. Rather, it is to say that the wrongs that have occurred no longer define the relationship. Forgiveness or “release” means that there can be a different future, which is not defined by the past. People are to see themselves first of all as the recipients of release
God begins the process of opening up the future for new relationship by God’s gracious and abundant acts of forgiveness. Those who have received forgiveness from God are then in a position to extend it to others. Forgiving does not mean perpetuating destructive patterns of relationship by turning a blind eye to it and “letting things go” on in the old way. Forgiveness or release is designed to bring change. It accomplishes its purpose when it opens up a future that the wrongdoing from the past had closed off.
Imagine that the church sexton came to clean the sanctuary one Monday morning. Instead of finding the usual fare of forgotten Bibles, umbrellas, bulletins covered with children’s drawings, and envelopes with doodles, she found something very different.
In a middle pew on the right side of the church lay a father’s long-held grudge against his son. On the back left pew sat a woman’s profound anger at an ex-husband who sorely mistreated her. Further down the pew lay an old man’s guilt and remorse from an affair he had fifty years ago. Across the aisle the custodian found the jealousy that threatened a young couple’s marriage. On the front row she discovered an old man’s fear of death. In the corner, so small she could barely see it, lay a child’s envy of a friend’s toy. On other pews she found bitterness, pride, fear and doubt. The custodian was not sure what to with all this. But finally, she swept it up, all those wounds, hurts, fears and sins, and threw them away.
In these times of virtual connection, we may find ourselves being both the parishioner in the pew and the sexton. We offer our trespasses, our debts, and sins to God in prayer. God’s grace is abundant, and love covers all.
This is the good news of Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(2) Pope Francis. Our Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. 2017
Gospel Lesson: Colossians 3;1-10
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6:12
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Meditations for Sunday, March 29 through Saturday, April 4, 2020
Sunday: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12. In this challenging time, pray that we might extend ourselves and each other extra grace as we navigate unchartered waters.
Monday: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1. May God of us all, grant you strength and hope for all that is before you on this day.
Tuesday: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” Colossians 3:2. Where is God inviting you to focus on what really matters today? When your schedule changes and the expectations are different, who is God calling you to be?
Wednesday: “When Christ, who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” Colossians: 3:4. Pray for glimpse of God’s goodness to be shown to those who most need to see God today. Pray for those who are on the front lines of caring for others – healthcare workers, emergency personnel, social service workers, leaders. Who else would you add?
Thursday: “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” It is easy to cast blame; it is hard to offer grace. Take the challenge today to offer grace, pausing before letting anger and slander slip through your lips or fingers.
Friday: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self,” Colossians 3:9-10a. May God grant you the freshness of perspective to offer hope to one another in a weary season. Let your hearts prepare for a marathon of grace.
Saturday: “which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” Colossians 3: 10b. You are the beloved of God. God’s image is innate within you. Thank you, child of God.