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Sermon: The Lord’s Prayer – Part 5 – The Prayer of Release
This morning we’re continuing our sermon series on “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Three Sundays ago we looked at the first phrase of The Lord’s Prayer “Our Father in heaven Hallowed be your name” which we called the Prayer of Connection.
We said that we worship a God who is not distant or unknowable a harsh judge ready to meet out punishment for our sins but a God who is like the Father of a prodigal child who waits for his return runs to embrace, forgive and restore his child to himself, a God who desires to be connected.
Two Sundays ago, we looked at the second phrase of The Lord’s Prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We called this phrase “The Prayer of Surrender”.
We live within two kingdoms, the kingdom of the world which is ruled by political power wealth and violence and the kingdom of God which is established through justice tempered with mercy and suffering love. The question is to which two will we surrender?
Last Sunday we considered the third phrase of The Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” which I’m calling “The Prayer of Dependence.”
We said that the bread which Jesus first had in mind when teaching us to pray this prayer was physical bread, the food which sustains our physical bodies. The kingdom of God is about food basic sustenance for all. It is about God’s bread given for the world to be shared equitably by us.
“Give US this day OUR daily bread.” What I hope we’re beginning to see is that the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray was by no means domesticated but was in every way revolutionary even seen by some as subversive.
That God, “Our Father,” is like the Father of a prodigal child who receives, forgives and restores a wayward son who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and rain on the righteous and unrighteous would have been understood as a threat to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who believed that God’s favor was reserved only for the religiously upstanding. But in telling the following story Jesus says not so.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The kingdom of God for which Jesus taught his disciples pray stood against the kingdom of Rome which obtained victory through political power, wealth and violence. While in the kingdom of God victory is brought about through justice tempered with mercy and suffering love.
To give an example, Jesus taught his disciples that if a Roman soldier pressed them into service to carry their pack for a mile, they should carry it for two.
According to Roman law, a Roman soldier could force a Jew at will to carry his heavy pack for up to a mile, but no further. In teaching his disciples to carry the pack for two miles, Jesus was teaching them how in a non-violent way to expose the injustice of the Roman law and to take the moral power away from their oppressor.
Last week, we said that the bread Jesus prays for is bread for the world. “Give US this day OUR daily bread.” In blessing, breaking and giving the bread to the multitude seated on a hillside Jesus reminds us that all the bread in the world is ultimately God’s bread to be shared by us equitably with all.
We need to remember Jesus was addressing the ptochos, the penes the poor which means that how he was teaching his disciples to pray would have been viewed in their minds as revolutionary or subversive of the prevailing political, social and religious systems of his day that benefitted a few while leaving many in want.
This, my friends, is no domesticated prayer. It is a prayer for justice so that God’s kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.
This morning we are looking at the fourth phrase of the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
As a response to his sermon on forgiveness a Minister asked his congregation, “How many of you have forgiven your enemies? “80% of the congregation raised their hands. Making another plea the Minister repeated his question. This time the whole congregation responded, except for one small elderly lady in the last pew. “Mrs. Jones, asked the minister are you not willing to forgive your enemies?” “I don’t have any,” she replied, smiling sweetly. “Mrs. Jones, that’s very unusual. How old are you?” “Ninety-eight,” she replied. “Oh, Mrs. Jones, would you please come down in front and tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years and not have an enemy in the world?” The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said: “I outlived them all.”
What were the “Sins” Jesus was speaking of when he taught his disciples to pray “Forgive us of our “sins” as we forgive those who sin against us?
The gospels of Matthew and Luke give us two primary meanings. The first meaning of sin is “Debts”. I’m afraid, friends, that the Presbyterians have us on this one. The Greek word which Matthew uses is correctly translated as “Debts”, namely financial “debts”. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
If you can imagine along with acquiring “daily bread”, debt was the main peril in peasant life for the ptochos, penes, or the poor in the time of Jesus. If a peasant family fell into debt, which would happen only if they were utterly desperate, failure to repay the debt could result in the loss of their land (if they had any) or indentured servitude (temporary slavery) until the debt was repaid, even for the family as a whole.
Concerned with the burden of debt that the poor were living under Jesus tells this parable. There once was a king, who went to settle his accounts. One servant owed him an astronomical sum-an amount that a daily laborer could not earn in 150,000 years! The king ordered the man and his family to be sold into debtor’s servitude. But he howled and screamed and begged for mercy, and the king forgave the impossible debt.
Then, as he was leaving the court, the man saw a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount –the sum a day laborer could earn in 100 days – and demanded payment of him. When the servant proved unable to pay, the man had him thrown into debtors’ prison until he could pay. When word got back to the king, he called the man and said, “you incredible fellow! I forgave you an impossible debt. Couldn’t you have done as much for a fellow servant?” And he gave the man over to his jailors. “So also, “Jesus said to them “my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” According to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, interest could be received for loans for trade or commerce but not for help or subsistence loans to family members, neighbors, or resident aliens. If a fellow Israelite was desperate enough to need help it was to be offered freely. No interest on money loaned and no profit made for food given.
But Torah was not always followed. Interest was often charged to fellow Israelites or collateral, land or chattel held as security and confiscated when loans were defaulted. Therefore creditors would obtain property and many debtors would end up living in indentured servitude until their debts were paid, some for a lifetime.
Imagine how the ears of creditors perked up when Jesus taught his disciples “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors?”
When Jesus began his earthly ministry he announced “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. The Year of the Lord’s Favor was the year of Jubilee. Every seventh year, the Sabbath year, was deemed the year of Jubilee. In the seventh year, fields were to lie fallow, land which had been defaulted for unpaid debts was to be returned to its original owners and indentured or debt slaves set free.
Why? In Leviticus 25:23, God announces “The land must not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners, my tenant farmers.” All of us are ultimately indebted to God. We are all tenant farmers here on earth. “The earth is the Lord’s,” the Bible says, “and the fullness thereof.” We may buy it, sell it, trade for it, but ultimately it is the Lord’s.
In teaching his disciples to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” Jesus was addressing a prominent social concern and in some cases injustices which left people living under the excessive and oppressive weight of debt or indentured servitude.
His prayer echoed the Torah and the Prophets. It was revolutionary and understood by some as subversive from the way things were. What this means for us today is a complicated question. Our national debt now stands at over 15 trillion dollars. We have a household debt of 13.4 trillion or $9,000 per person.
How do we begin to address our addictions as a consumer driven society and our financial irresponsibility both as individuals and as a nation. How do we begin to address the ethics and practices of a financial system which can be manipulated to benefit relatively few and that leave many impoverished when many suffer under exorbitant interest rates or predatory practices creating vast inequality. How do we handle loans or debts, within our own families, amongst friends?
Jesus was addressing the two primary concerns of the poor “enough bread for today and no debts for tomorrow.”
What is it that has come between us and God, between us and one another, between our troubled and healthier self.
In the 18th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Peter comes to Jesus and asks “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother, seven times?” Peter thought he was being magnanimous. Jewish Law required that you forgive another person only 3 times. After that you could have nothing to do with them. Jesus answered Peter, “Not seven, but seventy-seven times” which is a numeric symbol for “forever”.
Forgiveness for “what is wrong among us.” is central to living a Christ-like life full of meaningful life.
Why is it essential that you and I forgive and release those who have hurt us. Let me give you three reasons: first, we forgive because God forgives us. We forgive, we release those who have hurt us because God has forgiven and released us. “Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you,” writes the Apostle Paul to the church in Colossians.
On the first night of our Lenten Supper Series we discussed Jesus’ final words from the cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In his video presentation Adam Hamilton points out that in the gospels who is really on trial in the crucifixion narratives is not Jesus, but all of humanity.
The crucifixion narratives with the angry mob of Pilate washing his hands of innocent blood or the betrayal and desertion of many of Jesus’ disciples, of the Roman soldiers who spat upon him and nailed him to a cross, the religious leaders who wagged their heads and mocked him, saying “He saved others, but cannot save himself” is really a trial of our own sinful human condition of “what is so wrong among us.”
It is we who are on trial and we who should be condemned and yet Jesus, our Judge, from upon his throne prays for our absolution “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Knowing our proclivity to be hurtful toward others we forgive, because God, in his mercy has forgiven us.
The second reason we forgive and release others who have hurt us is because by holding on to resentments we are mostly only hurting ourselves. Resentment literally means to “re-send” or replay a hurt someone has caused us over and over again. “I still can’t believe he did that or she did that to me.”
Some people hold on to resentments for years, others for a life time. Resentment is a self-inflicted wound, a prison of our own making. Studies show that holding on to resentments can raise our blood pressure, make us four times more likely to have high cholesterol and three times more likely to suffer a stroke or a heart attack.
Anger and resentments create distance and discord. In Job 5:2, Job says, “To worry yourself to death with resentment, would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.” In the book of Proverbs we read, “Some men stay happy until the day they die and others have no happiness at all.
They live and die with bitter hearts.”
We forgive because holding on to resentments hurts everyone around us and mostly us.
The third reason we have to forgive and release others from their sins is because we need forgiveness every day. The Bible clearly teaches that we cannot receive what we are unwilling to give. To receive forgiveness we have to forgive. That’s what the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
The Greek conjunction “as” literally means, “as much as” or “in proportion to”. When we pray the Lord’s prayer we are literally praying, “Forgive us our sins, Lord “as much as” or “in proportion to” the forgiveness we extend to those who sin against us.” Those who are better able to forgive are those who are able to receive and experience forgiveness.
So, who is it this morning you’re in need of forgiving? Who are you blaming for your unhappiness: A spouse, a parent, an employer, a wayward child, your pastor?
And, how do we release our hurt? First, we forgive by leaving it to God. We say something to God like this, “Ok, God, I’m going to relinquish my desire to get even with this person. I’m not going to keep letting them hurt me keep playing their sin over and over again in my mind. I’m giving up my right to seek revenge. I’m going to learn to live with the score untied. I release them to you to deal with the consequences of their own choices.
Secondly, we forgive and heal our hurt by grace. Forgiveness is not fair.
It is not fair that those who have hurt us appear to get off so easily, but forgiveness is not about fairness, it’s about grace.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace, which God gives, for if he does there can easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but infects all others. We don’t forgive because it’s fair but because it’s the healing, life-giving God-like thing to do to releases us from a bitter heart.
Finally, we release our hurt at the foot of the cross. At the cross is the power to free us from resentments “Forgiving others, who know not what they do.”
Now, you may say, “Well, Pastor Dave my husband or my wife, my co-worker sure knew what they were doing when they did this or did that that hurt me?” And I’ll say to you again anytime we willfully hurt another it is because, surely “We know not what we do.”
In the cross, Jesus ends the cycle of sin and hurt. He willingly chooses not to return hurt in kind.
If we say, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.”
We also choose to break the cycle of hurt or revenge. We become a new creation, the old has passed away. Behold, all things become new again.
Who is in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts, our sins
As we forgive our debtors
Those who sin against us.