Grace mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In our midweek services this year at Peace we have been walking through the Lord’s Prayer. The message today will be the fifth petition, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If last week’s message was challenging in view of our own wealth I would imagine that this petition will also be challenging for those of us who take a real honest look at the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
The plea for forgiveness is something that we find throughout scripture. Psalm 51:9–11 (ESV) 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Psalm 25:16–18 (ESV) 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. 18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector which was told by Jesus the one who is justified spoke these words. Luke 18:13 (ESV) 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ We also have a very familiar text 1 John 1:8–9 (ESV) 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The Lord teaches us to pray and ask God for forgiveness.
I don’t think that anyone sitting here is surprised with the fact that scripture speaks a lot about asking for forgiveness and coming to God time and time again for that forgiveness. Where we tend to find a problem in the 5th petition is with the second clause. “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” Even if you want to translate it according to some of the manuscripts “As also we forgave our debtors.” It is still a challenging thing to pray. We as those who know of the grace of Jesus Christ and have been called share that good news in our daily callings in life known as our vocations. We proclaim his perfect life, sacrificial death, and his victorious resurrection all to make forgiveness possible for the world. That is who we are as Christian people. We are also aware of the hurts and pains that go along with the joys. I am guessing that most of you know of a time in which you were deeply wounded by someone. Perhaps they spoke about you and slandered you. Maybe someone lied to you or did something that has deeply damaged the relationship that you have with that person. The idea of forgiveness for someone else even when they repent of their actions can become a hard thing for us to swallow. We tend to want to cling to our hurts and pains rather than to freely forgive. We like to play the martyr card for many different reasons. Perhaps the pain is so big that you don’t even know where to start addressing the issue. Yet we are called to forgive no ifs and or buts about it.
We know that this section of the Lord’s Prayer is not making our forgiving others into a prerequisite to be forgiven by God for that would simply leave us to our own works to be saved. This section of the Lord’s Prayer does seem to be reflecting the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. The servant being forgiven his great debt by the king then turns around and forces one of his own servants to pay back in comparison a small debt and refused to even give him time to repay it let alone reflecting the grace that he had received from the king and canceling the debt. He then found himself back on the hook for the debt that he owed.
Do we as those who have received the grace of Jesus Christ knowing how great of a debt that he has forgiven in our own lives then withhold forgiveness from those whom have in comparison a minor debt to each one of us? When we become blinded to the fact that we ourselves only stand before God because of His grace to us we will quickly insist on the debts that are owed to us be paid in full. The root of the problem is not our unwillingness to forgive but rather our lack of realization of the need for the forgiveness and lack of trust in the forgiveness that has been given to us.
I have two brothers and I thank them often for giving me a great sermon illustration that I think I could work into every sermon that I preach. When they were in grade school they came home on the bus every day and some days they would be home alone for a few hours until our mom would get home. As brothers tend to do they got into a bit of a skirmish on their way home and one thing led to another and the older of the two locked our younger brother out of the house. With all his might my youngest brother took his back pack full of books and swung it at the fount door which was made of glass and the glass shattered. They both had a new perspective on the guilt that they shared. They both understood that they were guilty of doing wrong and they were in big trouble. They quickly got over whatever they were fighting about. Now I have no idea if the words I forgive you ever came out of their mouths to one another but they defiantly had a different perspective and that was that they were both equally guilty before our parents. As my youngest brother went and hid in the tree house in the back yard my other brother ended up going and getting him saying “don’t you think mom and dad will find you our here?” He went outside not clinging to whatever the wrong was that started the problem but with an understanding that they both were sinners and would need forgiveness.
When we speak the words forgive us our trespasses with an understanding that we in fact need that forgiveness just as much as the people who pray that petition with us the next clause becomes realistic, not easy but definitely possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we see the sin in our own lives as it truly is we see that we are in desperate need of the forgiveness of our Savior Jesus Christ we can then seek to forgive as we have been forgiven.
If you refuse to forgive take the parable of the unforgiving servant to heart as a warning. If you struggle to forgive the only place to go is the cross of Jesus Christ where your forgiveness was bought and paid for. If you know what you are supposed to do and yet struggle to speak words of forgiveness cling to the words that were spoken about you and for you “Father forgiven them for they know not what they do.” If you need the strength to forgive come to the place where it is freely offered and take and eat for the forgiveness of your sins.
It is no surprise as to how often the scriptures talk about forgiveness because of the desperate need that we all have for it before God. Paul’s words reflect this reality Romans 7:24–25a (ESV) 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! How truly wretched we are yet how freely giving of forgiveness is Christ may we desperately cling to this free gift of forgiveness and let it be reflected in our lives to others as well.