Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

This intricate and beautiful carving is normally placed on the chapel wall.
I sit there every morning and evening. I look at it while I wait for 8:30 or 5 to come around.

It is such a beautiful thing.The amount of time and care that has gone into the carving.
I like to think of the person carving it using the process as a meditation.
Each word, each phrase over and over, the implications of each sentence running around their head.

But looking at this carving, there is also a tendency for the words of the prayer to get lost,
the meaning and depth of prayer becomes a mass of words in the wood.
From where you are sitting, I suspect it looks like any other picture.

It is much the same with our use of the Lord’s Prayer.

We say it every Sunday before we receive communion.
We say it at Morning and Evening Prayer before the prayers of the day.
We say it often.
At funerals, weddings, baptisms, it is said.
People that don’t go to church very often, or at all, know the Lord’s Prayer.
You can hear people join and stop at different parts.
You can hear the older version of the prayer from parts of the congregation.

We say this prayer so often, but I wonder if we really take it all in.
Like in this carving, words get lost, some of the phrases become hollow.
It becomes the empty repetition that Jesus warned against.

The prayer is a petition to God the Father.
We state who he is, we pray that the earth will become like heaven.
We ask for our physical and spiritual needs to be met.
We ask to be forgiven.

Then, the first clause that says we will do something.

As we forgive those that sin against us.

Or as it says in Luke’s version:

Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

We ask God to forgive us.
And he does.
God forgives us for everything we do.

Think about our confession:
We have sinned against you in thought word and deed,
and in what we have failed to do

Then the absolution:
Almighty God
who has promised forgiveness to all who turn to him in faith,
pardon you and set you free from all your sins.

If we are truly sorry, and repent, we are forgiven.

This is wonderful and incredible thing.
God forgives us for all the stupid, mean, selfish, unthinking things we do.
He forgives us again and again and again.

This is an astounding thing.
I have seen and heard how astounding it is when explaining to the kids at SRE.

I have been in baptism interviews where the concept of forgiveness has been discussed, and have seen the look of amazement and disbelief and awe in a young mothers face as we spoke of God’s unlimited forgiveness. The idea that God could forgive her because he loves her was almost too much for her to bear.

Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 
Not as simple as we thought.
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Forgive us God,
because we forgive everyone too.

Is it that we earn God’s forgiveness by being forgiving ourselves?
Not at all.
God’s forgiveness does not depend on anything but a sorry heart.
We don’t earn God’s forgiveness.
So what is this second clause all about?

For we forgive everyone indebted to us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains this part of the prayer:

For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

But God forgives us by his grace, not by anything we do.
If we repent and are truly sorry, we are forgiven, but it isn’t about doing something to earn God’s forgiveness.

So what is Jesus getting at here?

It strikes me that we are called to be a forgiving people.
If we don’t forgive others, we block the flow of God’s forgiveness.
God’s forgiveness of us needs to keep flowing from us in our daily interactions.
If we don’t forgive, we halt the flow of forgiveness.
It is like we are trying to store it up for ourselves, or are unwilling to share such a wondrous gift.

Forgiveness is difficult.
It is not easy to forgive some things, behaviours and traits.
It is hard to forgive someone, or an institution, or a group that has done you wrong.
When we feel we have received the raw end of a deal, our resentment toward those that have trespassed against us is a natural reaction.

Yet feeling such a way does not help us.
To let go of such feelings, to forgive such actions is to regain life.
It is to be freed.
Such freedom allows others to be free.
Freed from their sins,
freed from the things that keep them far from others,
freed from the things that keep them from God.
Freed so they can forgive others.
And on it goes…

Forgiveness gets lost in all the messiness of life.
All the hurts and pains get stored up.

Like this carving.
Like how the words lose themselves in all the design and intricacy,
we forget about God’s forgiveness to us and how we are to keep the flow of forgiveness going,
outward to all we come into contact with.

By reading and praying the words, they come out of the carving and become visible.
They are freed from the design.

By forgiving those who have trespassed against us, we free ourselves from our hurt.

Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

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