The sermon on Sunday seemed to be well received. It was a tough sermon to write - so much to say while limiting myself to around 1200 words. I was editing the sermon right up to the time of preaching with a red pencil.
This sermon series has been lots of fun for me, I enjoy the task of wrestling with some large ideas and trying make a sermon out of them.
Below is a version, the closest from Sunday morning that I can figure.
If You Want God to…Do Likewise
Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 26, 2006
Text: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)
Jesus took the time to teach and model to his disciples how to pray. It is a prayer that the Christian Church grabbed onto with great fervor and has yet to let go of it. Every week millions and perhaps a billion pray this prayer; many even feel that a worship service just isn’t a worship service without it. We call it the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus our Lord gave it to us, but in reality it is not a prayer for Jesus to pray, it is a prayer for Disciples, us, to pray. The prayer is a prayer that expresses the essentials of Christianity and teaches us the way of life Christ desires for us.
The prayer is part of Jesus’ great teaching moment that we call the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that is neither full of new nor novel religious concepts but of ancient and well known teachings with long histories. The originality lies in Jesus’s creative genius, his ability to translate the preserved truths inlight of the always but coming kingdom of God. This morning Jesus offers 12 simple words on forgiveness: forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Forgiveness, we all have problems with this practice and action. The problems are so compound and perplexing that we have before us not a powerful, passionate, justice working, grace filled practice but one that has not bite or bark. We are left with a limp discipling practice that we practice with our tails stuck between our legs. People define our practice of forgiveness for us: they say that we are Christians, we are supposed to forgive and are therefore obliged to let everyone walk all over us.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Why do you think that Jesus felt it was so important to incorporate forgiveness as essential to following him? If we are to be a new version of a holy and separate people fully living in the world as a light to the nations as bearers of good news how can we do this if we do not practice forgiveness? How can we herald good news unless we practice some good news ourselves? How can we be a true, intentional, and beloved community unless we forgive? More to the point how can we feast on God’s forgiveness if we turn others away from the table?
Maybe we have a hard time with forgiveness because there are no reference points in our contemporary life. We cannot look to our judicial system; it is based on punishment not forgiveness. We cannot look to our economic system; it is based on debt. We cannot look to our political system; it is based on specific gains for a specific group of people. We cannot look to our educational system; there is no curriculum of forgiveness. Our true source has to emerge from our ongoing religious tradition; the way of life of Jesus the Christ. When it comes to forgiveness we have to go into business for ourselves. If we look outside our own source we have nothing but a definition that others have defined. Others have defined forgiveness for us and the definitions they offer are neither appealing nor virtious and certainly do not contain any morsels of good news.
There is a way of defining Christianity by called the apophatic way where you define something by describing what it is not in a manner to peel away to get to the core of something. Lemme try this with forgiveness.
Forgiveness as mandated by Christ is not easy! Forgiveness as called for by Jesus is not instant; it may take weeks, months or years before we are ready to forgive someone. Forgiveness as taught by our Savior is not passive; it is the active work of incorporating the offense against us into our own life, making that story our storyu, “and by owning it we destroy its power to divide forgiver from forgiven.” Forgivness is not forgetting; it is a special kind of remembrance of seeing the offender, regardless of the severity of the offense, still as a child of God; forgiveness is the knowledge that I and the offender are one. Forgiveness is not manipulation like when an alcoholic of spousal abuser says that was the last time, forgive me, then goes right on committing the offense; forgiveness is the acceptance of the true spirit of change, repentance and transformation of others; forgiveness cannot happen until some form of change happens.
Forgiveness is an intense practice, a gift given to us by Christ for us to share with each other and with the world.
Forgiveness is a gift for true community. It is a key towards our wholeness and perfection. But how do we do it?
Roberta Bondi in her book To Pray and To Love offers four ways on how to forgive.
First, and often the hardest, we must want to forgive. Sometimes the sensation will emerge soon, others may take weeks, months or years.
Second, we need to pray to understand, if possible, the pain and brokenness of our wounders. Why did those two boys led me out into the yard to kick me? What would make two older boys want to do such an act? Are there any clues my imagination can provide? Can I put myself in their shoes? This does not excuse their actions, but it is a part of the journey of forgiveness.
Third, we can pray for help to see the consequences to others as well as ourselves of our lcak of forgivness. What is the overall value of nursing a lifelong grudge with an offender? How is my refusal to forgive affecting my current relationships; am I missing our of greater communion with God and with others? On a basic level is my desire to withhold forgiveness affecting my physical, emotional and mental health?
Finally, we can and we must pray every day for the well being of our injurers. Christ challenged us to live as if the kingdom of God is fully present, where we don’t match evil for evil but pray for and love our enemies. This is not easily accomplished, by actively praying for our souls to be tenderized we hope that the gift of God’s grace to forgive us of our debts, trespasses and sins will enable us to forgive others.
Discipleship is a re-learning of how to be a human being in a repaired relationship with God, it is not natural or easy. But if we merge onto the way of Christ and yield our wills we have the bountiful life, centered in grace, love, forgiveness, peace, joy blessing, salvation.
The good news is that we are freely forgiven. The tough news is that we have to also forgive as our Father in heaven has forgiven, is forgiving and will forgive us.