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Category Archives: Spiritual Truths

The One Anothers

(a sermon for October 1, 2017, the 17th Sunday After Pentecost, based on 1 John 3:11, 16-24)

“For this is the message you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”

Ultimately, that’s what it all boils down to around here, friends: LOVE.  It’s love, personified in Jesus Christ, that brings us into relationship with God; it’s love that forges that connection of kindred hearts that makes us more than friends in this place, more than community, but also a spiritual family; indeed, it’s love that gathers and binds us together as the Church of Jesus Christ.  Indeed; however else we might choose to name, describe, categorize, or even disseminate its relevance for today’s world, at its very core remains this impenetrable truth that the church is all about love!

And I’m here to tell you this morning that I am grateful for the presence of that church in my life!  But I also have to be honest: there are times for me when the church can be easily compared to the young man who wrote the following letter to the love of his life: “Dear Mary,” he wrote, “dear, sweet Mary… I would swim the deepest river for you.  I would climb the highest mountains!  I would walk over burning coals to be at your side.  All my love and my devotion… XOXOXO, Jack.

“P.S. I’ll be over Sunday if it doesn’t rain!”

It’s one thing, you see, to say “I love you,” quite another to actually mean it; to let that affirmation move our very lives.  In the end simply elaborating on the depth of our devotion is insufficient.  Words of devotion, while beautiful and often very welcome, are empty of meaning – and can even be offensive – when they are not accompanied by action!

And so it is with the church.  The fact is, in this place we have an abundance of good words with which to talk about love, and we’re not afraid to use them: in songs and stories, in “poems, prayers and promises” we regularly tell out our devotion to God, as well as the depth of our affection for those around us. There’s no question that where love is concerned, we in the church are very good at talking the talk!   The question is, does our “walk lives up to the talk;” or where love is concerned does there exist a “disconnect” between what we say and what we do?

That’s not an easy question; but I think it’s a good one for us “church folk” to ask ourselves from time to time!  After all, it’s pretty easy for us to come together on a Sunday morning and say “good things” about God, and faith, and love; the fact is, we do it every week, and it’s tempting to let ourselves float along on the warmth of that sentiment. But there’s also a danger, in that when those sentiments of love and faith fail to find any real expression, our lives end up carrying little or no resemblance to the virtues we proclaim.

And that’s not who we’re called to be, friends. We are a people gathered by Christ and led by the Holy Spirit to be the church, called to be a distinctively Christian community, and to live as the embodiment of God’s kingdom in this place and time.  And so both individually and collectively, it seems to me that this requires so much more from us than mere lip service!  Indeed, what our calling demands, as this morning’s reading from 1 John puts forth, is that we “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action;” a love epitomized by Jesus who “laid down his life for us.”

The purpose of the church, you see, is for us to live out God’s intent for his creation and to love as God loves; but in order for that to happen, we have to do more than “just talk about love;” we have to “practice real love,” (The Message) building a deeper relationship with God and with God’s people as we do so; without that at the center, the work that we do is empty and without any real meaning.  Whether we’re talking how we worship, the ways we do fellowship or outreach, or even something as deceptively simple as putting on a great bean suppah… ultimately, the test of our life together as a church, the end verdict as to whether we sink or swim as God’s people, will always come down to our willingness and ability to truly and actively love one another as we have been loved.   As Leonard Sweet has aptly observed, “Love is the foundation of the Christian church, the cement that glues together the church community. Nothing else can come before this love. Nothing else is possible without this love.”  We would do well to always remember that.

It’s no accident that over thirty times in the New Testament we are told, in one manner or another, to “love one another.”  This has its source in the “new” commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples and to us: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) – this is the place we start when it comes to being the church – but then what we find out as we go through scripture is that there are a great many “one anothers” that apply to the Christian life.

For instance, just in Romans alone, we’re told to “be devoted to one another (12:10),” to “live in harmony with one another (12:16),” to “accept one another (15:7),” and “instruct one another (15:14).”  Elsewhere in the epistles there are admonitions that we are to bear with one another (Col. 3:13), forgive one another (Eph. 4:32), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11) and build one another up (5:11). As believers, we are to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10:24) and to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9); that is, to welcome one another not because we have to, but because we have the joyful opportunity. We’re even urged, on a couple of different occasions in the Epistles, to “greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12); and to this, I can only say, bring on the hugs!

And there’s more; but do you see the thread that runs through all these admonitions? This isn’t about love as a warm and fuzzy sentiment; we’re talking about behavior here, about action rooted in faith. It’s about the church’s commitment to live together as a community, united in the truth of God’s love; and it’s about our commitment, yours and mine, to live our lives first and foremost as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, what we see in this is that a life lived in the Christian faith is never meant to be one lived in isolation.  Whereas the prevailing culture of these days seems to promote that which would separate us each from the other – be it by gender or race or economics or politics – the church is supposed to be radically different than that.  To put a finer point on it, if we are to truly live out our faith as it is to be lived out, that is, “to obey [God’s] commandments and do what pleases him… that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us;” then there never can be any room for the kind of division that fuels hatred and bigotry such as we’ve seen so much on display as of late. To quote Leonard Sweet again, to follow Jesus and to actively love others – all others – these are inseparable parts of a life of faith. “Those who purposefully sow discord in the community, whose actions are carried out without the primary concern of emulating Christ’s love, can’t be genuine disciples. 1 John,” Sweet goes on to say, “insists that to confess Christ is to love. Love is the one litmus test of faith.”

Make no mistake: what we’re talking about here are not spiritual truths in the abstract; this is quite simply the meat and potatoes of the Christian life! What we have in this text is practical advice for being an authentically loving Christian, both inside and outside the church.  And that’s the challenge, isn’t it; for us, each and all, to keep it real as persons and as a people of faith.  But if that’s going to happen, friends, it just seems to me that it’s always going to rest on how we deal with “the one anothers!”

Tony Campolo, the renowned pastor, preacher and sociologist, writes that when he was young he thought that a true Christian could be easily defined as “somebody who believed in God, who believed in the doctrines of the Apostles Creed, [and] who believed in the Bible.”  But whereas all that continued to be true, what Campolo eventually discovered was there was more to being a Christian than simply believing: it means going beyond faith as an intellectual exercise, and actually having a relationship with God; it means letting God invade you and possess you, and your surrendering to a presence of stillness and quietude in your life.  But, writes Campolo, “when the Spirit of God invades you there’s [also] a consequence you don’t anticipate… you find yourself becoming sensitive to Jesus […] in other people.  People become sacramental… [and they become] the kind of vehicles through whom Jesus comes to us, so that when we look into their eyes we have this eerie awareness that Jesus is staring back at us.  That’s what it means to be a Christian: to be filled with God and to be sensitive to Jesus, waiting to be loved in needy people.”

I’ve said it before from this pulpit, and it bears repeating: as a pastor it never ceases to amaze me the kind of diversity that’s to be found in your average congregation!  I mean, we’ve got it all in the church: older people and younger people, liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and progressives, people on the first steps of their journeys of faith and those who have been “on the way” their whole lives.  We have members who are very demonstrative about their faith, others who keep what they believe fairly private; and then there are folks who can be fairly and accurately described as “salt of the earth,” annnd… others who are, well, just kind of spicy!  But it’s all good: as they say, it takes all kinds to make a world, and that’s particularly true of the church; and it’s what makes what we do here an incredible joy… even if sometimes it creates a challenge or two!

But I have to wonder, friends, what would happen to us as Christians – what would happen to us as a church – if we were intentional about looking at one another with a different set of eyes?  I wonder how it would be if we began to look in one another’s eyes to see if we can find the face of Jesus?  And then, if we could do the same as we looked into the eyes of someone outside of this sanctuary… in the eyes of a friend, a neighbor… a stranger, even?  I wonder how much of a difference that could make in our life together; I wonder how our perceptions would change or how we might be moved for the sake of God’s kingdom in this place; I wonder what the church could become in these days… all because we started to perceive the presence of  Jesus Christ right here among us.

And the thing is, it’s not an improbable or unreasonable proposition; it’s all there in that message we’ve heard from the beginning, that “that we should love one another.”  The question is whether you and I are willing make it real.

Something to think about today as we come seeking this presence on this World Communion Sunday.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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And When You Pray: The Times of Temptation

(a sermon for August 6, 2017, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost; sixth in a series, based on 1 Corinthians 10:1-17 and Matthew 6:9-13)

Well, not counting my time away, now we’re six weeks into this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, and I have to tell you: speaking both as a preacher and as a hearer of God’s Word, I have been amazed by just how many big questions we’ve had to address as we’ve gone along!

I mean, from the very existence and nature of God (“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”) and his unending grace and providence (“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”), to the gift of both sustenance (“…our daily bread”) and forgiveness (“…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”),  this seemingly little prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples not only touches upon many of the central issues of our Christian theology but also encompasses just about everything we hold dear about our faith; and friends, that’s a lot!  In fact, it can all be a bit overwhelming; and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that even in preparing these messages I’d find that for every one of these big questions I’d hoped I was answering for the sermon and for myself, I’d discover that there was another question to take its place (and trust me, that’s not something you want to happen late on a Saturday night!).

Honestly, sometimes it’s enough to make your head swim (!); but then, that’s sort of the nature of a life of faith.  What’s the expression about the unexamined life not being worth living?  Well, I’d suggest to you this morning that the unexamined faith is, well… impossible!  We reach out our hearts to God, knowing that God’s Spirit will intercede for us “with sighs too deep for words;” (Romans 8:26) but then we are left to prayerfully discern what the nature of that intercession and its meaning for our lives might be!   We seek to live, as the old confessional puts it, “a godly, righteous and sober life to the glory of God’s Holy name,” but then we have to wrestle with what that actually means in today’s world.  And we know that ought to be in accordance with biblical truth, however that happens to apply and based on what we’ve come to understand about scripture, and absolutely it needs to adhere to the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ.  But then in trying to do that we make a very interesting discovery: that it’s not so much what we don’t understand about scripture or about Jesus that raises up the bigger questions for us; it’s what we do understand about our Christian faith that gives us pause, leaves us confused, and sometimes, absolutely scares us!

You see what I mean?  Big questions, one right after another…

I tell you all this today because now we’ve come to the next to last petition of this “Prayer of Our Savior” that arguably raises as many questions for us as it answers:  “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Now, on the face of it, this is pretty straightforward language that represents a necessary shift in this prayer to a tone of stark realism.  Mickey Anders writes that this has to happen in the Lord’s Prayer, because ultimately “life is about more than lofty language about God’s kingdom, God’s will, daily bread and even forgiveness.  There is [also] the reality of temptation and evil, call it what you will… [and] we face the temptation to evil every day.”

Now, I love that quote; but I still have to ask, what does all this mean?  I mean, ordinarily when we talk about temptation we’re apt to be speaking about the need to avoid those worldly enticements that are bad for us and which keep us apart from God; ranging from the temptation toward eating too many sweets to being unfaithful in one’s relationships.  It’s all about ethics and morality, self-care and righteousness before the Lord; and while that’s most certainly a part of it, this prayer to God to “lead us not into temptation” really does seem to go much deeper than this.

And while we’re on the subject, are we really praying that God not “lead” us into temptation?  Why would the Lord who loves us beyond limit and who wishes us to be in a relationship with him ever be leading us into temptation to begin with?  If God is good, then why would God ever deign to tempt us to do evil, especially as we’re praying that he deliver us from said evil?   And here’s another question:  is it even possible to forever be led away from temptation?  That’s a question that’s at the heart of our reading this morning from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul – lifting up the example of generations of the faithful who had come before – says to these new Christians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” or to quote one very apt paraphrase, “If you think you are beyond the reach of temptation, be careful,” because nothing that comes your way is any different than what others have had to face!  Bottom line is that none of us are totally beyond the reach of temptation; quoting Mark Adams here, “All of us are tempted. The monk who lives behind cloistered walls wrestles with it just as much as the salesman out on the road.”

So… if temptation is an inevitable reality that all of us have to deal with; and if we understand that God’s would never be responsible for leading us into that place and probably cannot completely remove us from it; then what are we asking when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation?”

Questions…. Oy veh, the questions!

Actually, part of the problem here has to do with translation.  The Greek word that’s used here for “temptation” is “peirasmus,” and this is a word that just as appropriately can be translated as “enticement or temptation,” or (and listen to this!) “a test or trial.”  That’s how in a number of biblical translations, including our own NRSV, this verse in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer can be read, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   This might seem like a subtle change, but for me it brings this prayer from seeking refuge from a place of hopeless repetition of inevitable mistakes to… a way of enduring and triumphing over the trials and tribulations of life; in particular the life of faith. For me, you see, what we’re praying for is a way to confront the struggle we all have with this thing we refer to as temptation, but which is in fact the effort that it takes to face up to the reality of evil and live that “godly, righteous and sober life” in a fallen world: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” (we’ll get to that second part in just a minute…)

So… here’s yet another question: what is the nature of temptation; what is the time of trial we you and I will so often have to face?  Actually, to answer this I always come back to a verse from Romans – and by the way, friends, if there’s any verse in Holy Scripture that seems tailor made to make one’s head spin, this is it – “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (14:23)

Let me just repeat that just one more time so it can sink in:  “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Now, understand that Paul is saying this in the context of admonishing the Roman Christians to not be a stumbling black to those whose practice of the faith might differ from their own (specifically, what is permissible to eat under the canon of law).  In other words, this is a stern message not to let one’s faith become a means of arrogance because if your actions and attitudes aren’t wholly attuned to your faith then it’s no longer faith but sin.

Opens up a whole bunch more questions, doesn’t it?  What that means is that even our most well-intentioned behaviors, as good and even  as “religious” as they might well be, end up not proceeding from faith at all if they are not rooted in our “own conviction before God.” (v. 22) Worship, outreach, mission, stewardship, the things we do for the church, the things we do for the world, the things we do for each other, to say nothing of our own personal piety; the applications to such a truth as this are literally endless!  I remember back in seminary, when we had to “exegete” this particular passage in our systematic theology class, our heads pretty much exploded (!); and if that’s your reaction when you go home today and start thinking about all this, I’m truly sorry; although, if it ends up in some spiritual self-evaluation, then so much the better!

But I also have to tell you that this very difficult assertion from Paul ends up connection with this every Sunday prayer I pray that my God “lead[s] me not into temptation.”  If, in fact, there is so much that apart from my faith is sinful behavior, then I need God, in Jesus Christ, to save me from it; to lead me beyond the barren and empty temptations of the world so that everything that God has given me and has empowered me to do and to be in this life can work to deepen the relationship I have with God, and to strengthen me to be more fully a disciple of Jesus Christ in my walk through these days of, to say the very least, confused situations.  I need my Lord to save me from this time of trial; understanding I can avoid it, but I can triumph over it.  It won’t be easy, for the evil in this world is real and relentless, but I won’t be alone in the effort either.

That’s where the second half of this petition comes in:  “…but deliver us from evil,” or, as our gospel reading puts it, “…rescue us from the evil one.”  Now whether one takes the view that the “evil one” depicted here is quite literally the figure of Satan, or rather a representation of the whole curse of a sinful humanity from back in the time of Genesis (now there’s a big question for another day!), the meaning is nonetheless the same: there is ever and always going to be the temptation before us to succumb to the evils of this world.  And lest we forget the story of Adam and Eve, evil can come in very attractive and enticing packages; even sometimes in what looks all the world like goodness and light.  We need to be delivered from that kind of evil; and that only comes in walking arm and arm, heart in heart with God himself!

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  A hard prayer this is; but a necessary one.  And, might I add, nothing new for any of God’s people past or present.  Remember that passage from 1 Corinthians?  “Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock tha followed them, and the rock was Christ.”  And it was not always easy; the way was very often filled with temptation, and very often they failed in the midst of trial, to the point, Paul says, “that God was not pleased with most of them.”

But they persisted on the journey, seeking to live unto their faith in the Lrod their God… generation after generation, from age to age, through countless challenges and in the midst of a thousand or more big questions;  and today they are part of a communion of saints of which you and I are part and which we celebrate at this table set before us; indeed, “there is one bread, [and] we who are many are one body.”

Let us today allow this holy meal, and those with whom we share it, be our inspiration as we walk the walk of faithful discipleship in Christ’s name, having been lead beyond the times of temptation… and delivered from all evil.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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And When You Pray: Debts or Trespasses?

(a sermon for July 16, 2017, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost; fifth in a series, based on Psalm 32, Mark 11:20-25 and Matthew 6:9-15)

It’s just a little scene that, pastorally speaking, has repeated itself time and time again over the years.

Maybe it’s at a funeral, sometimes at a wedding where I’m the officiant; or for that matter, it could be a regular service of worship, particularly one where there are people present from different churches or faith traditions.  But it’s always the same thing:  everything’s going along just fine, and then you start to pray the Lord’s Prayer and everyone along with you; and it continues to be fine… at least until you get to that one line, that piece of the prayer that we’re looking at this morning:  “And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.”  For it is at this moment that even the most spiritually unified of congregations will become strangely disoriented; hesitating, stumbling and looking up from their prayerfulness, suddenly unsure of what they’re supposed to say next:  is it “debts” or “trespasses?”

This may seem like a small matter, and in the greater scheme of things, I suppose that it is; however, I also have to say that I’ve seen more than a few times of prayer disrupted, if not unraveled, by the lack of a shared and appropriate translation!  I mean, which is it:  are we to “forgive our debtors,” or “forgive those who trespass against us,” which not only sounds and feels different to say, but is also a bit longer; which matters, especially if you’re in a “mixed group,” so to speak.  I remember once leading a graveside service where I prayed, as I’m familiar, using “debts and debtors” but those who were gathered prayed as they were familiar, saying “trespasses;” which is fine and wholly appropriate, except that when I paused just a moment to let them say, “…as we forgive those who trespass against us,” their voices quickly faded away to nothing (!) and they literally looked up to me for guidance, as though when I stopped speaking, that meant they were supposed to stop, too (or at least until the moment I started again with, “And lead us into temptation…”)!

Now, this actually speaks to something that we’ve been referencing throughout this sermon series: the danger of our letting such an important part of our worship as the Lord’s Prayer become little more than something we say out of habit; or more to the point, the tendency we have of praying these petitions unto the Lord without really understanding what it is we’re actually asking!  So maybe it is a valid question after all, this matter of “debts” versus “trespasses,” especially when it comes down to that which is at the center of this part of the prayer that Jesus has given us: our request for and our need of… forgiveness.

And the thing about it is, at least where the question of “debts or trespasses” is concerned, scripture doesn’t really give us a definitive answer.  Matthew’s gospel, from which we read this morning, very clearly refers to debt, which then, as now, suggests a financial indebtedness; and that’s not by accident.  For the Jews of Jesus’ time, you see, financial indebtedness was akin to the worst kind of oppression and slavery; there was no greater crime, so to speak, than to have failed to pay back what they owed And so to pray, “Forgive us our debts” was to acknowledge that one’s unrighteousness and sin was the debt incurred to a Holy God; in other words, every time we violate the laws, the principles and the will of God in thought, word and deed we are creating for ourselves a mountain range of moral debt unto the Almighty!

Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, on the other hand, is a bit more to the point: “…forgive us our sins” (11:4) is how it’s translated there.  And here’s a fun fact; trespasses?  That particular word isn’t really part of the Lord’s Prayer at all (though it’s a word that does turn up elsewhere, and in fact, as part of our readings today): our use of “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer itself dates back to William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English in 1525!  But regardless of the translation, the meaning ends up exactly the same:  we are each and all of us debtors… sinners… trespassers; for we have broken God’s loving laws time and time again.  And when we come to this point in Jesus’ prayer of asking God to “forgive us our debts” (or our trespasses, or our sin) we are both confessing this to be true about ourselves, and asking that somehow, someway by his grace and love God might forgive us that huge mountain of debt we’ve built up.

I’m reminded here of an old colleague and friend of mine from my seminary days who in a class one day confessed to us that perhaps the hardest thing he ever had to do as a newly minted student pastor and preacher at this little church in Maine was to stand in the pulpit and look into the eyes of that beautiful, wonderful elderly lady in the third pew with the kind and gentle soul – pillar of the church, dontcha know (!) – and, holding fast to the biblical truth of our faith, to say to her and everyone else in that congregation, “You are a sinner .”   Now, in this particular tradition of faith, we’re not exactly “hellfire and brimstone” in our approach to such things; but I have to say that this is a truth that haunts me as well, and nowhere more so than when I look in the mirror.  This is the sad truth of our existence, friends: we are all sinners; by our unrighteousness we are so deeply indebted to the Holy God that there is never any hope at all of paying off that indebtedness n our own.

And it would seem hopeless, except that there is good news; and that good news is that ours is a God who desires mercy more than judgment, and who will be faithful, just and above all, forgiving to those who would acknowledge their sin, who, in the words of the Psalmist, “will confess [their] transgressions to the LORD,” and thus have their sins be covered.  As The Message translates it, “Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be – you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean. Count yourself lucky – [for] God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him.”  This is true forgiveness and a gift of true grace, and all of it begins, simply and profoundly enough, by our coming humbly to God and saying from the heart, “forgive us our debts…”

However, all this said, there is a catch… well, not so much of a catch as an understanding.  And it comes in the other half of this particular petition of prayer:  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…” “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It’s one little word that makes all the difference – “as” – and in the words of Charles Williams, “No word in English carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word ‘as’ in that clause.”

Yes, it is true that we are all sinners; but it is equally true that we are all sinned against; we are not just the perpetrators of sin, we are the victims of sin; we have been hurt and sinned against, betrayed, abandoned and made to feel far less than what we are.  And so as such, then, we not only are debtors, we have debtors as well.  And the question is – the question always is – what do we do about that?  What kind of attitude are we to have toward all these debtors in our lives?  We may well struggle with our answer to that, but make no mistake, God’s answer is clear, and it’s right there in our prayer:  “…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

There is a correlation, you see, between the way you and I treat our debtors and the way God treats debtors like you and me.  Since we’ve been including Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday through the weeks of this sermon series, I’m sure by now you’ve noticed that as Jesus comes to the end of this teaching on how we should pray, there is something of a caveat:  “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.”  It’s also there in our text from Mark, in which Jesus reminds Peter and the other disciples that the power of prayer is such that even mountains can be “taken up and thrown into the sea,” but then adds, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

And for any of us who would be looking for loopholes where this is concerned, rest assured that this same principle is confirmed throughout scripture. The measure of mercy that we extends to others will be the measure God extends to us; or to put it another way, no one can truly love God and be un-forgiving to a brother or a sister. Are we to take this to mean that our forgiveness from God is earned solely on the basis of how we forgive other people?  No; remember that our forgiveness is a gift of grace; but, to quote pastor and blogger Ken Baker, “If we choose to hoard the forgiveness granted to us by failing to forgive others, not only do we disobey the Lord’s teaching, but also we miss the full benefit of forgiveness, [for] God’s purpose in forgiving us is that we might be reconciled to him and to each other.”

To be forgiven so that we might forgive; in the end, you see, it’s all part of the same gift.  Divine forgiveness strengthens and empowers us to share mercy that would otherwise be beyond our ability; forgiving others their “trespasses against us” is what brings us into a closer relationship with the one who fills our lives with deeper purpose and a fuller love.  This is central to everything we know to be true about our faith; and it’s been made real in the life, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus:  we forgive “as” we have been forgiven… friends, for us to neglect one part of that equation cannot help but diminish the other!

And so when we pray this prayer of our Savior, this is what we say: “forgive us our debts (or trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (or those who trespass against us).”

I trust that each one of us in this room today can easily claim the blessing of forgiveness for ourselves; but I ask you this morning, beloved: who is it right now that we need to forgive?  Who are those who right at this moment stand amongst our debtors? Maybe it started as just a small thing; a minor slight, a misspoken word or hurt feeling; but now here’s someone to whom you are estranged.  Who has trespassed against you? Perhaps the one you thought you could trust and with whom you risked a relationship, but who ended up breaking a confidence or who betrayed you in a way that you feel is irreparable?  Maybe it was the one who took advantage of your good nature or your generosity and left you feeling empty and used?  Or could be it was someone who withheld from you the affection or the caring or the kind of blessing you so desperately needed at some given time of your life, or even now?    Or maybe it’s that ever growing mountain of offenses, either real or perceived… but which cumulatively has begun to tear you apart from the inside out, and which has ever so slowly but surely changed you and put a wedge in the center of your relationship with God…

Whoever it is, whatever it might be, it might be good for you to remember today that there is great power in forgiveness; like love itself, forgiveness has the power to move mountains… and us, as well.

Forgive us our debts, O God, as we forgive our debtors.

And let our thanks always be unto you, O God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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