Sermon: Forgiven and Forgiving

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Matthew chapter 6, verses 12-14. Matthew 6:12-14. Matthew is the first book in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you don’t have a bible with you this morning, feel free to grab one from the pew in front of you and leave it open as we study God’s word together.

For the last two weeks, we have been learning prayer at the feet of Jesus. We immersed ourselves in the Lord’s Prayer and drank deeply. The opening of the prayer thrusts us into a God-centered world – a world where we have the privilege of calling God “our Father,” a world where God’s glory, God’s will, and God’s kingdom launch us into prayer.

Last week, Pastor Olga shared with us how Jesus invites us to pray for our daily bread. We heard from our missionaries how God provided them enough for that day and the next day and the next day. Gary and Denise shared that it was hard to tell only a few stories because every day, all the time, God is caring for them. This morning we will hear the last two petitions – requests – in the Lord’s Prayer. We will focus on the first of the two, even though both are important. As Calvin says, Scripture is a inexhaustible fountain, every time we dip our cups into the word they come up full and refreshing. This morning we will just dip our cups in and drink from what God has for us. But before we do, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.

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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Our cat, Julian, is usually anxious around kids. But before Elijah was born, having a cat was the most exciting thing in the world for kids coming into our home. About two years ago, we had guests staying with us who had two young children. They loved Julian and chased her through the house. Eventually she fled to the basement, where I shut the door to give her some peace and quiet. But the oldest boy, about seven or eight, really wanted to see our cat. He went to open the basement door.

‘Don’t do that” I called. He opened the door anyway. I walked over and closed it.

‘My mom wants me to help her downstairs.’

‘No, she doesn’t’

‘Yes, she is down in the basement.’

I paused, “Are you lying to me?’

There was a moment where he knew he’d been caught, but the panic set in and he started to scramble.

‘No’

‘Are you sure?’

The panic built and the dam burst.

“You are a big, lying liar.” he spat at me.

I stopped him and we talked about whether that was the right kind of thing to say to someone. His mother finally walked in and he started to become hysterical. He clammed up and started crying. In his fear, he wouldn’t tell his mother what happened. After quite a while of this, he broke. “I was afraid you wouldn’t forgive me,” he says. He wouldn’t tell the truth because he feared living forever with the consequences of his actions – unforgiven. He finally turned to me and asked, “Will you forgive me?”

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, Jesus teaches us to pray.

With this prayer, Jesus sets our feet in the real world. Daily bread might be our first need, but forgiveness is our deepest. We are people with debts. Like the little boy who stayed at our house, we have all failed to live honestly. We have all been caught up to our neck in failure and still tried to wriggle our way out.

We are also people with debtors. Sin tears things apart. Sin kills. Not only do we humans rip apart our relationship with God but we do it to each other. Eugene Peterson notes that “The extent and inventiveness of humankind in messing up the world, ourselves, and others seems endless.”

We are people with debts and people with debtors. We know this. We know this because it is revealed in God’s Word. We know this because we have lived with ourselves and our knowledge of our own hearts is second only to God himself. We know this because each of us has been wounded by the sins of others. We know the damage sin can do, because we bear the scars. As Luther says, “we are in the land of debts, we are up to the ears in sin.”

In this land of debts, the only path to healing is forgiveness.

Jesus invites us to pray, Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

“Forgive us our failure to keep honest accounts with our neighbors. Forgive us for refusing the gifts that are given and stealing what is not ours to share. Forgive us for using the gift of language to deceive. Forgive us for using the gift of sexuality to seduce. Forgive us for using the gift of strength to abuse and murder. Forgive us for using the gift of plenty to impoverish others.” (Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant)

Forgive us our debts.

There is a boldness to this prayer. It is shameless for a debtor to go to their creditor and ask for forgiveness. If you went and bought a house and then couldn’t pay for it, would you go to the mortgage company and ask for forgiveness? Could you even imagine that they would say ‘Don’t worry, the loan is forgiven.’ Or you who run farms and private businesses, when people order things and cannot pay, do they come asking for forgiveness?

It’s rare at best. This is simply not the way that most of the world works, but it is precisely what Jesus invites us to do. Forgive us our debts.

Jesus teaches us to approach God in this shameless way. We to come to the Father with this prayer! Forgive us our debts.

This is gospel. Grace overflows from the Lord’s Prayer. When praying this prayer, we are brought before Almighty God with our most profound need – forgiveness. For our wounds to be healed, our debts to be paid, our relationships restored.

Forgive us our debts. The heart of the gospel is that the same Jesus who teaches us to pray is the answer to our prayer. Jesus Christ, through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, has paid our debts off for us. We have been wiped clean and reconciled to God.

Forgiving is gospel work. The response to the mess we find ourselves in and the mess we made ourselves will not be to try and work harder. We cannot write enough laws, craft enough curriculum, or spend enough time with a therapist to deal with our sin. God deals with our sin by forgiving us. He lifts the heavy burdens off our back and places them on his shoulders. He touches our wounds, binds them up, and heals them. The Lord who caused the lame to walk and the blind to see turns to us, stoops down and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

So we are bold to pray, Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Forgiveness doesn’t stop with us. It flows. From God to us, from us to others.

Contained in these two lines is the greatest news the world has ever heard – God forgives sin – and the greatest challenge of the gospel – we must forgive others.

There is an intimate connection between asking for forgiveness from God and giving it to others. This connection is so important that Jesus repeats it twice. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And then right after the prayer, Jesus adds an appendix: 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.

Everywhere else in the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking God – hallow your name, give us bread, forgive us, lead us, rescue us. But here, we are involved. It is not a condition for forgiveness – God’s forgiveness is freely given. It’s more a like a consequence. If you have really accepted God’s forgiveness then you will become the kind of person who forgives others. It’s sort of like, well, why don’t I let Jesus explain it. This is Matthew 18:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Receiving that forgiveness, that fellowship, that friendship with God has the consequence of causing us to forgive others who have wronged us. As we have been forgiven, so we ought to forgive.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

This is the great challenge of the gospel – to forgive those who have wronged you. Who might God be calling you to forgive this morning? Who do you find it hard to forgive and God is calling you to step out in faith and forgive?

If you are like me, there are really only one or two or three people in my life that I struggle deeply to forgive. Most people I might be upset with for a little bit, but I can forgive them. But the deeper the wound, the harder I find forgiveness to be. And when it is someone you love who is sinned against, who is wounded, you – like me – might think forgiveness is impossible. We want justice, we things to be right, we may even want the other person to pay. Our insides boil as we battle within to forgive.

His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

Who might God be calling you to forgive this morning? Who do you find it hard to forgive and God is calling you to step out in faith and forgive?

Sometimes, I struggle with forgiveness. But I believe that Jesus places forgiveness at the center of the Christian life. God forgives us – abundant mercy. We forgive others – grateful obedience.

As hard as it can be sometimes, I think F. Dale Bruner is right, “Forgiveness received and not passed on, or forgiveness requested of God but denied to others is faithless forgiveness and unreal.”

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Being the Church means being people of forgiveness. People forgiven and forgiving. I would like to tell you that I have discovered the key to quick, easy forgiveness – to make it smooth and simple. I haven’t. Daily God calls me to seek and to give forgiveness. Sometimes it is hard, but it is also good.

I have not discovered the secret to forgiveness. I am not sure there is one other than trusting that Jesus knows what he is doing in asking it of us. But I will say this, I wonder about why the servant in the parable could not extend the same forgiveness he received. I do not think he saw what we saw. I don’t think he saw himself in his neighbor.

Jesus uses the same words, the same sequences, the same actions, but he doesn’t see it. He does not see himself in the debtor he is asked to forgive. Who might God be calling you to forgive this morning? Who do you find it hard to forgive and God is calling you to step out in faith  and forgive?

The Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard says this about forgiveness:

“But why, I wonder, is forgiveness so rare? Is it not, I wonder, because faith in the power of forgiveness is so small and so rare? Even the better person, who is not at all inclined to carry malice and rancor and is far from being irreconcilable, is not infrequently heard to say: “I should like to forgive him, but I don’t see how it could be of help.” Alas, it is not seen! Yet, if you yourself have ever needed forgiveness, then you know what forgiveness accomplishes.”

“Yet, if you yourself have ever needed forgiveness, then you know what forgiveness accomplishes.”

The young boy stood between me and his mother, his lip trembling. He said he was afraid he would never be forgiven. He feared living forever with the consequences. He looked up at me and asked, “Will you forgive me?” “I forgive you,” I said. A small act for me, but monumental for him. “Yet, if you yourself have ever needed forgiveness, then you know what forgiveness accomplishes.”

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

May we who receive God’s forgiveness, be ready to give our forgiveness to others.

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