Micah 7:18-20 Psalm 32 Matthew 6:12, 18:21-35
John Killinger relayed this story in his book, The God Named Hallowed:
“It began as an ordinary church service, with a call to worship and a hymn. Everything went as usual until about halfway through, when a layman came to the chancel steps to give his testimony.
‘The Lord has been laying something on my heart,’ he said. ‘There’s an awful lot of unresolved conflict in this congregation – a lot of hurt and resentment that’s been lying around for a long time. Some of it has been around so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s there for. But it has been getting in God’s way. We have been limiting God by our lack of love and forgiveness in this church.’
As the man talked, the minister looked at the sermon he had prepared. Somehow it didn’t fit the mood that was being created. He folded it and put it in his Bible. When the man sat down, he turned to the Sermon on the Mount and quietly read these words of Jesus: ‘If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift’ (Matthew 5:23-24).
‘I have been struck,’ he continued, ‘by Bill’s words. Maybe we do limit God by our lack of love and forgiveness. If we do, it is time to remove that limitation. Today, there’s not going to be a sermon. Instead, we’re going to have some free time to think about life and to pray and to go to anyone you want to in this room and ask that person’s forgiveness for anything standing between you. Then, when we’ve all had time to do this, we’ll have Communion.’
At first it was very quiet. Nobody made a move.
At last, a woman got up from her pew on one side of the church and walked over and sat down by a woman on the other side. She began quietly talking to the woman. Soon they had put their arms around each other and were hugging.
Then a dozen, two dozen people, began moving around. Soon everybody was talking to someone. There was a steady buzz of conversation in the sanctuary. People were holding hands, crying, embracing each other.
It went on for thirty minutes.
Finally, in an atmosphere of love such as few of them had ever experienced, they heard the Words of Institution, celebrated the Communion, and held hands as they sang ‘They’ll know we are Christians by Our Love.’
Later someone called it a love feast. Someone else called it a festival of forgiveness. ‘Festival, nothing,’ said yet another person, ‘it was an orgy!’”
As we are preparing for God’s Kingdom, does this sound like the kind of forgiveness in which we take part? This question is important as we remember that we are making holy God’s name, we are wanting His kingdom to come, we are wanting God’s will to be done, and we are wanting to live with the daily bread God gives us. Because our desiring to live in God’s kingdom then wouldn’t forgiveness be a natural part of our lives as disciples?
We know that forgiveness is a natural part of how God is (Micah 7:18-20). God wants us to be renewed so we may be holy as He is holy. Yet, it is not only with God that we need to give forgiveness to other people.
- “And forgive us our debts”
- God is ready to forgive us (Psalm 32:5)
- Not through sacrifice, but through mercy (Isaiah 1:18)
- God had gotten fed up with sacrifices – the people did not “own” their sins
- People could “own” a relationship with God – by trusting him
- We can acknowledge our sins/debts/trespasses
- Sins (Presbyterians) – acts of disobedience to God’s will; missing the mark
- Debts – sin is a debt owed to God
- Trespasses (Episcopalians) – based on Mt. 6:14
- We have already said that we need daily bread, why not daily forgiveness?
- Forgiveness is the gorilla glue of life. That is, without God forgiving us, we won’t live. That is the point – God wants and desires to forgive. So, when we ask for God to forgive us, we do so with the confidence that God will forgive. In the process we give our life up to God. We are looking for God to do right by us. This is done as we have done wrong to others. If God has forgiven us, then we are to forgive other people.
- “As we also have forgiven those our debtors”
- Luke records Jesus saying in 6:37-38: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
- Matthew records Jesus saying in 6:14-15: “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.”
- We forgive 77 or seven times 70 times
- If we don’t forgive, then we will be handed over to be tortured until we pay our entire debt (Matthew 18:34)
- If we have known God’s mercy, then we give mercy to others
- Yet, even Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote in “A Christmas Sermon”: “We are not damned for doing wrong, but for not doing right.”
- Werner Pfendsack: “This petition of the Lord’s Prayer is the most dangerous petition of the whole prayer. In none other does the danger lurk so close that praying we lie, and lying we pray.”
- Each time we receive Holy Communion, we are giving forgiveness to each other (sure hope we mean it!)
- It is hard. We don’t like being hurt. We sometimes want to get even. Sometimes, we want to do worse to those who have hurt us. As we are looking forward to being in God’s kingdom, we realize that we cannot get even. We have to do the right thing. We are to forgive each other.
I hope the world around us will know that we are indeed Christians. They can tell that we are Christians by knowing that we forgive each other. The more we forgive, the more we will be doing the right thing. When we do forgive, we know that God will forgive us.
If we think that God is hampered in working with us, then maybe we haven’t got in the habit of forgiving each other. God is ready to forgive. Are you ready to forgive each other?
 John Killinger, The God Named Hallowed, (Abingdon Press, Nashville; 1988), p. 53-54
 Janis Milic Lochman, The Lord’s Prayer, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids; 1990), p. 107
 Elton Trueblood, The Lord’s Prayers, (Harper & Row, New York; 1965), p. 55
 Lochman, p. 121